In Montana, the Art of Crafting Fly-Fishing Rods

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with journey restrictions in place worldwide, we launched a brand new sequence — The World Through a Lens — wherein photojournalists assist transport you, just about, to some of our planet’s most stunning and intriguing locations. This week, Janie Osborne shares a group of photographs from Montana.

I dwell just a few miles away from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a customized fly rod store in Bozeman, Mont. But coming into the workshop feels a little bit like stepping off a airplane abroad.

I stroll in and take an excellent go searching. It’s a spot with tons of transferring elements, the place craftsmen make reel seats from rosewood, inscribe calligraphy with gold ink, and wrap shiny agate guides on bamboo, utilizing garnet thread and further fantastic brass wire.

The language that circulates round the store catches my consideration. When learn aloud, customized orders rival espresso-shop vernacular of their breadth, pace and rhythmic effectivity: “I’ll have a nine-foot, five-weight, four-piece graphite rod in clear blank with a Western grip.”

The store’s house owners, Matt Barber and Joel Doub, lifetime fishermen who bought the firm in 2017, translate the shorthand for me.

Nine toes, Mr. Barber says, is the size of the rod — which, amongst different issues, impacts line management and casting efficiency. “Five-weight” refers to a system of measurement particular to the line weight of fly rods. (Weights between 4 and 6, for instance, are perfect for trout fishing.)

A “four-piece” rod breaks down into 4 items, which is nice for journey. “Graphite” is the lightest materials from which T.M.R. rods are constructed. “Clear” refers to the rod’s coating, an aesthetic selection. And “Western grip” is brief for “Western cigar handle,” which has a tapered form just like a cigar.

As is true when touring to a international nation, mastering the language is as necessary as understanding the customs and ethos of a spot. Alas, errors, atonement and self-betterment are half of the journey. So it’s at the store, too; it’s how I really feel about my use of the “p” phrase.

“Approximately what number of poles do you make in a single yr?” is the type of query I initially ask. Another: “How lengthy does it take to construct one pole from starting to finish?”

I study that T.M.R. goals to make 250 rods a yr, and that it normally takes about six weeks, from starting to finish, to construct one. (Bamboo rods take nearer to 3 or 4 months.)

But as Ric Plante, a full-time bamboo rod maker, playfully warns: “Never say pole. A pole is what you employ to carry up your tent.”

I’m a contract photographer in Montana, a state the place the complete inhabitants — simply over 1 million — is unfold over 147,zero40 sq. miles. Niche pictures isn’t all that widespread.

In the previous 15 years, I’ve photographed the whole lot from glamour photographs of connoisseur sausages in Billings to hobbit homes in Trout Creek, oil rigs in neighboring North Dakota, a giant paper clip across the border in Canada, a vast property near Livingston from the vantage of a doors-off helicopter, an underground coal mine in Roundup, the Sandra (a cataract boat used to navigate the Grand Canyon), President Trump at the airport in Bozeman, and, more recently, Gov. Steve Bullock and the National Institutes of Health lab that’s conducting important Covid-19 research in Hamilton.

In short, over the years, photographing the unfamiliar has become, well, familiar.

T.M.R.’s handles are made of cork that’s sourced from Portugal. The multi-step process of crafting a single handle includes a lot of inspecting, sorting, sanding, boring, gluing and clamping that culminates at the lathe, where the handle is shaped with six different grits of sandpaper.

There are usually between 40 and 50 rods in different stages of production at the shop. While the glue is drying for two days between the cork rings of one handle, a spigot ferrule — a separate piece that is used to join two sections of a rod — is being fitted for another, and strips of bamboo are being hollowed on the Morgan hand mill, a tool used specifically for bamboo rod building. (The mill stands as a monument to the company’s previous owner, Tom Morgan, who was a fisherman, guide, rod designer and guru.)

Wrapping, coating, inspecting also all happen in concert with each other. The ultimate aim with each rod, Mr. Barber and Mr. Doub say, is to achieve the desired action, or the feel of the rod when casting.

Spin fishing, the type of fishing that most of us are familiar with, involves using a heavy lure with a relatively weightless line. When casting, the weight of the lure is what propels the line. Fly fishermen use a heavy line with a relatively weightless fly. “This combination necessitates a focus on casting,” Mr. Doub explains, “because the cast is what moves the fly to the fish.” (He emphasizes that this was a very basic explanation of the differences.)

There are lots of rivers in which to fly fish in Montana: the Madison, the Gallatin, the Blackfoot, the Flathead, the Missouri, the Yellowstone. A trout that is 20 inches and up is considered to be a trophy size. (There’s a 20-inch fish mark on each T.M.R. rod to measure if the occasion arises.)

“One thing about Montana,” Mr. Barber says, “is if there’s a moving body of water, there is probably a trout in it.”

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