Freestone Rods

Bamboo (split cane ) rods made in South Africa

Why Bamboo Fly Rods – Soul Fishing!

I am often asked as a rodmaker, why I particularly make bamboo or split cane rods, especially considering that modern carbon composites have such extraordinary properties. Interestingly, I have not yet been asked this question by someone who has experience of actually fishing with bamboo rods!

The simple answer is that I really enjoy the feel of them – I will often set up a bamboo rod and cast it for the pure pleasure of doing just that – never mind the pleasure of taking it out onto the water!

At the risk of straying into suspect metaphysics I believe bamboo rods have ‘soul’ and fishing with one is a form of ‘soul-fishing’.

Whether or not one accepts this, it is certainly true that each and every bamboo rod has its own character. Rods made to the same specs and to the same taper are extremely alike but nevertheless have subtle differences. This is because bamboo is a natural material and, as such, is subject to the vagaries of nature.

The differences from one culm to another manifest themselves subtly in the final product. For me fishing with a particular bamboo rod is an individual experience – the same cannot be said for modern composite rods, where mass production effectively makes one rod indistinguishable from another – effectively soul-less.

“Bamboo, being a natural product, like flesh and blood, can establish a greater affinity with its owner than any other material. There can be a powerful bond between them, an identification, that lets the caster feel that the rod is an extension of his own personality.”

Vincent C Marinaro ‘In the Ring of the Rise’


The longer, and perhaps less metaphysical answer, is that when it comes to fishing rods, bamboo has physical properties which are different to, and in many instances superior to, other materials. Primary of these is bamboo’s bending properties (elastic modulus) in combination with its selfweight.

Vince Marinaro makes a convincing argument for the ‘soft’ inner core of the bamboo cushioning the stiffness of the powerfibers in the outer layer. These properties combined allow bamboo rods to ‘self-load’ and ‘self-track’. The nett result is that with a twitch of the forefinger a bamboo rod with a good taper can cast a leader ‘effortlessly’, ‘smoothly’ and most importantly ‘accurately’. Again with a good taper, and a little more movement, longer casts can be made with the same accuracy and ‘smooth’ feel. 


It is perhaps this quality of ‘smoothness’ that, for me, most fundamentally differentiates bamboo from other materials and which makes fishing with bamboo such a pleasurable experience.

Once you have a feel for your rod you can, in a sense, allow the rod to do the work for you. With little effort, or conscious thought, your fly can be landed exactly where you want it to be. And, once you have a fish on, you can play it firmly and confidently because there is a tremendous feeling of ‘connection’ with the fish.

By contrast I find that ‘plastic’ rods have an inherent hardness to them – even the lighter weight rods. Admittedly this can be a very useful quality in tough situations, eg. in the salt or on certain stillwaters where really long casts are required with huge flies, but it is certainly not as pleasurable an experience in terms of pure ‘feel’.


The process of making a bamboo rod allows for experimentation with a huge range of variation in rod tapers. Bamboo rods can to a large degree be customised to specific situations and to an individual’s preferences.  I believe they are particularly suited to stream fishing where accuracy and sensitivity are paramount. These qualities combined in a bamboo rod offer stream fisherman a feel, which is, in my opinion, unsurpassed.



I am also often asked about the supposed fragility of bamboo rods. These concerns are, I believe, unfounded. In my 35 years of flyfishing I have broken far more ‘plastic’ rods than bamboo ones despite having possibly fished equally with both.

On both of the occasions that I have broken a bamboo rod (both as a child) , a plastic rod would certainly have suffered the same fate -( no rod likes to be stabbed into a rock or held by the tip of the tip with a heavy reel dragging a tree limb!!……. dont ask!!)

That said, bamboo rods do require some care (eg. wiping down with a dry cloth when putting away after a fishing trip), but this is hardly an issue for anyone who realises that all fishing tackle, in fact, requires a modicum of respect if it is to perform optimally.

“Bamboo is still the great standard against which all other materials are measured. At its best it makes a magnificent weapon…..I do not hesitate to say, emphatically, that nothing on this earth is more suited for a given job than bamboo is for flyrods. I say this because bamboo has that wonderful property of allowing a caster to deliver a cushioned stroke. This is a priceless quality” ~ Vincent C Marinaro ‘In the Ring of the Rise’


There are also I believe, some misconceptions about what a bamboo rod is or can be. I think the ‘older’ style of down-and-across wet fly fishing and grandfather’s longer, heavier, slow action rods that traditionally went with this style of fishing, have coloured many people’s perceptions. The fact is that fishing styles continuously evolve and the design of bamboo rods has evolved along with them. In my experience, most people who have had the opportunity to fish an appropriate bamboo rod for their style of fishing and fishing conditions, fall in love with it, and those who haven’t, simply don’t know what they are missing.


For me the pleasure in making rods, over and above the actual crafting process, is knowing the pure pleasure that a well-made bamboo rod gives to the person who fishes it – and that really is the bottom line – bamboo rods, besides their nostalgia and obvious good looks, are wonderful fishing instruments. Why not enchance the wonderful pursuit of flyfishing with a rod that can do just that.

You should do yourself the favour…..

Stephen Dugmore