Classic Story: A “Junk” Bamboo Rod Proves Itself

Written by: Norm Willis

Norm Willis with a gorgeous 23-incher that was the first fish he ever caught on his “junk shop” split-cane rod.
Photo courtesy Norm Willis

On June 21st, 2013 while fishing the San Juan River in New Mexico, I decided to use my 71+-year-old Orvis “Manchester” non-impregnated split-cane rod (serial #0516). I found this three-tip beauty in a junk shop in Fresno 25 years ago. All the pieces are perfectly straight, and the only problems were dirty cork and guide wrappings. So I sent it to your Orvis factory for repair, and the folks there did an absolutely fabulous job restoring it to look brand new.

Now, I had a quandary: should I simply store it, hang it on a wall or fish with it? My wife, Judith, convinced me to take it on our annual trip to Soaring Eagle Lodge, so if I decided to fish it, I would be able to. The morning of our second day, she convinced me to string it up. Our guide, Curtis Bailey, tied on a leader with 6X tippet. He was almost as excited as I was about the prospect of fishing with such a beautiful, old cane rod.

I had him attach a size 26 Adams. I anxiously watched the water in an eddy, and with great anticipation, I made my first cast to a rising fish. . .Bam!, fish on! I can tell you that, even after over 25 years of fly fishing and guiding, I have never been so excited about a take. The fish took off on a very quick run and immediately took me into my backing, but the drag on my Orvis reel held the fish in check masterfully while the rod, almost literally, bent in half. The rod did not creak or give any hint of breaking or splitting; it simply allowed me to play the fish, which took me into my backing two more times before I was able to get it to Curtis’s net, after a wonderful seven-minute fight.

I had that smile on my face from the moment I hooked this 23-inch beauty until I laid down to sleep. This has become my favorite dry-fly rod, on which I caught several more nice trout on the rest of that day and the next. I now use it on another wonderful stretch of water in the Sierras, Hot Creek.

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