I was feeling a bit “retro,” heading out for Opening Day of trout season in northern Pennsylvania, wielding a glass rod with an old English reel attached. Using fiberglass in this age of graphite and custom bamboo may seem like cult behavior, but I’ve never completely abandoned glass rods since their hey-day in the 1960s.
It’s not that I worship fiberglass as rod material. What I like about it mostly, in addition to the action of its better models, is the memory of its use, a memory rooted in adolescent and teen-year fishing. Back then, the advent of each Opening Day for trout season pretty much guaranteed excitement, despite calamities that often arose on April 1st in New York State, events like getting soaked or frozen or starved or skunked, or any combination of the above.
In those days I had one fly rod to cast with, and one rod only, viz., an unlovely yellow Eagle Claw. That instrument could toss a chewed-up line and leader with a K-Mart fly into God’s brown water, if not into the river seeping through my leaky waders.
I held onto that cheap fly rod well into my college years, believe it or not, until a girlfriend slammed a Volkswagon car door on it and broke the tip. She felt so guilty about her destructive powers that she went out and, totally unpressured by anyone else, bought me a brand new rod. And hence I learned about the Fenwick rod company. I still have that 7.5′ Fenwick which I fished for years until glass rods became uncool, until I finally broke down and said hello to graphite.
When my fly-fishing habit became so entrenched that I even flogged the waters during New York winters, Opening Day for trout no longer meant a thing to me. Yet, I continued to abide with tradition, developing my own quirks, repeating them every April during the start of the New York and Pennsylvania seasons. What I like to do then is fish the home waters, and fish them with a weepy bamboo rod or fiberglass stick.
The glass rod of choice these days is a custom piece I bought second-hand about 10 years ago. It’s a nameless wand with a comfortable grip, a sensitive tip for the casting of nymphs or streamers, and a shortness of length that allows me to charge through bankside alders without getting tackled by twig and root. The rod also has a full-flex strength that can turn a crazed rainbow from its whitewater destination.
My tradition on Opening Day in Pennsylvania includes visiting the three headwater branches of the Genesee, my home river. Usually I start on the East Branch or a feeder stream where I’m lucky to see a wild brown or a brook trout. Then I move on over to the Middle Branch which starts near the renowned Triple Divide of watersheds. (This year I did well there, despite the cold and heavy flow. The hefty rainbows hit a big Hare’s Ear nymph on #6 hook). From the Middle Branch I drive over to my favorite headwater of the Genesee, the West Branch, where I typically do my best fishing in the system, but which left me troutless this time around.
I don’t know if the rod is Lamiglass, as someone suggested it might be. I’m no expert on the form. I do know that the colors of the rod turn subtly depending on the light’s reflection. From one angle it looks gaudy yellow, like the Eagle Claw of boyhood days. Embarrassing. But turn the rod in your hand, and the color changes. I like it best when the rod takes on the hue of a Blue-Winged Olive mayfly. Usually, though, by the time big Olives hatch in the rivertop region, it’s time for me to put the glass away. It’s time then for the slower graphites, and time for the “Livin’ Reed” (bamboo).
If a dark, summer night should call me to fish for lunker browns, however, I’ll be ready. Somewhere in the arsenal is a beat up rod I bought for next to nothing at a yard sale or an auction. It’s a sturdy seven-footer, for a seven-weight line, all set for the occasion. Flexing like a bow, it feels like it could dance with a hatchery trout or even take a chinook. The rod is made of glass.