Every fly-rod has that sweet spot, that smooth-flowing, singular rhythm; when you find it, it’s poetry. With bamboo rods, that sweet spot is pronounced and unique. Each rod has its own history and personality—you don’t just fish with a bamboo rod, you commune with it. They are most alive when you have a fish on, and I love to look up and watch a rod working with a backdrop of green pines. I like to sit on a creek bank and admire the craftsmanship that went into them. I wonder what was going on in the maker’s life when he planed the sections and wrapped the guides. I wonder if the original owner is still alive and where he fished. I wonder what stories the rod would tell me if it could talk.
In my idea of the perfect afterlife fly-rods and dogs WILL talk—I just hope they aren’t talking about how hot it is.
I get attached to my rods and feel guilty when one gets neglected in favor of another. Some of my rods I’ve had for over thirty-years and they are like old friends and I love them, but I don’t baby them. I fish them hard. (My rod-maker/fishing buddy claims that all my rods are combat tested). Short of adopting the wearing of protective underpants, there is no way to prepare for the day when you break a favorite rod.
I don’t don sackcloth and ashes, but I feel like I should. It feels like a heavy weight is on your shoulders driving you to your knees. It’s your fault; who else’s could it be? You look away, and back, hoping it will go away. You try to figure out how it happened, and when you do, you swear never to do that again. I had been fishing with bamboo rods for over twenty-five years before I broke my first one.
It was a sweet little three-weight that I had found on consignment at a local fly-shop. I had always been of the opinion that anything smaller than a four-weight rod was a waste of time, and I still am, but the little rod was beautifully crafted and the price was right.
I hadn’t fished the little rod in a while and was feeling guilty, so I was determined to fish it that day. When I got to the creek, the wind was gusting a bit and I thought about going with a heavier rod but didn’t. I tied on a bushy number twelve Adams without giving that much thought either. I fished for a couple of hours, bucking a stiff head wind at times, and casting the big Adams was like waving a flag.
I was casting past a rocky point in the stream and didn’t notice that my fly-line had gotten trapped in the rocks. I pulled up for a back-cast and snapped the rod in two just below the ferrule. When I got home, I called the fly-shop and got the contact information for the maker, and that’s how I met my fishing buddy Pete. Pete said he could fix the rod for me and I ordered a couple of more rods from him that day. He told me that even though the reason the rod broke was the fly-line being hung up, I probably shouldn’t have been trying to buck a strong headwind with a big bushy fly on that little rod. From him I learned that the weakest point on a rod is just below the ferrule and that is where most rods normally break. I told him to never, never use the word normally when talking about breaking fly-rods.
I recently shattered the tip on a wonderful three-piece-six-weight. I had spotted several risers in a bend-pool and had eased into position intending to pick them off one by one. Of course my first cast wrapped around a willow branch on the far side of the pool. The fish were still rising, so I gave the line a pull to see if it would come loose. It didn’t. I was so pissed at myself for making such a slobbery cast that I gave the line a hard jerk—jerk can either be a verb or a noun—shattering the rod about four inches down from the tip. Not wanting to tell Pete what I had done to one of his rods, I tried making the repair myself. I wrapped the shatter with two layers of thread and then put ten coats of varnish over it. It fished ok, but I could tell it wasn’t going to last long; Pete’s making me a new tip for it now.
There are hundreds of ways to break a rod: car doors, tail gates, bushes, and rocks to name a few. I’ve had some close calls falling down, but I’ve developed a technique that’s a real rod saver. Instead of throwing your hands out in front of you to break your fall, concentrate on throwing the rod clear and take the impact on your shoulder or chin. I got the idea while driving past a liquor store one day with my EX. A guy was just leaving the store with a brown paper bag cradled in his arms. He stumbled and fell forward, but had the presence of mind to tuck the bottle into his mid-section and cover it with both of his arms like a fullback diving for the goal line on third and eight. He took the full impact to the curb with his face. My Ex said, “We should go back and see if he needs help.” “He’s fine”, I told her, “He didn’t spill a drop.”
Some breaks are mysteries that will never be solved in this life. They just happen—like a big butt on a girlfriend. You’re going along fine when you realize that something doesn’t feel quite like it used to. You look up to see what’s wrong, and there it is.
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