7 Best Bamboo Fly Rods (2023 Buyer’s Guide)

The best bamboo fly rods on the market today. We will show you everything you need to know before getting one! Check out the article!

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In this post, I’ll be sharing my personal pick for the best bamboo fly rods in 2023.

I love bamboo fly rods and I’ve been fishing with cane for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I’ve fished dozens of bamboo rods and I’ve casted, researched, shopped, and rented many more in my years as a professional fly fishing guide.

Quick-Look: Best Bamboo Rods

★ #1 Best Bamboo Fly Rod Overall: R.L. Winston ★

In this post, I’ll introduce you to the very best bamboo fly fishing rods on the market in 2023, as well as more affordable options.

To prepare for this post, I spent a day on a small trout stream testing a few of my bamboo rods. What a fulfilling experience. After that day, it dawned on me that bamboo remains a viable rod material, especially for trout.

Note: This post has been updated to include new bamboo fly rods that we’ve reviewed and tested in 2023.

What is a Bamboo Fly Rod?

Bamboo became a popular fly rod material around the mid-1800s. Before that, rod builders used wood, which tended to break easily, especially in the tip section.

A bamboo rod is made by laminating split (hence split the name split cane) portions together.

A set of bamboo fly rods

The 7 Best Bamboo Fly Rods in 2023

In this section, we’ll look at some of the best bamboo fly rods on the market today. These rods are all available in the 3 – 6 weight range and are ideal for trout fishing.

1. R.L. Winston Bamboo Rod:
Best Bamboo Fly Rod Overall

  • Action: Slow
  • Lengths: 6′ to 9′ depending on the line weight rating
  • Available line weight: 3 to 10
  • Pieces: 2 piece
The R.L. Winston Bamboo Rod on a table with all pieces, the rod sock and the rod tube

In my opinion, Winston is one of the best dry fly rods on the market. The RL Winston Bamboo Rod is no exception. Yes, they are pricey, but they are very special, indeed.

All their bamboo rods are available in either 2 or 3 pieces, with the latter allowing more portability. It features an agate stripper guide and titanium-plated snake guides.

Testing the casting of the R.L Winston Bamboo Fly Rod on a lake on a windy day.

The reel seat hardware is nickel silver, and you can choose between Lacewood, Box Elder, or Zebrawood insert.

At the time of writing, this rod wasn’t available on Amazon so I recommend picking it up at the well-known online fly shop Trident instead. They still offer free delivery and returns.

Why We Chose it

The RL Winston Bamboo Rod is just a beautiful rod. It made our list as the very best bamboo fly rod in 2023 because it comes in 3-pieces (rare for bamboo rods) and casts like a dream. It’s not cheap, but it’s built with super-high-quality cane and hardware.

VIEW ON TRIDENT

2. Orvis 1856:
Runner-Up Best Bamboo Fly Rod

  • Action: Medium
  • Lengths: 8′
  • Available line weight: 5wt
  • Pieces: 3 pieces

The Orvis 1856 Bamboo Fly Rod is an 8-foot, 3-piece bamboo rod for 5-weight line. The 1856 is made for the avid bamboo fly angler with $5,000 burning a hole in his pocket.

This rod is the epitome of modern design married with traditional rod materials and philosophy. This rod is a dream to cast and it looks gorgeous.

The Orvis 1856 fly rod on the beach

With hollow cane leading back to a nickel silver downlocking reelseat with a maple burl insert and a 6.5-inch full wells cork grip that feels great, this one is hard to beat when it comes to aesthetics, ergonomics, and feel in hand.

This rod has just the right flex and unlike many bamboo rods in the 5-weight category, you can easily upline or underline this rod to change the casting stroke and it handles both variations beautifully.

Why We Chose it

The Orvis 1856 Bamboo Fly Rod made this list as the runner-up best bamboo fly rod because it just casts so nice, feels so light in hand, and is incredibly versatile, allowing you to overload the reel or underload it depending on your casting preference.

