Long rods then and now 5

And our columnist Rob Brown's history of long rods continues this week with appearances from Bob Clay, Art Lingren and Mike Maxwell

After struggling with solid bamboo salmon rods, Bob Clay realized that if he wanted build and sell two handed cane rods, they had to be lighter. While honing his craft by assembling single handed fly rods, Bob had learned of E.C. Powell, the innovative bamboo rod builder from Maryville, California. Powell came up with a method of rod construction that involved stripping slabs of the dense outside fibres from the bamboo, gluing these to a strip of cedar, then sanding out a series of hollow sections up the length of the rod blank. This semi-hollowing, as Powell dubbed it, enabled the maker to construct a bamboo rod that was not only considerably lighter than other long bamboo poles, but just as strong.

From the time of their introduction in the 1930s, E.C. Powell’s power poles, were used by  the members of the Golden Gate Casting Club of San Francisco to take all sorts of casting competitions. Bob Clay’s bright idea was to employ Powell’s semi-hollowing process to two handed bamboo poles. A measure of how well he succeeded is demonstrated by the fact that the wait for a Bob Clay two handed bamboo rod is now two years. Still, Bob’s is a niche market. Almost all two handed rods used by contemporary anglers are made of carbon fibre or graphite, as was the case in the 1980s when Art Lingren, Mike Maxwell and I were pretty much the only steelheaders casting two handed rods over the rivers in the this province.

At that time, Art was editing the Totem Topics, the newsletter of the Totem Flyfishing Club of Vancouver. I can’t recall whether the publication was quarterly or monthly, but I do recall gleaning a lot of useful information about angling with double handed rods from the articles Art wrote for the Topics.

Mike Maxwell was a English expatriate with considerable experience with the two handed salmon rod. Mike had most of the Totem Flyfishers practising with two fisted fly rods at the  pond in Burnaby’s Central Park, only blocks away from his Golden West Fly Shop where one could buy a copy of his treatise on Spey casting, complete with a video cassette from Mike’s lovely wife, Denise, who was a superb fly caster in her own right, or from the master himself. The shop also carried Golden West Rods, built to Mike’s specifications by the rod builders at the J. Kennedy Fisher plant and J.W. Young reels favoured by Mike, as well as a selection of his favourite lines.

Mike and Denise bought a lodge on the Bulkley River where they conducted classes in Spey casting and Spey fishing. The latter was a designation that Mike coined along with the term Spey rods, which, in Mike’s native country were  known simply as salmon rods.  His original inclination was to call his two handed poles steelhead rods, but Mike realized that the traditional rods used by float fishers were already called that. Today there are Speyclaves and Speylines, and almost every steelheader wielding a long rod refers to the avocation as Spey fishing. Mike and Denise also promoted the use of double handed Spey rods from their lodge on the Bulkley River, where they conducted Spey fishing clinics and did some steelhead guiding.

Three decades ago, I spent an afternoon talking to Mike in his shop on Joyce Road in Vancouver. At that time I was doing a decent job of manipulating my 15 foot Hardy salmon rod thanks to the many hours I spent trying to emulate an instructional video by the famous English fisher, Hugh Faulkus. When I told Mike I was interested in two handed rods his face lit up.

What rod do your have? he asked.

A 15 foot Hardy Favourite, I replied.

It will do, he said, leaving me to with the obvious inference that he thought his rods were superior. What reel?

A Hardy Salmon number 3, I replied.

Don’t need anything that expensive, Mike  said. One of these will do, he added holding out a made by J.W. Young.

Mike then showed me some video of himself casting a long line on the Bulkley. I noticed that his technique required more body movement than Faulkus’s approach, which relied on the caster’s shoulders and arms, but in the result was pleasing and effective in both cases.

Mike, who passed in 2004, probably contributed more to the Renaissance of two handed rods in British Columbia than any single individual, and, I suspect, since he was waving his long rods at tackle shows throughout the Pacific Northwest when every other steelheader was casting flies with single handed rods, that his influence may have extended south of the border too.

…Next week the American connection…