Bamboo Fly Rods

Bamboo Fly Rod Building

The process of building bamboo fly rods is a uniquely enjoyable experience that is simple to learn and yet takes years to master. As many rod makers say, nothing beats the experience of catching fish with a tool you made yourself. It's quite a rewarding feeling, one that will surely be remembered, to be able to say you made something yourself and then prove how well it works. Because besides the happiness you get from doing it yourself, there's the happiness you get from the actual usefulness of catching fish with it.

Those who have learned the activity of creating their own bamboo rods say that it is such a wonderfully relaxing craft, one borne out of tradition and history - a real labor of love.  The process is simple enough once you see it in action. But you need to be skilled in order to really make a wonderful rod, and it takes years to learn all the tricks of the trade. And it also takes a decent amount of time to complete the whole rod making process from start to finish - about 40 hours or so - even for professionals. The average angler might be better off simply buying one from these professional rod builders. You can always watch a video of the rod building methods, or if you know of rod builders in your area, it would be a great treat to watch them craft one in person.

Materials & Tools

The process of bamboo fly rod building is always interesting. It all starts with the materials, and the main one is obviously bamboo. Contrary to popular belief, bamboo is not really a wood. Bamboo belongs to the grass family. The Tonkin cane is by far the #1 choice to use for making split cane bamboo rods. Even though it looks weak because it is so flexible, the Tonkin cane possesses tremendous strength in its fibers. By harnessing this strength, rod builders can make bamboo fly rods that are very solidly built, bendable yet resilient, and a pleasure to use.

Other materials needed include:

  • Glue to bind the pieces of cane into one in a hexagonal form
  • String to tie the split canes together to combine them together with the glue
  • Enamel and lacquer is used at the end of the process to give the nearly complete rod a slick finish

Several tools are needed for each step of the building process. This list includes most of them, but of course each one could be replaced or improvised with some other type of equipment.

  • A heat gun or torch to flame the culm to soften it up. Back then, rod builders would use the flame from their oil lamps.
  • A standard screwdriver with a  sharp blade attached at the end, used to split the cane
  • An large oven to temper the rod by heating it
  • Fine grit sandpaper to smooth the enamel
  • Block planes
  • Scraper plane
  • Splicing blocks
  • Dial calipers
  • Dial indicator depth gauge
  • Planing forms

The Process

Building a bamboo fly rod is better learned by seeing than by reading (although there are a couple great books on the subject). Thankfully in this day and age it's easy to watch videos of the entire rod making process from start to finish. Watch these videos:

The whole procedure of making a bamboo fly rod takes a lot of time - several days. Generally about 40 hours is required just for completing one split cane rod. A huge amount of skill is involved even if it is simple. Famous rod makers have developed their own ways, their own techniques, in their own styles. The most renowned makers for example develop their own tapers, and plenty of others copy these tapers because they work so well.

With the recent rise in demand for bamboo fly rods, mass production of the split cane rod has developed in places like China. Conveniently located closer to the sources of bamboo material, along with low labor costs, mass production in Asia has enabled buyers around the world to purchase bamboo fly rods at lower prices than ever before. These rods will be showing up in big fishing stores soon if they haven't already. You would think, though, that since they are cheap, and made by unknown workers, the quality of rods won't be very good.

Constructing a split cane bamboo fly rod is an long and arduous process, yet somehow through passed on tradition many have turned it into wonderful, relaxing past-time. If you own a bamboo fly rod or plan to get one, you owe it to yourself to learn more about how it's made. Who knows, you might even end up making one yourself.