For many of today's anglers, bamboo rods bring
back memories of bygone years, of a time when fishing
was simpler, perhaps less demanding. Back in a time
when bamboo was really the only rod material and
before modern technology enabled us to create the
wide range of rods on the market today. Yet, some
anglers, including myself, still think fondly of
bamboo rods as wonderful instruments for casting and
fishing. My first fishing experiences were with an
old Montague bamboo rod, when I fished for cutthroat
trout in a small mountain stream in southwestern
Montana, when, lacking finesse, my only thoughts were
how could I fool a fish by sneaking a grasshopper
into the stream without being seen.
I grew up at my parents' El Western Motel in
Ennis, Montana, home of the famous Madison River. It
was there I met my fly fishing mentor, Howard Sykes,
a skillful fly fisher from New Jersey, under whose
careful eye my love for fly-fishing blossomed.
Howard's favorite rod was a Leonard bamboo. As he
taught me to cast and to fly fish, he often let me
use it, and I became enamored of its precision and
grace in presenting a fly.Bamboo Tradition
In those days, I often showed our motel guests
where to fish, and gradually I grew into an early
career as a fishing guide. Anglers came from all over
the United States to fish the Madison River and
nearby streams, and I regularly guided many of them.
Naturally, they always brought with them their
favorite rods, bamboo rods made by Winston, Orvis,
Leonard, Powell, Payne, Phillipson, and Paul Young.
Many of these rods were the finest examples of bamboo
rod making, and, as these anglers let me try their
rods, my appreciation for bamboo rods grew, as did my
passion for them. As a result of these experiences, I
assembled my own collection of bamboo fishing rods
including an old Heddon, a Phillipson, an Orvis
Battenkill, and several Winstons. I fished almost
exclusively with bamboo rods until the early
At the time I had no idea one day I would own one
of the famous companies in fly-fishing, the
R.L.Winston Rod Company. When I bought Winston in
1973, the company was making fiberglass and bamboo
rods. Shortly thereafter, graphite was introduced as
a rod-making material, and it quickly replaced
fiberglass. Even though the bulk of our rods were
made from composite materials during my tenure at
Winston, we continued making fine bamboo rods. My
early associate and finally a partner, Glenn
Brackett, and I greatly valued the tradition of
bamboo rods, and we were clear we wanted to continue
their heritage in Winston's history and the sport of
fly-fishing. We continually refined the rod tapers
and production methods to improve the quality
necessary for great rods. This work gave me extensive
experience working with bamboo, designing rod tapers,
and creating rods.
Despite the popularity of fiberglass and graphite
as rod-making materials, they haven't entirely
replaced bamboo rods, many of which are still highly
prized by anglers not only for their collector's
value but also for their great fishing attributes.
How could this be? Perhaps the greatest reason is
bamboo rods have been the foundation of our modern
fly fishing heritage since the late 1800s. There have
been countless rodmakers pursuing the craft of
designing and building rods to match their ideas for
the perfect casting and fishing rod. Many of these
rods are truly works of art; they represent the
attainment of near perfection in the embodiment of
form and function.
Bamboo rods have an inherent charm because of
their natural material and are often especially
beautiful with their jewel like hardware, subtle
thread colors, carefully wrapped guides, graceful
cork grips, and wood seats. The natural color of
bamboo is a light straw color and, with
heat-treating, ranges to a dark caramel tone. Its
delicate grain radiates through the typical high
gloss varnish finish and the various colored wrapping
threads serve to highlight this natural beauty.
Bamboo as a natural material is also unparalleled in
its strength and resilience. Most rods created
decades ago still retain their original casting and
fishing capability. Moreover, there is a substantial
market for used bamboo rods created by master
craftsmen from previous eras, and, happily, many of
these rods are still fished. The fine bamboo rods
created in the past have continued to increase in
value over time because of their intrinsic value and
the fact the craftsmen who made them are no longer
And, finally, there is another reason many modern
anglers often forget or overlook about bamboo rods.
They can be absolutely great fishing rods! Just
because they are bamboo doesn't mean they are great
rods, but the material certainly has the potential to
be made into wonderful rods. As with any rod-making
material, proper design is crucial. In my opinion,
because of its inherent heavier weight over other
materials, bamboo is the most challenging material
with which to design rods to achieve wonderful
action. However, this relatively small increase in
weight, particularly in trout rods, is also one of
its advantages, for this additional weight gives
these rods an inherent loading characteristic that
makes them very smooth casting.
