Individual taste in books varies as much as the favorite rod or fly.  With that in mind, we hope to review books and videos from the ever-growing fly fishing world, and share them with you.  Books will be the best of all worlds, new and old.  Many of the old books are now available in reprint, and the wisdom contained is timely today.  Others can be found in second-hand book stores, or by mail order dealers. As we find videos we feel are outstanding they will be included. Be assured, reviews are based on what we have actually read, and due to that fact, may not appear weekly.

March 20th, 2006

A Wisp on the Wind: In Search of Bull Trout, Bamboo and Beyond
By Jerry Kustich

Reviewed by Paul F. Vang, MT

A Wisp in the Wind
It's ironic how it turned out. My friend, Jerry Kustich of Twin Bridges, Montana, is a flyfisherman, rod builder and writer. His latest book is, A Wisp in the Wind; In Search of Bull Trout, Bamboo and Beyond. Previous books are At the River's Edge, and Flyfishing for Great Lakes Steelhead, co-authored with his brother, Rick Kustich.

The theme of the book is an in-depth and loving view of the R. L. Winston Rod Company's bamboo flyrod shop. Kustich learned the craft of bamboo rodmaking under Glenn Brackett, a former co-owner of Winston Rods, and part of the team that moved Winston from San Francisco to Twin Bridges in 1976.

Some anglers believe there's a mystique to bamboo rods. Years ago, most fishing rods, especially flyrods, were made of bamboo. In the post-WWII years, fiberglass and then graphite-based materials replaced bamboo for the bulk of the angling public. Bamboo remains the material of choice for a relatively small handful of craftsmen around the country who continue to turn out split bamboo rods for discerning anglers, many of whom refuse to fish with anything but bamboo.

The Winston Rod Company is the one of the few mass-production companies that still produce bamboo flyrods. They are clearly a premium rod; a three-piece trout rod retails for $3,000.

A Wisp in the Wind centers on the bamboo shop that's located in a non-descript metal building in a back alley in Twin Bridges, blocks and years removed from the modern Winston headquarters building on the outskirts of town. In the book, Jerry describes the rod-building process and the many painstaking steps involved with building a bamboo rod.

The author uses conversations among the rod builders in the Winston shop as a basis for examining what's good and what's disturbing about the environment, pressure on fishing waters, life in small towns in rural Montana, family relationships, and, of course, fishing, particularly fishing with bamboo rods. As Jerry says in one chapter, "There is something special about the rods we build. It is undeniable. You can sense the magic in the completed work."

Let me cut to the chase. "Wisp in the Wind" is a total delight. I'm a relatively fast reader but I deliberately rationed the amount of time I spent on reading 'Wisp', because I wanted to prolong the pleasure.

Now for the irony. At the time the book came out in December, the four bamboo rod builders resigned their jobs. The basis for the resignation revolved around Brackett's hiring an apprentice for the bamboo shop. The prospective employee from out-of-state had quit his job, put his house on the market, and was preparing to move to Twin Bridges just to learn, at a low wage, the craft of bamboo rod building at the side of the masters. When Winston's CEO, Mike "Woody" Woodard nixed the deal, Brackett resigned in protest. Jerry Kustich, Jeff Walker and Wayne Maca followed suit. These four craftsmen had a combined 80 years of rod building experience.

In January I spent an afternoon with Kustich at the bamboo shop. Jerry showed me the operation, starting with bamboo, the machinery that cuts bamboo into strips, and the painstaking process of gluing, sanding and varnishing that turns raw materials into precious heirlooms.

The rod builders were working hard to finish a number of rods they had committed to complete before the end of January (later extended to mid-February). Still, there was a palpable sadness in the air. There was also a sense of bitterness about what happened. Perhaps there was also a sense of relief as well. Tensions between CEO Woodard and the bamboo shop group have been building a long time, due in part to Woodard's frequent sniping at the independent, though highly profitable, way this little 'skunkworks' operated.

Woodard maintains that R. L. Winston will continue to make bamboo rods with employees reassigned from the main facility. In the March 2006 issue of Flyfisherman magazine, Woodard said, "Our goal is to continue to build the best bamboo rods in the world right here in Twin Bridges."

Perhaps. Nevertheless, if I ever feel rich enough to splurge on one of those $3,000 bamboo rods anytime in the near future, I'd first make sure it was built in Glenn Brackett's shop in the good old days. Then I'd re-read A Wisp in the Wind for Jerry Kustich's affectionate account of its making. ~ PFV

A Wisp in the Wind
By Jerry Kustich
Hardcover, 16 beautiful illus; 6x9 inches, 240 pages
West River Publishing Co, November 2005
ISBN: 0-9633109-4-1
Price: $24.95 US

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