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FAQs

 

Q:
A:
Do you really select each and every pole by hand?
Yes.
Every pole. I pick it up, roll it around, look at it from all angles and do a quick measure of diameter and heft with my hands. Every pole.

 

Q:
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What is an "A" pole?
An "A" poles is one that I have selected as a "rod-makers" quality pole. Criteria include (based on both visual and tactile inspection): Color, size, straightness, heft and cleanliness/overall cosmetics. I seek to select only poles that can be used by a reasonably skilled rod-maker.

 

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What is the difference between "A" and "B" poles?
Sometimes very little. While there is a distinct difference in say an A+ vs a B- pole, there may be very little difference between an A- and a B+ pole. By and large, it is primarily a matter of degree in which IÕve declared one pole to meet the criteria for and A pole with another only comes close.
While two poles may have similar streaks of color, I may determine that one has streaks (or spots, etc.) that do not extend beyond the enamel. While two poles may have heavy scratches or bug marks, I may see that these marks exist in a spot that is easy to cut out or are aligned in such a way that they can easily be cut out in a strip or two and discarded whereas these same marks on a B pole may extend around the entire circumference and or in sporadic spots on the pole which would not allow for enough clean strips to be made from the culm.
And I do not reclassify poles in an A+, A or A- category. If these were 1' x 1' boxed widgets maybe but the work to handle/move/store items of this size simply do not allow for easy sub-catagories. We do, from time to time, offer "AA" poles.

 

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What's an AA pole?
A really expensive "A" pole.
It's a pole that scores very high on all levels, one that has above average heft, color, straightness and overall cosmetics. Primarily it is pretty and heavy. I still leave some of these extraordinary poles in the general pile of "A" poles since we can't all afford $50 poles but if you just gotta have that something special, we'll have some of these on hand when we first receive our shipments. On average, I get about 10 AA poles per 1,000 A poles.

 

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Why do you care so much about "heft"?
This is the best way for me to judge the fiber density/depth. If I have two poles of similar size and moisture content, the heavier of the two poles will generally have either better density or depth of power fibers.

 

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Do older poles have better power fibers?
No.

 

Q:
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Are older poles larger diameter?
No

 

Q:
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You got something against old poles?
Tonkin Cane is a valuable crop in the Guangdong Province. Behind rice, it may well be the most economically important crop there is. Bamboo is a very fast growing species. The young stalks are aptly named "shoots" as this is how the plant emerges from the ground; it shoots. These poles often reach over 40' (12m) in height and it does so in about 90 days. The plant emerges from the ground at FULL diameter. It does not get any larger in the following years. It does not get more power fibers over the years. Bamboo has a very hight water content in it's first year (so much so that it is moldable; you can bend it with your hand and it will grow in that direction, a mold can be placed around the shooting culm and it will take on the shape of that mold), it will become more solid in the next two years. After three or four years, the bamboo culm deteriorates very quickly, becoming thin and very week by six years. As a valuable crop, Tonkin bamboo is harvested at the height of its usability: three years of age.

 

Q:
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Some of the poles I bought from you look like crap, how can this be an "A" pole? Was there some mistake when they packaged these at the factory in China? You drink too much rice wine the night before?
Most likely there was not a mistake in China. [I guess there are two potential issues here, one is the old "bait and switch", the other is an honest mistake. Between 1994-1997 I worked with many different bamboo suppliers in China and S.E. Asia. In 1996, I took my first trip to mainland China and worked closely with a couple of different suppliers and by '97 I had made my choice of whom to buy from. Since then, I have only bought bamboo for rod-makers from a single source. When I visit China I stay in the home of one of the two men who run the factory. Since 1997, I have lived with this family for about two weeks a year and I trust the people whom I work with.

Second, when I sort through poles, we put them into two distinct piles; "A" and "B" poles. These piles are kept separate and while I can't guarantee that never has a "B" pole strayed into the "A" pile I will say that if this happens, it is a very rare occurrence. I know how many "A" poles I've selected at the end of each day and at the end of each trip. The number of poles loaded onto the shipping containers invariably matches my count.]