VIEW ON TRIDENT

3. Orvis Penn’s Creek:
Best Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod

  • Action: Medium-fast
  • Length: 7′
  • Available line weight: 4
  • Pieces: 2-piece
The Orvis Penn's Creek bamboo fly rod on a table in the shop

Orvis has 3 bamboo fly, rod models. The Penn’s Creek Full Flex rod is the lightest one in the range and is built specifically with the small stream trout angler in mind.

The rod has a surprisingly fast action, which allows the angler to form tight loops and generate high line speeds.

If you’re fishing into heavy wind or with heavy streamers, the rod performs equally well with a 5-weight line.

The Penn’s Creek is hand-built in Manchester, VT. For an additional $45, you can personalize the rod, making this near-perfect bamboo rod even more special.

Why We Chose it

The Penn’s Creek Full Flex rod made this list as the best vintage bamboo fly rod because we absolutely love the traditional look and feel of this rod. For traditionalist bamboo fly anglers, this will not disappoint.

VIEW AT ORVIS

4. Thomas & Thomas Sextant:
Best Saltwater Bamboo Fly Rod

  • Action: Medium
  • Lengths: 8’3″ to 8’5″ depending on the line weight rating
  • Available line weight: 8-11
  • Pieces: 2-piece
reviewing and testing the Thomas & Thomas Sextant bamboo fly rod on a saltwater fishing trip

Thomas & Thomas makes some great bamboo fly rods and their Sextant Bamboo Fly Rod is easily the best saltwater bamboo rod on the market (there aren’t even a lot of saltwater bamboo fly rods out there).

These rods come at an incredibly high premium. The Sextant Series is not cheap, coming in at nearly $5,000, but if you’re looking for a saltwater bamboo rod, then you can’t beat this thing.

The Thomas & Thomas Sextant fly rod laying on the beach

This bamboo rod comes with a salt-safe, milled aluminum reel seat and a comfortable Full Wells grip with a fighting butt for those bigger saltwater prey.

All the rods come with an aluminum rod tube with beautifully detailed brass fittings. The Classic Series is hand-built in the USA.

Why We Chose it

The T&T Sextant Bamboo Fly Rod is the best saltwater fly rod on the market because it has a surprisingly strong backbone and feels great to cast. You really can’t compete with this rod in the saltwater bamboo category.

VIEW ON T&T

5. Zhu Bamboo Fly Rod:
Best Blank

  • Action: Medium
  • Lengths: 7’6″
  • Available line weight: 5
  • Pieces: 2-piece

Zhu Bamboo Fly Rod makes some of the best budget-friendly bamboo fly rods. For only $199, you get a 2-piece bamboo rod with a spare tip, a cloth rod sock, and a PVC tube.

If you’ve always wanted a bamboo fly rod but can’t afford the premium options, this is your best option.

VIEW ON AMAZON

Why We Chose it

Zhu Bamboo Blanks are very affordable and they come with a spare tip, a cloth rod sock, and a PVC tube making the complete kit perfect for the bamboo fly fishing enthusiast who wants to build their own rod at home without breaking the bank.

6. Headwaters Deluxe:
Best Budget Bamboo Fly Rod

  • Action: Medium
  • Lengths: 6’6″ to 8′ depending on the line weight rating
  • Available line weight: 3 to 6
  • Pieces: 2 or 3 piece
My headwaters bamboo fly rod

Myself and the team have fished almost all of the rods that the guys at Headwaters produce and as far as budget bamboo rods go, we love the feel, castability, and build quality of these rods.

Headwaters Bamboo aim to make bamboo fly rods more affordable and put these fantastic rods in the everyday fly angler’s hand. There are 6 models in their Deluxe range, which is perfectly suitable for all trout fishing scenarios.

The Headwaters Deluxe Series Bamboo Fly Rod comes with a rod sock and is shipped in a Cordura covered rod tube. Headwaters also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re unhappy with the rod’s performance, you can send it back, no questions asked.

