Shakespeare and Duct Tape

“Do you know where Grandpa’s fly rod is?” I asked my grandmother.

Grandpa had passed away four months ago, and I was hoping to look at his fly-fishing rod and reel. Being the only fly angler in my family, I was probably being a bit presumptuous, but I assumed the rod would go home with me at some point in time.

“It might be in the garage. If it’s not there, it might be in the boat.” Grandma answered.

I walked out to my grandparent’s garage, as I needed to refill the water softener with salt anyway. As I grabbed a bag of salt from its place in the garage, I glanced up to the place Gramps always kept his fishing poles. Sure enough, there was his fly rod, stored in the soft case that Grandma had made for him. I took it from its resting place and blew the thick layer of dust from the case before laying it on top of the chest freezer for a few minutes. I then finished my tasks in the garage and carried the rod inside as I thought back to the day over a decade ago when I taught Grandpa to cast a fly rod.

At the time, Grandpa was in his early or mid-70’s and in need of a double knee replacement. We were fishing my aunt and uncle’s pond. Gramps was sitting in a lawn chair, bobber fishing for catfish, and I was casting flies to the hungry bluegill with my St. Croix 5 weight. After a little while, Grandpa got up and slowly made his way around the pond to where I was reeling in a little fourteen-inch largemouth bass.  As I released the fish back into the water, Grandpa began asking me questions about casting a fly rod. It wasn’t long before he had my 5 weight in his hand and I was teaching him to cast. On his very first cast without my help, a fat bluegill slammed the little hopper and Gramps reeled him in to hand. Grandpa was hooked, pun intended. He was quite proud of that bluegill and made sure I didn’t forget he caught it on his first cast. He was equally as proud a few weeks later when he borrowed my fly-tying kit for a few days and presented me with one of the less traditionally tied flies I had ever seen or have seen since.  However, he wasn’t nearly as proud as I was. You see, all my life the old man had been teaching me things. Lessons like how to drive, how to respect women, how to change a tire, why he didn’t like cats, the proper way to make an ice cream cone, how to drive a tractor, etc. The list could go on and on. Yet suddenly here I was the teacher and Grandpa was my star pupil. Yep, fly fishing became extra special to me that day.

As I sat down in my late grandfather’s recliner and began to slide the rod and reel from its protective cover, I felt myself getting strangely hopeful that the rod would be made of fiberglass. Up until that exact moment in time, I had never given fiberglass fly rods a second glance. Nor had I ever thought to myself “Gee, I wish I had a glass rod.” I was happy with my graphite fly rods and didn’t see the point in using anything else. Yet here I was admiring the worn cork handle and slightly yellowed white fiberglass rod as I brought it forth from its hiding place. I paused just long enough to wrap my hand around the old cork, and I must admit, it felt much like an old friend’s handshake.

With my right hand firmly on the rod’s cork grip, I continued to extract the bottom half of the two-piece rod. When the lower half was almost completely slid out of the case, my heart sank. There, on the rod was a thick wrapping of duct tape. Ugh. Sure enough, the rod had broken at some point and Gramps, being the old resourceful farmer that he was, fixed it so he could continue to use it for pond fishing. Grandma and I both chuckled at the makeshift repair job. It was as if a piece of his personality was right there in front of us.

The reel itself didn’t appear very old. I’m assuming Gramps, or the previous owner, had purchased the Shakespeare 1094 reel not long ago and put it on the much older rod. It had fly line on it that looked as if it was brand new. The reel didn’t have any backing on it and fly line was tied directly to the reel, but that didn’t stop Grandpa from catching fat bluegills in the local ponds.

The top half of the rod was in fine shape. I slid both pieces and the reel back into the case, not wanting to let go of that aged cork. Grandma must have sensed my sudden love for this physical piece of Grandpa’s life and told me to take it home. She didn’t have to tell me twice. Shortly after that the rod, reel and I said goodbye to Grandma and were on our way.

That evening after work, I took the rod and reel into my den for a much thorough look over. The rod turned out to be a fiberglass Shakespeare Wonderod. Some research on The Fiberglass Flyrodders Forum (TFFF) told me where to find the model number. Sure enough, it was stamped into the metal on the reel seat. The stamping read “No. 1290 Model FJM.” With the tremendous amount of information available on TFFF’s Shakespeare Wiki page, I learned the “FJM” meant the rod was made in December of 1952. The “No. 1290” was the model number and info on the 1290 told me that it was a 7’ 3” two-piece rod that showed up in Shakespeare’s catalog from 1951 to 1959. The rod itself weighed three and a half ounces and was coded for DT4F or WF6F floating lines, or DT55 sinking line. The 1290 was also available in a 7’ 9” version that was offered in their catalog from 1947 to 1959. The rod in front of me was the 7’ 3” model, a nice little fiberglass rod for panfish and small trout if it hadn’t been broken.

Looking over the duct tape repair job, I couldn’t help but begin to get curious. Part of me wanted to leave it alone, hang the rod on the wall and smile thinking about Grandpa whenever I looked at it. However, another part of me…and I’m sure I get this from my grandfather…wanted to unwrap all the duct tape and investigate how the repair job was done. Knowing Gramps, I knew there had to be a method to his madness. At least in his mind there would have been. So, a decision was made, and I began the chore of removing layer upon layer of tape.

As the tape was taken away, a bright yellow “stick” like item appeared. Again, I laughed at Grandpa’s ingenuity. He had taken parts of a slip bobber and made a type of splint, then wrapped it all with the many layers of duct tape. God bless the man. I found myself wondering how much he fished with the rod after the repair job. Did it work and he caught fish, or did he feel the way it wanted to bend at the break and retire the rod to its place in the garage? I’ll probably never know for sure.

I currently find myself with a dilemma. The reel is obviously still in great shape and very usable. The rod, however, is not. After asking some of the crew on a Facebook group called Fiberglass Fly Rod Fans, I thought about trying to fix it. However, Shakespeare Wonderods can easily be found in pretty good shape online and replacing the rod seems like a much better option for me at this point. I very well might purchase a replacement rod and hang Grandpa’s fly rod on the wall, minus the duct tape. Or maybe I’ll rewrap it the way he had it. Who knows. All I do know is that I miss the old man dearly and I will never forget the day I taught him to cast a fly rod.

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