Bamboo Fly Rod Review: Massimo Tirrochi EVO

Until recently, my experience with a bamboo fly rod had been limited to admiration from a distance. Usually through a glass case with padlocks and signs, warning: “Do Not touch!”. I considered them as works of fly fishing art that reflected a sense of beauty, craftsmanship, and history in our sport; but relics of a time gone by. But the resurgence of interest in Bamboo rods has unleashed a maverick in the form of Italian rod maker, Massimo Tirocchi.

Patagonia Fly Fisherman

I like having my perception of reality altered by someone with bold ideas. Massimo Tirocchi has taken a step outside all previous notions of what a bamboo rod should be. He started with a very simple, but as yet unrealized premise: to form a union between modern fly rod actions and “fishablity”, with classical bamboo style. Most of the current crop of bamboo rods maintain precisely the same characteristics as the ones of yesteryear; slow, willowy actions that throw wide loops and are generally suitable for only small stream fish or the aforementioned glass presentation case.

The consistency of the rods, even across a variety of makers, resides in the fact that almost all use “standard tapers” in the design of their rods. Using formulas that don’t need to be reinvented is always an easier path to completion, but it never yields anything unique. Massimo wanted a different animal; fast actions, wind-splitting tight loop delivery, and power to land big fish. The only way to achieve that goal, was to abandon convention and develop his own proprietary tapers through trial and error, and lots of field testing. He went through a lot of cane.

Building a more modernly responsive bamboo fly rod is a delicate balance between Action (defined by the taper), Weight, and Weight Distribution down the length of the rod. Massimo starts by using the finest Tonkin Cane he can get his hands on, and self-splitting each section. His designs are hexagonal, and each strip is hand-planed to micrometer precision. The strips he uses for each section of the rod, from butt to tip, are selected based on the fiber count (power fibers) in the section. It helps to remember that a bamboo rod is made from material that is (or was at one time) a living organism; and it has natural fibers running the length of the cane that closely resemble muscle fibers, and provide the strength and resiliency in the rod. The density of these fibers determines the power and rigidity of the section.

Patagonia Fly FishermanTo test the metal of his bamboo rod building prowess, Massimo built a unique rod that he labeled the “EVO”, and made his own personal dream quest to the big-fish waters of Patagonia Argentina. I was invited along to play witness, and had the pleasure of fishing with the rod as well. My first attempt at casting a 7’ (3-4 weight) was admittedly awkward, in large part because I entered into it with a preconceived notion of what bamboo was supposed to feel like. I had always heard things like, “go really slow, wait for the rod”; but this rod didn’t want anyone waiting for it, it wanted speed and input.

I stepped back and watched Massimo demonstrate, and it was immediately clear that this rod was capable of incredible performance. Interestingly enough, he was using line speed, momentum, and hauling techniques to coax the beast out of this little cane stick; not completely unlike the techniques that I use with fast action graphite rods, except more smoothly delivered with progressive power. So with only slight modification to my everyday casting style and ten minutes of practice on the lawn, I found myself blasting razor sharp loops and very accurate delivery at pretty respectable distances. But the treat was watching Massimo in real-world fishing action on the Malleo river.

Bamboo rods in Patagonia - Patagonia Fly FishermanI watched as Massimo repeatedly, and easily, landed big browns and rainbows in fast moving water; I’m talking 20+ inch trout.  One technique that’s different from graphite fly rods, is in the actual landing process because the tip of a bamboo rod is the most delicate part. Rather than holding the rod straight up, as you might commonly extend a graphite rod to bring a fish to net, it’s better to hold the rod “out” and create a wider bend in the entire rod.

When it was all said and done, Massimo made a believer out of me. Bamboo fly rods still have a place in the modern world, and even a place where the fish grow big. As it was time to say good bye to my new Italian friend, he turned and placed his EVO bamboo fly rod in my hands and said, “The world needs to know what they can do. Tell them about it.” And so I have. Next I’ll be testing the final production taper of this rod that Massimo will use for producing custom rods for the bamboo fly rod public. Code name: America.

If you’re interested in talking to Massimo about your very own bamboo fly rod, contact him through this link to his website: Massimo Tirrochi.

There’s some exciting news coming shortly about this beautifully crafted little EVO #3/4. Massimo Tirrochi’s personal expedition rod. Stay tuned.