In the middle 1990s, I invented and then completed
the design work for the Morgan Bamboo Hand Mill. This
revolutionary mill allows a bamboo rodmaker to cut
bamboo strips easily and accurately to carry on the
long tradition of making bamboo rods without a major
investment in a power-milling machine.
In early 1999, Bill Blackburn, an amateur bamboo
rodmaker from Bozeman, Montana, who had built several
rods using a traditional planing form and hand plane
ordered a Hand Mill. When he came to pick up his
mill, I asked him if he knew of anyone I could hire
to help me build Hand Mills. As it so happened, Bill
was looking for a job. Not only did he make bamboo
rods, but he also had a degree in industrial arts.
This was a great combination to help produce the Hand
Mills because he understood how bamboo strips had to
be cut for rods, and he was familiar with machinery.
I hired Bill immediately.
In the beginning of our rod-making business, we
didn't think it would be practical to build bamboo
rods since we would have to make a power-milling
machine, a daunting task. In addition, Gerri wouldn't
have enough time to build the graphite rods and do
all of the bamboo work. However, we saw a great
opportunity for Bill to devote some time to building
bamboo rods in addition to working on the Hand Mills.
So soon after Bill came to work for us, Gerri and I
talked with him about the possibilities of building
bamboo rods, and we all enthusiastically decided it
would be a great project. The three of us would work
cooperatively to build the rods. So, as it turned
out, my invention of the Hand Mill allows us to build
fine bamboo rods.
Bill and I started putting together our bamboo
shop with Bill working under my direction since I
couldnt do the physical work. We had to build the
oven, calibrate it for proper heat-treating, build
and fine tune the glue binder, and attend to the many
other details of a bamboo shop. I must admit it took
a lot longer than I anticipated getting our shop
ready to build bamboo rods, but we took our time to
make sure everything was right and worked well.
Bill moved on at the end of 2011.We hired Zac
Sexton at the end of 2011 to replace Bill for our
bamboo rodmaking. We worked together and he did a lot
of good work for us. He left in late spring of 2013
to pursue a job at a guest ranch in southwestern
After Zac left Gerri and I were looking for an
experienced bamboo rodmaker to help with our rods,
and as you might surmise there are very few, if any,
around much less have the experience we required. I
heard Jason Fox might be available and gave him a
call. As it turned out he had just left Sweetgrass
Rods in Twin Bridges where he had worked for over
three years doing everything associated with building
His primary duty was varnishing and setting up a dip
varnish system that would work with their production.
Jason varnished somewhere in the range of 6-700 rods.
We had our varnish cabinet and system set up but
Jason refined the processes to provide coatings that
required much less polishing than before.
In addition to varnishing Jason worked wherever he
was needed and had the opportunity to refine and
master many skills of the craft by doing everything
many times over. He made over 100 rods at Sweetgrass
Having the opportunity to work under Glenn Brackett
and Jerry Kustich at Sweetgrass Rods was an
exceptional opportunity to learn bamboo rodmaking
under masters. In addition to that experienced he had
built bamboo rods on his own with a Hand Mill he
purchased from us prior to working at Sweetgrass so
was experienced with it too.
Of course Jason is a very experienced bamboo rod
fisherman which adds greatly to his enthusiasm for
rodmaking. He loves the action of our rods and is
excited to learn my design techniques.
Jason was really excited to have the opportunity to
build great rods for us. His experience at making
over 100 rods and finishing several hundred more was
what we were looking for. Gerri and I love his
enthusiasm, excitement, and great desire to build the
best bamboo rods possible. His attention to detail is
refreshing to see. He is just the rodmaker we were
looking for to continue our tradition.
Bamboo Design Goals
In the beginning of our bamboo rod building we were just
going to make 200 rods but they have proven so popular and
our customers love fishing them we are continuing to build them.
In addition, the designs have received great accolades
from very knowledgeable bamboo users for their sweet actions.
Originally we limited our rod models to those line sizes and
lengths which, from my experience, traditionally have been the most popular:
a 7' #3, a 7'3" #3, a 7' #4, 7 1/2' #4, and a 7 1/2' #5.
We have received inquiries about longer and heavier line sizes
so I have two prototypes we working on, an 8' #5 and an 8' #6.
These, too, will have hollow fluted tips and butts as do our
other bamboo rods to provide the light, lively action our bamboo rods are known for.
