particularly Tonkin cane is included here in a
special section because of its classic beauty and phenomenal
performance in flyrods.
Flyrods: Some Background
bamboo is a grass and among the fastest growing plants in the world
anyone who has had experience with bamboo in their yard is
painfully aware how tenacious this plant is! But certain species,
in particular "Tonkin cane," are well-adapted for use
the mid-1830s most flyrods were made of wood. They were usually
11 feet long and were fairly easy to produce; however, they were,
as you can imagine, heavy and cumbersome. The ultimate downfall
of wooden rods was their susceptibility to breakage in the tip sections.
Several attempts were made at improving over the original all-wood
design by incorporating bamboo.
first all-bamboo tips originated in England and were made from a
species of bamboo that was imported from India ("Calcutta cane").
Since bamboo is lighter and also more flexible, rod-makers began
making the entire rod entirely of bamboo. It's uncertain who actually
made the first "all-bamboo" rod, but it's generally accepted
that Samuel Philippe of Easton, Pennsylvania was the first person
to assemble what is the traditional hexagonal (6-sided) fly rod.
Charles Murphy of New York is credited with coming up with the all-bamboo
hexagonal design rod which remains popular today, long after its
original debut in the 1870s.
bamboo was named by Dr. Floyd McClure, who was the first to describe
the plant and recognize it as a previously unreported species. By
1925 this bamboo was already being used for building fly rods. The
scientific Latin name was changed to Arundinaria amabilis ("The
Lovely Bamboo") in McClure's honor. "Tonkin"
bamboo is grown in a rather limited geographic area along the Sui
River in southern China, north and west of Hong Kong. This region
receives a great deal of rain and has a warm, temperate climate;
the land is characterized by very steep slopes that promote rapid
drainage. This last aspect is very important, for while bamboo needs
a large volume of water to sustain rapid growth, standing water
will rot the rhizomes (runners) by which the plant reproduces.
why is Tonkin cane great for fly rods? It is partly tradition, but
is also because this species of bamboo has exceptional characteristics
in terms of overall flexibility, wall thickness, density of the
fibers, and the distance between the "nodes" on the culm
(stalk) of the bamboo. By comparison, "Calcutta cane"
has very thin "power fibers" in the outermost layer of
the culm and a soft inner core. On top of that, it was often damaged
by the practice of scorching the stalks to rid them of boring insects.
factor that seems to have affected the popularity of Tonkin cane
is its relative scarcity which resulted from an embargo that was
placed on Chinese goods from 1950 to 1971. During this period,
cane could not be imported into the United States.
other species of cane are also good for making fly rods, but their
color or "hardness" makes the rods look and "feel"