Softbound: 305 pp.
Frank Amato Publications, $45
Bamboo fly rod construction has been experiencing a kind of renaissance over the past few decades. Perhaps the crafty, solo rod tinkerer wasn't about to be left idle by the rise of fiberglass, graphites and related polymers, post WWII. After all, if one's imagination is lifted by the art that can be accomplished in a shop with with one's own hands and tools, such a person is going to feel anxiety in the face of the kind complicated rod construction that requires a chemist, very nasty chemicals, probably equally nasty federal laws, and huge tools and drying rooms, to say nothing of a strong marketing campaign. Further, relegating home rod building to the simple assembly of cork and snake guides on graphite blanks, is not the same thing. He'll have none of that.
Instead, he'll have his split cane, home-engineered tools, tables of tapers and many hours of splining and planing. One of the more interesting and pleasant aspects of building your cane rod is that an entire opus of construction methods culminating in a life-long activity can be found in a fairly small collection of books--unlike, say, building a car, a ham radio, or many other activities. Many of the bamboo rod books typically present most things needed in the way of construction methods and tables of tapers (see one of the latest, Cane Rods by Ray Gould, from Frank Amato Publications).
Hatton's treatment of his subject is unique because it is a pictorial history. Perusing taper tables can get a little boring, but one doesn't grow tired of seeing how snake guides, locking seats, cork, tip tops and the rest have evolved over the years--that is, if you are a dedicated flyfisher. I only wish I could explore at a few more centuries of tackle evolution. I mean, who wouldn't want to see how flyfishers crafted their own hooks before they got down to the business of tying on feather and wool, or how they fashioned their lines and leaders from horse tails or braided silkworm gut?
Hatton show us how these early rods looked, how they were constructed, how they evolved and even how our advertising forbearers wrote their copy to push the sport beyond the early enlightened few. Some of these early designs might make one wonder how exactly some of these early rods were fished. I suspect not a lot of line was thrown through the thin snake guides and tip tops, especially using silk lines that were considerably rougher than modern silicon-laced polymer lines. Certainly no line could be thrown using one of the metal rods, through the center of which the line would run. And what's up with rods that have doubled guides, one guide opposite the other at the same point on the rod? Were the extra guides placed there for when the first set of guides wore out? Or were one set of guides for fly fishing and the other for bait casting? Some designs are better left to the historian.
Hatton takes us on an intriguing journey that leads to interesting speculations. One doesn't need to be a cane rod person to enjoy the book. Flyfishing's long history approaches 500 to 1000 years depending on whose history you read, and cane rods are one of the more interesting aspects of the sport that never seems to loose sight of traditions.
--Toney J. Sisk
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