Outside magazine, August 1999
THE ROD MAKER
The only thing finer than crafting the perfect fishing rod is using it
Carmichael with a masterpiece
"You make rods with your heart in your mouth," says Hoagy Carmichael. The man who wrote The Masters Guide to Building a Bamboo Flyrodand whose songwriter father brought us "Georgia on My Mind" and "Stardust," Carmichael equates building rods with making violins: same concern for balance, same "palm quality"
(feel). Portuguese cork for grips, strong, lithesome cane from Guangxi Province in China for the length of this, the ultimate fishing instrument. Carmichael learned rod making from an upstate New York structural engineer, Everett Garrison, a "gent" who fished in a tie and worked in his shop in a sport jacket, using a slide rule. "The first time Everett showed me a rod,
I thought, 'Whoa. He made that? There's a lot to it—intricacy, precision.' And so my journey began."
A television producer, Carmichael, who lives in North Salem, New York, made a film about Garrison which he later studied to perfect his technique: splitting the resilient bamboo, straightening it with heat, planing 18 equilateral triangles within less than .001 of an inch—a hair's breadth—to form the rod's three hexagonal sections, fashioning ferrules to
join the three pieces, wrapping with silk thread, and varnishing to the smoothness and depth of color of a hundred-year-old brandy. "The most difficult part is that you're always a slip, a burn, a lathe turn away from ruining the whole frigging thing."
Carmichael is a perfectionist—"good is not good enough"—and admits there's no way to teach rod building "other than by doing it." The 60-year-old has taught others, from a steamfitter to a sound engineer who developed mathematical models for what not so long ago was the most low-tech of arts. But he hasn't lost sight of the fact that even bamboo
objets have a purpose, and every spring he takes two weeks off to employ his creations on Catskill trout streams not too far from his home. "The Lord," he says of another perfectionist, "does not take away the day you go fishing."
PHOTO: John Blaustein
THE BOAT BUILDER
Running the Colorado in style—and in one piece
Not since John Wesley Powell did it with one arm has anyone piloted a wooden boat through the Grand Canyon with so much aplomb. Indeed, almost 200 trips down the Colorado during a span of three decades have elevated Regan Dale to maestro status. "He doesn't take one unnecessary stroke," says fellow guide Bronco Ruchak. "It's like
watching an artist paint."
Any artist, however, needs the right tools, and Dale patched so many old dories over time that he finally decided to start building his own. It takes Dale, 50, a full year to craft just one of his 17.5-foot-long, decked, flat-bottom boats, despite the fact that he traded wood for rot-resistant foam two years ago. But a Dale-built dory is far superior to a Gumbylike
rubber raft, if Dale does say so himself—"like the difference between riding in a Chevrolet and riding in a Mercedes-Benz." He sculpts his craft in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse off old Route 66 west of Flagstaff, Arizona, assisted by his 20-year-old son, Duffy, and a host of off-duty river guides. It's a virtual museum, with a slot for each brightly painted
vessel and smashed-up dory remnants hanging from the rafters.
"It used to be that if you just got a boat down the canyon it was a miracle," says Martin Litton, the 82-year-old godfather of commercial dorying and founder of the prestigious Grand Canyon Dories. "But Regan's boats not only make it through the canyon hundreds of times—they look like fine pieces of furniture."