In Montana, the art of making fly fishing rods


At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with travel restrictions in place around the world, we launched a new series – The world through a lens – in which photojournalists help transport you, virtually, to some of the most beautiful and intriguing places on our planet. This week Janie Osborne shares a collection of images from Montana.


I live just a few miles from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, Mt. But entering the workshop is a bit like getting off a plane in a foreign country.

I come in and take a good look around me. It is a place with many moving parts, where artisans make rosewood reel holders, inscribe calligraphy with golden ink, and wrap shiny agate guides on bamboo, using garnet wire and extra fine brass wire.

The language circulating in the store catches my attention. When read aloud, the custom orders rival the vernacular of espresso shops in breadth, speed and rhythmic efficiency: “I’ll have a graphite rod of nine feet, five weights and four pieces.” in clear white with a western plug. “

Store owners Matt Barber and Joel Doub, lifelong fishermen who bought the business in 2017, translate the shortcut for me.

Nine feet, says Barber, is the length of the rod, which, among other things, affects line control and casting performance. “Five-weight” refers to a measurement system specific to the line weight of fly rods. (Weights between four and six, for example, are ideal for trout fishing.)

A “four piece” rod breaks down into four pieces, which is ideal for travel. “Graphite” is the lightest material from which TMR rods are constructed. “Clear” refers to the coating of the upper, an aesthetic choice. And “western handle” is the abbreviation for “western cigar handle”, which has a tapered shape similar to a cigar.

As is the case when traveling to a foreign country, fluency in the language is as important as understanding the customs and ethics of a place. Sadly, mistakes, atonement, and self-improvement are all part of the journey. So it’s also at the store; this is how I feel about my use of the “p” word.

“About how many poles do you do in a year? is the kind of question I initially ask. Another: “How long does it take to build one pole From beginning to end?”

I learn that TMR aims to make 250 rods per year, and that it usually takes about six weeks from start to finish to build one. (Bamboo stalks take more than three or four months.)

But as Ric Plante, a full-time bamboo stalk maker, playfully warns, “Never say pole. A pole is what you use to hold your tent.

I’m a freelance photographer in Montana, a state where the total population – just over one million – spans 147,040 square miles. Niche photography is not that common.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve photographed everything from glamorous snaps of gourmet sausages in Billings to hobbit houses in Trout Creek, oil rigs in neighboring North Dakota, a giant paperclip across the street. the border in Canada, a large property near Livingston from the view of a helicopter without doors, an underground coal mine in Roundup, the Sandra (a cataract boat used to navigate the Grand Canyon), President Trump at the Bozeman Airport and, more recently, Governor Steve Bullock and the National Institutes of Health Laboratory which is conducting important research on Covid-19 in Hamilton.

In short, over the years, photographing the unknown has become, well, familiar.

TMR handles are made of cork from Portugal. The multi-step process of making a single handle includes numerous inspection, sorting, sanding, drilling, gluing and clamping operations that culminate in the lathe, where the handle is shaped with six grains of paper of different glass.

There are usually between 40 and 50 canes at different stages of production in the store. While the glue dries for two days between the cork rings of a handle, a lug ferrule – a separate piece that is used to join two sections of one rod – is installed for another, and strips of bamboo are installed. dug out of the Morgan hand mill, a tool used specifically for building bamboo rods. (The mill is a monument to the company’s former owner, Tom Morgan, who was a fisherman, guide, rod designer and guru.)

Packaging, coating, inspection also happen in concert. The ultimate goal of every cane, say Mr. Barber and Mr. Doub, is to achieve the desired result. action, or the feel of the rod when casting.

Cast fishing, the type of fishing that most of us are familiar with, involves using a heavy lure with a relatively light line. When casting, it is the weight of the lure that propels the line. Fly fishermen use a heavy line with a relatively light fly. “This combination requires focusing on the throw,” says Doub, “because the throw is what moves the fly towards the fish.” (He points out that this was a very basic explanation for the differences.)

There are many rivers for fly fishing in Montana: Madison, Gallatin, Blackfoot, Flathead, Missouri, Yellowstone. A trout 20 inches and over is considered a trophy. (There is a 20 inch fish mark on each TMR rod to measure if the opportunity arises.)

“One thing about Montana,” says Mr. Barber, “is that if there’s a body of moving water, there’s probably a trout in it.”

And, if in the sport of fly fishing the hope for a larger-than-life experience is everlasting, then heightened emotion – as embodied by Paul Maclean’s oversized trout in “A River Runs Through It” – is part of the attraction.

Other facets of attraction include patience, longing, passion, connection, perseverance, resilience, gratitude, and grace.. Maybe all of these are at the heart of plain end ferrules, precision casting and, yes, rods.

“To me, a small fish can mean as much as a large fish,” says Doub. “It’s the feeling of forgetting how long you’ve been standing in one place or how long you’ve been casting – you lose track of your time, your schedule, what you have to do next. “

Outside the shop at the end of the day, as the lines are rolled up and the rods are in line, the light fades into the darkening orange hues of fall, the essence of fishing. fly feels at hand.

“We’re all looking for those ineffable moments that we can get lost in,” says Doub.

Janie Osborne is a photographer based in Bozeman, Montana. You can follow his work on Facebook and Instagram.



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