By Ted Gordon, SFBCA member
It’s winter and fly fishing is in hiatus. Maybe you are a new member of the Scarborough Fly and Bait Casting Association, or an old one. No matter. This is the perfect season to consider making your own split bamboo fly fishing rod. Yes… a serious fly fishing rod that if bought from a store would cost more than a thousand dollars can be made by you for only a portion of that price.
The Scarborough Fly and Bait Casting Association is the only club in Toronto, and possibly in the entire country where members can learn to build their own bamboo fly rods. Take it from me, I had may first rod finished a few months after I joined the SFBCA.
When I became a member of the club, I was looking for a place where I could learn to fly fish. I had never even heard of split bamboo fly fishing rods, but when the president of the club, Gordon Deval told about them, I became extremely interested. I consider myself lucky, as I was individually mentored by Gord, who is also one of the best fly casters in the country and a multi year fly casting champion. “The Old Guy” as we affectionately call him, took the time to introduce me to this beautiful material called bamboo and taught me, step by step how to build a fly fishing rod “from scratch”. From a bamboo culm that we cut to size, split it into strips and planed it, despite my impatience, came out my first fly fishing rod.
It is said that it takes about 40 hours of work to build one rod, but that depends on your skills and abilities- as a person that holds a desk job, I wasn’t the fastest, but I compensated with dedication. My first rod had some defects, but it worked beautifully and provide me the pleasure and satisfaction of catching some gorgeous trout.
I can summarize the rod building process as follows: the first step is splitting the bamboo culm into strips: six for the butt and six for the tip. These strips have to be planed rectangular, nodes flatten and then planed again into triangular splines. Once planed into equilateral triangles, the next step is hollowing and flutting. that is, removing the “tips” of the triangles such that when assembled together, all along the rod there will be a cavity that makes it lighter and more flexible. The splines are then glued. The next step is to remove the outer shell of the bamboo, then the ferrules installed. A coat of varnish helps protect the bamboo from water damage. Next comes the making of a handle -best recommended is the use of high quality cork from Portugal. Finally the guides and tip top are installed: using rod building thread, the guides are wrapped onto the rod and then covered with epoxy. Once varnished again and dried, the rod is ready for fishing.
My bamboo fly fishing rod was finished in good time to enjoy the season that had just opened.
The rods we build at the Scarborough Fly and Bait Casting Association were designed by our president Gord Deval. There are designs to please almost every taste, but our all time favorite is the Ganny. Named after the Ganaraska river, this is a 6 foot fly fishing rod perfect for the small streams east of Toronto and because of its size and characteristics, is the one we use to introduce people to the art of bamboo rod building. The Ganny is a petite beauty, normally able to handle 4 or 5 weight lines. If you decide to build a Ganny, you will be pleasantly surprised when you fish it.