Fly Rod Building in Dad’s Workshop


A workbench in my dad’s fly rod workshop.

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.

fly fishing rod shop hoagy carmichael

fly fishing cork handle hoagy carmichael


graphite fly rod building lathe






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16 thoughts on “Fly Rod Building in Dad’s Workshop

  1. This essay captures the time-stopping magic of a fly fisher’s space. I am there…and I never want to leave. Thank you.

  2. Good job Ben. Lots of history in that old shop as you point out. I’ll miss it but it’s great that it will be going to a museum. Others need to see what handcrafting is about.

  3. Thanks for sharing this great shop. It is a big part of rodmaking history. It must be really nice to make a rod there. Congratulations on your decision to donate and preserve for future generations!

  4. Great post – it is always a joy to get a glimpse of a maker’s environs! Out of curiosity – what rods are you building?

    • Thanks for the comment, Jon. I’m still very much a novice, so I’m focusing on how to build hardware — principally, the metal and wooden reel seat components — and how to shape cork. So I’m building two rods: one 8/9 switch (a bit heavy for a switch, so we’ll see) and a single handed 5 weight. Both are from graphite blanks, and one is for a friend. Best, Ben

  5. This is great. I visited your fathers shop years ago, maybe twenty years ago as a newly minted bamboo addict. I read the book and thought I would restore a nice little FE Thomas. Anyway, it was a thrill to be invited in to that space and it’s neat to see you photos.
    I enjoy the blog as well.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Matt! And glad you too have enjoyed that workshop. It’s a beautiful shop with lots of history! Best, Ben

  6. Hey Ben, I stopped by the Fly Fishing Center today with my wife and although the museum was closed , I caught a glimpse of “The Garrison Bench” At first I thought, ” How could they give it away” but then realized
    It has found it’s place in flyfishing history in perpetuity. What a generous gift
    From the Carmichael family!
    Ken Askildsen, South Salem, NY

    • Ken: Thanks for the nice note. Glad you glimpsed the shop at the Museum, if only in passing. I do hope (and know!) many are as appreciative as you. Hope you’re well! Best, Ben

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