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Grandpa's Fly Rod
by Wayne Cattanach
March 9th, 1998
To the best of my knowledge my
grandfather never fished, he farmed instead. I never knew
him, he died the year I was born. But I have several links
to him. One that touches me most is the hand plane I use
to make fly rods. He used it while building barns just after
the turn of the century. So I have a sense of how ancestral
objects can hold intrinsic value.
Today, many fly fishers across the country are digging through their attics and basements in search of memorabilia of the sport that was handed down to them. The rods, reels, and whatever that dad, grandpa, or even that special uncle used when they fished. Some of these folks are looking to cash in on their finds, while others are just looking for the linkage.
Over the years I have been asked to look at a lot of rods in a variety of conditions. I don't buy or sell used equipment so I rarely see those who are looking to cash in their 'finds'. But I do get many requests to repair or refinish 'Grandpa's Fly Rod'.
Now to put a few items in perspective. Even if a 'Golden Era' production rod was in mint condition, it's overall appearance won't live up to today's standards of detail or finish. Unquestionably the best bamboo fly rods ever made are being produced today. Often times the requests to refinish a rod are driven by this fact. The owner wants only the best for their treasure.
A second fact of life about many used rods is the original components were of a lesser quality and are long since extinct. There are a few folks out there who specialize in doing restoration on a few of the production rods of the past. But their resources are limited and the cost of repairs can far exceed the value of the repaired rod. This often times dashes the dream of fishing the rod and continuing the tradition.
So what can be done with these classics? My personal recommendation, which I feel is a common sense approach, is they can be displayed honorably 'as is' or reasonably 'as is.' My belief is the character of the previous user can be lost in attempting to restore or repair this category of rod.
There isn't the space to do a case by case coverage of every problem that can be encountered so I will give some general guide lines to help maximize a rods appearance while still maintaining its character as well.
The first concern is to stabilize any loose wraps. This can be accomplished by lightly coating any loose thread with a drop or two of varnish applied with a wooden toothpick. As much as one might like, re-wrapping of these frayed areas can be hampered because the thread color will never match. The exact colors, in most cases, aren't made anymore and even if they were the current ones are sun faded.
Now, instead of attempting to replace the finish on the rod think instead of just cleaning away some of the cloud to bring back some brightness. By the way, the cloud could very well be remnants of a memorable trout. Over the years I have found that the citrus based cleaners work very well. Lemon oil is often used to clean fine furniture and it does a good job of cleaning a bamboo fly rod as well.
As we work our way down the rod, the cork grip is our next step. Here again, I feel that character should be left in place. Yes, it would be easy to take sandpaper and clean away whatever it is that is darkening the cork. But with it you sand away the fishing trips and memories. The citrus cleaners can brighten but not destroy.
Lastly, the metal bright work will respond to a cleaner or if desired a metal polish can be used to return it to more of an original brightness. Be warned. If the metal has a black appearance versus a silver or grayish appearance, it was treated or painted to be black and might be damaged with metal polish. A cleaner shouldn't hurt it but a metal polish might. When in doubt, test a small area first to see the reaction before atte mpting the whole piece.
When finished, the above should bring the rod into the best condition as possible. From here you have several options for displaying the piece. One idea that I have seen and like the best is to create a shadow box effect. A wall mount shadow box can be built which includes a couple of corner shelves. The rod is then propped cross-ways in the box and other effects are added to the shelves. The extras might be a fly reel or a display of flies, a jar of floatant, or the pipe that was smoked on the fishing adventures. If available, a picture or two will make the link to the person.
Another Idea for those who might have just a part or two and not a whole rod. The last few inches of the tip could be framed with a fly or two in a hadow effect, or the butt section showing the labels, if intact, could be used. With some creativity the possibilities become many.
If you are intent on getting the rod fully restored there are those who specialize in such work. I'm not one of them. Understand, to restore a rod correctly would require the same time it would take for me to make half a fly rod. Even at entry level prices this would mean between $400 and $500. But, because of their love of what they do, there are those who will refinish rods for as little as $150.
An excellent resource on the subject of bamboo fly rod restoration is the "Bamboo Rod Restoration Handbook" by Michael Sinclair. In it, besides the basic steps of refinishing, Mike has included valuable data from his years of restoration experience on production rods. — WC
The family name Cattanach desends from the Scottish clan of Chattan, which may or may not explain how Wayne came to be the fifth generation living on the family farm outside of Casnovia, Michigan. Professionally a mechanical contractor, Wayne currently works for Forest Hills Schools.
Flyfishing and rod building (after losing the rod he was given) since 13, Wayne has stayed with the passion for 16 years, or for at least 100 rods. Whether writing, doing, demonstrating or teaching, Wayne is extremely involved in keeping the art and craft smanship of hand made bamboo rods alive ... though he handles his skill and reputation with great humility. When Wyoming rodmaker, Jon Parker noted there is a good chance of Wayne being the next Everett Garrison, Wayne replied, "I laugh - knowing that I won't be around to know if that prediction comes true or not. Instead I think of myself as a modest and casual person somehow being allowed to hang around with a group of highly skilled craftspeople - having fun and watching the adventure unfold."
While with The Planing Form Wayne helped organize the first eastern rod makers get together — which over the years migrated its way to Grayling, MI and is now known as Rodmakers at Grayrock. The TTBBQ is the social ending. Last year Wayne came up with the idea for The Makers Rod.
The Makers Rod was a 7 foot 6 inch, 4 weight, 3 piece, 2 tipped rod. What makes the rod special is that it was made by 28 rodmakers from across the United States. The special cause is stream restoration on the AuSable and Manistee rivers of Michigan. For the rodmakers it was a chance to show their love for the craft and their concern for our resources.
For some lucky individual it was a chance to own perhaps the most unique bamboo fly rod ever made.
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