It's no surprise to those of you familiar with my
rod design philosophy, regardless of the material,
I'm a strong advocate of building rods that flex and
work as rods did in previous eras. I believe strongly
this is another reason for bamboo's continued
acceptance as a great rod-making material; bamboo
rods bend and work at the distances anglers fish. The
rod taper style on our rods is progressive which has
always been my favorite, as well as the favorite of
most anglers. The tips are the correct stiffness for
easy, yet positive, casting, and the strength
increases gradually into the butt for adequate power.
When you cast these rods, you can manipulate the line
easily to form a narrow loop or to open it up for an
open loop and wonderfully delicate delivery.
We are using lightweight snake guides which is a
very important aspect of the rod design because the
static load on the rod from guides and tip-tops is
thereby reduced as much as possible. This allows the
delicate feeling of the bamboo to come through
comes to rod design, the traditional school of
thought holds one starts with some basic tapers that
one likes and then one builds a number of
interchangeable butts and tips and casts each
combination to refine the taper. That's exactly what
we did. After casting a number of combinations, we
decided on the best set, but these rods still weren't
quite what we wanted. So we made another series of
tips and butts for each model and they were cast
again. In two cases, the final combinations felt
perfect, but one model needed an additional set of
tips. This process was time-consuming, but the
resulting rods are truly great. All of the prototype
casting, it should be noted, was done with double
taper lines. A number of people cast these prototypes
and fished them on streams. These anglers all agree
we have designed a series of exceptional rods that
are easy to cast with very smooth action and great
We have shipped over 150 rods to anglers around
the world and have received great complements about
their great action, unique design for the rods, bags,
tubes, and overall workmanship.Bamboo Details
We purchase our bamboo through a broker who
travels to the tiny village of Aozai in the Guangdong
Province of China where he hand selects it. This is
the village where the botanist F.C. McClure, who is
the Westerner who named this bamboo Arundinaria
amabilis in the 1920s, identified as the center of
the Tonkin bamboo region.
Our broker thinks things aren't much different now
than they were then. The collection of bamboo is
still a slow process; the poles are cut by hand and
carried out to rivers in small bundles. Upon reaching
the river, the bamboo is scrubbed by hand using sand
from the riverbank. From there, the poles are either
floated down the river in rafts or carried on boats.
The bamboo is then dried, sorted, and bundled into
groups of ten poles for shipping.
The bamboo I used to get when I was at Winston had
several defects, but some of these are absent in what
I receive from our broker. The poles no longer have
grower's marks that have been scraped on the butts
with a knife or heat straightening areas that are
damaged when the poles are heated over a fire then
bent over an iron stake to straighten them. A great
many poles are rejected in China because they are not
straight, have large areas of damage or
discoloration, have shallow power fiber depth, or are
not dense. This presorting provides bamboo poles
which have a much higher overall quality than I have
seen before. However, because of our rigorous
selection, we still only use five to ten percent of
We carefully select our bamboo for straightness,
strong power fibers, density, and lack of cosmetic
blemishes. When Bill first started sorting the
bamboo, he couldn't believe the high rejection rate I
insisted on for blemishes and cosmetic defects.
However, it has always been my contention bamboo rods
should reflect the highest standards of materials and
workmanship. All of the preparation work is carefully
done to maintain the integrity of the bamboo. First
the twelve foot long poles are matched for tips or
butts in groups of six to twelve poles with the same
node spacing. One half the batch is slid past the
other so the nodes of one side are in the middle of
the other. The poles are then cut to the proper
length. The balance of the pole is used for tips or
butts depending on how the original selection was
used. Once this selection has been made we split the
poles into a double width strip with a star splitter.
The nodes are carefully sanded by holding them by
hand against a sanding wheel until the nodes are
level. These strips are then milled on a rough power
beveler into two sixty degree strips without a taper.
An integral part of this process is to straighten the
bamboo at the nodes resulting in strips that glue
Jason Sanding a node
[Click to Enlarge]
I worked with a CAD drawing expert at the
local machine shop that makes the Hand Mill parts to
design a power milling machine to rough cut a taper
on our bamboo strips. On his computer we started
drawing it piece by piece until it was finished. Then
they made four for me three of which I sold to
friends. This machine will taper cut the butts and
tips until they are enough oversize to safely heat
treat. This saves a substantial amount of time final
cutting them on the Hand Mill.
The next step is to heat treat the oversize
tapered strips. We meticulously monitor the
heat-treating to make sure each batch is evenly
colored and has the correct tempering. Proper
heat-treating is essential to increase the modulus of
elasticity of the bamboo and to making it more set
resistant. The heat treating is enough to color the
bamboo into a rich, warm color.
