Go West

we're gonna get lost...

we’re gonna get lost…


Almost a half year into marriage and I’m being forced to become a grown man. Like a round peg being shoved into a square hole, I’m resistant. It is uncomfortable, but with compromise bearable. I’ve taken a stand that before any attempt at procreation is made I will venture West for a mans fishing trip.
George and I have kicked the idea of doing a trip out west for years. Chow and Luke are interested despite the normal ball busting and complaining regarding what lie ahead. At our planning meeting last weekend Chow dubbed me the “guarantee fairy” after I described to the three of them everything I have read on the Flat Head rivers south fork. Chow then concluded that he only hunts “hammer trout, especially if I gotta to walk for em”. Kid once went 4 week long trips to Maine in what he called a “slump”, trout-less.

The South Fork of the Flathead river is apparently one of the most remote rivers in the lower 48 states. Despite its increased fishing pressure over the years it remains teeming with wild west slope cutthroat trout. Thankfully, to satisfy Chow this river system also contains the mammoth bull trout. From what I can gather online, books, and maps were looking at about a 25 miles hike into the wilderness area. I did get a D in geography so George will double and triple check our route before takeoff from Jersey. He will also be flying out with his .44 magnum to fend off grizzly bears. Chow and Luke both have no fear of said animal of course. I on the other hand will be loaded with bear spray, bear bells, singing Miley Cyrus up and down the trail.
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Joe Humpreys, the famed Pennsylvania fly fisherman once said that “you always have to have something to look forward to. That’s the secret to life.” Typically I’d dispute this as Id like to focus my attention on the moment at hand. However in this circumstance I cannot agree with Joe more. Everyday I spend at least some time thinking about Montana.What we need, the rods I will make for the trip and reels that will accompany them. What it will look like, the fish we will catch, just the sheer size of the mountains.
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As a self proclaimed gear nut I cant help but think about rods and tapers to make specifically for the trip. I’d like to have at least 4 cane rods done for our trip in late July. I have gotten some advice online from guys who have fished the river and most recommend a 5wt. Atleast a 6wt for the bull trout. It will definetly have to be a three piece taper. The first rod that comes to my mind is a Granger 8040. Known as a work horse do it all rod that was born in the West. Problem is, to accuratly replicate a granger taper you would need custom drawn ferrules. I do not make ferrules at this junctior. Many rodmakers use stepdowns or modify the taper slightly to accommodate different ferrules. Another roadblock is I cant even locate a reliable copy of this taper and don’t want to make something modified at the ferrule stations. I love Paul young tapers, but they are mostly parabolic in action hence nearly all two piece format. Pending someone loaning me the taper for a Mike Clark Geirach/Best taper 8.5 5wt, my western rod will be derived from a familiar eastern maker.

Dennis Stone was gracious enough to post the taper for an FE Thomas special he had mic’d on the Clarks Classic Fly Rod Forum. Dennis describes the taper as a rod that casts itself, performing with just the leader out to 50 feet of line. It’s an 8 foot 3 piece 4-5 weight. My only fear is it being a little light for the West. But the beauty of being a maker is that Ill have plenty of time to try it out and decide if I need to make another rod with a little more muscle. Yet to cast an FET I haven’t loved, whether this rod makes the trip or not I wont regret planing this taper.

George will most likely end up with something by Payne or maybe try out a Dickerson. He seems to prefer the faster, stiffer rods. Something that does not flex above the grip. Chow and Luke could probably do with anything from a broomstick to a more sporting Dickerson taper that Ill end up making them both.

Why such an intense, crazy trip? If there is one thing the old man has embedded in my brain, its that “this ain’t no dress rehearsal”. We only go around once, and who knows when my next opportunity to go west will be. Especially a trip deep into the wilderness that requires so much preparation and time. And if I have children it would be irresponsible of me to venture into the heart of bear country, this has to happen now. That was excuse #323 that I have given to my new wife as to why this trip HAS to happen.

So we are going all out. If what I read about grizzly bears is true, Chow should be the one eaten first. No matter how many times I warn him, “guarantee” he will sneak food into his tent for a late night snack.

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Best Damn Man

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From the time my brothers and I began exchanging gifts on Christmas and birthdays my mother has accused me of buying them something that I want. Not nessacarily denying this accusation, but I hope my groomsmen gifts for the wedding didnt reflect this.