VIEW ON HEADWATERS

Why We Chose it

Myself and the team have a few Headwaters Bamboo Fly Rods and we chose the Headwaters Deluxe Series Bamboo Fly Rod as the best budget bamboo fly rod because it’s just got that great feel that you expect from Headwaters without costing too much.

7. Scott SC:
Best Split Cane Bamboo Fly Rod

  • Action: Medium-fast
  • Lengths: 7’2″ to 7’7″
  • Available line weight: 3 and 4
  • Pieces: 3 piece

The Scott SC Split Cane Fly Rods are for the discerning fly angler who wants something out of the ordinary. They have partnered with master bamboo fly rod builder, Naoki Hashimoto, to build these striking rods.

The Scott SC fly rod on river gravel outside after testing.

Naoki flames the cane three times which results in a higher recovery speed and faster action. The three-piece construction further advances the action to be surprisingly fast. The result is a bamboo fly rod, unlike most others, that is light in hand and pleasantly fast.

Why We Chose it

The Scott SC Split Cane Fly Rod made our list as the best split cane rod on the market in 2023 because it’s made with… well… the best split cane blank of any rod on this list or on the market. The blank just feels great in hand. It’s super light, durable, and has the perfect action.

VIEW ON TRIDENT

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Fly Rod Reviews

What Are The Best Bamboo Fly Rods For Sale?

These are the best bamboo fly rods for sale in 2023

Where Is The Best Place To Buy Bamboo Fly Rods?

You likely came to this post after searching “Best Bamboo Fly Rods” in Google. This tells me that you are probably looking for bamboo rods for sale on line so you can have one delivered to your door. Here are a couple of the best places to do that:

Amazon

Yes, Amazon also has some great bamboo fly rods. They also have super quick shipping on most fly fishing gear (2-days or less) and they often offer free returns on your products so if you’re not happy for any reason, you can send it back.

Trident Fly Fishing

Trident Fly Fishing is the United States’ largest online retailer for fly fishing gear and they have an excellent selection of bamboo fly rods as well as lots of other kit. They also offer free shipping on almost all orders and free returns if you’re not satisfied.

Plus they have better fly angler support from real professionals, as opposed to the sellers on Amazon.

Orvis

Orvis has been selling fly fishing equipment since 1856 and these days, they have a wide selection of online fly fishing gear.

Your Local Fly Shop

Bamboo fly rods are a pretty specialized item, so your local fly shop might not have any in stock, but it’s worth having a look.

Are Bamboo Fly Rods Worth The Money?

Bamboo fly rods are typically very expensive, but they are worth the money if you enjoy slow-action, traditional feeling rods or are a bamboo rod enthusiest.

The quality and fishability of bamboo rods vary greatly. This is because the bamboo material’s quality and the craftsman’s ability play such a significant role. That’s why, in my opinion, many anglers have a warped idea of a bamboo fly rod.

A low-cost mass-made bamboo fly rod will feel like a wet noddle in hand. However, a well-made cane rod feels much more lively and fishy.

Bamboo Fly Rod Makers

In this section, we’ll have a look at some of the best bamboo fly fishing rod builders today. Yes, compared to carbon and fiberglass rods, split cane rods are not produced in great numbers. However, this magical craft is still alive and well.

Orvis Bamboo Fly Rods

Charles F. Orvis founded The Orvis Company in 1856 in Manchester, Vermont. The primary rod material back then was bamboo. With such a long rod building history, Orvis has played a significant role in refining the bamboo rod building craft.

Today, more than 150 years later, Orvis still builds some of the best bamboo fishing rods on the market. These rods are dedicated freshwater quivers in the 4 – 6wt range and all handbuilt in the USA.

Thomas & Thomas Bamboo Fly Rods

The Thomas & Thomas rod company was founded in 1969 by Tom Dorsey and Tom Maxwell. They specialized in building high quality and performance bamboo fly rods.

It wasn’t until 1977 that they started building the first T&T graphite rods.

