February 2nd, 2009

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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The Bamboo Year
By Tim Giger (Bluegill222)

As I look back through the years and attempt to recall them as individual units, they seem to be catalogued in my memory by theme. Some are fishing years. Some are defined by issues at work, at home, or by a specific event (for instance, that portion of my teen years that will always be labeled "the scouting years.") Not that those are the only things that happened, or even sometimes the most memorable in a given year; they just seem to be what that year gets filed under in my memory. 2008 was definitely a fishing year. I met several fellow FAOLers, fished with Ohiotuber for steelhead and trophy bluegills, put Byron Zuehlsdorff onto his first wiper, spent a summer evening with Jiggin on a friend's farm pond. I didn't get to fish with Joe Hyde this year, and once more failed to get Betty Hiner away from the trout stream. It was also my first full year of marriage, Marguerite's first trout on the fly, and trying to find room for the accumulations of two lives in one house. But, when I dig the last twelve months out of the memory banks in the years to come, it will almost certainly be labeled the year of the bamboo rod.

A while back, I got a deal I couldn't refuse on a 6wt Partridge Cumberland bamboo blank. What I didn't have was even an inkling of how to transform the blank into a rod. Betty told me that if I got the components I wanted, she would build the rod. It took me quite a while to pick out a reel seat, finally having to resort to having one made, and make all the other little decisions that seem to go into such a project. We finally got it all together, Betty did her magic, and about the time the ice was going out this spring, she placed in my hand a beautiful, finished bamboo rod.

This is not my first bamboo rod. My first bamboo rod came from my father by way of my grandfather, is three times older than I am (we'll just say it's old and save the math for another day), and looks to be about a 3wt with both tips and all the original hardware still intact. I've fished it a few times, but despite knowing how strong and durable bamboo is, I've always been a little afraid to use it much. My new rod, being a 6wt and not so heavily burdened by family history, was destined to see a lot of water and hopefully a lot of species.

After a few weeks of restlessly waiting for the last of the ice to go away, I finally got a chance to test my new rod at a housing development pond on the edge of town. Not the pristine mountain meadow streams one imagines when he thinks of bamboo rods and fly fishing, but a very fishy place nonetheless and a frequent test site for new flies and equipment. Bass and bluegill are fairly abundant there and on a sunny early spring day can be cooperative.

The very first fish to take my olive soft hackle was a five inch bluegill. I was amazed at how well the rod transmitted the fishes every action. Even with such a little fish I could feel everything. Once a fish was on, it felt like a 3wt. I instantly fell in love. I couldn't wait to get into a bass or something with a little size to it in order to see what the rod could really do. It wasn't in the cards that day, though the bluegills and baby bass kept me more than entertained.

I almost took it with me to fish steelhead with Mike and Joe V., but it's a two piece and I wasn't able to carry it on the plane with me so I left it at home. The spring wiper and white bass run didn't cooperate with my work schedule very well, but as spring ran into summer I added redears, larger bass, and crappie to the list of species on the new bamboo. As I went I learned what the rod could do, what flies it could handle, and, more importantly, what changes I had to make in my casting and fishing to get the most out of the rod. Even a slow action graphite rod is completely different than the deliberate, smooth action of that bamboo rod.

As the summer warmed up, I got more confident in myself and the rod both and decided it was time to look for bigger fish. I tied up a few crayfish colored clousers and headed to one of the local spillways to see about a carp or two. Never did get a carp, but on several occasions I found freshwater drum willing to take a fly. I found that with a little side pressure and patience I could land anything on the bamboo that I could handle on any other rod I owned. The more I felt the balance between power and subtle sensitivity, the more I began to understand why those who speak of bamboo and fish it regularly, speak in tones usually reserved for religion and poetry. It's also difficult to fish bamboo for any length of time at all without feeling yourself become more rooted in the history of the sport so that casting can begin to feel like time travel.

In September, Marguerite and I took a long anticipated trip to Northeast Iowa to do a little trout fishing. It would be her first shot at trout on a fly and my first trout on the bamboo. Both of us were successful, and I added brown, brook, and rainbow trout to the rapidly growing species list. Starting a separate "life list" in my mind for the bamboo was something that just sort of happened. I'm not even sure when exactly it started, but there is now a definite distinction between bamboo fly fishing and any other kind. Not a snobbishness (at least I hope not) as I still reach for the graphite rods fairly often when shorter, longer, lighter, or heavier rods would do the job better, but definitely a distinction.

Again the weather and my work schedule combined to delay my pursuit of whites and wiper on the bamboo. The one place I found the bamboo seriously handicapped me was in very windy situations, and my days off in the fall seemed to always come with strong winds. The winds were endured and fish were caught, just not on the bamboo. Then, finally, there was a day, late in October, when the winds were strong and the fish were absent, I decided to retreat to a spillway where I would at least be out of the wind. It was the same one I had caught the drum at in the summer. There wasn't a lot of water moving through, but I thought maybe a few crappies might save the day. It was also a good excuse to get out the bamboo for awhile as well. For about the first hour, small crappies were exactly what I got. I moved down to the tail of a set of riffles and started exploring the seams hoping a few larger crappies might be in these holding positions.

On the first cast, my streamer sank below the surface but then the line immediately stopped. A rock? Maybe one of the many line snarls the bait fisherman have left here? I lifted the rod to see if I could free the fly and the line went tight and headed out into the current. No rock, then, and probably not a crappie either the way it was taking line. After a few minutes the fish rolled close enough to see black stripes on silver. Finally! It turned out to be a fat white bass. Not a really big one, but big enough to put the pull on. That was the only white bass of the day, but I did manage to find a few of those bigger crappies to finish out the afternoon.

There were other trips and other fish, but soon came Thanksgiving followed by the retail holiday season. The next time I looked up everything was frozen and it was time to concentrate on tying flies for next spring. Now the rod is sitting in the corner, next to Grandfather's rod, where it has been recently joined by a Phillipson Bamboo I picked up for Marguerite, impatiently waiting for the start of another fishing year. Who knows what theme will mark 2009 for future reference, but you can bet that bamboo and fly fishing will be in there somewhere. ~ Tim Giger


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