Š Good casting fundamentals are universal. All the elements of technique apply to whatever type of rod you use
Š Bamboo is a little heavier and more flexible than graphite
Š Bamboo rods load easily – less effort is needed to load the rod
Š Apply power SMOOTHLY - if in doubt back off the brute power
Š Most Bamboo rods are shorter (6 ½ - 7 ½ feet) than you may be used to
Š Focus on short (stream fishing) range casts, particularly to begin with
Š Try to get the feeling of keeping the load in the rod at all times
The beauty, craftsmanship and history associated with bamboo rods attract many people to them. The ease of loading and ability cast short distances with accurate, delicate presentation continue to make bamboo rods relevant today despite all the advances in technology.
First and foremost, casting with bamboo shares the same principals of physics and fundamentals of technique with casting any other fly rod. Everything you learn at the other classes here applies to casting a cane rod.
Good technique is good technique, regardless of the rod!
Elements such as smoothly loading the rod, stopping the casting stroke to unload the rod and transfer the energy into the line, hauling and shooting are common to all good casting.
A key thing to remember here is to understand that the power in a rod comes from it loading, and to load it needs to BEND!
What’s Different About Bamboo?
So what are we doing here? Where, if anywhere, does casting bamboo differ to casting rods made from other modern (stiffer) materials?
Bamboo as a material
To understand this it helps to consider the difference between bamboo and graphite as a rodmaking material. Bamboo is:
1. Less stiff (easier to BEND) than graphite
2. Heavier in weight than graphite (partly due to solid cane rod construction compared to hollow graphite rods)
Elements of Loading a Rod
The amount a rod loads is basically determined by:
1. The application of power in the casting stroke, and the interaction with…
2. The weight of the line through the guides of the rod and outside the tip
3. The natural amount of flex in the rod
4. The physical weight of the rod material
For a given length of cast (line loading), bamboo will have more inherent load from it’s natural flex and weight.
How does this translate to Casting style?
What this means is that bamboo rods in general require less force in the casting stroke to load them, and have more momentum due to their weight. This results in what many people describe as a fluid, “easy” casting feel (long time Snowy Mountains guide, Paul Bourne, describes this as a “Swing”).
This also means that bamboo rods generally respond well to a more relaxed, smoother, casting stroke than with a stiffer rod.
Getting to know a rod…
There’s great feel in all good casting. Here are some points that will help you get started with bamboo.
Start Short and Smooth
To try and connect with this feeling, particularly if you are new to bamboo, start with a shortish line, say 1-3 rod lengths, and experiment with the timing and amount of power you apply in your casting stroke. See how much you can back off the power and still form a smooth, efficient loop. This doesn’t mean go sloppy or limp. Still maintain the correct technique – just relax a bit, let the rod do the work, and try to feel it.
Lift off smoothly
When picking up the line off the water into the initial backcast, a smooth lift, resulting in the “Waterfall Liftoff” helps to load the rod smoothly. Ripping the line off the water overloads the rod right from the start and you’re in recovery mode right from the start. Of course, there are many times on the stream that wiggle, roll, snap or spiral liftoffs may be used for various reasons, but never with an overpowering violence that would disrupt the flow of the cast.
Work your way out gradually
When slowly working into longer casts, or using more speed/power, focus on smooth accelerating application of power – pull the load into the rod rather than pushing the power all at once from the start. When you lose the feel and control in the cast, shorten the line back and cast short again. Keep your form, technique and smoothness. Try and execute a fishing length cast perfectly, rather than the longest cast you can manage raggedly!
Power and speed are great, but not at the expense of staying smooth. Do some casting with your eyes closed and focus on the feel of the rod loading smoothly. The Driggs River (with a #5) is a great taper to feel the full action of bamboo flowing through into the grip of the rod. Mel Krieger used to use the term “Oily”, to describe the smooth feeling that you should try and achieve in your casting stroke.
When really tuned to a rod there seems to be a constant connection and flow between your hand and the fly, and it is hard to tell where the rod ends and the line starts. Nirvana.
Exercise – At the end of these notes are a list of rods that are available to try. Have a cast with a number of the #4 weights (Driggs River, Payne 98 DeGere “Fast”, Payne 97 and Garrison 201) and feel how different they are to cast and load up.
Key Points - Summary
Š All the basics of technique still apply.
Š Bamboo is a little heavier and more flexible than graphite.
Š Bamboo rods load easily – apply power SMOOTHLY - if in doubt back off the brute power.
Š Focus on short (stream fishing) range casts, particularly to begin with.
Š Try to get the feeling of keeping the load in the rod at all times.
