Bamboo Bend is a week-long event held in Lovells, Michigan each May. Injured and disabled military personnel and disabled veterans are taught the fine-art of building a high-quality bamboo fly rod by a master rod maker at the Lovells Township Community Center — and it offers them a great opportunity to take the rod-building skills they learned through PHWFF program classes and our annual Rod Building Competition to the next level. And (!) at the end of their stay, each participant takes home the completed bamboo fly rod they built over the course of their stay. In addition to the bamboo rod building classes, the participants are treated to the abundant local hospitality, great angling opportunities on historic American trout waters, and the great bonds of friendship and brotherhood fostered at Bamboo Bend. This great event wrapped-up last week and we’re honored to share 2 Bamboo Bend experiences with you from GySgt (ret) Duke Davis, U.S. Marine Corps and Dale Aki, U.S. Airforce.
Dale Aki, USAF writes:
During the past year, I have been participating in Project Healing Waters in Anchorage and the program leaders recommended me for a special Bamboo Rod Bend event held in Grayling Michigan. This event consisted of 5 days of bamboo rod building and then 2 days of guided fishing trips on the famed Ausable and Manistee Rivers. The day came to leave for Michigan as most Alaskans know that to get anywhere east in the lower 48, you need to leave a day earlier than anyone else. I was picked up at Traverse City airport to travel one and a half hours to Grayling Michigan. Our accommodations were at a one hundred plus year old private club named the Oxbow on the South Branch of the famous Ausable River, where I waited for the rest of the members of the 2017 Bamboo Bend class. These PHWFF veterans came from different parts of the country as well as military services and eras.
The week of cane rod building started on Sunday at 0830 sharp to meet the instructors/ mentors to guide us through this build. By this time, I was overwhelmed knowing that the instructors who were gathered here are masters in their craft and are well known in the cane rod community. All the while, I kept thinking of the words of the newest president of the Bamboo Bend, Mark Mackey, saying just have fun and every participant will leave with a finished rod in their hands. The 5 days melted together as over a hundred combined years of cane rod building information flooded the Lovells Township Hall. As the class worked feverishly thought-out the day, the nights were our time to relax at the Oxbow club. Many of us fished until dark catching Brook and Brown trout, the rest just relaxed in front of the fire or alongside the river listening to the tranquil sound that it made. As darkness hit the river, we all gathered around the fireplace inside the club and got to know one another.
Friday and Saturday were the guided fishing trips. The guides took us out in drift boats or the famed Ausable river boats. The weather on Friday went from cool to hot in what it felt like minutes, but the fish didn’t mind as they rose up to take each fly that was presented to them. Saturday was a different story; it started out as overcast then started to rain off and on. It seemed to me that after each turn of the river held a different weather system. Everyone caught fish and enjoyed themselves. As the class fished, the bamboo fairies were hard at work giving the bamboo rods a second coat of varnish so that they would be dry for the presentation on Saturday Night at the club. That night as the rods were presented to us by our mentors, I looked around the gathering of cane rod builders, fishing guides, and club members and I saw the love and caring that this community showed veterans. Our mentors/ instructors not only gave up their time and knowledge, but their passion of cane rod building that came with every step of the build. This is the passion that brings them back every year. As the fire continued to burn, the PHWFF participants settled down for the last night before parting ways the next morning. As like every night, our discussions were revealing as we shared stories, remembered our fallen comrades, listened to each other, and of course made fun of one other. We came to the Oxbow as participants of Bamboo Bend and parted the program as brothers
GySgt (ret) Duke Davis, USMC writes:
Bamboo Bend was an exhilarating time for me. It was very much devoted toward the individual and not the rod. It was structured in a way that let the individual continue to expand their rod building knowledge daily. The instruction was top notch and the instructors were superb.
Day one, we kept hearing “everyone leaves with a finished rod”. By the end of the day we understood that the pace had to be picked up in order to make that happen. The amount of work that goes into making a bamboo rod is almost frightening compared to the amount of time we had to complete the class. Luckily we had the best instructors in the East who knew how to make it happen by prepping the rod making kits for us to begin with. The instructor to student ratio was more than 1 to 1 in most cases. That alone made the class amazing. My instructor was Dave Hellman. It was nice to receive detailed instruction from him daily. It gave me a start to finish process from a single individual as well as creating a mentor for me to communicate with for rod building. By the end of the week I come to notice that Dave was more than a teacher he was also becoming a friend.
Waiting for the varnish to dry created a perfect opportunity to fish some of the country’s greatest water for dry fly fishing. The Au Sable River was a great experience. I got more than a fishing trip when I got linked up with my guide Bob Andros. He took me on a trip through the Holy Waters and explained in detailed the history of the river while drifting in an original AuSable River Boat. We stopped for lunch on the river at the birthplace of Trout Unlimited. Bob being the expert really broke it down for me. The next day we floated below MIO Dam with Steve Taylor. The fishing was absolutely amazing as we caught over fifty fish. We floated down the river and received a dry fly clinic. Steve was very knowledgeable and helped me perfect some things about my cast. But the Michigan beauty really did speak for itself.
I personally had an anniversary date of two fallen Marines on a particular day there. I was able to just melt away this day as I listened to the subtle hum of the plane slicing through the bamboo on the planning form. It was nice to not focus or grieve over the deaths but instead watch something new beginning to come alive.
I found that the camaraderie and fellowship after the class was an integral component of this program. My time spent at the Ox Bow club will never be forgotten. It was great to sit around and listen as other participants finally released some of the things they have been holding on to. It was nice to watch and hear as one of the Vietnam era participants told me “I’m finally home”. It was at that point that I realized the importance of this program. And yes I left with a beautiful finished bamboo fly rod and new title of Rod Maker.
Our great thanks to Bamboo Bend, the Lovells community, and all those who contributed their time, talent, and treasure towards making this such a fantastic week for Kenneth, Steve, Bob, Duke, Dale, James, Rob, and Mitch.