Wes Jordan was arguably the most celebrated fly rod maker of the 20th century and certainly was the premier rod builder for Orvis. A supreme angler by the name of Cato Holler read an article about Wes building a special bamboo rod for himself and thought the description sounded just like what he was looking for.
“He wrote Wes and asked if he would build him one but did not hear back from him,” says his grandson, Chris Holler, now the owner and manager of his grandfather’s fly-fishing club. “But a year later, he received a rod in the mail with a letter from Wes saying that he was so sorry that it had taken so long, but he had rejected four batches of ‘Tonkin Cane’ before he got the pieces he wanted. ‘Tonkin Cane’ bamboo only grows in a very small region in China, and since the United States wasn’t doing business with the country at that time, he had to get it on the black market. The rod, signed by Wes, ended up being Poppy’s favorite.”
Chris says that when he was young, his first rod was made of fiberglass and had the “action of a broomstick.” But once in a while when they were out fishing together, Cato would take Chris’ rod and hand him his bamboo rod, which Chris describes as an extension of his arm. “The sensitivity of the rod, especially the tip, is such that you can really tune into the fish and almost feel when a trout is going to sneeze,” he says. “I would catch a fish or two, then give him his rod back.”
Chris’ passion, like his late grandfather’s, is for dry flies where the fish takes the fly on the surface. “Anglers soon realize that when you catch a trout on a dry fly with a bamboo rod, you have found the top of your fly-fishing career. It is still what I love, to this day.”
Creel is the term for the old school wicker baskets that anglers carried to hold their catch. Chris explains that fishermen would often line the interior with ferns, watercress, or mint for a nicer presentation. Cato rarely kept his trout as he much preferred to release them back into the stream. At the end of a day’s fishing, his friends would gather out on the porch to proudly display their catch. Laughter often erupted as Cato would pull out a bundle of sticks of different sizes, all broken to reflect the length of the various fish he caught. “But Cato, what are you going to eat?” they would jest.
To this day, bamboo rods are the preference for many an angler, whether to land something for the dinner table or enjoy the sport of catch and release.