Massimo Tirrochi Bamboo Fly Rods

Until recently, my experience with Bamboo fly rods had been limited to admiration from a distance; usually through a glass case with padlocks and signs, warning: “Do Not touch!”. I considered them as works of Fly Fishing Art that reflected a sense of beauty, craftsmanship, and history in our sport; but relics of a time gone by. But the resurgence of interest in Bamboo rods has unleashed a maverick in the form of Italian rod maker, Massimo Tirocchi; who not only builds rods with the intent of them being fished, but brought a bundle of them to Argentina to test their worthiness in the mecca of big trout: Patagonia.

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I enjoy occasionally having my perception of reality altered by someone with bold ideas and the willingness to throw currently accepted standards aside. Massimo Tirocchi, who builds Bamboo Fly Fishing Rods under the brand T-Rods, has taken a step outside all previous notions of what a bamboo rod should be. He started with a very simple, but as yet unrealized premise: to form a union between modern fly rod actions and “fishablity”, with classical bamboo style. Most of the current crop of bamboo rods maintain precisely the same characteristics as their forefathers; slow, willowy actions that throw wide loops and are generally suitable for only small stream fish or the aforementioned glass presentation case. The consistency of the rods, even across a variety of makers, resides in the fact that almost all use “standard tapers” in the design of their rods. Using formulas that don’t need to be reinvented is always an easier path to completion, but it never yields anything unique. Massimo wanted a different animal; fast actions, wind-splitting tight loop delivery, and power to land big fish. The only way to achieve that goal, was to abandon convention and develop his own proprietary tapers through trial and error, and lots of field testing. He went through a lot of cane.

Building a more modernly responsive bamboo fly rod is a delicate balance between Action (defined by the taper), Weight, and Weight Distribution down the length of the rod. Massimo starts by using the finest Tonkin Cane he can acquire, and self-splitting each section. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point, that throughout the process, he does virtually everything by hand. His designs are hexagonal, and each strip is hand-planed to micrometer precision. The strips he uses for each section of the rod, from butt to tip, are selected based on the fiber count (power fibers) in the section. It helps to remember that a bamboo rod is made from material that is (or was at one time) a living organism; and it has natural fibers running the length of the cane that closely resemble muscle fibers, and provide the strength and resiliency in the rod. The density of these fibers determines the power and rigidity of the section. The six sections are carefully joined and wrapped to cure; and ultimately finished with a modern varnish that provides complete protection from weather, sun, and water. Massimo typically uses Struble reel seats and REC guides for hardware; and will customize to the clients requests with a variety of exotic hardwoods and cork for handles. The finished product is a thing of beauty, and Massimo can build one for you with generally only about one month’s lead time.

In a recent week long, group adventure to Patagonia, organized by outfitters Andes Drifters, the theme was Bamboo Week; and the featured designer, Massimi Tirocchi. I was invited along to document and play witness to these maverick bamboo rods in the most aggressive of trout fishing havens; and had the pleasure of both using and photographing them in action. My first attempt at casting a 7’ (3-4 weight) was admittedly awkward, in large part because I entered into it with a preconceived notion of what bamboo was supposed to feel like. I had always heard things like, “go really slow, wait for the rod”; but this rod didn’t want anyone waiting for it, it wanted speed and input. As I stepped back and watched Massimo demonstrate, it was immediately clear that this rod was capable of incredible performance. Interestingly enough, he was using line speed, momentum, and hauling techniques to coax the beast out of this little cane stick; not completely unlike the techniques that I use with fast action graphite rods, except more smoothly delivered, and with a more progressive power rather than a “hard stop”. So with only slight modification to my everyday casting style and ten minutes of practice on the lawn, I found myself blasting razor sharp loops and very accurate delivery at pretty respectable distances. But the treat was watching Massimo in real-world fishing action on the Malleo river.

I watched and photographed these rods in the hands of Massimo and several North American anglers who came to join in the fun, as they repeatedly, and easily, landed big browns and rainbows in fast moving water; I’m talking 20+ inch trout. Now, according to Massimo there are a few odd bits about actually fis

hing with a bamboo rod that are worth noting, in particular if you are pursuing big fish. First, when fighting a large fish it’s a good idea to actually roll the rod over on its back, and fight it with the guides up; completely opposite to its natural casting position. Think back to the description of the power (muscle) fibers in the bamboo; as continual casting motion places contraction pressure on the guide-side of the rod, it also naturally places stretching pressure on the top side. So when you find yourself fighting a large fish and you roll the rod over, it reverses to pressure on the power fibers and over time, helps keep the rod in balance. The other technique needed is in the actual landing process; because the tip of a bamboo rod is the most delicate part. Rather than holding the rod straight up, as you might commonly extend a graphite rod to bring a fish to net; it’s better to hold the rod “out” and create a wider bend in the entire rod.

As I admitted to Massimo on my Facebook page recently for all the world to hear; he’s made a believer out of me. I’ve seen his T-Rods perform admirably against some of the most aggressive trout on the planet, and I’m having a great deal of fun with the rod that now resides in my rack, right alongside the others that work for a living. In the future, I’ll be writing and publishing a long term field review on this rod, which is the T-Rods 7′ 3-4# Evo model.  Late one night (early morning), as we sipped on some fine Italian Grappa; I laid out Massimo’s next challenge: build a bamboo rod capable of handling Golden Dorado, and I will willingly take it into battle…the scary thing is, I think he can do it.

If you’d like to speak to Massimo about building something special, just go directly to his website, T-Rods; and please tell him Memo sent you.

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