The “Split Cane Rod” or “Bamboo Fly Rod” are just two of the terms given to the classic fly fishing rod made of bamboo. British anglers often use the term “Split Cane” and an American will favor the term “Bamboo. Indeed individual anglers will often have other terms of endearment for their priceless possessions. The box stores are not likely to have bamboo fly rods for sale, but a few are coming around again.
The Golden Age of Bamboo fly rod production was a 75-year era between the 1870s and 1950s, before the advent of fiberglass and mass produced fly rods. Nevertheless, the prowess of the skilled fly rod maker and the cutting edge performance of the classic bamboo fly rod have not been forgotten; these precision pieces are still in use and highly cherished by their owners.
Bamboo seems the most obvious choice of material for a fishing rod and has probably seen plenty of use for this purpose since time immemorial. But not any species will do for the ultimate fly rod, out of the possible thousand different species of bamboo, Tonkin Cane — Pseudosasa amabilis or Arundinaria amabilis— is the only one with the correct density of fibers that provide precise strength and flexibility for the ultimate rod.
Tonkin Cane also has better spacing between the nodes and was straighter than the Calcutta Cane, which it soon replaced as the predominant choice of bamboo for fly rod production. This type of Bamboo grows only in one place on earth, a 48,000 acre region of Guangdong Province along the Sui River known as the Tonkin Gulf.
Making the Cane
The bamboo stalks are selected for superior straightness and then sliced into triangles of equal dimensions which all taper to a precise point. The tolerances for these measurements are held within “0.001”. These precise measurements will determine the final diameter when the split strips are laminated into square, hexagonal or even octagonal cross sections.
The final product sometimes resembles a pencil. The diameter of the rod or blank is very important and is measured every few inches. These measurements decrease as the rod tapers from a finer tip to a thicker butt. The exact proportions selected will decide the performance of the blank.
The task of creating the perfects ratios, wrapping the guides with fine silk, varnishing the blank and creating a comfortable cork handle and authentic wooden reel seat can take an experienced rod maker over forty hours. The final production is a masterpiece of engineering and functionality.
A Bamboo rod will deliver a smooth backcast that features its own ‘damping effect’ as the backcast finishes. At the forward cast the line is thrown with the same ‘damping’ effect that follows through to the end of the cast as the angler directs the line across the target water with perfect precision — when wielded with a skilled hand.
Expert casters and sporting enthusiasts have compared the performance of a fine bamboo rod to that of a superior musical instrument. Many master craftsmen have innovated the classic design of the bamboo fly rod, such as Jim Payne, Everett Garrison, E.W. Edwards, H.L. Leonard; have elevated the production of the bamboo fly rods for sale from fishing gear to fine arts.
Caring for a Bamboo Fly Rod
A bamboo rod will perform better if properly maintained. With proper care a bamboo rod can function well for many decades. Besides enjoying proper use, the rods should be thoroughly cleaned and stored in a cool dry location out of the sunlight. These rods should never be bent by force and the sections must be disassembled when not in use.
With proper care and use the natural fibers that make these rods precision instruments will endure. Because of this many bamboo fly rods exist that are over a century old and still esteemed by world class anglers today.