Further Discussion and More Casts
This is one feature of the “self loading” of bamboo, created by the natural flex and weight of the rod. The rod is going to flex (load) with or without the line. This means that the rod can be used to deliver a leader on its own, with no line at all through the guides.
This “rod only” loading (without any line loading) is best achieved with a fairly short, firm (but still smooth) casting stroke. Without the aid of the line to load the rod, you will have to do a little work to get the rod loading under its own natural weight and flex. A smooth stop on the back cast is important in creating this load. With such a short line, it will feel like you will be stopping early – even before 11 O Clock – in the casting stroke.
Really try to connect with the feel of this rod loading. The aim is to hold the load in the rod at the end of both the forward and back cast. The “Circles, Eights and Straights” drill that Haysie teaches is a good way to find this feel.
Exercise - A good way to practise is without a line through the guides at all. Watch the rod load and unload while you practise your casting stroke back and forth. Focus on watching and feeling the rod staying flexed at the end of both the forward and back cast. Wait too long at the end of the stroke, and the rod will unload (straighten). Too fast of course, and there won’t be enough time for a leader to unroll/turnover in a fishing situation. Try a variety of different strokes, while maintaining the same tight, heavy, oily, loaded feel – small stoke, larger stroke, tiny stoke, slow, medium, fast tempo…
Exercise - Try this as a drill. With a short, firm casting stroke, cast with only a foot or two of line through the guides. When you have the feel of this, shorten the line until you can turnover the leader on its own. The light tipped ‘Payne 98’ is a great rod to try this on.
The Open Power Loop and Constant Load Casting
You’ll notice when casting with cane that the flex and weight means that it’s natural for the tip to deflect more than on stiffer rods during the cast. This results in slightly wider loops, while still containing plenty of power and control for presentation. With this open loop (U as opposed to V shaped), particularly on short to medium length casts, it feels like that you can hold the load in the rod all the way through the cast. This “Constant Load Casting” is being discussed more widely in casting with all types of rods.
Note though, that it is still possible (through control and technique) to throw little “candy cane” loops with the softest of cane rods, should you want or need to do so.
One consequence of the weight and flex of bamboo, is that it is best suited to rods that are a little shorter than those made from stiffer materials. I believe rods in the 6 ½ to 7 ½ foot #3-5 weight range bring out the best in bamboo. Again, good technique still applies in casting these rods, but for most of us that have come from a background of 9 foot graphite’s, it takes a little getting used to. This is another reason to gain the feel of the rod while casting a shortish line, and then gradually working out to longer casts.
One thing to take note of when fishing shorter rods, is that you will want to take note of the height of your backcast in clearing obstacles behind you. Once you’ve made this adjustment, the advantages of fishing a short rod, particularly in tight streams, can really revolutionize the way you fish.
These short rods can still turnover long leaders if required. I use a knotless superglue leader connection that passes easily back and forth through the guides and tiptop. Instructions for the Superglue leader connection are included at the end of the notes.
In my view, with rods much beyond 8 feet in length, or line weights above #6, the weight and flex of bamboo starts to work against the rod rather than for it. Particularly when blind casting for long periods with these rods, casting fatigue can become a factor. That’s not to say there aren’t many anglers out there who love to fish rods in this category.
Grip location and Casting Balance
A point worth touching on is how far up or down the grip to hold the rod. In general, “crowding the reel” with your rod hand (keeping your hand as close as practical to the reel), aids casting stroke integrity. If the reel is too far from the hand, the reel weight works as a pendulum in the cast, which in turn causes unwanted rotation of the rod, or unneeded effort in fighting against it. This is one reason why many rods are now fitted with uplocking seats.
My personal choice of grip/reelseat configuration is a 5 ½ cigar grip with a simple downlocking cap and ring reelseat. This allows me to squeeze the maximum length out of a short, 6 ½ foot rod, by dropping the rod hand down off the back of the grip onto the reelseat, almost on top of the reel.
As an exercise, try some different hand positions on the grip and feel how the rod changes.
Some proponents of longer, heavier rods do like a little separation between hand and reel to offset the top-heavy nature of the rod.
Bow and Arrow Casting
Bow and Arrow Casts are perfectly OK to perform with a Cane rod. ALWAYS make sure to separate the rod hand and fly hand before loading the rod. Angle your rod arm right forward and down towards the ground, cock your wrist, with the rod angled up, and the and with the fly held up high, to create a large (open) angle between the rod and flyline/leader. Try and get the initial rod/line angle close to 90 degrees if you can. This loads the rod evenly and allows for a more accurate, controlled presentation. NEVER pull the leader straight back along the rod.
If you haven’t ‘bow and arrowed’ cast before you will notice that you don’t need to load the rod much at all in order to roll over the leader and deliver the fly. If you haven’t tried this cast before you may initially find that you have too much leader out – your arms won’t seem long enough.
