In a shop at his woodsy home near Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, Art Weiler manufactures reproductions of famous maker bamboo fly rods. He’s most known for his Everett Garrison Reproduction rods in lengths six and a half to eight-foot models in line-weights from two to seven. But you will find more fine reproduction bamboo fly rods initially designed by James Payne, H.L. Leonard and Lyle Dickerson, and others on his website.
“A Leonard rod is different than a Payne rod, and they are both different than a Garrison rod,” he says. “Each maker had his own particular taper that he liked to use. They each used specific thread color and their own guide styles and handles. They are quite a bit different from each other in appearance and they fish differently.”
Weiler says when you buy a bamboo fly fishing rod from him, you are getting a Weiler-built rod but one built to the exact specifications of a proven product. “What I like to do is deal with a known quantity for a rod. I like to build Payne’s, Leonard’s, and Garrisons. So if you are buying a rod from me, you know exactly what you are getting. You’re not just getting a rod. You’re getting a reproduction that looks and fishes like a Payne, Leonard or Garrison, or one of the others I build,” he says.
Bundled and ready for heat treatment, six pieces of split bamboo that make up one section are wrapped in a special way before going into the oven in preparation before the planning process begins. (Photo: Alex Zidock)
Weiler got started building bamboo fly rods more than 40 years ago while fishing the South Branch of the Raritan River in New Jersey while on break from teaching eighth-grade students Physical Science. He admired the bamboo rods some older anglers were using but could not afford one.
“I told them I was going to make my own,” he said. “They laughed and told me it would take thousands of dollars to gather the tools to build a bamboo rod. But I bought some bamboo, made my own planing jigs and built my first bamboo fishing rod, and then just continually perfected my technique from there.”
Weiler makes fly fishing rods from Tonkin (Chinese) bamboo tree trunks shipped to him in 12-foot length. Many tools and devices he uses, he manufactured himself.
To my surprise he told me that the raw bamboo trunks have to cure for at least five years before he can even begin to make a rod. “After it’s cured,” he says, “you split it in half, and then you split each piece in half, and then into three pieces. The 12-foot pieces are then arranged on horses, and I select where the rod will go. You don’t want nodes near where the ferrules are going to be placed because the nodes are week spots.”
“Once you lay the rod out and know where everything is going, you cut across the six pieces and then sand down the nodes. Then you have to start splitting the pieces again into butts or tips, he said.”
“But you can’t begin to plane the bamboo to the taper you want until it gets heat treated, “ he says. Weiler takes each six-piece set of pieces and wraps them with thread down one way and back the other in an overlapping design. The sets are put into an oven he built from a 50,000 BTU heater.
Then the individual bamboo pieces are placed into a steel die he built for planing to get it the size and taper of the rod. “I’ll work on planing three rods at a time, and end up with 18 pieces, two tips, six each, and one butt each for each of the three rods. (Each rod Weiler builds comes with two tips). All are precisely planed to within one thousands of an inch. It’s a lot of very fine planing. This past winter, I worked on 25 rods and lost 15 pounds just planning,” he said.
The process continues with more intricate work when the six pieces for each rod section are fastened together with special glue. The handles Weiler builds are unique to each rod and then applied and shaped. Guides are exact replicas, except that the new guides are made with stainless steel. “Many times when you are lucky to find an old bamboo fly rod made by one of the masters, the guides are rusted,” he says. “They made guides from steel, and they rusted.”
After the ferrules, the guides are mounted with the specific color thread matching the original product, then the rod gets three or four coats of marine spar varnish and hand-finished.
“When someone wants to buy one of my rods, I have to talk to them first. I have to find out what kind of fishing they are going to do,” he says. I have to know if they are experienced with bamboo rods or if they are coming from graphite to bamboo.”
“I always have twenty to twenty-five different kinds of rods available, and I know what each rod can do. I fit the rod to the type of fishing the buyer likes to do. I even have people come here and maybe try five or six rods out before they buy one. For example, one guy who was a dry fly fisherman wanted a fast rod, and I sent him a fast rod and said it was too fast, so I sent him another, and he was happy,” he said.
“My bamboo fly rod reproductions start at about $1075, but you get two tips. You should use one tip one day and the second tip the next day to overstress the tips. I take a lot of time to work with my buyers because I don’t want them to have a rod that is not right for them.”
For more information and for the product, go to www.artweilerrods.com
For over 28 years, Alex Zidock and his wife JoAnne have hosted the TV show “Out in the Open,” which can be seen on BRCTV 13 in the Pocono Mountains and BRC 11 in Lancaster, PA. Not your typical “hook and bullet” type of show, “Out in the Open” sheds more light on people, their backgrounds, what they do, and how they do it. Many of their videos can be viewed on their YouTube channel which features segments they have aired in the past.
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