The Educated Fly Rod (Part 1)

When I was rummaging around my garage recently, I found an interesting five-foot long box. The garage is packed as it houses two cars, cupboards, power saws, woodworking tools, workbenches, sanders, a sink and, of course, many treasures that I am going to use or may need some day. I was looking for a small umbrella that fastens to a chair when I came across the box.

The box was intriguing for it was a long-lost treasure chest. It contained pieces of old fishing rods I hadn’t used in decades, mostly of split bamboo, a rusty steel telescopic rod and one fiberglass butt. All of these were going to be repaired someday during my retirement. Mixed in with all this stuff was a real treasure from my youth, my “educated fly rod.”

What’s an educated fly rod, you may ask? Well, it’s been to school a lot and, being a rod, it is assembled from many sections, while a fishing pole is just one long piece of cane. This rod made many visits to my high school classes in the 1930s and has a long history and an equally long story.

This was my favorite: a five-piece rod made of split bamboo. The nickel plating on the ferrules have corroded, the butt plate is missing, the guides have been removed, the silk wrappings need replacing and there are several scars of burned areas, but what memories it brought back!

Being of five pieces, each section is only 22 inches long. These short sections are what made it so important. Lost in my memory was where and how I got it. It wasn’t new when I acquired it, so I probably traded for it as money was so tight during the Depression. It’s at least 70 year old. Most split-bamboo rods were made in England, France, Japan or the United States then, and were eight to nine feet long when assembled, with each section normally measuring 36 to 48 inches long. About the only place one sees them today is fishing museums and expensive sportsmen’s catalogs. The action when casting a fly with a long rod is much better with long sections, but mine had a major advantage: it was easily hidden!

My high school education may have taken place in hard times, but the students still managed to dress quite well. The girls wore wool skirts, Angora sweaters, bobby socks and white saddle shoes. Apparel for a boy at Los Gatos High was a white, open-necked shirt, slacks and either a sport jacket or a block LG sweater. (I was able to afford such luxury by hitchhiking to a small town near the Stanford campus where the college students would hock their clothes and I could get real bargains and excellent quality for a pittance.)

The beauty of my five-piece, 22-inch section fly rod was that it would fit into my back pocket, under my sport coat and no one knew it was there, particularly my mother and the Dean of Students and Discipline, Doug Helm. Mr. Helm and I developed a friendly relationship because I saw him so often; he had a special name for me: “Not YOU Again.”

May 1st brought the opening of trout season every year, and the torturous itch to leave school and go out fishing was sometimes too much to bear. Next week I’ll tell you how this urge to fish nearly got me and my educated fly rod in big trouble one year.

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