LEGENDS IN THE MAKING — A South African Triple Ought split cane rod — By Ed Herbst

THERE is one fly-rod that has long held me in thrall, a fly-rod of almost mystical glamour. It’s a fly-rod that created in me the sort of longing for the unobtainable, analogous to a schoolboy gazing wistfully at a pin-up of Pamela Anderson.

The Leonard Baby Catskill 36L was the world’s first one-weight, the “whisper rod” of the ’seventies and wondrously light at a wispy fifteen-sixteenths of an ounce.

Its heritage was impeccable and part of its allure was that it was as rare and as much out of my financial reach as a Ferrari Enzo is to a car enthusiast who earns Toyota Tazz-type money.

Leonard came into being in 1869 when Hiram Lewis Leonard constructed his first fishing rod from a combination of lancewood and ash in Bangor, Maine, USA. At the suggestion of a friend he sent a rod to a sporting goods store, Bradford and Anthony in Boston, and, commissioned by them, subsequently built the first commercially-made, six-strip cane rod that we know of. In 1881 he patented the forerunner of the modern ferrule, and by 1893 his Catskill line of rods had handles and reel seats that differ little from those on modern fly-rods.

The Baby Catskill was developed, it is said, for a small clique in the famous Anglers Club of New York. They called themselves the “28-8-18 Club”, and to qualify you had to land an 18-inch trout on a #28 fly using an 8x tippet. The rod was initially designed for a level silk line, size 1, although in the ’seventies, when plastic lines came along, most anglers used the lightest line then available, a three-weight. In an e-mail to me, Ted Simroe, who was MD of the company at the time, explained what it took to built a rod with so little mass: “If you have ever seen one of these rods, I am sure you would be amazed at the delicacy of the sections, especially of the tip sections. No-one else ever came close to making a cane rod that light.

“We used a beveler that incorporated one-inch diameter carbide saws, and I am still amazed when I think what I accomplished with that machine! I can remember that when I planned to cut the tip sections, I would plan on starting early on Saturday morning when no-one was around.

“I would start with enough cane to make 24 tip sections. Because each of the six strips was so small, some would fracture in just being picked up. Others would break coming out of the saws. I always considered myself lucky if I could end up with 12 complete tips.

“We would then lose three or four more when gluing the six strips together, and another one or two in the assembly process! From all this, we felt good if we could end up with three complete rods.”

A year ago I attended one of the monthly Thursday evening talks in the Cape Piscatorial Society club rooms. It was given by CPS committee member and architect Stephen Dugmore, and was about the split cane rods he is building. I was fascinated by his account and requested two things from him: firstly, that he write an article for Piscator, the Society’s annual journal, and secondly, that he try to replicate the Baby Catskill for me. He agreed to both requests.

Read the full story in the April/May 2007 issue of FLYFISHING ...
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