I love working alone in the rod shop, as I always have someone with me. A few, in fact. My dad’s fly fishing workshop is rich in history. Every tool has had a full life. Every tool, it seems, knows more than I do.
A tour around the shop is a crash course in fly fishing history. Those reels there? Pieces of a Bogdan, or a Vom Hoffe. That tool there? It was originally owned by Everett Garrison, the great American rod maker with whom my dad wrote his book on bamboo fly rod making. That bamboo there? Bamboo sourced from a remote region in China. And that there? Me, trying to learn a fraction of what my dad knows.
At least, I feel comfortable. Among my earliest memories is the smell from this shop: a combination of wood chips, oil, dust, and varnish. It smells raw and metallic, like other workshops, only much softer, with the air sweetened by varnish over the decades. It used to smell like pipe tobacco. Now it smells more of oil, given the time spent restoring old reels. These periods — from rods and pipes, to reels and coffee — are like rings on a tree: as I’ve grown up, and my dad older, we’ve come back to this sport, and this shop.
And so it is that here I am, building two final rods in this shop, before this shop is packed up and donated to a museum, as it will be. Any day now, I suspect I’ll hear that a contract with the museum has been signed, and the shop will be boxes, before I’ve glued another cork reel seat together — before I’ve spent more time in the shadows of my dad’s shop. As comfortable as I am, I also know I don’t truly belong here. What Mr. Garrison did here was to build some of America’s finest bamboo fly rods. What my dad did was to memorialize and share knowledge with aspiring builders and enthusiasts — and, though he’s too humble to say it, build a few pretty fine rods himself. Me? I’m a novice and, given the demands of my job, will be for years to come.
As I open the thick barn door, flick on the overhead lights, and warm up the space heater, the shop yawns and comes to life, and I want to remember this smell after the lights have been shut off. I want to be able to come back here, with my dad. I don’t know all the history, but what I know is enough to keep me company as I work alone.
Perhaps out of a desire to preserve this space, and my closeness to those shadows, I’ve started carrying a digital camera with me into the shop. I have some raw footage I plan to edit into a short video I’ll post here later this year. It’s not much, but it’s something, and I’ve enjoyed the process. Below are some screenshots from the video.