The Judge's bamboo by Kathy Scott

Originally written by me and some friends 2002-04 for the Virtual Fly Shop, Flyfisherman Magazine Online. Feel free to discuss the series and if you would like to become a member all you have to do is post something. The Cracker Barrel has been published in book form with the limited first edition hard cover sold out and a paperback version will be available early 2011.

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The Judge's bamboo by Kathy Scott

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Welcome to the Crackerbarrel, I got a nice Bolivian Ceneproc coffee from
Matt's Organic Wood Fire Roasted and have a special edition of the
Crackerbarrel for you today written by my friend, and fellow or the
cane, Kathy Scott who has authored several books.


Kathy sent me this article that was written for Tom Helgeson's Midwest Fly Fishing magazine, it has a lot of good things in it about "the Judge", author,
and Michigan Justice, Robert Traver. I figured this would be a great
addition to the series and will allow me to segue into a story about my
own Kushner rod, sit back, relax and enjoy .......




Trout
Magic : The Judge's Bamboo by Kathy Scott

 

 

        In
the Upper Peninsula, they just call
him “The Judge”.

        Professionally,
he was John Donaldson
Voelker, Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. In literary and
cinematic
circles, he was Robert Traver, the author of Anatomy of a Murder,
although fly
fishers know that he also wrote such classics as Anatomy of a Fisherman
and
Trout Magic. By his death in 1991, he had established a legacy which
made him a
Michigan icon, a friend to anglers who knew him, intriguing to the rest.

        “Here's
something interesting,” Wes
Cooper started to say in his basement bamboo rod shop in Fremont,
Michigan.
With Wes, something interesting can cover a broad range of topics. At
nearly
eighty, he's touched a lot of Michigan's fly fishing history. He has a
copy of
a letter asking him to help start a new group called Trout Unlimited.
It's
tucked in a box in his shop along with a mock-up of the proposed
magazine and
the premier issue of Trout, T.U.'s eventual national publication.
Although Wes
makes split bamboo fly rods, 238 of them and counting, he is also known
nationwide for his skill in their restoration and repair.

        He
continued, “I just finished working
on a Kushner and a Leonard."

        Any
cane rod made by Morris Kushner, the
eccentric Michigan machinist and the originator of a fishing lure known
as the
Kushner spoon, would be interesting in its own right; so would a rod by
H.L.Leonard, the company named for its 1860's originator in Maine which
moved
to the Catskills mountains of New York. But these two rods carried a
unique
legacy. They once belonged to John D. Voelker. They had both been used
hard.

        “The
Judge wasn't known for his
meticulous care of his rods,” Wes smiled with the characteristic
affection for
Voelker that seems universal in his Home State.






        As
a rodmaker and restorer, Wes would
rather see cane fished than coddled, lucky for Ernie Wood, the Judge's
son-in-law. Ernie
“Woody” Wood married the Judge's youngest daughter, Grace, in 1975, and
retired
to the Judge's former home on Deer Lake in 2001. They have the 160 acres
with
the Judge's cabin, where they've just put in a new bridge. Two years
ago, they
were exploring a local antique shop when the owner mentioned that he'd
seen
some rods that belonged to the Judge. With some digging, Woody
discovered that
they were in the hands of Bill Scarffe, a near neighbor with ties to his
father-in-law. Bill is the nephew of Henry "Hank" Scarffe, one of the
Judge's best fishing buddies. In Anatomy of a Fisherman,
Voelker wrote that Hank was "a resolute lad who would cheerfully fish in
a
cistern if he lacked water, and moreover take a trout!"




        The
rods, though broken, were for sale. “Wes
Cooper is a great guy, and the best
tip scarfer in the world,” according to Ernie. With some repairs,
including
scarfing (repairing a tip by making a new section of rod and joining it
seamlessly with the remaining portion of the tip), replacing the grips,
and
restoring the finish, the Judge's rods have come back to life, a Morris
Kushner
8-ft for 5-wt Excellerine and a Leonard 8-ft 6-inch 5/6-wt Tournament.









        Like
his late father-in-law, Woody
fishes the rods.  “The Kushner is out
on my truck right
now,” Woody beams. “I fish it a lot. It's really a rocket.” Once two of the Judge's rods
re-surfaced, others followed.





        With
old school promptness, Wes had the
two repaired and back to the Ishpeming post office in an amazing two
weeks. On
his way home with the Judge's revitalized rods, Woody noticed an aging
neighbor, once a friend of the Judge's, out in his yard. He pulled in to
show
him the rods.