Until today, Thomas & Thomas are some of the leading bamboo fly rods in the world. They offer incredible quality, ridiculously good looks, and they fish well. T&T provides a wide range of bamboo rods, which range from a 6’6″ 3wt to an 8’5″ 12wt.

R.L. Winston Bamboo Fly Rods

R.L. Winston was founded in 1929 by Rober Winther and Lew Stoner in San Fransisco. One of the significant technical advances they made was patenting their hollow fluted design.

These internal rounded flutes produced rods that were both lightweight and powerful, which resulted in various distance casting records.

Winston Bamboo rods are not cheap. New, they will cost you anything north of $3000 and are all built in the US. The line weight rating of the cane rods available from them ranges from 3 – 10wt.

Headwaters Bamboo Fly Rods

Headwaters Bamboo Fly Rods has been around since 2002. They aim to make good quality split cane rods accessible to the general angler. They are considerably cheaper than the premium American-made bamboo rods.

Headwater bamboo rods offer four different rod families, which gives you access to 14 different tapers. Unfortunately, at this price, the rods are all imported from China.

Scott Bamboo Fly Rods

Most of you would be familiar with the Scott rod company. It has been around since 1974 and builds some of the best carbon fiber rods. Scott does not build their bamboo rods themselves. Instead, they partner with some of the world’s top split cane rod builders.

For their newest split cane rods, Scott has partnered with bamboo master artisan Naoki Hashimoto from Japan. These rods are not cheap but are some of the best in the business.

Common Bamboo Fly Rod Lengths & Weights

Now that we know a little more about the history and material behind bamboo fly rods, let’s look at the rods themselves. Bamboo has been used for rod building for well over 150 years.

The combination of line weight ratings and lengths that you’ll find are near endless. This section focuses on modern bamboo rods in rod weights suitable for most trout fishing scenarios.

3 Weight 6’6″

A 3 weight 6’6″ bamboo rod is the perfect choice for the dry fly purist. This rod is ideal for small streams with overgrown banks and overhead trees. The short length allows the blank to load effortlessly at distances under 30 feet.

Bamboo Fly Rod and Fly Box

In some cases, I like to underline a three-weight bamboo rod. I do this because the rod already has a slower action and a lighter weight line allows for more delicate presentations.

The ideal line for this rod is a 2 or 3 weight double taper floating line.

4 Weight 7′

A 7 foot 4 weight bamboo rod is ideal for most small to medium-sized rivers. It can present a dry fly delicately yet has more “oomph” than the three weight, which allows you to fish small streamers and nymphs.

It is still relatively short, which makes it perfectly suited for tight bank fishing. The short length also makes it easy to form narrow loops.

5 Weight 7’6″

As is the case with carbon and fiberglass rods, a five weight bamboo fly rod is the most versatile. Five weight bamboo rods are available in various lengths; however, the 7’6″ is the most popular.

It is long enough for longer casts yet can be used on a boat or in tight situations with ease. The short length also allows the angler to load it much faster in the cast.

This bamboo rod is perfectly suited for most trout fishing scenarios. It can cast large dry flies, streamers, and nymphs with ease, yet the soft tip protects thin tippets well.

6 Weight 8′

Get to a 6 weight, and now you have a bamboo fly rod more suited to streamer fishing. At 8′, the rod can deliver longer casts and has the backbone to handle large flies and bigger fish. This rod is ideal for swinging large buggers for large brown trout.

Other Features of the Best Bamboo Rods

So, what other features do you need to look out for when selecting the best bamboo fly rod? Below, I go through some critical considerations:

Material

Although all cane rods are made from bamboo, not all bamboo is created equally. Bamboo is a natural material, and with that comes inherent variations in density, flexibility, and durability.

The bamboo’s quality in the rod plays a prominent role in the rod’s eventual performance.

Bamboo Fly Rod Material

The first popular bamboo that was used came from India. This bamboo, referred to as Calcutta bamboo, was comparatively weak as it had a thin outer layer that provides the rod’s strength.

