A.K. Best is like the Wayne Gretzky of fly fishing….(I’d call Lee Wulff the Gordie Howe. Regardless), A.K. has written a ton of books from fly tying to fishing, each covering such a wide variety of fly fishing topics and I have read them all. Also, he is a hardcore Cane rod aficionado. This being my first official interview as well as the fact that I hold the man in such high regard, conducting the task proved to be more difficult than I had imagined.
For starters, I don’t have a strong grasp on East coast vs. West Coast time zone and this led to me agreeing to call A.K. immediately after I got out of work for the day. So I got my note pad, my fiancé’s IPhone to record and put my IPhone on speaker. The other issue was location. I could only peacefully conduct the interview in my truck. This in itself creates another issue. My 1994 Ford pickup truck, (Robert the-redFORD) can only keep the A/C on full blast, or totally off. If not, the cab fills with smoke. But I couldn’t hear A.K. if I had the A/C blasting. So in my work parking lot, leaning over my dash talking into two cell phones and sweating like a pig, I interviewed the A.K. Best. I nervously asked him if he had time to talk, even though he of course had time to talk – that was the whole point of the phone call. “Yes. I do have time. Let me grab my wine and a cigar and I’m going to head out to the deck.” Damn. This dude is living the dream!
A.K. grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Great Depression. “When the chores were done my Dad and I would go to the river and fish for Carp. And that was free food. Ended up in Michigan, discovered brook trout and it changed my life. When I got into fly-fishing it was fiberglass rods; solid. They were heavy and ugly as shit. Then there was a sporting goods store in the town I lived in. I went in and told him I was looking for a cane rod. He said, ‘Well, I got an old Heddon rod back here that was my grandfathers.’ And I walked out. Figured I’d get an Orvis. Guy only wanted $50 bucks. So I went home and thought, ‘Jesus $50 bucks for a cane rod?’ So I went back and bought it. It was a Heddon Model 50. I later found out the Model 50 was called that because they only made 50 rods!” Do you still have it and fish with it? “It’s one of those rods that defy gravity and the fly has eyes. We get a lot of wind out here so I fish it on calm days with a hatch. It will turn a hot rainbow in white water.” That’s sweet. “That is sweet.”
“I bought a few water seal blanks; built a few myself. But I built that for Bass fishing with a WF7. You can cast to the horizon and lift a 4lb bass up to the bank. It’s a heavy rod. It will wear your arm out.” According to A.K., just about everything that can be done with bamboo has been done. “I was in Italy for a fly tying competition and fished a rod with bamboo ferrules. It was the first time I’d ever seen that and was afraid to power the cast – thought I was going to break the ferrule off. And I kept thinking, ‘How the hell do they keep this from snapping off at the ferrule?’ But it didn’t, and eventually I was throwing some nice casts.”
I’ve been obsessed with the idea of making something that will last. It’s part of the reason I got into cane. “I worked in a fly shop here awhile back. A guy came in and asked why cane is better than graphite. So I took a butt section of a Thomas and Thomas on the floor and I walked on it. Then I put a section of a graphite rod out and asked if he wanted to walk on that. He said, ‘Hell no.’ Bingo.”
If you could fish one cane rod and one fly rod, what would they be? “I’d take that Mike Clark 8.5 5wt. And a parachute Adams. I like a progressive taper. I hate those parabolics. Can’t cast ’em for shit. Bends too far down into the butt section for me.” So how do you see the future of bamboo fly rod making? “There are hundreds of amateur rod makers now, and some of them are turning out rods just as good as the high end ones. All a rod has to do is cast the line the way you like to cast.”
Do you collect rods? “I have the rods I need and fish. I’m not a collector.”
I didn’t have the technology to present this interview via sound over the website, thank God. While I’ve edited it to (hopefully) look professional, a real comparison of the transcript would be to the famous Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley and Paul McCartney. Farley is interviewing McCartney on his propped talk show and is big, dumb, clumsy, and nervously asking questions like, “So…uh..you like music?” Or, “Uh…ah man I’m and idiot!?” That was basically me, “So uh….you..uh..fish..? with..uh.. bamboo..?”
Yes, I was that bad. Now luckily for myself and anyone interested in hearing anything that A.K. had to say, he is a down-to-earth normal guy, as opposed to me, the weirdo. He carried the conversation; I had to snap myself out of it half way through. I could have listened to him tell stories all day. I wish I could just pick up and move out to Colorado. But, how can I get my fiance to agree? “Does she fly fish?” No. “Does she hike?” No. “Does she golf?” No. “Does she bike?” No. “You’re stuck in New Jersey, man.”
Pops and I have joked on fishing trips while making coffee or tying on a dry fly, “This is what A.K. would do.” And I was just talking cane with A.K. Best.
It was “sweet.”