Split cane or bamboo is one rod making material that has been around for years and seems to be here to stay. So what’s all the fuss about?
Out of the numerous species of bamboo, two of the more commonly used are Tonkin Cane and Calcutta Cane. These were popular in rod building because of their strength, straightness and flexibility.
The bamboo culms are then taken and split several times into smaller sections which are planed then glued together to form the rod blank. Making a quality split cane rod is a real art and can take many hours, which is why a good cane rod generally comes with a hefty price tag compared to a rod made from a modern material.
It was around 1800 when bamboo was first used to make rods as we now know them and around 1850 when the cane was split to form a hexagonal rod blank. Splitting the bamboo into multiple sections became a preferred method of rod building as it was easier to select smaller defect free sections than try and find larger sections without any defects.
In 1950 with a trade embargo on Chinese goods and the arrival of modern rod building materials the cane rod manufacturing business sharply declined and almost disappeared but in more recent years there has been a ever increasing demand for this traditional material.
So why is there a growing demand?
Well my experience with cane is pretty limited but you have only to put a cane rod in your hand to see it’s a thing of real beauty and you get a real feel of getting back to fly fishing roots when you use one, a thing that strikes a chord with many fly fishers I believe. Also the modern cane rod is far easier to cast with than most of the older ones that I’ve ever had the chance to throw a line with.
A classic example of this was when I was guiding an elderly client for a couple of days on the river. He turned up with a cane rod that had been passed down through his family for a couple of generations and told me it was the only rod he had ever fished with. He proceeded to spend the next couple of days making beautiful casts and popping his fly into the tightest of spots each time a pointed out the likely fish position. At the end of the session we got talking about the rod and he handed it to me and said “here, you have a go with it”. Believe me that rod made me look like I had never made a cast before! As I accelerated the rod to an abrupt stop the tip of the rod just kept going…… all the way down to the water until the tip disappeared. The smile he gave me said it all, no need for words!
Cane will be something I will be exploring a bit more in the future, it’s a beautiful material with a lot of history, will just have to brush up a bit on my technique first though before taking it out in public!