The most popular material to use, even these days, is called Tonkin bamboo. It is native to China and has a much thicker outer layer, resulting in a strong and durable rod.

Pieces

Most bamboo fly rods under 9 foot long are 2-piece rods. Some manufacturers that make longer rods do offer 3 piece variants. This attribute influences the portability of the rod the most.

This, in my opinion, is one of the biggest reasons to select a carbon rod over a bamboo rod.

Action

Most bamboo fly rods have a medium to slow action, and that’s why many anglers don’t prefer them. However, casting a cheap bamboo fly rod and forming an opinion based on that is like driving a series 2 Land Rover and saying cars suck.

High-quality bamboo fly rods are entirely different than cheap versions and have a much more progressive and pleasing action.

Balance

Bamboo material is weighty when compared to carbon fiber, which results in a heavy rod. To the weight-weeny, this might be a significant negative point; however, in my opinion, the weight adds stability and control. Ultimately, this translates into a more accurate cast.

A vintage bamboo fly rod on a streamside

Remember that you’ll need a heavier reel and line combination to balance the rod well.

Cost

Bamboo fly rods vary significantly in cost. Many of the cheaper options on the market are manufactured in the east. These rods offer a great way to get into bamboo fly rod fishing; however, they do not have the performance and finishes that the premium rods have.

Why Choose Bamboo Fly Rods?

So, if bamboo fly rods are produced in such small numbers, are generally more expensive, and carbon outperforms it on most levels, why would you choose one?

In this section, I’ll share my thought with you on why bamboo rods are still around.

Au Naturel

Bamboo fly rods are made from natural and sustainable materials. Yes, I know that they are glued together, and the rod has accessories made from other unnatural materials.

But, if you cast a bamboo rod, you do get the feeling that you’re one step closer to nature.

Craftsmanship

If you’re an angler who appreciates the finer things in life, bamboo fly rods are for you. These rods are made on a small scale by dedicated artisans.

Some bamboo fly rods may take a single rod builder weeks to produce, hence the price.

A Part of Your Legacy

You don’t buy a bamboo fly rod to replace it with a newer model two years later. No, split cane rods are meant to stay with an angler for more than his lifetime.

I know some anglers who still fish with the bamboo fly rod their fathers handed down to them.

Bamboo Rods Allow You to Slow Down

Bamboo fly rods are not meant to be high-performance competition tools. No, they are aimed at the angler who appreciates taking his/her time on the water and considers every cast.

Bamboo rods slot in well with the angler who enjoys their surroundings and has a deep love for our sport.

Bamboo Fly Rod Blanks

If you’ve always wanted to build your own fly rod, why not build a bamboo fly rod? The blanks available from China are relatively cheap, even when compared with graphite blanks. There is a wide variety of tapers available.

One of the best options is the range of Zhu blanks. They are the same blanks that are used in the Zhu bamboo rods mentioned in the Best Bamboo Fly Rods section above. The blank comes with a spare tip and is shipped in a rod sock.

Vintage Bamboo Fly Rods

Vintage bamboo rods are, loosely, may either be collector’s items or standard “older” rods. The collector’s items are usually associated with specific rod builders from a certain era or brand and come at a very high premium.

The cheaper vintage rods offer an excellent option to buy your first bamboo rod.

Used Bamboo Fly Rods

The used market is an excellent way to pick up a bargain on a bamboo fly rod. Used bamboo fly rods regularly appear on secondhand sites, but at reduced prices.

Yes, you might not get exactly what you want or when you want it, but you never know when you’ll find that hidden gem.

Super Basic Used Bamboo Fly Rod

Places to keep your eye on for used bamboo fly rods are sights such as eBay and Vintage Fly Tackle.

Affordable Bamboo Fly Rods

High-end bamboo fly rods are incredibly beautiful and special tools. But, how many of us can afford to spend $3000+ on a fishing rod?

Affordable bamboo fly rods have the same inherent soul as the premium offerings but get fished more often as more anglers have access to them.