Exercise – ask me to demonstrate the bow and arrow cast, and have a try! WARNING – an incorrectly performed Bow and Arrow cast is a great way to damage a rod!
Other Fishing Considerations with Bamboo
Aside from casting, there are some other points of difference between bamboo and graphite rods.
As mentioned previously, modern bamboo rods tend to be shorter than the current graphite rods. This takes a little getting used to. A long rod allows a little more leeway than a short rod regarding picking up slack line when striking or lifting off to cast. This means you should be diligent in keeping excess slack out of the line while fishing.
Bamboo rods are remarkably resilient, but definitely not indestructible. If properly cared for, a bamboo rod can last a lifetime of fishing.
Many of the same rod care principles apply to both bamboo and graphite rods. There are a few slight differences, such, regarding how to assemble and disassemble a bamboo and graphite rod. The amount of work in making a bamboo rod (40-60 hours) also precludes the “unlimited” Warantees offered by some major rod companies.
The “Rod Care” sheet I provide with the rods I make is included with these notes to detail the best way to look after a bamboo rod. My column in Flyfisher #7 also discusses bamboo rod care.
The best way to harness the deep fish playing power of a bamboo rod, as well as protect the rod, is to use a relatively low rod angle. During a long fight, it is a good idea to turn the rod over with the guides on top to balance the strain on both sides of the rod. High sticking (playing a fish with the rod pointed up or even back) is both inefficient in terms of putting strain on the fish, as well as being a good way to damage a rod! These points are covered in the “Rod Care” sheet as well.
Practise and Drills
While there are few better teachers than a spooked trout, it’s far less painful to do some practise at home or down at the park.
A good place to practise the fundamentals of casting is in an open area, so you can focus on the basics without obstacles. In addition to this though, I really recommend scenario-based practise. If you fish small, bushy streams, for example, practise around trees or other obstacles. Do some casting from a kneeling or even lying position. Set out or choose targets at different angles as well as different lengths (concentrate in close, fishing length ranges). See how quickly you can change from one target to another, with little or no false casting. Curve some casts around your car, and do some slack line /mend/dump casts.
Try some casts starting with the line reeled up as you would on the stream. Try some casts around all angles of the wind. Short to medium casts into the wind seem to challenge a lot of people, but are often encountered on the stream.
On the Stream
If you’ve made a poor presentation on the steam and missed a chance at a fish, probably the last thing on your mind is to try the cast again once the fish is gone. It is an ideal opportunity however to take a little time to practise the cast to the same lie, to give yourself a better chance next time.
Bamboo rods are usually quite versatile when it comes to line weight, due to their easy/self loading nature. Experiment with different line weights or taper profiles to see what suits you.
Some like the feel of going down a line weight. The rod will still self-load and deliver the line, but you won’t feel that snug “line loading” pull of the line against the rod. Some smooth, compact double hauling will increase the line speed and add a little to the rod loading. If for some reason you’re likely to be a consistently casting a longer line than normal, a lighter is worth trying.
A middle line weight balances the rod and line loading and for many, this is the way to go.
Going up a line weight (or a half, like a GPX) obviously increases the line loading on the rod. This can be a good idea when learning or teaching beginners, as it really magnifies the feel of loading the rod with the line. This is also often done with stiffer rods when fishing a short line, where the rod won’t self -load and the extra line weight is needed to load the rod effectively.
Exercise - Try one of the 7 foot #4 weights listed at the end of the notes with a #3, #4, and a #5 and see what you think. Feel the difference between rod loading and line loading.
Regarding Double Taper versus Weight Forward lines, again, it comes down to choice and there is no rule one way or the other for bamboo. The front taper of most WF and DT lines are generally the same so it’s pretty irrelevant for stream length presentations.
When using plastic lines for stream fishing, one thing I do is use a Double Taper and cut it in half, using one half and storing the other half for future use. I splice 10-15 metres of thick, hollow braid to the back of the half I’m using. This gives me:
Š A long front taper and belly for stream casting
Š Thick, long, low memory shooting line that is easy to manage
Š A smaller volume of line allowing use of a compact reel
Š Two lines for the price of one!
Instructions for performing the splice are included at the end of the notes.
Silk or Plastic?
I get asked a lot about Silk versus Plastic lines on bamboo. Each has their pros and cons and it really comes down to personal choice.
Below is a table with a basic comparison, including the Artificial Silk Lines made by Terenzio Zandri.
