Today I'm going to review something a bit out of the ordinary for me: a web site and rod from a custom rod maker by the name of Ralph Acker. Now, I've been blessed to know more than a few bamboo rod makers in my day, including some of the most talented makers in the world. I've talked to many of them about the process of making rods, and of course, I've written on the subject at length.
Which is why I was fascinated by the rods that Ralph makes. I met Ralph recently at the Pigeon Forge NFLCC show in January, and got to talk to him a bit about his rodmaking philosophy. Basically, what Ralph does is to "remanufacture" old rods into something different and new. He takes a vintage fly rod, likely one missing guides, etc. and completely strips it down, or in his own words, "works backwards in the build process." He inspects everything to make sure it is in good working order, replaces ferrules if needed, puts on a new custom reel seat and cork, rewraps the guides (replacing them if need be), and then varnishes the rods to a fine high grade finish.
What I think is interesting about Ralph's work is that he is NOT refinishing or refurbishing these rods. He shortens them from the bottom up as his specialty is small rods suited for small stream fishing (he is from North Carolina where such rods are not just desired but necessary). He strives to not tamper with the original taper, which since the majority of the vintage rods he salvages the blanks from are Montague, tend toward a medium action.
My first thought was that shortening the blank would mar the action on the fly rod badly, but the first time I lawn cast my 6'10" Small Stream (2/2, 3-4 weight) rod made by Acker my mind was put at ease. While not a Garrison or Payne, it felt comfortable and responded with what I would describe as an action not appreciably different than a 7'6" Montague Rapidan I once owned. It was a perfect rod for fishing river smallies, which is what I plan on doing with it later this spring.
The most amazing thing about Acker rods are the price: $100-$275, depending on model, type, and accoutrements. Where else are you going to find a fishable bamboo rod at that price? Additionally, everything is custom, from the rod bags (sewn by Ralph's wife) to the clever and indestructible rod tubes.
Basically, what Ralph is doing is salvaging rods with no collectible value and making them once again into delicate fishing instruments. It's a fascinating idea, but as we'll discover in the coming weeks, not a new one. We'll profile a gentleman active in the 1940s and 1950s who did essentially the same thing, rescuing thousands of fly rods from the garbage bin, much as Ralph is doing today.
You can contact Ralph Acker through his web site by clicking here.
-- Dr. Todd