Two of our favorite affordable bamboo fly rods are:

  • Headwaters Deluxe Series bamboo fly rod
  • Zhu Bamboo fly rods

Fishing Bamboo Fly Rods

Bamboo fly rods are designed for freshwater use. Yes, there are companies who make split cane rods up to 12wts, but we won’t be discussing these. A bamboo fly rod has a medium and smooth action.

This means that the rod flexes deep into the blank during the cast. This flex slows the line speed down and provides more feedback to the angler.

So, what does this mean in terms of fishing? Well, in short, bamboo makes for a damn fine dry fly rod. You’re able to make very delicate presentations. Also, the soft tip protects fine tippets well.

A bamboo fly rod is an ideal dry fly rod for trout.

Why Are Bamboo Fly Rods So Expensive?

I get asked this question very often. The answer is quite simple. Unlike graphite or fiberglass rods, bamboo fly rods are completely built by hand.

It takes several years for the craftsman to develop and hone their skills, which you also pay for in a sense.

Also, it takes a single craftsman up to two weeks to build one bamboo fly rod. Consider the cost of living and the standard hourly rate for an artisan of this level when shopping for American-made bamboo fly rods.

Then, you’ll understand why bamboo fly rods are so expensive.

How To Build a Bamboo Fly Rod

Building your own bamboo fly rod might seem like a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be. There is a plethora of information covering this topic online. Also, you can buy all the individual components from various online stores.

Probably the hardest part of building a bamboo fly rod is the blank itself. You will need the correct bamboo, called Tonkin. Then you’ll need the right tools for the job.

The split sections must fit into each other perfectly, otherwise the rod will be fragile and useless. If you don’t want to construct your own blank, you can order one online.

Bamboo Fly Rods FAQs

Where can I find bamboo fly rods for sale?

Amazon, Trident Fly Fishing, Orvis, and Thomas & Thomas online stores are the best places to find bamboo fly rods for sale online. Or you can check your local fly shop.

Are bamboo fly rods the best?

When it comes to traditional fly fishing rods, bamboo fly rods are considered the best by most anglers. This is how fly rods were first made and the super soft action makes catching fish a lot more fun with a bamboo fly rod. They are also the most expensive rods on the market.

What is the best size for a bamboo fly rod?

The most popular size for a bamboo fly rod is likely the 5-weight 7’6″. I have one of these in my arsenal, and most bamboo anglers want to have this size as well.

What is the best bamboo for a fly fishing rod?

Tonkin cane and split cane are generally considered the best bamboo to make fly rods with thanks to their long dense fibers, maneuverability, and durability.

What are the most famous bamboo fly rod makers?

Orvis, Thomas and Thomas, Scott, and R.L Winstin are the most well-known bamboo fly rod manufacturers on the market.

Do bamboo fly rods break easily?

No. Bamboo fly rods do not break easier than rods made with other materials like fiberglass and graphite. This is thanks to the malleable properties and dense fibers of high-quality bamboo cane.

Why do people like bamboo fly rods?

Most traditionalist fly anglers prefer bamboo rods for their vintage feel and nostalgia for the sport. They also have a very slow action and mend close to the handle, protecting lighter tippets, easing the casting stroke, and adding to the feel of the fight of a fish.

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Conclusion

I hope that this article showed you that bamboo rods are still alive and well. They are excellent trout catching tools. They are ideal for the angler who likes to slow down and appreciate the fishing experience more than catching high numbers.

Please leave any comments or questions at the bottom of the page. We would love to hear your thoughts on bamboo fly rods and if you think they’re still a viable option.

Until next time.

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Pierre is a fly fishing guide and professional photographer who has guided and hosted trips for top fly fishing outfitters. Since being introduced to fly fishing over 21 years ago, he has travelled, fished and guided across the globe. He has extensive knowledge on specific gear and tackle selection for various salt- and freshwater species. Some of his writing work includes blogposts for Alphonse Fishing Company and African Waters.

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