So my buddy Nick was awarded the privilege of my best man on the big day. For years Nick has asked me why I don’t bring him fishing. I try and explain to him that I typically don’t catch much and its not the type of fishing we both grew up doing. So for his groomsmen gift along with a bottle of Walker Blue, I hired a guide out of the Feathered Hook for a day.

While driving along Pine Creek, a trib of Penns Nick asked “What does no wa-dd-ing mean?” I couldn’t help but laugh. No Nick, that says no “wading” and its what were gonna be doing in an hour.

At that point I think we both realized we should have went over the whole fly fishing thing in more detail before the trip.

We ended up having an amazing day on Penns Creek and Spring Creek. Our guide Mitch from Outcast Angler was awesome. Of course Nick and I turned the day in to a heated bass master style competition running Mitch up and down the stream. Nick held his own, couldnt believe he managed to smoke a cigar and effectivly nymph a run. Kid suprised me. Despite what Nick says, he did not win competition. Nick and I also got laughing when looking over photos from the day it would appear our guide Mitch, has no legs. He does in fact have legs.

We didn’t fish cane during the day. Despite our guide Mitch having a rod of his own making packed in the truck in case we hit a hatch. That and I don’t ever want to be one of those pushy clients that insists on using a certain fly or a rod. Let the guide do his job. This payed off. I learned a ton from Mitch about nymphing and caught some amazing wild PA trout. Oh and Nick had fun too.

Lately I have only been able to get into the shop once a week. This simply won’t do. Expect more cane rod shop news as the season turns. “If you want something different, do something different.”

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Cool article and video on maker Jim Downes

http://www.centredaily.com/2013/05/04/3604977/casting-call-jim-downes-artfully.html

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Bound and Baked

Fresh out of oven. Ready for final planing!!!

Fresh out of oven. Ready for final planing!!!

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Roughing it.

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Split, enamel scraped, nodes attended to and ready to start looking like piece of a rod.

 

When showing someone the rod making process, it’s the transition of an 8ft long, 3inch around stalk of bamboo and transforming it into equal triangles 1/16th its original size that provokes the wide eyed look. Once the culm is spilt, sawed or hacked into smaller rectangular sections you have to turn those into triangles that will lay in your planning form. Rod makers do this a number of different ways.

 

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Rough spilt strip, bevelled strip.

 

 

Once we visited Jim Downes he showed us another option. Jim ran his strips through Bellingers Little Giant rough out beveller.  I immediately knew I had to have one of these machines. Square or rectangular strips are fed into the machine cutting both sides of your triangle in one pass. The bed is then continually raised to take off the desired amount of cane. Awesome machine, but as an amateur rod maker the price was out of my range. This machine also takes some criticism due to the cost of getting the unique cutting bit sharpened.

 

So I began researching. Most guys make a variation of this machine using a router and fabricating a bed. For about 300 bucks you can make your own beveller. Typically called a Medved style, which will cut one side per pass. So you send strip through, raise bed, flip strip and cut the other side. . Basically takes two passes to get what the Bellenger machine does in one.

 

From the beginning of this journey the old man and I had decided we didn’t want to waste time on making our tools, we would do our best to purchase what we could from reputable sources. So I did what I always do when the next shiny item sparks my interest. Started selling off my fishing gear to finance the purchase.  I came across a JW rough out beveller. Extremely similar to all the homemade medved type bevellers but classy as hell. I had found the machine used on a popular bamboo rod website. Before making my purchase I contacted the maker of the machine. I believe his name is Jerry, I honestly forget. What I do remember  was his awesome customer service  and the time he spent with me on the phone knowing I’d be purchasing a used machine, he would be receiving no business from me. He explained the usage, materials and construction. He was extremely helpful, and I pulled the trigger.

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I cannot recommend this machine enough. It cuts clean, fast and efficient. If you’re not lucky enough to find one lightly used they can be had new from http://www.jwflyrods.com/   for a price that is still half of the bellinger machine.

 

If anyone has questions on the machine feel free to ask.

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Ed Engle; Still “Splitting Cane”

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Modern day fishers of bamboo fly rods, credit the writing of John Gierach with having sparked the interest in cane rods. Fueling the desire to search the internet, hide away a considerable amount of money from the wife and purchase his first cane rod. For me it happened in my local Barnes & Noble when I picked up Ed Engle’s Splitting Cane. At the time, even my religious study of all works Gierach had yet to enlighten me to the beauty of a cane fly rod. The wooden rod on the front cover drew my attention and I purchased Splitting Cane. I finished the book in three days, thirsty for more. And so began my desire for knowledge regarding bamboo rods and there makers. While it continues to this day, I have come across nothing so intimate and enjoyable to read on the subject more than Ed’s book.

