Old Japanese bamboo rods

I have a question regarding Japanese bamboo fly rods that were brought back from Japan during the Korean War. My uncle brought one for me when I was 9 or 10 years old. I fished it when I was a boy not knowing anything about fly fishing. To me at the time it was just a fishing pole. Now many years later I have acquired 3 or 4 more of these rods for my quiver by different means. My question, why is it so many bamboo enthusiasts don’t like them. My rods have held up through the years, the sections have stayed straight, the glue has held up. I have had to refinish and rewrap some of them, but after 65 years I have had to rewrap and re finish American built rods. What is it that holds these rods in such low esteem? Is it just an elitist attitude or is there a real reason. By the way I am not going to get rid of any of my bamboo rods. He who dies with the most rods wins.


Active Member
I may be wrong, but it think the bamboo used was not what is known as Tonkin or Tea Stick which is the bamboo found only in one small area in China and used for rods since Calcutta cane was discarded. It may not have the same spring effect or strength of "normal" bamboo rods. I'm sure others can weigh in more accurately or clearly.

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
The Japanese rods from that era were all over the map in regards to quality and consistency in both materials and construction. You have to consider why they were made.
The intended purchaser was an American GI who had had more than enough of war and the military. He was hoping on his return to get as far as possible from both. Back to family, security and freedom. Understandably, outdoor pursuits held a strong attraction.

The Japanese rod makers understood this. They also understood the iconic nature of a fishing rod.
It was not so important that the rod cast well or even lasted very long. It was more about what it represented than how well it actually worked. It also had to be affordable for the average soldier. Compare this to many of the American made rods at the time and what those rod makers were striving for.

If you happen to have a few of the GI rods that cast well and haven't come unglued consider yourself lucky.

The ones we had were 9' 4-piece with a butt section that could be reversed so you could convert it to a spinning/bait-casting reel. We'd do a lot of "still fishing" from an anchored boat with bait, using a fly reel loaded with monofilament. The Japanese rods were a lot of fun for this fishing, which didn't require any casting. Unfortunately, the rods fell apart after a couple years, and by then I was into real fly fishing and had a Fenwick glass rod. As a contrast, my Dad used a Heddon #10 back then, and that rod is still around today after a bit of rehab.

With bamboo rods, there are almost always exceptions, and it's possible that a Japanese rod maker got a hold of a really high quality culm and made a great rod. But for the most part, these rods used low quality Japanese bamboo, and were cheaply made, like a lot of post-war Japanese imports. To expand on Tim's comments, I think most of these rods are now best used as "wall decorations" that bring back memories, rather than modern fly fishing tools.

My Dad won a Japanese convertible rod on a punch board in a tavern he liked. At the time we had a summer cabin on Hoods Canal around Tahuya. I remember having a small level wind reel on it catching "pogies" off the bridge over the Tahuya River. Fun times, and great memories like Tom mentioned. :)


Active Member
My dad brought back a bamboo fly rod from Japan in the early 50s and it lasted a handful of of years, max. The Heddon he purchased about the same time lasted probably 40+.

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