The art of a Hallowell Fly Rod
I was in downtown Dubois a few months ago and saw a guy wearing a “Hallowell Fly Rod” baseball cap. I walked up and inquired, “Hey there, I’m a fly fisher and I’ve never heard of Hallowell Fly Rods?” He politely stuck his hand out and said, “Well, I’m Bob Hallowell.” We introduced ourselves and chatted, and he pulled out his smartphone and showed me a few pictures of his rods – bamboo fly rods – the type for “purist” fly fishers. We exchanged cell numbers, and promised to catch up soon. A week later we did. We met in Bob’s rod-making shop and talked about fly fishing, rod building and his story of Hallowell Fly Rods.
Bob Hallowell builds bamboo fly rods like an impressionist painter paints. Every dot goes on the canvas in the right spot, as the right color, and the end result will take your breath away – even if you’re not an artist or a fly fisher. He’s built rods for over a decade, and dozens of people from around the globe regard Hallowell Fly Rods as true performance art. Bob is self-taught on the subject though he’s read books and regularly meets with the “who’s who” of bamboo rod crafting, where they fly fish, share experiences about rod building, performance metrics, building and testing new tapers, as well as materials and designs. He’s researched and created his own database on everything from splitting bamboo to designing his one-of-a-kind “Hallowell Glass Ferrules”, which make Hallowell Fly Rods look and perform differently.
Hallowell didn’t start making bamboo fly rods because of any commercial interest, and he takes this artistic approach with many other aspects of his life.
“I like working with my hands using different materials. I enjoy woodworking and the art that goes into all phases of rod building.”
And I now know Bob is a craftsman as he shows me pieces of beautiful furniture he’s made, and the logo label that he puts on each Hallowell Fly Rod tube for his customers. The image is a beautiful watercolor trout he painted himself years ago that’s just really amazing. So, after a few months and spending a bit time with him on several visits (and we’ve fly fished, too – stay tuned!), I can honestly say that Bob Hallowell is a Renaissance Man. And, he’s also a gentleman.
So, here are the nuts and bolts of Hallowell Fly Rod art:
In the Beginning:
- Bob starts with a length of bamboo stalk, called a “culm,” and splits the culm into strips.
- The strips of bamboo are worked and glued together to create each Hallowell Fly Rod.
- Every strip, and rod, are tapered from “grip to tip” (larger taper near the reel seat to smallest at the tip-top).
- Depending on the design of an individual Hallowell, the rod may have 4, 5 or 6 strips/sides (Quad, Penta or Hex).
- Each bamboo strip is heated/dried for fitting into a Hallowell Fly Rod, and hand-planed using a special form Bob designed himself.
- Sections are fitted, glued and wrapped together with thread in Bob’s shop.
In the Middle:
- Hallowell creates his signature “Glass Ferrules” which allow the sections of a rod, which have been cut from very thin paper “sheets” of fiberglass, to be connected.
- Glass ferrules are shaped so one rod section is inserted to the other (most commercial rods have metal ferrules).
- Each ferrule is epoxied for strength, and gives the caster a better weight and tension distribution, and a more natural “feel” when casting and catching – they’re also very pretty!
In the End:
- Final “wrapping” of the stripping and snake guides along his rods (less friction and smoother movement of line) is done by hand using colored threads, and each guide is epoxied for strength.
- Hallowell reel seats are created from various hardwoods – each is machined and varnished for durability.
- Rod grips are made on quarter-inch sections, glued together from finest grade cork for exceptional “hand” (feel).
So, we’ve “killed two birds with one stone” when it comes to describing Bob Hallowell, and his custom Hallowell Fly Rods. He’s an artisan who can help us fly fishers take our game to a new level with his signature (literally) Fly Rods, and a really great and curious creative talent living in the PA Wilds, who’s truly a pleasure to spend time with.
Bob Hallowell now has a Facebook page – Hallowell Fly Rods – so you can check out pictures of his craft and leave questions and comments. I promise you’ll be glad you did – I certainly am.
About the Author
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor activities in the Wild. He is a member of the Diablo Fly Fishing Club, Trout Unlimited, and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry.
More From Our Blog