When I told my wife that I’d not be eating dinner, I had to interview someone for the blog she asked who. Why in the hell would she ask? As if she would possibly know anyone whom would relate to the content of my blog. I’m learning that’s what wives do. They ask questions. Sometimes they truly need an answer, sometimes it childlike curiosity, but more often than not they know the answer. The latter is when you can get in to trouble. Tread carefully.

Despite My loving wife exhibiting genuine curiosity I shifted my eyes, grumpily not wanting to have a conversation on a topic nor man she would have no knowledge of. I cockily gave her the answer, “Ed Engle, Heather. Know him?”

“That guy’s book is always left on the dresser.” Well shit. Guess I have to be careful, she is paying attention. Point being if Heather is able to correctly ID Ed Engle I don’t think a greater compliment can be paid to Ed, as I obviously worship his book.  After reading, purchasing, and at one point even stealing literary works on bamboo fly rods, no book gives me greater pleasure to read than Ed’s. A detailed look of some of the country’s finest rod makers and there way of life.  It’s the book I pick up when I cannot be at the work bench, it takes me to the places these rods are made and fished.

Once I started this blog I knew I had to interview Ed. He is the guru on today’s rods and their makers. Only problem is, I suck at interviews. Actually I don’t blame myself totally. The two guys I have interviewed for the blog have been so down to earth and genuine that we end up just bullshitting. Hopefully you find some of it to be of interest, and if not do yourself a favor and find a copy of Splitting Cane. That recommendation should make up for my sub-par “interview.”

We started with small talk, Ed genuinely interested in the guy calling him long distance. After me gushing over his book, John Bradford came up.

“He was a good guy, really nice to me. He was a character. His big deal for a while was restoring Payne’s, and then got into making his own tapers. He gave a rod to John Gierach; it was just a sweet casting rod. You can make the exact same rod from the same culm, but sometimes there is just one that stands out which is the beauty of using a natural material.”

I loved this. As many reading will know, John Bradford passed away not too long ago. But I found myself hearing first hand stories about him. Through his rods he is alive and well, and now a guy from New Jersey shares a piece of the man’s life through a blog. I have to believe that when John Bradford began making rods, no random guy from New Jersey would be typing his name on something called the internet. But his craftsmanship and the material carries him on. I hope to be so lucky someday. Just hope random guy from Jersey is a better writer than me.

Shortly after that, I bring up the chapter on Mike Clark. Engle takes us through the entire waiting process and into the building phase of his very own custom rod from Clark. If you don’t want to order yourself a rod after reading it then you probably carry a plastic cup of worms to your favorite fishing hole, and shouldn’t be reading my blog. 

“Mike still hand planes everything. He doesn’t use any beveling machines or any of that stuff and he has the back to prove it. Thing a lot of people don’t know about Mike is that he is a great fisherman.”

That thought had never crossed my mind. Possibly one of the most well-known rod makers in the world and I had never considered or asked myself if the guy could fish? And sparks the question, do you have to be a great fisherman to be a great maker? Or at least a great caster?

Talking different makers led me into my next question, how many rods have you cast or own?

“I really don’t know, you go to these conclaves and all that stuff. But at home I’ve got about 30 bamboo rods. And I will fish graphite – if I’m travelling sometimes you’re forced to fish graphite. There was a time when all I fished was bamboo.”

You’re killing me Ed. He continued,

“But over the years I have been fortunate that people have let me cast a lot of different rods. There is actually a guy here in town that is a rod maker and is going to up and cast some of what I’ve got.”

This was just another example how cool some of the people involved with cane rods can be. Allowing strangers to come over to your home and cast your most prized possessions. Just to help someone learn more about this craft. At first acts like this were foreign to me. But the more people I meet in the bamboo rod community the more common such acts are. Few and far between will you come across the mythical curmudgeon fly fishing old man.

“I always tell people the more rods you can cast the better. That’s the beauty of it. It’s the wonderful material where guys like us can out in their garage experiment with tapers. You can’t do that with fiberglass or graphite.”

“I actually think bamboo rods make you a caster, as opposed to shooting line with graphite rods. You cast bamboo and you shoot graphite in terms of line. And I’m not a great caster either, because I fish smaller streams.”