Each bamboo strip is hand milled using the Hand
Mill that provides the proper taper and consistency
between strips. In order to keep the rods
lightweight, the butts and tips are hollow-fluted,
which makes them not only lighter, but also more
In keeping with the lightweight design
the ferrules are made of precision machined nickel
silver bar stock using the Super Swiss truncated
design. I designed an outside hone device to fit the
ferrules and they go together with exceptional
smoothness. As is the tradition of fine bamboo rods,
each of our rods comes with two matching tips. The
rods do not have a hook keeper.
A few additional special features complete these
unique rods. The female ferrules have a specially
designed nickel silver and cork plug that matches our
rod tube cap and collar. The winding checks are also
nickel silver and are hexagonal inside and outside to
match the form of the bamboo.
In line with our goal of keeping the rod weight to
a minimum, each guide is carefully wrapped with the
least amount of extra thread consistent
with good strength and durability. The wrappings are
then hand-coated with a durable and protective
finish. Written on the rod are the length, line size,
serial number, and the year made. Each serial number
will have the designation of being one of two
hundred: 1/200, 2/200, 3/200, etc. As a final
personal touch, the owner's name is inscribed on the
rod. Each rod is coated with a flawless high quality
marine spar varnish.Ordering Rods
These bamboo rods exquisitely represent the tradition
I have established based on my years of experience in the rod business.
It takes these years of observation to finally see
what separates ordinary rods from great ones. I realize
I have made my living building fly rods, but I haven't thought
of it as a business venture as much as a sharing of my love of the sport.
I believe I have a unique gift of knowing what makes a
great fly rod as well as the ability to convert this knowledge into rods that anglers love to fish.
Originally Gerri and I established a reputation for
building graphite rods under the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths brand
that are not only beautiful, but are great fishing rods.
I have always loved bamboo rods so it was natural to extend
our designs and rodmaking skills to build exceptional bamboo rods
to let us express our creativity in beauty, design, and function.
These are exceptional rods which I am confident will become
legendary and treasured by their owners.
Rod serial numbers will be assigned in the order
we receive your order. We ask for a 25% deposit with
the balance to be paid when we start the final
assembly of your rod. The rod will be delivered
within 4 months of the final payment. You will be
notified of your serial number at the time of your
deposit and the approximate delivery year of the
The rods are two-piece, two tips, an agate
stripping guide, polished nickel silver slide band
and bright fittings; or black slide band seat and
black fittings; or polished nickel silver up-lock
real seat. Both seat styles have a wood spacer of
your choice. If you will tell us the hue or species
of wood you would like we will email photos of those
we have available. The cork handle is a cigar,
half-wells, or custom grip. We purchase the very best
cork available then sort it to provide exceptionally
clear and solid grips. The rods are provided with our
special cloth bag, our distinctive aluminum case, and
an outer protective bag.
This is a sweet casting rod for fishing small dry
flies or nymphs where a careful presentation and
finesse are required. It is also a great rod for
fishing small fish in freestone streams where a short
and quick cast is productive. These rods have supple,
sensitive tips for fishing small flies and light
tippets, but they have enough power in the butt for
medium length casts.
A customer wanted a longer 3-weight rod and asked
if we could build one. A number of years ago we built
a 7'3" rod everybody who cast it liked very much so
we agreed to build him one and decided to add it to
our other 3-weight. This length is also very popular
These are light, lively rods that are fun to fish and
are the standard light line rod for many anglers.
They work well under a wide range of fishing
conditions where delicacy is very important and, yet,
they will still handle light breezes. With their
progressive action they will easily cast a variety of
small wet flies and small to medium dries.
A friend of ours wanted a longer 4-weight rod and
asked if we would build him one. We made a prototype
7 1/2' rod for him by extending our regular 7'
4-weight. It turned out to be a terrific rod so we
are adding it to our already popular 7'.
This is a very smooth casting rod for fishing a
variety of flies in small to medium sized waters. It
has a good fishing range and will do well under
moderately blustery conditions. This is a great rod
to fish when you're not sure what conditions you
might run into. With a long leader you have excellent
delicacy, but with a shorter leader you can cast into
a good breeze. A great rod that is fun and easy to
||7 1/2 foot
||7 1/2 foot
$3975.00 plus shipping and insurance.
More information on ordering and delivery can be
found on the price list
page and ordering
page. Click here
to go directly to the order form.
We encourage you to
call or write and discuss your requirements so we
can build you one of our beautiful rods to fish
on your favorite streams.