How to Identify Bamboo Fly Fishing Rods

Written by gerry arlen good
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How to Identify Bamboo Fly Fishing Rods
Bamboo fly rods are handcrafted from culms of bamboo, similar to those shown here. (Bamboo Poles image by Yali Shi from

Bamboo fly rods are works of art, handcrafted by skilled artisans, and each artist has their own method of marking rods he has built. Some bamboo fly rods, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, are valued in excess of £6,500. Of course, working bamboo fly rods are found at flea markets, packed away in a garage or basement or handed down from one generation of anglers to another. Figuring out who made the rod and when it was produced is part of the mystique of owning a bamboo fly rod. Properly identifying bamboo fly rods can be a lengthy process, requiring much research, detailed examination, and some guessing when the rod is very old.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Handheld magnifying glass
  • Notepad
  • Pencil
  • Bamboo fly rod identification guide

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  1. 1

    Remove the bamboo fly rod from any case or bag carefully and note the number of sections (the separate pieces are called blanks). Examine any original packing, such as cases or bags, for clues as to the origin of the rod. Original packing material can be collectable and very valuable.

  2. 2

    Examine the rod blanks to evaluate the integrity of each one. Check for broken, damaged or repaired sections because repaired sections may hide distinguishing features and make identification difficult.

  3. 3

    Closely examine the large blank that has the handle attached--commonly called the butt section. Grip size and shape, reel seat materials and type, winding checks, ferrules and line guides will provide clues to help identify the rod builder and year of manufacture.

  4. 4

    Determine the type of bamboo used to make the rod. Learn to distinguish between Calcutta cane and Tonkin cane--the type of bamboo usually helps determine the age of the rod.

  5. 5

    Examine the handle (sometimes called the grip) and determine its shape, such as straight, reversed half-wells, Ritz, cigar full taper, original wells, half wells, cigar straight taper or coke bottle, to name a few. Measure the total length and diameter of the handle.

  6. 6

    Examine the thread wraps around the line guides, ferrules, winding check and any decorative wrapping on the butt section in front of the handle. Check thread colour and thread colour combinations, such as when two or more colours are wrapped so that they touch.

  1. 1

    Review notes taken during the first examination of the bamboo fly rod. Compare your notes and any subsequent rod examination with detailed rod specifications found in a bamboo fly rod identification guide.

  2. 2

    Examine and compare the rod ferrules closely since they can provide the best clue to the maker of any rod. Then examine and compare the line guides.

  3. 3

    Check for any labels, stickers or decals on the rod and compare their location as well as their orientation with any information found in the identification guide. Compare any lettering, names or metal stamps found on the bottom of the butt section of the rod.

  4. 4

    Compare, re-evaluate, and continue this process until you are satisfied that you have correctly identified the bamboo fly rod. In some cases, a perfect identification will not be possible and a good guess will be the best you can do.

Tips and warnings

  • Begin the identification process by taking careful, detailed notes since these notes will be used extensively when making comparisons with manufacturing tables, guides and historical documents.
  • Handle old bamboo rods with extreme care and do not remove any labels, stickers or decals that may be hanging lose because the value and proper identification of the rod my depend on these items.
  • Dry, thin slices of bamboo can be extremely sharp, similar to a razor blade, so take care when examining split or damaged rods.
  • A bamboo fly rod is delicate; the tips are finely tapered and easily broken so take care when handling bamboo rods.

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