I love wood. Early on, I preferred to build rods with a cork reel seat. I loved, and still do love, a simple cork seat. I fell in love with them on those early Orvis bamboo, fiberglass and graphite rods with the dual ring seats. So classic and simple and functional.
But I’m always drawn to the beauty of wood. Furniture, guitars, floors, downed trees. It’s unpredictable, beautiful and tells story. Recently I have used a piece of wood that I recovered from a bowling alley in Nacogdoches, Texas when I was in college during a demo/construction job. I’ve built some rods with reel seats made from that beautiful birdseye maple. I only have a few pieces left.
In a seeming happenstance last year, I received a piece of wood from a good friend along with some other wood species to try. As I was turning it, I was overwhelmed by the smell. In a very good way. There was this comforting eye and nasal burn that was absolutely incredible. It smelled so good, but also brought me to a place that reminded me of good things and wonderful people.
I learned to fish by spending time along the edges of Mississippi farm ponds with my grandmother. It was by her side that I grew to deeply love the process of fishing. The patience, the quiet, the exploration, the exhilaration.
My grandmother would use this slimy stuff called Mentholatum. She used it for chapped lips, scratches and scrapes, rub it on your chest to help with congestion as well as any other aches and pains. The main ingredient to this smelly slimy stuff is camphor. When I was turning this piece of mystery wood from my friend, it brought me back to those times with my grandmother. It was camphor wood.
Naturally, another woman that has heavily influenced my love of fishing is of course, my mother. Moreso than my grandma actually. As a kid and on into adulthood, she lovingly encouraged my love for fishing. She has carried on the torch of Mentholatum usage. In fact, every single birthday and Christmas for my rememberable history I have received a small gift wrapped box containing a small jar of Mentholatum. A bit redundant but also much appreciated - every single drawer and hideyhole in our house has a stash of the slimey smelley stuff. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative. I truly do love and appreciate it. And when the gift is forgotten I am quick to remind my mom of her negligence. Not a day goes by that I don’t apply a little bit of the stuff to a cut, chapped lips or my chest or feet to help with some kind of discomfort. I have a small jar of it on my desk in front of me right now.
As usual, this has been a drawn out and semi-convoluted story so far. But, when I discovered a wood, something I deeply appreciate, that reunites meaningful family and fishing and all that is truly significant in life it was a no brainer to adopt this wood as something that I would incorporate into the fly rods I put all of my being into.
So after all that, which is really more than anyone, other than my mom, should read. I thought I’d share a few sequence pictures of how I choose wood for my fly rods.
Yesterday afternoon I moved my wood blank lathe out to my back porch. It was in the mid 50’s and a little breezy but I felt like I needed to do my part to summon springtime so I donned my favorite pair of cargo shorts and showed the neighborhood my pasty white legs. I packed a pipe that was recently given to me by a friend and customer with a favorite breezy day tobacco - Gawith & Hoggarth’s Louisiana Perique Flake. I took six 1.5x12” sticks of camphor wood, that on the surface only told me a little bit of what their character was and turned them down to 1 1/8” dowels.
As always Stella is nearby. Along with one of our cats, named Hercules, but I call him Scooter. No one is safe from the dust and wood chips.
After turning all each piece I apply a thick coat of Tru-Oil to help seal it until I can make a reel seat out of it and so I can inspect the grain of each piece. Some are simple and straight grain, some have wild figuring, some subtle rays, flecks, curls and birdseyes. It’s all beautiful and I do my best to use all of it on a fly rod. Each stick can make 3-4 reel seats. I’ll send pictures to anglers I’m building rods for so they can choose their piece and the life of the wood can continue to tell a story on a fly rod.
One further thing that surprised me after fishing a camphor seated rod is that even after several coats of finish the aroma seeps out after getting a little wet. And for all you tube sniffers out there, whoa, opening the tube gives a refreshing subtle aromatic vapor that will remind you of my Grandma and Mom.
Next time, I’ll write more about the reel seats once they’re finished.