Special to Black Press
In his workshop on Quadra Island, master rod builder George Deagle tries, in a way, to re-create a David and Goliath story in Campbell River’s rich fishing history.
He pauses to contemplate the dimensions of the six-ounce bamboo rod Ray Slocum used to catch his 70 and one-half-pound tyee 70 years ago in Campbell River on July 29, 1947.
He is not contemplating the original rod — he had already seen that and taken its specs thanks to the graciousness of owner Neil Tabener of Lantzville.
Deagle was contemplating a duplicate of Slocum’s rod that he was building. He had split the six strips of the bamboo and then turned each of them into six strips of 60 degree equilateral triangles — 60 degrees on each side. Now he was gently and carefully hand-planing each strip into a taper, within thousandth-of-an-inch tolerances.
For instance, the first five inches have to have a gradient from .410 to .386 inches, the second five inches from .386 inches to .358. Exacting work, but something Deagle loves.
The Slocum rod was five feet long and weighed six ounces. It had a detachable reel seat and butt-grip. Combined with a line of six strands of three-pound test (18-pound test equivalent) it was part of what was called the extra-light tackle (3/6) category in the historic Tyee Club of British Columbia annual tournament which starts its 93rd year July 15. The category was dropped in 1974, in short to simplify the awards system.
But interest in it has been rekindled, partly because of Deagle’s love for the craft.
Deagle’s expertise had been in fly-fishing rods, but he became fascinated with the Tyee Club and the fact that bamboo rods had been used.
And so the process began.
One of the first steps was to get access to and measure bamboo Tyee rods from the past. One of the first was Slocum’s and then he had access to two others owned by R.D. Berger and Van Egan.
“When I moved out here I was building, entirely, fly rods and then I found out about the Tyee rods and I’ve looked at some of those now and started to build them,” he said. “It’s something new and challenging and I love the historic aspect of it.”
The bamboo he uses comes from a remote and tiny locale near the Sui River in China. The area it grows in is only about five kilometres by five kilometres in size.
“I know the work that went into harvesting the bamboo and respect it greatly,” he said of the women who go into the hills to harvest it and bring it back to their village to sell. “I try to use every bit of every piece I get.”
Most would cringe at the thought of a bamboo rod, especially of six ounces, trying to land a Chinook of any size, let alone one of over 70 pounds. But Deagle says most of the bamboo that comes from the Sui River is used for scaffolding purposes on building sites in the United States. Only about two to five per cent is used for fishing rods.
Deagle believes the bamboo rod is tough enough, depending how an angler uses it. The subtlety of the tip section, he says, is invaluable.
“That’s the strength of bamboo, its sensitivity and in that sense it’s better than graphite,” he said. “People think graphite is sensitive but those people haven’t played with bamboo.”
Deagle is confident in his rods’ abilities and he says, used correctly, they can stand up to just about anything. As Slocum proved.
“I make them as light as I can make them and still feel that they are going to hold up,” said Deagle. “If he (Slocum) was able to land a 70 and half pound Chinook, even if it might have been a gentle giant, that’s a pretty good advertisement.
“To use a bamboo rod correctly you have to think of it as an extension of your body and you have to feel that the rod is an extension of your arms and you play the fish right from your waist, upper body, shoulder, arms and then the rod is fine,” he said. “But if you’re pretending your body is a telephone pole and the rod is a crane, then that’s not so good.”
Deagle has also taken his products on personal ‘research missions’.
“My wife Sarah and I really enjoy the quiet environment of rowing our little traditional Painter-built wooden skiff, trolling a Gibbs Stewart spoon or a ‘Lucky Louie’ plug and hoping a big one will bite so we can loudly proclaim ‘FISH ON!’,” said Deagle.
“Needless to say, we use a bamboo rod.”
In fact Deagle has landed three good Chinook in the Tyee Pool, but they were undersized. A fourth fish, which Deagle suspected was a tyee, got off when his line fouled with another boat. “The escape of a fish always goes a long way to defining its large size,” he said.
“But that had nothing to do with the bamboo rod,” he said, still smiling.