About Colson Rods
Tapers, processes, craft, and aesthetics differentiate cane rods.
You can watch a brief slide show of some photos taken in my rod shop here.
My goal is to produce superb angling instruments that their owners use because they enjoy their casting and fishing properties. Practical fishing applications are the primary concerns in their design and production, and their aesthetic appeal flows from them.
It frequently occurs that someone that "hates bamboo rods" is persuaded to try one of my rods and finds something to really like about bamboo. One of these former "haters" describes my rods as "performing like plastic." In fact, they are very different from plastic rods; it would be foolish for me to spend 100 hours to make a cane rod, and for someone to purchase one, when a mass-produced plastic rod performs similarly.
I use my own rods for every fishing situation I currently face on a regular basis but for three situations. One situation is at a pool on an Atlantic salmon river I fish each year: river right, usually slight upstream breeze, so Speying off left shoulder; wading to the chest on an even, firm bottom; 25 foot high rocky bank immediately behind; cast to cover fish varies from 110 - 130 feet. In that situation, I use a 15' , 10 weight, graphite, Spey rod for the extra room for the D-loop. The other situation arises when conditions require sinking lines. My Spey rods are designed for floating line fishing, so I have a battery of graphite rods I use with sinking lines and sinking polytips. If I were to bottom-nymph with weight, I'd use a 10' graphite for that purpose, but I chose to stop fishing the bottom for trout about 35 years ago as a matter of sporting preference. The third situation arises when lifting a long line and keeping a long line in the air for a backcast. I often use a graphite rod in these situations.
Here's some basic information about my rods:
Rod Design. My favorite Yogi Berraism goes somethings like, "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they ain't." Nothing could be truer about cane rods. While there is "science" and "engineering" in these rods, there's also much more. Over the years, I have developed an approach to designing cane fly rods that incorporates assessments of the specific piece of cane, an appropriate external taper for the length and application, an internal taper of hollow scallops to reduce and distribute weight, and the method of joining the rod sections. All affect what people call rod action or feel as well as casting and fishing qualities. Ultimately, choices made in the production of my rods reflect my preferences for how a rod fishes. Finally, it's normal for me to modify the basic taper to accommodate the casting style of a customer.
Tapers. My rod tapers are in constant evolution. I have studied classic tapers in developing my rods, but reproductions are not in my catalog. In general, my rods follow a profile that produces a "loop former" in the tip yet passes energy down the rod, through the ferrules to the butt for power. Most of my rods are three-piece. Three sections suit my design approach and tapers. Three pieces also mean that most single-handed rods will fit with tube into a duffel bag for airline travel.
Culm selection depends on the density and thickness of the power fibers desired for the rod, the node spacing, and the appearance of the bamboo. Leaf nodes, worm holes, and excessive water discoloration are cosmetic factors that affect the choice of a culm. Some water marks create beautiful designs in the cane. Unlike some makers, I attempt to incorporate such "beauty marks" into my rods. My check-split culms have cured for many years.
Flaming the culm is the main source of color for my rods.
The culm's nodal ridges are carefully filed to bring them flush with the enamel. The entire culm is flamed to drive out moisture and to render a rich color varying from light to dark caramel. Flaming is the only source of color apart from the slight darkening that occurs during heat treatment.
Culms are cut to appropriate lengths to minimize the number of nodes for a given section and hand-split in half lengthwise. Their internal nodal dams are removed, and the resulting half-sections are hand-split into individual bamboo strips for the butt, mid, and tip sections.
Nodes are staggered using either a two-up (2 X 2) with "cane mates" opposed or a spiral (usually the "1-5-3-6-2-4 stagger) arrangement, depending on the specific piece of cane.
A mill removes the pith and creates a space into which the nodes will be displaced and squares the strips.
Nodes are heated and pressed with an Abbott node press. Kinks and swoops are removed.
The strips are milled to a sixty-degree straight bevel and bound for heat treatment.
Heat treatment is in a convection oven. Bamboo rod makers are notoriously secretive about their heat treatments. Heat treatment, rather than flaming, is the principal deterrent to rods "taking sets." it's not necessarily the case that darker rods take fewer sets because darkness depends on flaming the surface while heat treating affects the entire strip.
An initial taper is milled into each strip.
The enamel is removed with a scraper plane and sandpaper.
The final taper is achieved with hand planes and adjustable forms.
The apexes of the strips are relieved using a hand plane and the strips are hollowed using a micrometer-controlled scalloping process, leaving dams to support the cane walls. Although I have rod sections that illustrate hollows, I've not shown or discussed much with others what I actually do when hollowing. Each section receives an individual assessment considering its function in the rod and the person most likely to cast it.
The strips are glued into sections and hung to dry.
After the strings are removed the sections are sealed to waterproof them. Sealing adds no discernible weight to the section.
After sealing, each section is straightened and rubbed out with 0000 steel wool to a soft patina.
Final cuts to the sections are made, ferrules are fitted, the cork handle is turned, the reel seat and insert are set, guides are prepped, wrapped and varnished, and final straightening takes place.
Rods are dipped in varnish. After drying, the varnish is rubbed out to a soft patina.
Weight. The tapers, production, and fittings are chosen to optimize (not minimize) weight for a given rod length, fishing function, and line size.
Sealing. Rods are sealed to waterproof, tighten, and strengthen the cane. The sealing agent adds perhaps 5 - 10 grams weight to 12' Spey rod. The weight added to a 7' 3 weight rod is a few grains. The finish left from sealing is exquisite, and some spliced-joint rods are left in this state. Sealing means fewer coats of varnish, which translates to less "dead" weight on the rod" and to a "quicker" rod. Many of my rods are left in this state without additional varnish.
Hollow-built. Precise scalloping not only reduces the weight but also noticeably changes the feel of the rod in the hand. Hollowing affects deflection slightly, and recovery is quicker, because the weight/power ratio is less.
Ferrules. Rods are splice-jointed or fitted with ferrules machined from aluminum silicon bronze (sometimes called "duronze"). My ferrules are somewhat smaller and lighter than those commonly available from the many very good suppliers. Lighter ferrules lead to a lighter, "quicker" rod. They are similar in appearance to Payne-style ferrules.
Fittings. Stripping guides, snake guides, and tiptops are either chrome or black, depending on the rod. Reel seats are aluminum, produced to my design since 2013. Reel seat wooden inserts have straight grains, usually in cherry, mahogany, walnut, maple, and cedar. Guides are wound with fine white silk, disappearing under varnish, tipped with fine rust brown. Ferrules are wrapped with heavier, rust brown thread. Cork is natural, unbleached, unfilled "flor" grade.
Varnish. Varnished rods are rubbed out to a soft, low gloss finish that complements the low gloss of the ferrules and reel seats. No rod flash from the rod flats is a high priority!