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If Brackett believes in tradition, Wayne Maca believes in experimentation. Maca owns Beaverhead Rods, which operates out of an alley-fronting garage shop equidistant from the Winston and Sweetgrass shops. He arrived in the fly rod world from the snowboard industry, where he designed high-performance racing boards for World Cup snowboarders. Glenn Brackett gave him his first rod job, sanding bamboo strips at the Winston shop. “After [Brackett and Kustich] left [Winston], I just started doing my own thing,” he says.
Snowboards taught Maca about building with composite materials and adhesives, and the lessons inform his rod building. “My thinking is, turn each [bamboo] strip into its own little snowboard, and then put them all together,” he says. “People assume bamboo isn’t a composite material, but I don’t see anything monolithic about it. I’ve been training to do this my whole life.”
There are similarities between the way Maca and other bamboo rod builders work, but not many. He burns the culms until they have a charcoaled skin, which makes them warp and shrink and maximizes the percentage of “power fibers.” Later he zaps the bamboo with cold plasma, which burns all the natural glues in the fiber. He later replaces those natural glues with his own adhesive, which is treated with carbon nanotubes.
“I waited for three years just for somebody to put nanotubes in the adhesive,” he says. “Why should I use Elmer’s glue just like everybody else?”
To a layperson, Maca’s ideas are difficult to understand. To other bamboo rod builders, they are polarizing. Maca says he was banned from a casting competition in New York’s Catskills because his rods contained nanotubes. “Nobody understands them,” he says. “The stiffness is still all bamboo, but it’s hard to talk physics in the world of myth.”
To anyone accustomed to the fast, punchy casting action of graphite rods—or who finds bamboo rods noodly and awkward—Maca’s designs seem as science-fictional as the methods he uses to create them. They reward an increase in casting energy with an increase in cast distance, a trait that is strikingly graphite-like. His rods are tethered to science and imagination, they are both bamboo and somehow not.
Maca isn’t sure where he fits in the world of bamboo rods, and he hasn’t done any marketing in three years. “I tend to shut myself off during design periods,” he says.
For Maca, reimagining what bamboo can do is more important than selling rods. “Everyone used to think I was crazy, but I’m still doing it,” he says. “I don’t know why. It’s just like terminal curiosity. I’m waiting to see when curiosity kills the cat.”
Brackett, Delisi, Kustich, Hutchison and Maca will all tell you the rods they produce are made for fishing, not display—though at $1,000 to $3,000 a pop, they are not for every angler.
Tonkin bamboo grows only on steep, muddy hills bounding the Sui River in southern China. Today it is cultivated in much the same way it was 100 years ago. After it’s felled, gravity is the primary agent in getting it downhill. Then it’s wheeled to town on a wooden cart, where it’s sorted and shipped downriver. Most Tonkin bamboo becomes furniture, flooring or fencing material, but a tiny percentage of the straightest, most unblemished culms are handpicked and shipped to Seattle. From there, they’re distributed to the tiny percentage of American rod builders who believe in bamboo. Which, in Twin Bridges, is just about everyone.
The Boo Boys have a retail store attached to their workshop at 501 N. Main Street in Twin Bridges. Swing by for a tour or to cast one of their rods. Learn more at sweetgrassrods.com
Winston operates a showroom with tours available at 500 S. Main St. in Twin Bridges. You can see their entire line of rods at winstonrods.com
Maca works out of a garage shop a few yards from the Beaverhead River. His website is beaverheadrods.com, and the best way to reach him is by emailing email@example.com