October 13th, 2008

The Man at H. L. Leonard
By James Castwell

There was a time in the world of fly fishing when things were different. Maybe twenty or thirty years back. People, attitudes, recreation, life styles, all different back then. Perhaps I am remembering them wrong, but maybe not too.

There were many cane rod makers then. The greatest share are gone now, passed on leaving a few pictures and a varying amount of rods of again various qualities. Some of the best were creating back then. Tapers were nudged and tweaked daily. Materials were substituted and the list of experiments with lengths and all sorts of other possible differences was endless.

Several months ago when I was on the phone with Ron Kusse, our usual weekly conversation about the problems of the world and how to solve them, he happened to mention that he once had been on T.V. Of course that rang my bell right away. I guess he was on T.V. alright, the 'Today Show'. Folks, that is 'out in the traffic playing with the diesels'.

I think most of us know who he is and where he is in the realm of cane rod makers. If you don't by now you soon will. I will be the first to agree that there are many, many fine and even expert bamboo rod makers in today's fly fishing world. None have his background. None. He has lived the life, walked the walk and risen to the very top of his profession.

At sometime in professional cane rod making a certain level of quality reaches beyond the normal for a gifted few and the word 'art' becomes relevant. Some do become truly cane rod making artists. Like any other talent or ability, once developed it simply continues to grow. So it is with Ron. I venture that somewhere there may be a maker wrapping guides or cutting the strips in some exceptional way, but excellence in cane rod making does not make one an artist. That is a gift. Fortunate are those who discover they have it.

Oddly, they and their products are not always noteworthy. For various reasons, some seem to rise to the top of popularity while others simply continue producing masterpieces on a regular basis. Or, as in this case, a chance event developed into the production of a great piece of film. Film converted to video tape, then onto DVD and finally unloaded to the Internet.

I think we all have a list of names we recognize as the great cane rod makers, mostly from the eastern states actually, but so much, so very much was never recorded. Never documented for history. This time they got it right. They got it. When Ron told me about the tape I asked him to mail it to me and I would get it transferred to DVD for him. He sent it and I made four copies. I kept one and sent the others back to him along with his video tape. I am very pleased to have had a chance to help bring this tape to life.

I try not to use my column here for the promotion of sponsors and am not intending that with this piece. If you read us very often you are probably well aware that my wife and I both fish one of his famous Magnum-Opus quadrate rods. She uses a five weight and I use a six. This film now is a living slice of historical information I am so very glad to have found and want to share with you. From about twenty years ago, here is that historical record as it was seen on Sunday morning television. It is on our website and also on his web page. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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