ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Raine bamboo fly rods

Posted 4/17/24

I received my first bamboo fly rod during the winter of 1959. It was an Orvis 99—that is to say, an Orvis Battenkill with one tip. The rod was 7.5 feet long and rated for a 6-weight fly line. …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Raine bamboo fly rods


I received my first bamboo fly rod during the winter of 1959. It was an Orvis 99—that is to say, an Orvis Battenkill with one tip. The rod was 7.5 feet long and rated for a 6-weight fly line. When I ordered it through my friend Bob Zigsby—who knew West Jordan, the rodmaker at Orvis in Manchester, VT—I expected a kit rod. That meant a rod blank with ferrules mounted, a set of guides, a real seat and cork for the grip. I was planning to do the finish work myself. So it was quite a surprise at the Southern New York Sportsmen’s Association’s weekly fly-tying class, to open the rod tube and find a fully finished Orvis bamboo fly rod. That was Bob Zigsby, my mentor and dear friend.

Over the years, that rod served me well. It traveled with me to the Esopus, Beaver Kill, Willowemoc and ultimately the rivers of western Montana. Those included the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Lolo and Rock Creek. When I returned from Montana, my Orvis fished with me on the East Branch of the Delaware River and on the Delaware River proper. Sadly, one afternoon while fishing from a canoe with Ed van Put, near Bouchoux Brook, the rod slipped over the side and into the Delaware. I was taking a photo while Ed was landing a nice rainbow, and not paying attention to my rod. 

For several years after that, I used fiberglass fly rods. Then around 1984, I accompanied Frank Mele to the Thomas and Thomas (TNT) Rod Shop in Turners Falls, MA. Len Codella was running TNT at that time. So with Frank’s guidance and recommendation, I ordered an eight-foot TNT classic bamboo fly rod. It was an impregnated model, rated for a 5-weight fly line. I fished that rod for about 20 years before selling it to a friend who was just beginning to fly fish with bamboo.

After that, there was a long hiatus before I found a Payne 8.5-foot 204 bamboo fly rod. That rod turned out to be too heavy for me, so I traded it for another rod. In the meantime, I purchased two or three Winston graphite fly rods, which I like very much. However, since all my friends were bamboo aficionados, I finally gave in and began to look for a new bamboo rod.

That’s when I learned about Chris Raine, a rod maker of hollow-built bamboo fly rods, who operated from his shop in Northern California. So I spoke to Chris and asked him if his rods would stand up, should I hook a 20-inch trout. He put a video on his website that showed him with a large steelhead being landed on one of his rods. Once I saw that video, I decided to purchase one of Chris’s rods. At the time, he had an 8.5-foot, three-piece hollow-built rod he called an “experimental model” available. That rod was designed to cast a 5-weight fly line.

When the rod arrived, I quickly attached a reel with a 5-weight fly line and headed to the backyard to cast. I was immediately impressed with the way this rod performed. Because it was hollow built, it was light in the hand, and at the same time capable of putting out a lot of line with ease. 

I don’t remember the first time I fished this rod, but I do recall how easy it was at the end of a cast to pick up 30 or 40 feet of line, make one back cast and shoot out another 15 feet or so. The rod cast as well and just as easily as any graphite, and could really make long casts when needed. 

Just as important was the way it handled large trout. I had issues with other bamboo fly rods in the past after hooking an 18- or 20-inch brown, only to learn that it was difficult to apply enough pressure to allow a large trout to be landed quickly. 

That was not the case with the 8.5-foot Raine fly rod. Any trout that I hooked came to net in a reasonable amount of time, saving me from arm fatigue, and the fish from undue stress. In fact, one day several years ago while fishing with my friend Roger Menard, I landed the largest trout of my angling career—a 24-inch wild brown—with that rod. 

Bamboo fly rods are enjoying a renaissance, and there are a lot of good makers out there building fine rods. Based on my experience as an angler and long-time 

fly-casting instructor, I would put the Raine rods up with the best of the best. Chris’s rods are not only superb fishing tools but are beautifully made, with flawless varnish, guides, grips and reel seats. In addition, his prices are very reasonable when compared with other makers. 

So if you are inclined toward bamboo, take a look at Chris’s website; he has several models to choose from and some in stock. He can be found at www.hollowbuilt.com.  

There is nothing like fishing with a beautifully made bamboo fly rod. They are art forms designed as fishing rods. And I know that any angler who fishes with a Raine rod will not be disappointed.

bamboo, fly, catskill, fly fisher, ramblings


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