I have read Ed say exactly that same quote somewhere before, and I love it. People are so intimidated by fly fishing due to the casting motion. Truth is you can get by catching fish on a fly while being a pretty horrendous caster. I’m living proof. However, as you get more into it, casting does take on its own art form. I’m not at the art form point yet but it’s something to shoot for, no pun intended.

An aspect of rod making that truly intimidates me is achieving my goal of developing into professional status. It seems that the guys that are able to do it are old, and have gained a reputation over time. Breaking into it and making a name for yourself seems to be quite the challenge.

“I can guarantee you that everyone one of them struggled at one point, and then just decided ok I’m going to do this.”

At this point Ed’s positive attitude was a breath of fresh air. The above statement really reassured me that all it takes is desire and hard work. As I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize that if you have passion and work towards a goal, you will eventually accomplish what you set out to do. Why can’t I become a professional rod maker? As George would say “You have to want it bad.”

Once you get over the mental hurdle, you have to buckle down and put the work into the rod. Otherwise you’re just bullshitting. So back to the rods our discussion went.

“It always comes down to how the thing fishes. If it’s a taper and I don’t have to change my style of casting, that’s the main thing for me. I’m a fisherman first. But nowadays if you’re going to review a rod or talk about it, the cosmetics always come up. But if you look at some of the older rods the cosmetics were crap compared to now. Those guys were trying to make rods that cast well. Payne had a great finish, he was the complete package.”

On that point I couldn’t agree with Ed more. They are all just fishing rods. Personally I’m drawn to rods that have a simple, classic look. The ultimate in simplicity and functionality to me is a Charlie Jenkins rod. Straight-grained cherry spacer, cigar grip, and neutral cane accenting wraps. Hearing Ed talk of Payne so highly coupled with what I have read and seen of his rods already now have me lusting for an example. After our conversation I even searched online, found a few that would be perfect. For a brief moment I contemplated what I could sell, how I could make it work financially all without Heather knowing. Then I realized that I bought my pickup truck for less than the original Payne 96 I was drooling over. I’ll just take Ed’s word for it on the Payne front.

Ed and I went on to talk about a variety of topics. From both of our weddings to writing, fishing etc. While I have read his books on fishing, I was still blown away by his knowledge on just plain fishing and how he was able to translate it to me over the phone. He must be one hell of a guide. Hearing him talk flies and techniques was one of the best learning experiences I have had to date regarding fly fishing.

When I do go to fly fishing shows and meet makers and rod dealers, I’m always fortunate enough to draw their attention and learn so much through conversation. However, some of these guys will be telling me a story or history on a maker and they will be giving me misinformation, and I’ll know it at the time due to my own research. Of course I never disagree or argue any point as I’m truly grateful for any time I can spend talking with these guys. With Ed there was none of that. This guy knows cane rods, both past and present. Not only has he had way more hands on experience with bamboo fly rods than me, but he has obviously studied and committed much more to memory than I could ever imagine. I could sense the passion for cane rods in his voice.  Speaking with him that day was truly a privilege, and I will always be thankful for his book Splitting Cane. Had I not picked it up in Barnes & Noble all those years ago my life and passions would have been completely different. I might have ended up a golfer or something ridiculous like that.

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MY FIRST BONER!!!!

IMG_5946Before any of my family members reading get grossed out, as I understand it “my first boner” is the phrase used when hooking into your first bonefish. Thanks to my new willing wife, I was able to do just that during our recent honeymoon in Mexico.

Despite the general American perception of Mexico being a total war zone I convinced Heather to venture off the manicured landscape of our 5-star resort for a day of guided flat fishing. In doing so I was responsible for setting up all transportation to meet our guide for the day. This would  include a cab ride from resort, to a ferry, followed by one last cab ride to our destination.

The moment we left the resort I could sense Heather’s fear. She was convinced she would be kidnapped and forced into human slave trafficking. I, on the other hand, was totally fine. The first cab was clean, professional, and in uniform. The ferry was one of the nicest ferrys I had ever traveled on. Alex, our guide was waiting for us at the end of the pier; he led us to a cab, said something to the driver in Spanish and told us he would meet us at our destination. Still on our own and now traveling in an area that had much less of the tourist feel we had seen earlier that morning, I also began to sweat a little. Once we turned onto a dirt road, I officially became worried. We slowly bounced down this dirt road for what felt like forever, jungle towered over the cab on each side. Random roadside trash was the only other sign of previous travelers. However, relief finally came over me when I saw water on the horizon.

