I have encountered bamboo on 3 separate occasions – moving in and out of the “dark side’, some pleasurable experiences, others of anxiety and the discovery of right from wrong.
My first association with bamboo was as a whippersnapper of 8 years. I’d already been introduced to trout fishing a couple years earlier by my father and a close family friend. My interest developed as only it can with the urgency and enthusiasm of a young boy – infatuation matured into longing, deep and abiding. I ached to own my own fly rod, to follow the dream. The show of enthusiasm did its trick and I was eventually presented with a 3 piece bamboo rod of unknown origins that cast like a noodle of cooked spaghetti. It came neatly laid out in a plywood box, two tip sections and 3 large gaudy flies that were replaced eventually with popular flies of the day, Invictas, March Browns, Teal and Greens and others. I was as proud of the little stick and while it managed to remain intact it did catch a trout or two – I was in the zone. But, as young boys will poking around in streams, the intended longevity of the rod was relatively short. After a few years of use, with fractured tips bound with bright green electrical insulation tape and backbone broken, it was finally put out to pasture. My father saw this coming and the day the plywood box was closed for the last time I was presented with a brand new fiberglass fly rod and small Hardy Gem reel. And, so I’d moved in and out of the “dark side” for the first time, solidifying my obsession for trout and flyfishing.
My second association with bamboo was somewhat less enjoyable, but with intentions of teaching right from wrong after all other methods had failed. The bamboo in this instance came in lengths of around 3’ 6” and a few weights, heavy, medium and light – they were known to produce a fiery sting that was known to bring many a tear to the eye. All 3 resided in the corner of the Headmasters office in an old brass cannon shell – implements for metering out punishment now outlawed. I don’t think I’m any the worse off for having been on the receiving end occasionally, mostly for unfinished homework – my problem was that there always seemed far more interesting and important things to do, like sneaking off for an afternoons fishing. The “darkness” this time was not so much about the bamboo, but the fact that in the midst of the connections between the cane and my gluteus maximus, my head was somewhere down around my knees and my eyes squeezed tightly shut in tense anticipation.
Master craftsman – Stephen Boshoff
A few years ago I moved again across the divide and am now firmly entrenched on the “dark side” – the real deal aided by one of South Africa’s gifted craftsmen, Stephen Boshoff, who presented me with an exquisite hand made bamboo fly rod and a magnificent small stream net – items of beauty, but also practical fishing implements. Stephen wrote to me stirring the same elating emotion I experienced when sliding the rod out of its tube for the first time – “It is based on a Paul Young midge taper, a classic small stream taper, 6’3” for a 3 or 4 weight line, I suggest a 3 as in action it is quite authoritative, but not fast. In style, I tried to interpret what you would like, classic and no frills, something that doesn’t look and feel modern or even new. It’s an “easy” rod …. I thought of making something which you can use during those easy, uncomplicated and “stolen” escapes: where size and number of casts or even nature of the stream doesn’t matter, but just the fact that you can get away and be content and at peace, Forgive me, but it was contemplated as a grand father’s small stream rod, in a positive sense.”
A Boshoff Bamboo and Net
Not only a craftsman, but a judge of character who was able to seamlessly connect the two and make me a very happy and grateful flyfisherman – for me the perfect rod – like the words of Vincent C Marinaro in his book ‘In the Ring of the Rise”, “….. bamboo, being a natural product, like flesh and blood, can establish a greater affinity with its owner than any other material. There can be a powerful bond between them, an identification, that lets the caster feel that the rod is an extension of his own personality.”
I just know that I won’t be lonely on that proverbial cloud nine because there is a growing band of bamboo devotees. As Harry Middleton put it in his delightful book, “The Earth is Enough – growing up in a world of Flyfishing, Trout & Old Men”, “ … such a fish demanded, of course, special attention, certain considerations, a method of pursuit as finicky and fastidious as their own behavior. A curious fish insists on a curious form of angling, one heavy with respect, tradition, skill and a challenge. If there was only one fish in our lives, so was there only one way to fish for it – with the fly rod. And not just any fly rod, but A subtle, willowy, handmade bamboo fly rod, a good line, a trust-worthy reel, tippets as delicate as gossamer, and the smallest dry flies possible.”
Slowly piecing the puzzle of bamboo speak together, it all rests so easy with the rhythms of the natural world, trout, clear streams, and the kind of things that touch my soul.
I’m now satisfied that unlike my occasional connections in the past with the short bamboo sticks of my school years, the term “dark side”, is simply a metaphor for having returned to fishing with a rod made of natural material, I’m now in a state of euphoria and bliss which I’m probably not going to emerge from in a while, if ever: see you there ………flyfishing through life.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2015. All rights reserved