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Buying a Cane Fly Rod?
Get What You Pay For!

By Bob Nunley, Rodmaker


In this day of resurgence of fine bamboo fly rods, on thing important to know is what you are buying and who you are buying it from. How do you know? How can you filter through the Internet and advertising hype and find out the truth about a rodmaker? Well, sometimes that's hard to do, but there are ways to protect yourself from the many "wannabe" builders and find a true rodmaker that makes a fine fishing instrument.

There are several rodmakers out there whose reputations speak for themselves. Those makers who are still in business from what many call the "Golden Era" of cane have proven themselves and stand above the many who rely on self glorification and claims, sometimes false claims, of being rodmakers. Those who come to mind right off are Ron Kusse, Bob Summers, Bob Taylor, Walt Carpenter and Mark Aroner. There are also three large rod companies that are safe, consistent and established; Orvis, Thomas and Thomas and Winston. All of these individuals and companies are well established and we know what kind of rods they produce. Safe buys? Yes, absolutely!

So, how do we know about those who are not so established and well known? Of course, the best way to know is to have hands on experience with their rods. Nothing tells the tale more than to have a rod in your hand and can cast it and view the cosmetic quality.

What about the new age of rodmakers? Well, that's where I have concerns. There are many out there who make claims of being rodmakers, and sure, they do make rods, but how many rods have they actually made? Have they made enough to establish themselves as rodmakers in the true sense? Many have not. Regardless of how pretty their websites are and how well they speak of themselves, many of the modern day rodmakers have not even exceeded 50 rods. Fifty Rods? In my opinion, 50 rods is about half the number a maker should make before he has any idea whether he'll ever BE a rodmaker.

Even in this age of sharing of information, there are some things only time and experience will overcome.

I know one of the new age makers who has sold less than 20 rods in his very short career, yet he advertises himself as though he were an experienced rodmaker. I know another who after making his first two rods, started a self glorification campaign on several bulletin boards and list serves, touting himself as an experienced rodmaker. The scary thing is that it worked. These two are now becoming well known in the rodmaking world. When you consider one of the new era rodmakers, you need to thoroughly check them out. They aren't always what they're cracked up to be. I have two prime examples of that in my shop right now. One rod is from a maker who sells a lot of his rods through a broker at what might be considered a very cheap price (usually, there's a reason that a rod is cheap). The rod was crooked, the guides misaligned, they were home made and BADLY home made, and the maker told the customer that it was just the nature of cane rods, that they were ALL like that. He refused to fix it, so his customer, who is also one of my customers, sent the rod to me to be repaired.

The other is a rod that belongs to another of my customers for which he paid a very high price. It has been back to the maker twice to fix problems. The rod has yet to be fixed or fished! The second time it came back, it was still not acceptable, so he sent it here and asked me to fix it. These are the kind of makers you need to weed out of the flock of wannabes! Check out their website, of course, then ask them for a list of customers to contact. Ask the customer how well the rod was made, how clean the finish is, how well the rod casts, ask what kind of customer service he received from the maker.

Ask if he had any concerns with the rod when he received it and if so, did the maker address the concerns to his satisfaction and most important ask if the customer owns any other cane rods. After all, if it was his first cane rod, then he may not even know if he has a bad product! He may think it's the best thing since sliced bread, and not have any idea what he's talking about! Get on the Internet and post on the various flyfishing and cane rod bulletin boards and ask for the opinions of others who either own or have cast or fished a particular makers rod. The Internet can be a powerful advertising tool for those who are trying to make a name for themselves without having the experience behind them, but it can also be a powerful tool for weeding out the wannabes from the true rodmakers.

What about lead time, or the amount of time it takes for a maker to get a rod in your hands from the day you order? Well, lead time is a funny thing. A maker can make the lead time anything he wants it to be. Many buyers are of the opinion that if it takes a year or two or three to get a rod, that it must be among the best rods! Sometimes that's true, and sometimes it's not. When you talk about makers like the ones listed above, who are established and who have more orders than they can handle, then yes, you may have to wait a year or more for a rod merely because that maker has so many orders and he just can't get to yours for awhile. BUT... there are other reasons for long lead times.

The most prominent one, in my opinion, is what I call "the hook." The maker hooks you into thinking that if it's going to take eighteen months for him to make you a rod that they are popular, busy and overrun with orders because their rods are top quality! In many cases, it's merely a promotional thing! It's something to make you think that you have to wait in line to get one of their rods. When a maker quotes you a long lead time, don't immediately assume that it's because he's a good rodmaker. First, check it out. Does the maker make rods full time or is he a weekend rodmaker who just doesn't have the time to dedicate to working on rods? If he's full time, then really check him out! If you didn't read his name above and he's giving you an extremely long lead time, then consider the possibility that it could be just hype to give the appearance of his rods being as desirable as those of some of the modern day masters.

Caveat Emptor says it all... Buyer Beware! Check out the maker, his product, his customers and his history. Does this automatically protect you from buying a lemon when you're shopping for oranges? No, but it sure does increase your chances of finding someone who will make you a good bamboo rod that will serve you for many years.

Well, if I haven't stepped on any toes, then I'll be absolutely shocked! I expect that I'll get hate mail from many who read this, but I'm really not worried. The ones that are offended by this article are the ones that I'm trying to warn you about. ~ Bob Nunley


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