It always starts so innocently. Lets go fishing. Sure. I’m getting tired of night crawlers and Roostertails, those guys with the fly rods seem to be having fun. The first few rods and reels serve you well for a while. But, eventually, they no longer satisfy you. The guys in the magazines are fishing with rods with names that start with S, W, T and O. Your rod doesn’t have a name that starts with S, W, T or O. You would catch more fish with a rod that starts with S, W, T, or O.
The pennies and dollars are scrimped and saved to purchase this top of the line rod that starts with S, W, T or O. You research which brand, model, line weight and length is best for you. A simple all around 9 foot 5 weight, a dry fly specialist 8’9″ 3 weight, or a meat chucking beast 9’6″ 6 weight? You settle for the 5 weight and rationalize the expense over the amount you’d actually use a 5 weight. Oh, but what reel?
Machined aircraft billet aluminum made in ‘Merica…those old school British reels are cool, never had a trout in the backing anyway. There’s some crazy technology in some of those asian reels and the prices are good. The Swedes make easily assembled furniture, and their cars are from either jets or are super safe, so they make good reels too? An American rod needs and American reel.
The rod and reel package is a delight to fish and serves you well. Next you add that dry fly specialist rod, going shorter so as to be your “brookie” rod. Then you add in the Meat Stick, something to throw streamers, but longer to double as your steelhead rod. There’s a chance you might go saltwater fishing in the next 20 years, add that 9 weight salt stick to the quiver. You’re full on invested now, true blooded gear junky.
What’s next, where’s the next fix coming from. Czech nymph rig? The fiberglass renaissance? Boron? What’s this double handed rod business? Roll your own? Grass, how about grass? Bamboo is cool lets go there. Bamboo is the worst. Thousands of old rods exist out there from a few bucks on up to several thousand. This is the height of snobbery, tradition, customization, creativity…and enjoyment.
The problem being, each bamboo rod, since it was once living, seems to have its own soul. So, in a situation very similar to speed dating, you keep trying a different rod in search of the soul mate. Collections amass and suddenly are trying to score your next. You sell off your “plastic rods.” You throw out your plastic lines and nylon leaders. You start dressing like a steam punk or an extra from Boardwalk Empire.
You scour the internet for silk lines and gut leaders. You become that weird guy at camp who spends hours wiping down his cane rod so it doesn’t get a set, pulling the line off of the reel to let the silk line dry, and soaking the gut leader in its tin. Your hands are purpetually covered in Mucillin. Red can, the green is silicon and bad for the varnish on the rod.
How did it come to this? That first taste of cane. You bought your first rod off of ebay on a whim. It shows up and the next weekend you decide to see if it will cast. Old grass rods weren’t designated as a specific line weight like modern rods, if there is any designation its in an obsolete system, so you pretty much have to trial and error the right line. You take three reels, each with a different line weight you and start with the middle and begin to cast. It’s okay, but no feedback. Crank the line in and switch out to the biggest line weight with you.
You ease back into the creek and work your way down stream to where you think looks like a nice place to try swinging something. You tie on (belt tightened around the arm) an old timey looking partridge and olive soft hackle, briefly debating doing the three wet fly rig from days of yore. Nope, don’t feel like messing with that, lets see how this thing casts now. 30 or so feet of line pulled from the reel (spoon over the lighter). The first cast. The back cast loads the rod magnificently (junk in the needle). The forward cast and the line extends forward in a beautiful loop and lands softly on the water (needle in the arm). You watch the tip of the line as it makes its graceful glide across the current. Near the end of the swing the tip of the line suddenly jolts (the plunger pushed), you raise the rod tip. A fish (junk coursing through your veins-instant addiction).
This ancient rod likely from some unkown dead man’s estate is suddenly brought back to life for its original purpose, not as a wall hanging in a Ruby Tuesday’s. The fish was caught in a most traditional way, and everything worked the way it was supposed to. There’s a power to it. You can’t go back from here. You have to keep moving forward with grass rods. Plastic rods will do in a pinch, but they feel hollow and you’re strung out, longing to touch the grass again. It becomes a lifestyle within a lifestyle. You never thought it would lead to this. Its sad and tortured end is building your own split cane spey rod. Lord, have mercy on us all.
– Steve-o: new grass fisherman