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Continued: Achieving excellence: A fly rod perfectionist

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 6, 2013 - 7:05 AM

Q: How did you come to do this?

A: I kind of merged a woodworking passion and a fly-fishing passion. I found a three-day class in 2007. [Instructor] Daryll Whitehead asked me upfront, “Do you want to build one rod, or do you want to build a lot of rods?” And I said, “I don’t know. Let me do one first.” Once I got into it and started to make my own rod, I was hooked.

Q: Did you have mentors?

A: Daryll and Chet Croco, who taught the course with him. A lot of my attention to detail comes from those guys, because they demanded it. When I’d go up to Daryll with a rod and I’d show it and I’d think, “I’m proud of this,” and he’d sit there smoking his pipe. And he’d look at it and finally he looks at me and says, “Do you want to cut it off or do you want me to cut it off?” Even today, I can still hear him saying that to me.

Q: What kind of special skills does this take?

A: I think the main skill is the ability to use tools — hand tools. Even though bamboo is technically a grass, it looks and works like wood. So if you have woodworking skills, carpenter skills, that will translate over.

And being detail-oriented. If someone is paying $1,500 or $2,000 on a rod, they want it to look nice. They want it to fish well, but they also want it to look good. If you have gaps, if your varnish isn’t perfect, if you have runs or bubbles, cat hair, dog hair, whatever, they’re going to walk right past your booth.

Q: How has being a master builder affected your life?

A: When you become proficient at any skill, you can take the self-confidence to other parts of your life. And the patience. When you make a bamboo rod, it’s not start Monday, give it to you Friday. It’s start Monday, give it to you in three months. And I think that does help you become a better father, and in any area of life where you need patience.

Q: Are there sacrifices?

A: Yeah. The easiest one is sacrificing my time to fish. I used to fish a lot more before I started doing this. I’ve also sacrificed income. And maybe just freedom, because it takes a lot of time to make a bamboo rod. I spend a lot of time in my basement or dipping room when I could be doing something else. But because I enjoy it so much, it’s not as much of a sacrifice.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643



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  • Larry Donahe, owner of Split Cane Rods in Victoria, makes high-end bamboo fly-fishing rods. Here he wraps parts of the rod in silk thread. A rod can take 50 hours to make and cost $1,500 and up.

  • Larry Donahe says the ability to use tools and being detail-oriented are the main skills needed to make the fly rods, below.

  • Larry P Donahe of Victoria who owns Split Cane Rods makes high-end bamboo rods that are wrapped in silk thread..]richard tsong-taatarii/rtsong-taataarii@startribune.com

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