The History of Fly Rod Making (Continued), By Lou Zambello
Split-cane bamboo fly rods became the instrument of choice for fly casters. Edmund Garrison is remembered as one of the great rod-makers. He manufactured 650 rods in painstaking fashion during his working life, which spanned the 1930s through 1960s. His first rods sold for $45 dollars, but some sold for over $1000 dollars towards the end of his life in 1975. Nowadays, a Garrison fly rod might cost you over $15,000 if you can find one. Another high-quality split-cane rod-maker was Hoagy B. Carmichael, who learned from Garrison, and whose rods now sell for over $10,000 dollars. Hoagy B.’s father was the songwriter Hoagy Carmichael who wrote “Georgia On My Mind” among other hits.
From the 1940s through the end of the millennia, new and then “space age” materials (as they were referred to) became available and rod-makers tried to incorporate them into fly-rod design. Solid and hollow steel, glass and then fiberglass, were followed by carbon fiber, boron, and titanium. Steel fly rods never caught on because even though they had good action, excessive vibration after the fly landed was problematic.
Starting in 1947, fiberglass rods started replacing bamboo. They were easier to make and cheaper. Lee Wulff was a big fan. For those of you who have never fished a fiberglass rod, you might find the action slow compared to today’s rods.
In the 1960s, the Royal Air Force, working on advanced airplane design, discovered carbon fiber. Apparently, at least one aerospace engineer tried it for fly rods. Most anglers consider carbon-fiber fly rods the best rods for the money today. However, the quest for a better fly rod continues. Boron and titanium rods are now sold for thousands of dollars.
Most of the recent advances have been in the wide variety of sizes and end-use rods offered. Orvis pioneered light-weight rods with their one-weight (not without some controversy that might be a subject for another blog.) 12-weight (and higher) rods with heavy butt sections are built for anglers going after tarpon, sharks, and tuna. No-cast (tenkara), one-handed casting (standard), switch (one or two- handed casting, and spey (two-handed) rods are widely available. Fly rods also come in six pieces (for easy packing), one piece (for the most efficient transfer of casting energy) and everything in between.
On the horizon? Affordable, made-to-order rods so you can choose your own blanks, guides, grips, and accent colors. Speaking for myself, I have palm-a-basketball-sized hands and a custom bigger grip fits my hand better. The Maine Fly Rod Company offers custom-made rods now. Others will follow.