The Parable of the Fishing Rod

A LOT of fish.

Fly fishing is an arcane art. There's fish biology, river ecosystems, flies and fly tying, rods, reels, etiquette, technique, terminology and more. It's incredibly deep, and pretty unassailable, even (or perhaps especially) to other fishers.

Amongst the tomes of flyfishing lore, you will find discussion of the merits of the bamboo rod.

Let's hold it right there - you might be thinking about a stick with a string and worm. Definitely not. To some, the paragon of a rod is made from bamboo. Eight segments are split lengthwise from bamboo sticks and chamfered at 22.5 degrees off the right angle so that they can be arranged back into a perfect octagon - like the sides on a Stop sign - reforming a new pole. The bamboo segment joints are rearranged vertically between the pieces to form helices winding up the rod. Line eyes of various linings are generally sewn on with silk and the whole arrangement is laquered.

Such fishing rods are, naturally, expensive. It takes a master craftsman to build such an artifact that could then become a vibrant, functional fishing rod.

One day, a rodmaker let a frustration get the better of him, and he took a flight to China.

The problem that had been itching at him was of efficiency. The only bamboo in the world worthy of his talents was Tonkin Cane, from the Soup River in Guangdong Province. When he was finished, he generally sold his rods for a thousand dollars.

But Tonkin Cane came to the rodmaker's country from China in big bundles mostly meant for gardeners. The rodmaker had to weed through hundreds of canes to find each piece of bamboo that might be suitable for making part of a rod.

So he was paying for cane he didn't want to get shipped all the way from China just to rot in his garden shed. Wouldn't it be better to find the best canes in China, and ship only them?

Besides, it would be great to visit Guangdong and find out more about the bamboo forests.

So the rodmaker landed in China and started to follow the trail of his cane. He went from exporter to shipper to distributor to wholesaler all the way back to the valley of the Soup River, searching for the best place to start sorting his canes. As he got farther towards the source, he found two things - he was in competition with the domestic Chinese market - which also valued Tonkin Cane's regularity and strength, and that the bundles he could buy kept getting bigger and bigger.

It was no use, he would have to go all the way back to the bamboo forest and find out about how the canes were cut in the first place. He had an introduction to a bamboo forester arranged, and set off for a day to see her at work.

The forester spent her day hiking up the sides of the valley, selecting and cutting a huge bundle of canes, and then lugging the bundle up on her back and walking back down to the river. It was hard work, and not well paid, despite the premium that China paid for Tonkin Cane.

The rodmaker thought the forester could select just the canes he needed, and that he could pay her handsomely to arrange special shipping back to his country.

This didn't make immediate sense to the forester - why would the rodmaker need such particular canes? He explained that he was going to use them to make fishing rods. The forester had seen men of her district fishing using a bamboo stick, a string, and a worm - such sticks were Tonkin Cane around here, but probably not anywhere else in China. The rodmaker went on to explain that he used them to make very fine fishing rods, so fine that they would eventually sell for a thousand dollars.

"A thousand dollars? They must catch A LOT of fish."

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