Monday, October 26, 2015

refurbished split cane

being a short story about the South Bend 359-9 split cane rod that took me all summer to rebuild. It was bought off ebay as a ratty not to say raddled set of tomato plant stakes; varnish peeling, guides rusty or not there, reelseat loose. The work included reset and reseat the ferrules, strip and revarnish the bamboo, new guides except for the agatine red stripper reused, rewrap all bindings, clean repair and reset reelseat. This is properly understood as a kind of occupational therapy rather than simply about fishing, though both are a mostly harmless form of self-medication.

Once I had it stripped of the old varnish, the ferrules polished and refitted to seat nicely, the job stalled for a month or more. The bare wood and silver was so simply beautiful I hesitated to inflict my workmanship on it. Experience has taught how difficult it is to get a good varnish job, without runs, drips, bubbles, or dust to mar its smooth finish. Many of the surviving older splitcane rods were made by the old masters, named and venerated: Hiram Leonard, Edward Payne, Goodwin Granger and later Bill Phillipson here in Denver.  Repairs on these are usually entrusted to skilled craftsmen,  among whom I am not numbered.  Nonetheless I wanted to honour the nameless workman who had produced this rod with my best efforts.  The tip of a splitcane rod is a thing of wonder, a piece of precision craftsmanship disturbingly frail in appearance yet strong enough to survive years of abuse and neglect.

Here it is on its first outing for largemouth bass. The fly is 5 inches long, a saltwater monstrosity on a heavy hook, tied by brother Charles many years ago. Bass like a big meal.

The reel is a Weber Kalahatch. In some ways it is the platonic fly reel, a nearly irreducible simplicity of design. They were rebranded versions of the Duncan Briggs reels from Rhode Island, made only for a few years in the early 50s. 

The weakness of the design is that retaining screw for the spool, which tends to loosen and fall out. As can be seen in the first picture, the screw is now a Phillips shoulder screw which doesn't quite fit. I contrived a washer from some milk bottle plastic, to get a yielding low-friction layer between screw and spool. This worked surprisingly well. Ideally the screw should be a slotted button or pan head low shoulder machine screw 10-32 3/8" long. For some reason this fully specified screw has been hard to source.

A few small bass in the dusk before dawn, then this handsome fellow in early light, from the black water. This pond has steep banks covered in bramble so it is difficult to cast a flyline and keep it out of the bramble behind. Instead the trick is to cast along the shore putting a hook on the last false cast, to drop the fly in deeper water. Adding the precise timing needed to cast a heavy bass fly made for an enjoyably technical morning of fishing. My fishing skills are much like my craftsmanship, at best serviceable: so that actually catching fish is an event happy and unexpected. This time a slight tension on the line signaled the occasion. Tightening on that suggestion brought a heavy boil welling up in the clear water, indicating a fish of real size.

This bass is 19" and 3 or 4lbs in weight, the biggest bass I've caught in decades. An auspicious beginning for the tackle, briefly reclaimed from time.

The pond went dead after this. I drove over to the river, to see if anything had survived the week of zero releases from the dam. There is a small flow from some ponds, plus a steady 5cfs or so from the sewage treatment plant, which prevent the river from completely drying up.  Two smaller walleye, released to take their chances in low water and winter coming on.

There was a tremendous hatch of tricos from the remnants of the stream, but sadly no trout to feed on them.

On a later morning I hooked a truly enormous bass. The fly stopped dead on the retrieve, apparently snagged on a silver and green beam of light embedded immovably in the water. Then it moved, ran and jumped several times, set off on a strong run and the fly came loose. At least I got to see those huge jumps. The problem is now I can't forget them.

Carp like it hot. In the deeper waters they have already retreated to the depths. Shallow ponds still have an occasional fish wandering the margins. The cane worked on these as well.

This picture seems almost a still life. The fish lives on, though.

It's been great fun fishing with this older gear. The logical next step is to regress to Izaak Walton's equipment: cut myself a hazel wand, thread a berry on a braided horsehair leader, and call it tenkara.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
Song of Wandering Aengus, WB Yeats