Right
across from the Hank Scarffe home lives Lou Rosenbaum. He also used to
have one
of the Judge's Kushners, he told Woody, but he had sold it. He did still
have a
Leonard that the Judge had given him. Since he was in his eighties, Lou
thought
that rod would be better off with Woody, who continued home with an
additional
Leonard, a 8-ft 6-inch with one tip. He promptly called his nephew, Adam
Tsaloff, the Judge's grandson, who is an avid angler. Adam said to hold
on to the
rod before sending it to Wes for repair; he'd cleaned an assortment of
odd tips
out of the Judge's basement after his death, and Traverse City rodmaker
Bob
Summers had thought one was a Leonard. Eventually, the rod and both tips
were
in Wes' hands, where he found that second tip a perfect match and
reunited the
two tips with the rest of the second old Leonard after thirty years
apart.





        “I
think a lot of makers gave the Judge
rods, “ Wes speculates. “Some of them were just nice guys who made rods
but
we'll never know their names. Kushner and the Judge had something
special
going.”





        Although
the Judge, as Robert Traver,
wrote in Trout Magic of his affection for bamboo in general, his "dreamy
prewar Granger", his "gallant old Paul Young", he offers an
entire chapter to his friend Morris Kushner, "Morris the Rodmaker."



        “So
far,” says Woody, “I've located five
Kushner's which had belonged to the Judge. The first was that one he
gave to
Hank Scarffe. It's inscribed '1964 custom made for my dear friend John
D. Voelker'.
It was still in a cellophane
wrap; Kushner didn't believe in rod socks. The second was Lou's, which
was
sold.”





        The
third Kushner rod to surface was one
the Judge gave to his friend Ed Lotspeich. According to Woody, Ed worked
for
Proctor and Gamble out of Cincinnati, and was as politically far right
as the
Judge was left, but they met in the middle of the stream. In Trout
Magic, the
Judge wrote that their "clashing swords turn magically into fairy bamboo
wands as we wordlessly fish hour after blissful hour..."





        This
rod is now in the hands, Woody told
me, of Maine collector Sante “Banjo” Giuliani. In
the remarkably small world that is fly fishing, I know Banjo, and I've
cast
that rod at a rodmakers' gathering. General consensus among the
rodmakers present,
who all took a turn, was that it was a great rod for hauling.





        The
fourth of the Judge's Kushner rods
belonged to Ted Bogdan, who owned the local Holiday Inn. He laid it on
the hood
of his car, was distracted by a conversation, and drove off, losing it.





        The
fifth belongs to Adam, the son of
the Judge's eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

        Along
with the Kushners, Woody also has
those two of the Judge's Leonards (one from Scarffe, one from Rosenbaum)
as
well as a Sam Carlson cane rod.

        “John
gave me a Carlson, made for him in
1962, which had a bad tip. I gave it to Adam when I was away from
fishing, but
since I've gotten back into it, he gave it back to me. Before Carlson
died, I
sent it to him for a new tip, but he replaced the mid section for free,
too. He
said it should never have gone out of his shop.”

        Woody
paused in relating the story, as
if in thinking about the late Sam Carlson, something else had occured to
him.
“You know, that's just the kind of great guys those guys were, like Wes
is
now.”





        Wes
Cooper, Sam Carlson, before them,
Morris Kushner. In Trout Magic, the Judge includes a note from Kushner's
son,
writing of his father's endless care in his craftsmanship, his pursuit
of his
dream of perfection. His fly rods, the Judge's admitted treasures, were a
labor
of love. Certainly, all of these men would appreciate the effort to get
them
back in reach of a trout stream.







        Woody
has only one regret about having
the rods repaired. “John had a habit of
sticking his flies
in the cork of his grip and nearly destroying it. I asked Wes to replace
the
grips on the first two rods I sent him. They look great, but it was the
wrong
thing to do. I kept the original grip on the third.”





        The
Judge's name came up again later in
a place that is another icon of the Upper Peninsula, the Marbles Knife
Company.
Marbles knives, as well as their small brass compasses pinned to the red
plaid
of hunting seasons long past, share a history and some of the same
players with
the Judge, outdoors people who knew him well. The present retail outlet
owner
is cane rodmaker Jim Bureau, who was chatting with his old fishing buddy
who
had worked his nineteenth summer as a bartender and grew to know Judge
Voelker
fairly well.





        “The
Judge,” he told us, with that
characteristic Michigan affection, “wasn't known for how well he treated
his
cane rods.”

 

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