Bamboo Tips - Contributors - Shockley, Greg

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In spite of the fact that I grew up in Southern California, I have been fishing since the early nineteen sixties, probably about 1960. First introduced to trout by my Grandfather, a third generation, Texas born, carpenter, and life long angler. A passion further expanded by one of my uncles, Santa Barbara bait supplier, local tournament caster and angler Eugene Baciu. He introduced me to largemouth bass, halibut, and the rainbow and brown trout fishery of the Sierra Nevada.

For as far back as I can remember, fishing was always something I needed to do, and everybody knew that the way to catch the biggest and the best fish was on a fly, or at least I thought everybody knew that. And in order to catch those fish one has to tie their own flies. An endeavor that started on my twelfth birthday, upon the receipt of a small kit, Noll’s Guide to Trout Flies, and my fathers old South Bend cane rod. One day shortly after that fateful day, my mother was driving us down Harbor Blvd in Fullerton, California and I noted a small hanging trout shaped sign with the inscription ”Flies and Lies”€ on it; awe “Mecca”€, Mark Kerridge’s Anglers Corner, that must have been about 1970, ’71, or ’72.

Angler Corner was a hole in the wall fly shop owned by Capt. Mark Kerridge, USN. Ret. He ran it most the year, but when Summer came he went fishing and left the Anglers Corner to a couple from Pennsylvania, Burney and Betty Zembower, they became lifelong friends. Burney had been a coal miner since he was a child and loved to fish, his first vise was fashioned by the town smithy, and incorporates jaws from a pair of channel locks, a scribe from a combination square and variety of other tool parts. Burney was an extremely patient man who loved to share his knowledge and learn even more. It through a series of events at Anglers Corner that I was led to Southern California rod designer and builder John Bianco, of Upland, California.

Our first meeting was a bit of a rocky road, John Bianco was an engineer who could give you a number of reasons why glass was superior to split cane, the truth came out thirty some odd years later. Mr. Bianco taught a rod building class through Orange County Adult Education, my how times have changed. He worked in the early days of taper development for glass, graphite and Boron, with Fenwick, Conlon, Lamiglas, Sage, J. Kennedy-Fisher and others. In a conversation we had just after his eightieth birthday, and move to Sandpoint, ID. Mr. Bianco confessed there was nothing quite like split cane. His aversion to cane expressed years earlier, he explained, was due to the fact that he had such a terrible experience building his first and only cane rod a few years before I met him. He further explained that after his experience with cane he decided he would never be able to teach a group of students to build cane rods. John Bianco is a natural teacher, that and fishing is what he loves most, when I think back to my early years one of my fondest recollections is the image of a natural fly caster teaching about eighty neophyte anglers how to cast on the lawn at one of the many schools he taught at in Orange County. Equally as fond is the memory of his reverence to bamboo.

About that same time in my life I met a man named Noel Forte, through his grandson, my best friend. Noel, Fisherman Forte, was a second-generation fly fisherman, who wrapped rods, and tied flies. He tied flies in a big way in from the nineteen-forties through the late nineteen-seventies, and he had a neat fly tying box. The best design I had ever seen. Years later this meeting and box would lay the foundation for Fort Shockley Fly Tying Stations and the Fort Shockley, Cabinetmakers business that I own and operate.

I married in April of nineteen eighty-two, on our honeymoon my wife went skiing and I went fishing. We have three children, one a graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography, another has just been accepted to Brown University, and more prestigious institutions of higher learning than ever came after me are courting my daughter. All have fished, though at the moment my eldest is the only one who has stuck with it.

In the August of 1992 we, Fort Shockley, went to our first International Conclave of Fly Fishers in Kalispell, MT., it was nothing short of magical.  It was at this show that I met rodbuilder, Ralph Moon. Now I could say the rest is history, but that would be too easy.

Pat and Ralph invited us to spend the night the next year on the way to Conclave, as they live on the Henry’s Fork. When I say they live on the Henry’s Fork, I mean if you don’t put your breaks on as you drive down their driveway you will wind up in the river. Well my eldest son, eight at the time, and I went fishing that afternoon and evening, a dream come true, on the Henry’s Fork. After a great home cooked dinner by Pat, Ralph and I got to talk, there is a thirty-year age difference, and found a common thread, Mark Kerridge. Ralph had never met Mark Kerridge, but he is quite the bibliophile and Mr. Kerridge had left his library, The Kerridge Collection, to Cal State University, Fullerton, where it resides to day. Ralph had walked to racks of the collection as the Curator of the Fly Fishing Museum at West Yellowstone, which was one of largest known collections of angling books at the time. The best I could do was use the treatises as reference materials during my tenure as a biology student at CSUF. I could also share my experiences at Anglers Corner and pull one of Mark Kerridge’s twenty-five year old cards out of my Noel’s Box fly tying box.

Later on we went down into Ralph’s shop, a configuration of workbenches, desk, bookshelves, tables and pegboard. For me Ralph’s shop is a treasure trove of fly fishing history. Whether it is fly tying or rod building Ralph has experiences to share. We had the quick course on rod building, from Culm through wrapping. This experience and camaraderie went on for year before I decided to further my woodworking experience into rod building. Ralph never pushed, but always made it available, and he has been quite the journeyman to let me come into his shop and share his tools. Hanging on the walls or standing in the corners, are rods after rods,  wooden rods,  bamboo rods, varying grip configuration, left-hand twist guides, right-hand twist guides, banded reel seats, uplocking and down-locking, you name it, and everything has a story or brings up a point for conversation, research or supposition. At the end of the day we can retire to the dining room table and watch the Henry’s Fork flow while sipping a fresh cup of lapsang souchong tea.

One of the things that I would have to mention, myself not being a great caster, I have met two anglers in my life who I consider to be natural, Ralph Moon and John Bianco. They may not be able to cast the farthest, but their casting looks effortless, they are naturals.

The first rod I built was Ralph’s two piece Henry’s Fork, It still amazes me how fine the strips of cane are in the tip top, it turned out pretty nice for a first try. Cane rods have given Ralph and I hours of conversation whether it is about sharpening plane irons and scrapers or talking about actions, adhesives, or finishing materials I think we enjoy the constant exchange of ideas. Often while I am working on a rod Ralph will be looking something up in a book or building a new tool, and when I get into trouble he is there to help. Boy I have come to him with some real pieces of work to, I know I have pulled a good one when I have Ralph stumped, but he has always come up with a solution, sometimes it just takes longer that others. I think one of the greatest advantages I have is this relation, every time I make a mistake or have a problem, it makes me smarter, and every once in a while I do something Ralph hasn’t seen before.

Most craft builders are lucky if they get to build one rod with a master, I am fortunate to be able to build a number of rods with one, the only problem is we live 993 miles apart door to door.

Ralph and Pat have exposed me to all sorts of new adventures in addition to fishing; choke cherry picking and wild grown asparagus as well as vast stretches of Idaho, and grits. There are no grits quite like Pat’s, I am not sure if it is the grits or the company, but it is all good.

The rod list always brings good fodder for conversation, and I am convinced that half that the problems builders have is how sharp they keep their plane, Ralph may or may not agree. I know when I am having problems; if I take the time to sharpen my plane it solves most of them. The rod list has also afforded us the opportunity to converse with some mighty fine builders as well. I consider my self-fortunate to be a product of the people, mostly anglers, who I have met along the way.

I think one of the things that bind Ralph and I together is the need to learn, or discover more, fly-fishing has a history and we are part of it. I believe as fly anglers we have a responsibility to credit the past and shape the future. We realize at the end of the day, a rod is tool to catch fish. So lets go fishing.

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