We met Alex along the shoreline at his tied up Panga – the Mexican version of a skiff. As we were loading up, another random guy approached us.  He and Alex said something in Spanish and then both began to yell at one another. Standing just feet away from two strange men with your wife as they scream at one another in a language you don’t understand is a very uncomfortable situation. The guy we don’t know breaks from Spanish, looks at Heather and says, “Listen to me.” Alex jumps and  yells, “NO! Don’t listen. He is not a fisherman!” They again exchange words and then Alex continues to load the boat. Heather and I look at the other guy waiting to hear what he has to say. I expected for him to tell us it was not safe, and that Alex is going to take us out to the ocean and kill us both.  The man looks at Heather and me. “I can take you to Pleasure Island cheaper!” Okay. Now the argument becomes a little less foreign. Had I not just gotten married, a trip to Pleasure Island would be damn tempting. Instead, Heather and I stare at the guy blankly and he walks away. Alex chuckles. “Dis guy crazy. We go fishing.” Fifteen minutes into fishing and I had hooked my first bonefish – baby bonefish to be correct. The fish ran so fast and pulled with so much strength I feared I would lose the rod halfway through the fight. Thankfully I managed to hold and catch eight bonefish from the crystal clear water throughout the day. While I spent the day rod bent, wading the flats, Heather sat in the Panga reading her book and soaking in way too much sun. She was a trooper, further reassuring me that the  “I Do” I had proclaimed just a few days earlier was the right answer.IMG_5942

Looking back at how young we were when our dating started is mind blowing. I was 16 and just starting to seriously get into fly fishing and fly tying. Heather accepted my weird hobby and we continued to date. We were your typical young couple. Stupid in love and everyone and their mother prodding us to break from one another and experiment.  We did the opposite. I stopped playing hockey after high school, Heather stopped playing basketball and we both stayed home for college together. Fast forward to last week when our wedding day finalllllly arrived we had been together for 12 years straight, not a day’s break, and no other girls for this guy (pathetic I know).

Such a long time coming, the big day had my nerves racked for weeks leading up to it. Everyone had advice: “It’s fun” and, “Enjoy the day.” Even author and guide Ed Engle offered me some valuable advice about enjoying the moment. Upon our wedding day everything was going as planned. Surprisingly, all my groomsmen showed up sober and  were taking our preparation fairly serious.  Unfortunately, I guess it is fate that all wedding day celebrations encounter some sort of conflict. Mine came in the form of myself and my bride’s father screaming at one another; reminiscent of Alex and random Mexican guy. It was literally all over watching television while we got our tuxes on. I was furious for the next hour. All I could think about was her father, whom I historically have not gotten along with. I wanted to knock his teeth out and despite everyone telling me to calm down I couldn’t.

 Few more shots of Bulleit whiskey and it was go time. While standing at the alter I was so nervous that I began having trouble breathing and couldn’t feel my legs. All I could hear was my brother Chow. “Dude breath, breath.”  I motioned to my best man Nick to employ the secret weapon: smelling salts. I breathed deep, my knees straightened and the lightheaded feeling left me. Moments later it happened. Music filled the room and Heather, accompanied by her father, began the walk toward me. Upon laying eyes on Heather it was like we were the only two people in the crowded room. Her father no longer existed despite the two of them walking with arms locked down the aisle. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the country pursuing my passion of catching fish on a fly rod, met a hex hatch with my very first bamboo rod, caught native brookies in Maine over 18 inches, witnessed thousands of amazing moments in my 28 years. Seeing Heather that day was the happiest moment of my life. I honestly didn’t think the mental euporia I felt at that moment could be felt without being on some kind of drugs. But it did, and I will never forget it. photo-16

Having not mentioned Heather much in the blog, I’d at least like to thank her. For putting up with my tackle collecting, my fly tying with feathers everywhere, my rod making, the money I have spent making rods and flies, and most importantly allowing me to turn every vacation into part fishing trip. I have a great one… and I’m never throwing her back. Just kidding with that last cliché, was getting a little soft there. IMG_5909

Now that this wedding horse shit is over it’s rod making time baby! I’ll be in the shop this weekend getting back on track. Next week check the blog for an interview with author of Splitting Cane Ed Engle.

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