February 13, 2024


“An unformal Conversation with Hoagy Carmichael”

In the last 20 years Split Cane Bamboo Fly Rods are living a kind of renaissance. In fact in the US market, despite they always have had a small piece of the market (mostly for collectors and vintage tackles lovers), they had a bad time in the middle of 80’s when they sales went hardly down. At that time in the European market they were almost disappeared. Certanly the introduction of fiberglass first, and then the carbon era, had a great impact on these trends.

Those sad times seem to be past for the “sweetgrass” and as we said in the past years the Split Canes are living their new youth; we could say that maybe today their market has a great vitality as it has never had before. This new interest leaded a lot of fishing and outdoors magaziness to present several articles dedicated to the bamboo fly rods.

As a rodmaker, i have always considered a kind of duty, to keep myself updated about the National and International world of rodmaking, in order to understand the latest news. So i often have between my hands or on my computer screen, specialized Magazines. Well, reading most of those articles published i have noticed that directly or indirectly a couple of questions were always treated, repeated like a Mantra.

  • Why choose a Bamboo Rod?
  • How can we get free Split Canes Fly Rods from the prejudices that are referred to them?

From my point of view, beign able to find a good answer to those questions has been always of great interest, but also not easy under standing about how approach the question. After some experience made on the workshop and along the rivers, i think i have finally found a good answer, at least it works well with me.

The past May, the Italian Bamboo Rodmakers Association (IBRA), have arranged very professionally as usual, the annual gathering. With great surprise i saw on the special guests list the name of Mr Hoagy Carmichael, so the possibility to talk with him about those Mantra questions has been to sweet to let it going away.

Trying to introduce Hoagy Carmichael makes me a bit shy. The 99% of people enlvolved with Split Cane Bamboo Fly Rods knows exactly who he is. He’s a great connoisseur of the bamboo world (maybe the greatest one) and in the middle of 70’s he published a book that it’s considered by all the rodmakers a kind of Holy Bible. Of course i’m talking about the  book “A Master’s Guide to Building a Bamboo Fly Rod” (Garrison/Carmichael). The book came out thanks to the friendship between Hoagy Carmichael and one of the best Rodamkers in the world: Everett Garrison. They met each other fishing the famous waters of the Catskill area in the USA.

(me with Hoagy Carmichael)

Hoagy today is hugely reknown as a good Rodmaker but also a great Vintage rods collector and between his collections there are names like Leonard, Garrison and Payne of course, which he considers the best rodmakers of the history. During our unformal conversion held in Tuscany, I have been very surprised by his kindness and modesty. So the conversion flew away in a moment.

First question was about the New Era of bamboo, trying to figure out the reasons of it. Hoagy thinks that the main reasons that made this New Age possible are basicly two:

  • The number of rodmakers has been hugely increased from the middle of 80’s so more people started to think about how to make bamboo rods and this brought to the movement new ideas and different building approaches;
  • Conseguently the number of the rods available increased, giving so the chance to more people to try them on the rivers.

So thanks to this changes Bamboo rods have had more diffusion, trying to get out from the old stereotypes. It’s a duty to say that one of the main level that made this diffusion possible was the great interest created by the Hoagy’s book  “A Master’s Guide to Building a Bamboo Fly Rod” (Garrison/Carmichael)

Another very interesting point touched during the conversation has been related to the quality of modern Bamboo Rods compared to the older ones (‘800 and ‘900). Hoagy had no problem to confirm that the modern Bamboo Rods have for sure an higher quality compared to the older ones.

(A J.Payne “Canadian Canoe” – 8′)

This is due for sure to the innovations brought inside the Boo world both in term of materials and in term of projecation vectors.

The old glues (based on animal origin) has been replaced by modern epoxy glues and the oil varnishing has been replaced by Polyurethane vanrishes.

From a projectation point of view, the renewing of the hollow building technique give a decreasing in term of total weight of the rode qual to 1/3, but it allows to the rodmaker to get an impact also on the taper action. Also the introduction of Bamboo Ferrules brought new approach on taper projectation bringing also some weight decrease. To these add the different shapes commonly used (quad, penta, hex, rect quad etc) and also some other shape very interesting like the wided hex that worth to be investigated on a deeper way.  So all these aspects allow to the rodmaker to work on the total weight of the rod, on its distribution and the balance point of the rod, figuring out rods able to perfom greatly in term of very nice progressive actions. Related to this aspect a mention to the natural frequency of the rod is very useful (see something more about Natural Frequency on these articles http://massimotirocchi.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/living-the-bamboo-new-age-the-italian-job-part-1/ and http://massimotirocchi.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/living-the-bamboo-new-age-the-italian-job-part-2/).

Last but not least is important to give a mention to the mechanical features of the Bamboo, regarding its strenghness, and capacity to polymerization when treated with heat. Bamboo has a great capabilities to absorbe vibration and from this point of view this natural material is even better than carbon.

So why people think Bamboo is weak?  Maybe a good part of this thinking can be attribuited to some rodmaker and some Vintage freak flyfisherman. Most of the time they showed us Bamboo Rod behind a glass where the write “Do not Touch”.

The last point we touched during the conversation regards the using of machines on the buildings. He said that machines or handmade it doesn’t matter for the real quality of the rod, eventhough he confirmed that he makes his rods totally by hand. Doing so he can  keep step by step the total control on the making process.

What really makes the different for a high quality bamboo rod is and another one, it’s for sure who makes the rod. From the Hoagy’s point of view a good rodmaker must have the follwoing capabilities:

  • Being a great caster
  • Have a great under standing and sensitivity on tapers design
  • Great craftmaship

Ok so after these points we can try to give an answer to the Mantra questions: Why choose a bamboo rods?

First of all the balance between quality of the rods and their prices has been higly increased. So if in the past Bamboo Rods were something for few people today it’s more affordable by more people.

Second point is that today also the more sofisticated anglers can have Split Cane Fly Rods with great performances in term of action, weight, balancing point and durability.

But maybe the reason i like mostly is a kind of romantic view.

In the last years tech’s had a great role in the humanity history. This brought great adavantages to our lives but also great damnages. In the fly fishing world was quite the same. In the last years most of the fishermen has been focused on great tenchnical aspects related to the casting style and fishing tackles. Often i see on the rivers men/women that look first to their gesture celebrating themselves, rather than celebrate the magnificence of the nature that gently hosts them.

The true beauty of this world is made by passion and gentle souls who live the rivers like a guest should do, using respect and being polite with their host. Maybe it is a line fluttering gracefully in the air that we seek the perfect union with that which surrounds us, trying to be part of a whole and not the undisputed. Those harmonious gestures are the gateway for reaching to the total harmony of the whole.

The fly fishing movement needs to find again that romantic way, trying to bring more heart on the river. Maybe a bamboo rod could be the magic wand able to do this miracle.