Bamboo Bonefish

The little bit I know about bonefish and the little bit I know about bamboo would make me think that the two really don’t go together well.  Turns out they might go together just fine, given the right rod and the right angler.

Coach Duff out in the Aloha State recently took up the call.  Rick Sorenson of Westslope Fly was behind the challenge to find a bamboo rod capable of dealing with Hawaiian bones.  Not only would the rod need to deal with the size of the fish, but also the high winds of Hawaii.  Rick is one of the world’s top dealers of bamboo rods, those ancient and modern.

Master rod builder Rob Smith (Pentalux Bamboo Fly Rods) of New Jersey responded to the grass rod vs. Aloha bone and Coach Duff tested and fished a few different tapers in 8 weight. Rob’s first build was a parabolic design and although Coach hooked two fish in two days over 6 pounds in high winds, something much faster and far more responsive was needed. The rod would still need to have the ability to load in tight for tailing bones and “tip” casts.  Rob nailed it on the second build out.

Coach said:

I was floored with the rod’s speed, sensitivity and abilities. I threw a whole Monic Phantom tip line with two backcasts with ease the whole flyline rocketing out like a hellfire missle, showing the power was there. It was good in close, it was good in 20 mile an hour winds and overall it has forever changed my ideas of bamboo rods and their limitations.

The proof is impressive.

Coach Duff, Grass Rod, Aloha Bone

Thanks to Coach Duff for giving permission for re-use of the photo.

A full length  article should be in “Japanese Flyrodder,” which I’d bet is not the kind of magazine you find at Barnes and Noble.

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  1. Hi Bjorn —

    Bamboo could certainly do the job as well as graphite, given the right design and right tapers. Though bamboo has the reputation for having slow actions (and many lousy bamboo rods are justifiably notorious for being mushy and noodley) you could definitely build a good stiff, fast action rod that would suit flats fishing just fine.

    I think the real issue why you don’t see many saltwater bamboo rods is simply that the saltwater tends to do a number on a rod and few people are willing to put their bamboo in harm’s way. The salt can be quite corrosive on the hardware, ferrules, guides, and so forth, and if you just shelled out a few thousands bucks for a bamboo rod, using a cheaper graphite rod on the flats just makes more sense. In short, I suspect it’s less a matter of theory and design, and more a matter of pragmatic economics. Just my $.02.

    Incidentally, I’ll be heading down to Belize tomorrow morning to try and find a few bones — wish me luck!

    Spinoza Rod Company

  2. Yeah, if salt can ruin a mid-cost reel in a couple of trips, I can imagine it offers no favors to bamboo. I’ve only cast bamboo a couple of times and I’ve never fished on… not even for trout. Just not what I have in my quiver. In my hometown we have Chris Raine, who makes bamboo rods. Such an art. Beautiful looking rods on your site.

    Good luck down in Belize. I wish you many, many bones and maybe a permit and poon to round things off. If you feel like sharing your trip, you can always guest post your bonefishy goodness here.

    Good fishing,


  3. Hi Bjorn —

    Well I heartily recommend bamboo (if that’s not obvious already!). It certainly is an art, but I love it just as much for performance reasons. It’s a cliche to say it, but nothing really compares to fighting a fish on a bamboo rod.

    I’ll let you know how Belize goes — It’s pretty much a DIY trip so I’m not sure how it will turn out but I am hoping to have a shot at some permit and tarpon if I can swing it. Right now I’m just hoping that the weather cooperates so that I’ll have lots of time on the water.

    Looking forward to hearing about your Bahamas trip as well — I was on the fence between Belize and the Bahamas but decided the latter so that I could also do some diving. When the finances have recuperated from this current trip I’m hoping to plan a jaunt down to Eleuthera or one of the other out islands. It sounds very very enticing!


  4. Hey Jonas, I’ve been hesitant to try bamboo on the river since it doesn’t seem to go well with A) my fishing style, or B) my habit of breaking rods. On a trout stream I mostly do tightline nymphing… I’ve found that even a medium action rod is too slow. Of course, I haven’t actually fished one on river (or flat)… so, could be wrong (I’m wrong a lot).

    Belize DIY… sounds excellent. My Bahamas trip should be a lot of fun (he says, hoping for good weather). I can’t wait to be there. I’m looking at a possible trip with my dad next fall, maybe to Mexico… somewhere with schoolies and no need for an 80′ cast into a 20 knot wind.

    Looking forward to hearing about your Belize trip!

  5. Jonas,
    I agree. I don’t do too much salt fishing but fish for trout every month. All of my freshwater fishing is on bamboo and I have also been fishing cane in the salt off and on for a few years. I have caught a dozen or so bones on bamboo, the biggest 18-20″, which isn’t huge but feels pretty neat on a cane rod. I mostly use a 40-year-old impregnated Orvis Battenkill with larger, “modern” guides; it’s rated as a WF8 but throws a 7 better and it weighs 4 3/8 oz. It’s not as fast a rod as I would like in the wind. I have a better one, a Winston 8/9; it’s hollowbuilt and weighs around 5 oz. but its hardware isn’t really compatible with saltwater use. Still looking for the ideal, because there’s nothing like the feel of a big fish on a bamboo rod. Any bamboo rod, of course, needs to be washed and wiped down after saltwater use, even an impregnated one.

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