Aren’t Bamboo Rods Fragile?

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Some anglers seem to think that bamboo rods are just too fragile to use. But that perception might just be because bamboo rods have been in use for over 135 years and there are lots of old ones hanging around. John Gierach, in his book, Fishing Bamboo, explains it like this: 

“When graphite rods have been around continuously for over a century, you’ll see just as many busted ones–probably more, since graphite is more brittle than bamboo and, by all rights, should also come with spare tips.”

Bamboo rods really are stout, strong, and resilient. Why is that? It starts with the material and ends with construction. Bamboo as a substance has a higher tensile strength than steel. I recall seeing scaffolding in Asia. Why use steel when bamboo is in abundant supply?! If you haven’t seen it, check out this video posted by AFP News Agency on YouTube. Pretty amazing stuff: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwDIS_3RqxY

So, because of its uses, we know that bamboo is inherently strong. The bamboo species used exclusively for bamboo fly rods today is known as Tonkin Cane or by its scientific name, Arundinaria  amabilis (the Lovely Reed). This species is known for its “power fibers.” These long, thin strands of material run the length of the bamboo culm and give the fly rod its strength (more on power fibers at a later time). In addition to the strength of the material, there is also the strength of the construction of bamboo rods. Whereas graphite rods are a hollow tube, bamboo rods are built as a solid core, normally taking six strips (but sometimes four, five, or eight) and gluing and bundling them into a solid core. Again, from Gierach, he tells a story of his friend Mike Clark, a builder in Colorado: 

“I’ve seen Mike grab the butt section of an unwrapped blank off the rack, throw it on the floor, and walk the length of it in hiking boots, while explaining that if it was a hollow graphite shaft it would be crushed. The customer gasps, Mike grins, and the point is made.”

So, are bamboo rods fragile? I’d say not. What do you think?