So, why the ugly/bent/leaf-nodes/small/bug-bitten/light-weight/green pole in your bundle? Every pole has some of these "diminishing" qualities in it. There is simply no way around that. My job then, is to select the poles that I believe can best be used to construct a top-notch fly-rod. If a pole has all of the issues mentioned above, it should not be in your shop. But it is all a matter of degree. "Just how bad is it?" I ask myself as I'm sighting up and down a pole.
Every now and again, I'll come to a pole which, before I've even picked it up I've calculated will easily fall on one side or the other of the A-B grade range. Sometimes it's a small, ugly pole which rolls on the wood saw-horses and sounds like an empty tin can. Or maybe it's a robust, almost golden-yellow beauty with nary a blemish and rolls perfectly down my way while sounding like a lead pipe. These poles are easy to categorize. These poles make up about 10% of what I come across. Other than that, every pole is somewhere in-between. I take the marks, the curves, the leaf-nodes all into consideration and I know damn well that some of the poles I select as "A" poles will not be so easy to use. Nevertheless, some of these poles make the final cut simply because this is the nature of the material we are working with. Chances are that I did see the ugly marks or bug bites on that pole in question but I sighted lines up and down that thing trying to figure out if a moderately skilled guy could split out enough clean strips to make his rod.

 

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Why does my "A-grade" pole have leaf nodes?
All poles have leaf-nodes. The only question is at what height the branches start (the branches are what create these "leave nodes"). This bamboo typically grows to about 30-40'(9-12m) in height when they are close to 2" (50mm) at the base (smaller diameter poles only reach 10-15'). The branches usually start somewhere higher than 10' or so off the ground but it is not at all uncommon for branches to start at 8 or 10' off the ground. Meaning that in 12' poles, there will naturally be 20% or so with leaf nodes starting well before the tip of each pole.
I understand that leaf nodes cause serious issues as they render wide strips of the culm unusable but we simply cannot afford to disregard all poles with leaf nodes. They are here to stay; they must simply be worked around.

 

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What are all these spots and streaks?
Well, I don't really know. Most of 'em are called "water marks" but I have serious doubts that they have anything to do with water. There are "mineral" -like streaks (looks similar to such streaks we see in cork), and spots, freckles, streaks and blotches. Some poles have more, some have less. I am accepting of some more than others. The brown freckles don't bother me at all since those rarely extend beyond the enamel. Other spots I recognize will go into the power fibers and WILL be visible in a finished strip. I try to minimize the cane I accept with these marks and/or try to sight where a maker could conceivably get clean strips from a marked culm but again, these marks are a big part of the material we work with and I do not believe it is possible to buy/sell cane without these blemishes. Thus, it is again a matter of degree and I am working to get as clean a pole as possible for every rod maker.

 

Q:
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Are some years better than others for bamboo?
Bamboo is a natural crop and as such, there are better and worse years. A number of factors go into this; the weather patterns during it's growing season (it's first spring being most influential) it's position on the mountain (all Tonkin grows on steep hillsides and the Chinese say that the windward bamboo will grow stronger than the cane on the leeward side of a hill and I've no reason to doubt this) as well as overall health of the acreage in which it grows. Next, the harvest and curing time lasts 3-5 weeks in winter and the weather during this period is critical. In 2010 and 2011 they had unheard of rains during December in Southern China and hence, our bamboo from those years was not as pretty as the 2009 season (cosmetically speaking only).

 

Q:
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Why all these scratches on my pole?
These poles grow on very steep hillsides. They are harvested by migrant workers who start their days at the top of a hill and work their way down. They cut a pole, strip it of it's branches then slide it down to the nearest pathway where it can be loaded onto a cart for transport downhill. The higher up a hill or further from a path a culm grows, the more scratches it gets coming down!
The bamboo growing regions in the Guangdong Province are still very rural and the farming methods have changed very little in the past 100 years. There are no roads in most of these hills, only dirt paths for two-wheeled hand-carts and foot traffic. Everything is still done by hand here.

