Split-bamboo Fly Rod Design

My thoughts on design...

            When I started hand-crafting split-bamboo fly rods several years ago, my primary intention was simply to produce a nice cane rod that I could fish with. Since I was new to the craft, I engaged the advice of other cane rod builders and decided that a good choice would be a 7’ 6” 2 piece rod for a 5 weight line. Of course, several published tapers for such a rod are available. After some thought, I decided on a nice progressive taper devised by the Michigan rod maker, Bill Waara. The rod turned out great and I was impressed by its feel and casting ability. I continued making bamboo rods using tapers developed by other rod makers – the Payne 100, Garrison 201E, Leonard Baby Catskill and Young Drigg’s River, to name a few. I am very happy with these bamboo fly rods and others that I have made, they all fish well and I continue to use them today.

     However, as a University Professor and Researcher in Molecular Biology and Genetics, my innate curiosity and scientific/experimental side demanded more and I began thinking about developing some of my own rod tapers. My goal was to fashion rods that were suited to fishing local waters near my home in Guelph, Ontario. Desirable features include the capacity for delicate delivery of dry flies, accuracy of casting within distances of about 30 feet, and power to deliver much longer casts when needed. Of course, existing rod tapers, some that I have tried and others which I have not, would undoubtedly fulfill these requirements, but I wanted to design tapers of my own! I was inspired after reading “Split and Glued by Vincent C. Marinaro”, a book written by rod makers Bill Harms and Tom Whittle chronicling Marinaro’s contribution to fly fishing and cane rod building. Some of Marinaro’s core beliefs appear to have been developed through his association with Robert Crompton, a professional rod-builder from St. Paul, Minnesota. Crompton (and Marinaro) firmly believed that for rod building, tapers of a convex nature were inherently better than linear tapers. A convex taper as it applies to bamboo fly rod design is depicted in the figure above. At positions chosen by the rod maker, the rod taper deviates above linearity. Compared to a linear taper, the convex taper increases rod strength and visually, it looks straight. Essentially, this is the design feature that is incorporated into cane rods that are termed “parabolic”. The application of convex curves in architectural design (termed, entasis) has been practiced in cultures throughout the world, both ancient and contempory. It is also a design feature in ship’s masts and barrelled arrow shafts. Examples of convex tapers can also be found in nature. Interestingly, a survey of available tapers by classic rod makers reveals that in a large number of rods, convexity has been incorporated into some part of the rod design.

            Inspired by convex taper theory, I resolved to embark on my own journey of bamboo rod design. It is especially interesting (at least to me!) how small changes in rod taper at certain positions, can transform the rod into a very different kind of casting tool. I have found that rods designed in this way have many of the desirable characteristics that I was searching for – accuracy over short distances, yet with sufficient power to punch out a long line if needed. A highly desirable feature is the sensitivity of the tip sections, which impart both grace and finesse to the actions of casting and playing a fish. Although I still follow “recipes” for rods designed according to traditional tapers, in many respects, I consider myself a disciple of Marinaro with respect to his philosophies regarding fly tying (keep the flies simple) and cane rod-building (convex taper design). I continue to experiment with convex tapers in my fly rod designs modifying them with the goal to better understand the relationship between rod taper and performance.