Junk shop fly rod

One angler's trash ...
junk store fly rod
Photo: Stephen Sautner.

God it was ugly.

An ancient fiberglass fly rod leaned awkwardly in the forgotten corner of a vintage/junk shop. It looked like a seven-footer; clearly home-built by someone either just learning their craft or perhaps giving up on it. Uneven wraps and too few guides clung to a rust-colored blank. A dozen grimy cork rings had started to unglue, losing their battle to stay unified as a grip.

I picked up the rod, more as a distraction while my wife ferreted around the shop. It felt light. Surprisingly light. Intrigued, I gave it a tentative false cast. Instead of the expected wobbly, limp-noodle action of junk glass, the rod snapped to attention as if reporting for duty. I false cast again, this time with a little more punch. Catalog clichés of “crisp” and “responsive” flashed in my head. This worst-in-show rod, with its bedraggled guides and free-spinning grip, was, in fact, a lightsaber in disguise. A $79 lightsaber, according to the tag dangling from the off-center stripping guide.

I continued to test-cast the rod. It felt like a five-weight; maybe six. The dusty junk shop had transformed into a tumbling stream. A shelf of antique glass bottles morphed into a bough of rhododendrons leaning over a dark and foamy pool. I pantomimed another cast, shooting 25 feet of fly line in slow motion. The imaginary fly touched down and a heavy brown slashed, hooking itself.

I could hear my wife in the next room negotiating something with the owner. Meanwhile, I had moved onto bow-and-arrow casting Joe Humphreys style, hooking brookies at will.

I took a few quick pictures of the rod and texted them to two friends who immediately began speculating about its provenance. One of them guessed it was a Winston blank built from a kit. The other thought it was a Fisher. “Love the Bakelite reel seat!” One of them wrote. “Offer them $25!” said the other.

My wife emerged from the back room holding an old Beastie Boys promotional poster for my son’s dorm room. I told her about the rod, and she handed me her change – a couple of twenties.

“Buy it,” she said.

I considered the rod with its various warts. I was sure I could talk the owner down to forty bucks – maybe less. Then I would bring it home and restore it to its full glory: new guides; replace the handle with something less bulky, a new set of ferrules – nickel would look nice. Or maybe I would just fish it in its current unwashed form – a way to stick it to Big Tackle and their thousand-dollar hyper-specialty fly rods, one designed only to nymph from a boat, another just to fish with indicators. Fishing with the junk-store rod began to sound very punk.

But then what? Would my punk (or restored) rod join my other vintage glass fly rods currently sitting in their rod tubes at home looking very pretty but doing little else? There’s the Phillipson Royal gifted to me by a friend who acquired it from his father-in-law’s estate. And the Sila-Flex, with its adorable seahorse logo from Costa Mesa, California, originally owned by the departed uncle of a former co-worker. And let’s not forget the LL Bean Featherweight discovered in what another friend thought was an empty rod tube he found cleaning out a relative’s attic. When I opened the tube and showed him the rod, he told me to keep it (lucky for me he doesn’t fly fish).

All three rods are lovely, but for the most part, they sit on the bench except for maybe once a year when I decide to play them, taking them out for a few casts, often just on the lawn. I sometimes look at the tubes, crowded among more than a dozen others, and wonder just how many rods should one angler own?

I made my decision. With all the self-control I could muster, I took this light-saber-in-disguise, begging to be cast on a trout stream, and put it back in the corner where I found it. Perhaps another angler would discover the rod, take it home and release its magic. For me, it was a case of unfulfilled love – best to just walk away.


I caught a thousand fish on a 3 dollar yard sale fly rod. I bought a bamboo rod for $3 that I sold for 300..partner and I would hit yard sales, the best were recently divorced women that sold the Xs fishing gear for pennies

The one that got away.

after all that angst you walked away. broke that poor rod's heart. No wonder rods hate fishermen.

I wish you would have bought it. I would have restored it for you. That’s my thing these days. Finding classic blanks in disrepair and giving them new life. See if it’s still there and hit me up!

It feels like there was an even better story to tell if the rod went home with the author. What might have been.....