 

Q:
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Can they treat "our" poles special?
No.
Again, the work to harvest, transport, select and package these poles is all done by hand but it is important to note that the 2" poles favored by rod-makers is a vast minority in the world of Tonkin bamboo. I'd estimate that it is well under 5% of this species grows to this size and overall, it is a miniscule percentage of rod-makers poles that come from the Tonkin forests. Every year, there are about about 50-million Tonkin poles exported from the Guangdong province. Less than 10,000 of these poles are destined to rod shops around the world. It is virtually impossible to get special treatment for such a minority. Add to this the fact that it is migrant labor harvesting the poles which means that it would be exceedingly laborious to teach special handling techniques for "our" bamboo to each and every group harvesting the bamboo.

 

Q:
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Are the poles you sell "butt cut"?
Yes. When I select the poles, over 90% of them still have the angled cuts from the machettes weilded on the hillsides meaning that I am working with cane cut just above ground level. I mark most poles with a marker (you will often see my marks on the bottom of a pole) to mark where I want it cut. I usually have the bottom 10-20" (25-50cm) removed as that area can be crooked or have nodes that are very close together.

 

Q:
A:
Why is my 2" pole only 1 3/4"?
People measure differently and that can be a bit tough with bamboo because it is rarely perfectly round in shape. I wrap my fingers around any pole that I think may be under 2". I base the measure more on the circumference than the diameter.
Two important notes here are that I take measure of the pole at or near the base but the pole may be cut up to 20" (50cm) up from the base and the culm may have lost a bit of it's size by then. Also (remember the poles are not round), the Chinese who sell the poles measure at the fat side of the oval. Cheating? Well, rarely by more than a millimeter or two. And again, these big poles are a very small percentage of what these workers handle during their career and we just don't hold enough weight to alter the way these things are done for the other 99.9% of their work. While that pole may measure 1 3/4" at the small side of the oval, it is very unusual that it is so small all the way around.

 

Q:
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Do you pay attention to node spacing when selecting poles?
No. I understand how important node spacing is to most makers but there are just too many other things that I'm looking out for and we just have to work with what we get here.

 

Q:
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My bamboo has cracks in it!
So does mine. Bamboo cracks. These 2" poles do so more readily than just about any sized pole I know of. Smaller poles have a higher percentage of wall thickness per circumference and larger poles (other species) just have thicker walls. The poles used for flooring for example may be 5" (12.7cm) in diameter and have a wall-thickness of .75" (19mm). The poles desired by rod-makers just happen to have a propensity to split. This happens when they get dry, hot, dropped or looked at funny. It can happen in China, on the ocean, in Seattle, on the road or in your shop. The trick is to use a pre-existing split to start your full-length check-split. If there are multiple splits, pick your favorite. There are situations in which there are so many cracks that it impedes a rod-makers work and that is another story...

 

Q:
A:
What to do if a pole has too many cracks in it?
Make tomato stakes.
Multiple splits usually reference some sort of damage or mishandling during shipping or delivery of your order. A pole can get multiple splits naturally over time but if you see a load of splits, all concentrated in one area, usually at the tip, that often tells us that someone in the freight company carried your bundle on their hip then simply dropped it when they were done. That sucks.

 

Q:
A:
Damaged cane?
It is best, by far, to be able to inspect a bundle upon delivery. This does NOT mean that you have to unwrap a bundle to look at each and every pole. A simple feel of either end of a bundle can tell you if there is shipping damage. When damage is suspected, it is essential that you get the shipper know about this right away. If you pick up an end and it feels like a bunch of chopsticks, DO NOT LET THE DRIVER leave!!! We can file a damage claim in the case of damaged cane but the chances of getting money from the shipping company are about 2,000% better if you (upon noticing damage) get the driver to look at AND sign something noting the damage. If it is extensive, DON'T ACCEPT the order! If you donÕt accept the order, you probably won't have to pay for it!
Now, please, a good deal of prudence is necessary here because we can't have guys refusing orders because they feel a split or two in their bundle. Refusing an order should only be done if you have felt severely split/smashed poles then unwrapped and seen with your own eyes such damage that it would negate your ability to construct a rod from the majority of the poles in that bundle!
Truckers are not the most gentle guys in the world when it comes to handling our freight but the reports of damage are well under 10% from our customers and usually, that is only one or two poles. Hopefully, you can cut off the tip and be on your way. If it's bad, let us know and we can discuss a partial refund of your payment. [Note that if we need to send you new bamboo, you WILL have to pay for shipping a second time. Sorry.] I discussed this issue with Harold Demarest several years ago and he concurred that they had similar issues. These poles are not easy to package and protect. Like leaf nodes and bug bites, itÕs part of the nature of the material we work with.

