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A perfect fly rod

“A bamboo fly rod is a useful thing beautifully made.”

—Hiram Hawes

If you missed the celebration of summer at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum (CFFC) last August 4, you cheated yourself out of a great time. This is the second year that the program called “Jubilee Day” has taken place on the CFFC grounds. Hopefully, this will become an annual event. Judy Van Put and her friends put together an enjoyable afternoon for everyone from children to seasoned citizens. Among those people honored were Ted Rogowski, who turned 80 this year, Nick and Mara Lyons, who are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary and Keith and Lois Fulsher, who were celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary. It was also noted that Barbara Ann Fullerton and her pseudo cowboy would shortly be celebrating their 16th year of matrimonial bliss while chasing those pretty spotted fish.

Per Brandin and Larry Boutis, two longtime friends were also at Jubilee Day. Over the years, Per has built a reputation as one of the premier builders of bamboo fly rods. He had brought along one of his rods, an eight-footer for a three-weight line.

I have know Per since he was in his teens and was aware that for the last 35 years he had been building bamboo fly rods. However, until I read the book “Casting A Spell,” by George Black, I had no idea that he was considered to be one of the finest bamboo rod builders in the country. I was itching to cast the rod he had brought with him. We walked back to Per’s car and he brought out the rod case. He put the two-section rod together and placed it in my hands. I was astonished at how light the rod felt. Usually, when any bamboo rod is made eight feet long, you become conscious of considerable weight out past the work handle. This rod was as light as a feather. I ran my three-weight silk line through the guides and tied a practice fly, (no hook point) onto the leader. Then it was time to see what sort of action this rod contained.

Hiram Hawes, a 19th century maker of bamboo fly rods, once remarked that, “A bamboo fly rod is a useful thing, beautifully made.” This rod fit Mr. Hawes’ description perfectly. I began to cast, gradually lengthening line. I was pleasantly surprised at how crispy the rod worked. A fairly good breeze had sprung up just as I was starting to cast. At first I worked with the wind at my back. The forward casts went zipping out easily. Per laughed, telling me, “You’re cheating Clem, using wind.” I told him to hold on, I was just trying to get used to this lovely rod. I then switched to casting across the breeze. No problem. The rod continued to make the silk line sing. I turned slightly and now cast into the wind. I was still able to send the line slicing through the air effortlessly. I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert on bamboo fly rods. I have however, over the years, had the opportunity to cast a fair number of bamboo rods produced by different makers, going back to the ’60s. This rod I now held in my hand cast the fly line with less effort than any rod I have ever owned, whether it was made of bamboo, fiberglass or graphite.

In “Casting a Spell,” Mr. Black had devoted considerable space to Per Brandin. Now I can understand why Per rated so many words. I could not help blurting out, “How the heck do you put together a rod like that?”

Per smiled and took the rod from me. He proceeded to give me a short dissertation on how he built this particular rod. Per used the phrase “hollow built” several times in describing the method he used to produce the rod. The entire rod is not hollow, only certain areas that are known only to Per. The finished product certainly cast a spell on me. I could not place an order fast enough.

Alas, there is a small problem. Mr. Brandin’s talent is not unknown to others who lust for the perfect bamboo fly rod. It will be necessary for me to avoid any debilitating infirmities for the next two years before I will be able to fish with one of these rods. Rats! I am now in the position of a 10-year-old child, waiting for Christmas day to arrive, two years hence. At my advanced age I do not want time to fly by too quickly. On the other hand, it will now seem to drag on interminably. What a quandary.

To some, the price of one of Per’s rods might seem exorbitant. However, in my experience, buying a rod from a highly respected maker of bamboo rods is a good investment. Many years ago, I purchased a fly rod from Mr. Paul Young, who was a renowned rod maker at that time. I had the pleasure of fishing that rod off and on for 30 years. I recently sold it for $2800, after the broker’s commission. It had originally cost me $175. Back in those days, that was a lot of money for a fly rod. Mr. Young’s rod was not expensive at all. My heirs may bless me for seemingly squandering their inheritance on one of Per’s rods.