SILK or PLASTIC
Don’t require Dressing
Easy to Procure
Line Memory – Coiling
Don’t last very long
Thicker than silk
Last for many Seasons
Expensive (up front cost)
Still require some dressing
Take some use to “soften up”
Not quite as “slick” as natural silk
In truth it’s a bit more complicated than this. For example Silk lines cost more up front, but last longer than plastic if cared for, so may end up being cheaper in the long run.
I’ve started using the Artificial Silk lines for a lot of my fishing. While not quite as thin and smooth as a Natural Silk, I find that properly dressed, for me they float better and longer than modern plastic lines. The total lack of line memory I also rate as a big plus.
Reels again come down to personal preference. When it comes to trout, I personally don’t feel the need for Disc Drags or Large Arbours. With Silk (no memory/coiling) or a ½ DT line I like the balance, feel and look of a compact reel of 4-5 oz and 2 ¾ - 3 inch diameter, on the 6’6” – 7’0” #4/5 rods that I do most of my fishing with. Classic Hardy or the handmade Peerless style reels fit into this category, but to a large extent, reels are reels…
Rods to Try
These rods are available to cast during the Conclave. Try them all, or if you think you may suffer from “Rod Overload”, tell me about how and where you usually fish and I will narrow it down to a few!
#1 Leonard Baby Catskill
An ultralight wisp of a rod for the tiniest of creeks and little trout. For delicate presentations of small unweighted flies to 20 feet.
A full loading, easy casting three weight with a smooth butt section and fine tips. Casts small flies and light leaders with a silky feel. A very nice light rod for small streams, or small stillwaters, with presentations up to 30-40 feet.
#3/4/5 "Bush Creek"
With a light tip, progressive mid, and smooth butt section, this rod loads sweetly in close, but is also deceptive in it's ability to throw a long line. I have been doing a lot of fishing with one of these (in three piece configuration) over the last few seasons. It's become the rod I fish more than anything else. Designed for small streams and dry fly presentation to 40 feet, it can cast a long fly line when asked of it.
#4/5/6 "Monaro 45"
A very fast dry fly action 4/5 weight, which can also handle a DT 6 weight. Suited to sight casting for cruising fish to distances of 60 feet and beyond. Don't let the size fool you. This rod is built for big Monaro trout, and has loads of power in the butt, both for long distance presentations and playing fish.
#4 Payne 97
A full loading, easy casting four weight from one of the American masters. Casts small flies and light leaders with a silky smooth feel. A very nice light rod for small streams, or small stillwaters, with presentations up to 30-40 feet.
#4 Garrison 201
A medium/progressive taper from one of the best known makers from the Classic American rodmaking era. Buttery smooth action, but deceptively powerful when the wind picks up or some distance is required, for delicate presentations up to 40-50 feet.
#4/5 Payne 98
A classic taper from one of the masters of American rodmaking. A crisp dry fly action, with fine tips and a gentle swell in the butt. Presentation casting up to 40-50 feet.
#4/5 Digger DeGere"Fast"
A crisp dry fly action, with medium-fine tips and a powerful butt section. This rod has the feel to present the fly at close range, and also the power to cope with the inevitable Australian High Country wind and cover fish to 40-50 feet or more. A very versatile rod for streams, or small stillwaters.
#4/5 Driggs River
This is a medium taper, modified from the Paul Young "Driggs River Special". A very sweet rod, able to cast a short line with accuracy and delicacy, while still having the power to cover fish at distances of 40-50 feet and beyond. A nice taper for dry fly fishing, but with a supple action also suited for nymphing or fishing small wets.
This is a fast action, powerful rod, capable of casting a #5 or #6 in medium to large streams and in wind, for presentation up to and beyond 80 feet. It has a powerful swell in the butt, and can pick up a long line from the water, but still maintains feel for shorter presentations.
#6 "Para 15"
This is a very smooth casting rod from the American master Paul Young. At the opposite extreme to modern graphite, these rods have a reserve power deep in the butt. The full action rewards a relaxed, slower, casting stroke, but is still capable of tight loops and high line speed. The rod is supplied as standard with a light (dry) and heavy (wet) tip to cover a variety of fishing situations. An ultralight (#5) tip is also available for this rod for small flies and spring creek fishing. Presentations to 80 feet and beyond.
#6/7 "Paul Young Boat Rod"
A fast action, powerful rod, which will cast a full DT7 line, still with the bamboo qualities to allow short, accurate presentations. This is an ideal rod for larger rivers or lakes, with the backbone for pushing large flies into the wind. Presentations to 90 feet and beyond.
#7/8 "78 Special"
This prototype is a powerful, double built rod with bamboo ferrules. With a swelled butt and oversized guides, and relatively short length, it is light enough to cast and fish a long line for extended periods. Capable of tackling harsh winds and presentations beyond 90 feet.