 

Q:
A:
Bug holes?
These suck. Bamboo is food and it has a high starch content and invariably, some critters like to eat the inside, pithy part of what will become your fly rods. I try to locate all bug bites and size them up with a maker's mentality. "Can I split around this one?" or "can I get rid of that section and still have enough cane to build the rod I want?" If you get poles with too many of these, give us a shout!

 

Q:
A:
Shipping to Canada.
Expensive.
Sorry to all those up North but the Canadian government started getting very sticky with their import regulations around 2008. The primary issue is called a Phytosanitary Certificate. This is a certificate that states that the container-load of poles has been fumigated per USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) standards, that is: 24-hours of varying concentrations of Methyl Bromide. This is the fumigation gas/technique that ensures that there are no living creatures in the shipment of bamboo.
All of our shipments are fumigated per this standard and we have Fumigation Certificates as well as Phytosanitary Certificates for all of our shipments from China. But the Canadian govt. does not honor the Chinese Phytosanitary Certificate. Thus, before they will allow a shipment into Canada, they demand that we either re-fumigate the orders or (a much cheaper option), to get a Phytosanitary Re-Export certificate which is simply a document from the USDA declaring "this bamboo meets or exceeds the import regulations of the USDA." That makes it good enough. That also costs you about $50 per certificate. Add to that the normal shipping costs, boarder fees (about $15 US per order) and brokerage fees (7% retail value + tax) and your shipment is quickly about $100 more than the same order shipping in the States. Ouch. The best way I know around this is to find a few other local makers and share in an order so you can spread that cost around.

 

Q:
A:
Can I come and pick up a bundle at the warehouse?
Yes, and you can try to get a bundle into Canada this way without getting all the certificates that we have to but that's a gamble.
For those of you who want to pick up a bundle, that is fine. The warehouse is open M-F, 9:00am - 4:00pm. That's when it can be done. Drop me a line and I'll send you the address/directions. Please note that no one (NO ONE) can come to the warehouse to look through any of the cane. That's just not fair to makers who don't live in the area. Any order going out the door via trucker or your roof rack simply gets the next bundle off the top of the pile! NO exceptions!

 

Q:
A:
Pre-embargo cane
I wasn't there but I don't buy it. I mean, I don't see how it should be any better. I think that there's a few things happening here. One is that it's a story of "long ago" and everything looks better as they fade further and further in the review. Heck, you should hear about some of my girlfriends from high-school, they are absolutely gorgeous now when I tell you about them. Just don't come to my reunions to see for yourself.
Second, I think that there may be some excellent pre-embargo cane floating around. Like a bottle of wine, we might save our best for something "special" and we might use up all the less wonderful cane first. Then we might die. Our friends come to collect all our unused stuff and say, "Wow, this pre-embargo stuff is GREAT!" Those old poles will certainly turn a more golden yellow with age but that's just cosmetics. [And on that note, the Chinese swear that the more "golden yellow" a pole is, the older and weaker it is. "Go for the stuff with a green tinge to it" they tell me repeatedly, "that's the good, strong stuff!"] Botanically speaking, I see no reason why bamboo from "back then" should be any better than what is growing now. Were the flowers of the 1940's prettier than now?
The one main difference that I am aware of is that makers in the pre-embargo era did tend to use smaller cane. These are production makers we are talking about and some current makers swear that the smaller stuff has thicker power fibers but while I have sorted through loads of 1 3/4" (45mm) poles, I've not seen that theory play out.

 

Q:
A:
Can we grow this stuff here?
Yes, you probably can grow Tonkin in your backyard. I doubt you will see it ever get to 2" diameter and I can guarantee that you could not grow enough to supply the kids at your local TU chapter with enough cane to build more than a rod or two. The growing conditions in the small area of the Guangdong province are where the cane is happy but there are also the industrial factors to consider when imagining growing a viable bamboo crop in a Western nation.

 

 

 


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