Fly fishing, as much as any sport today, is wedded to technology. Once the province of the tweedy set (to whom synthetic always has been as repugnant as worm), it is now the darling of tinkerers and tackle designers, whose love of Space Age materials may, at times, surpass their lust for fish.
This trend to the man-made started after World War II. Slowly, gut leaders gave in to nylon; silk lines fell to plastic. Then, about six years ago, high tech hit. Flies, traditionally dressed in feathers and fur, began to emerge with artificial plumage. The peak of this technological revolution came when good fly rods, long made from bamboo and finished with care and precision, made their debut in compositions of graphite and boron.
In such a climate, starting a tackle shop selling only bamboo rods is akin to marketing barrel staves in Aspen. But that is what Vivian Shohet did in 1975. On the banks of the West River, along Route 100 near Weston, Vt., he opened a one-man, one-room fly-fishing shop called The Bamboo Rod. And, he says proudly, "There isn't a stick of fiber glass, graphite or boron for sale here."
What is for sale is a limited selection of new and used bamboo rods, from the utilitarian to the exquisite. It hasn't been easy, but Shohet has found a clientele for his rods among fly fishermen who, like himself, have a reverence for the esthetic joys of fishing. "Bamboo is alive," he says with intensity. "There is a joy in looking at it, holding it. A fly fisherman picks up a bamboo rod, and he can admire it. He picks up a graphite or boron rod and all he wants to do is see how it casts."
Besides that esthetic appeal, bamboo rods often have an intrinsic value that lasts long after their fishing days have ended. To say "I once had a Payne" (or a Gillum or Garrison or Winston) can mean as much to some fishermen as an eight-pound brook trout mounted on the wall, and Shohet often sees a rod pass through his shop several times—purchased by a fisherman, admired, fished, then traded for another. And, because there are fewer and fewer bamboo-rod makers around these days, the value of bamboo, new and used, continues to rise.
"I don't put out a catalog anymore," Shohet says. "I didn't want to compete with the big rod dealers, Orvis or Thomas & Thomas. I prefer to rely on word of mouth." When the mood strikes, however, Shohet does send out a mimeographed list of prime rods to some 6,000 bamboophiles. His current offering reveals how bamboo appreciates in value: a 7½-foot three-piece F.E. Thomas that sold new for $250 now lists for $500, and a used 8'2¼" three-piece Gillum carries a $1,000 tag, even though its finish shows wear and both tips have slight "sets" from playing fish.
Besides selling the rods and basic tackle, Shohet carries used rods on consignment and has a repair and restoration service for bamboo that has fallen on hard times. That desire to keep bamboo healthy is, in fact, pretty much the philosophy of The Bamboo Rod. "Graphite and boron are great for fishing," says Shohet, "but eventually the rod will wear out. And what are you left with? Nothing. But that doesn't happen to bamboo. The rod may tire, but its beauty and craftsmanship are still there. Graphite dies on you; bamboo grows on you."