The story behind the story of my Kushner

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 Canefather
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The story behind the story of my Kushner


Post by fishnbanjo »

I have been helping folks with their bamboo rods for a lot of years and on occasion a rod will come along that I personally don't know a great deal about. Some of these rods are earlier than 1910 and slow casters, I generally will contact a few folks I know that truly love the rods from this ERA and can do justice to explaining them and giving an actual fair evaluation of the rods condition, fishability and value. The other group would be rods by makers I am not used to seeing or handling and for those times I seek out someone who is familiar with the rods and their values an such was the case when I received an email about what became my Kushner.

Morris Kushner was an amateur rod maker in the sense he built rods and gave them as gifts to folks who enjoyed them but not in the sense of his craftsmanship for anyone fortunate to inspect or own a Kushner can attest to. Kushner became well known after he met author Robert Traver aka the Judge (see the segment written by Kathy Scott in my book the Cracker Barrel to learn more about the Judge and Kushner)  and became chapter 13 Morris the rodmaker in Trout Magic. Chapter 11 in Trout Magic was about a fishing companion of the Judge, his name was Ed Loptspeich aka the soapman, Ed worked for Proctor and Gamble and everything he and the Judge saw in life was 180 degrees from each other save their love for fly fishing for trout which is pretty much what they did when they got together for a week or two each season.

As I said earlier I received an email from a Mr. Loptspeich concerning selling a Kushner rod belonging to his father and was I interested in the rod. I told the gent that I was always interested in bamboo be it to talk about them, look at them, cast them or buy them as each usually tells me a story.

By telling me a story I mean the from the moment I first see the tube my eyes wander over it looking for dents, labels, originally placed by the maker or those affixed by their past owner,  scratches and even airline shipping labels as they give me a brief idea about the rod I'm about to look at and its owner. I then unscrew the cap and give the tube a whiff and that too tells me something as I expect a lovely perfume of poplin and varnish but am often given one that is musty smell signaling the rod had been put away wet or stored in extreme dampness.

I next inspect the rod for any damage, signs of repair, especially an invisible or repair wrap, the condition of the varnish, reel seat and cork grip further tell me how the rod had been enjoyed and must be done before even thinking of jointing the rod sections. Once all this is accomplished I inspect the ferrules for any cracks and loose fit then once all sections are jointed I flex the rod to get a preliminary feel of its attributes, this is in no way the same as casting but it can immediately tell me if the sections have a click, a creak or if the rod is a slow rod that personally does not interest me and I would have the person contact one of the folks I mentioned earlier.

Flexing also gives me a rather quick idea of about where to start in choosing a line to cast the rod with where I'll then open up my reel bag and begin with my first choice of line, string up the rod and play with about 20' of line an leader prior to actually really casting the rod. Once comfortable that I have the correct line for the rod the casting session starts and I test how accurate the rod is and if it has lost much of its liveliness. All of these things are important components in determining castability, fishability and value of the rod.

I told Mr. Loptspiech what I knew about Kushner and that in all honesty I only had a feel for what the value of the rod was and without having it to inspect, cast etc. I would be doing he and the rod a serious injustice by inferring otherwise. I did tell him the person most understanding of Kushner rods, their workmanship and value would be rodmaker RW Summers who had also been a friend to Kushner and purchased his rod building equipment after Kushner passed on.

He agreed to supply me with photos of the rod to help me decide if I had an interest since it was an 8'6" 2 pc rod with 2 tips and he didn't know the line weight it used since he had little need for an 8'6" rod for fly fishing the small creeks and arroyos available to him in CA where he lived so he used the other Kushner his dad left him, a 2 pc 6'9" for 3 and 4 wt lines.

Once the photos arrived it was easy to see the rod was in excellent condition and had been taken care of so I passed along that I would be interested and would await the value Bob Summers placed on it and if within range of my wallet then I might purchase it. It was only a few days later I received an email giving me the value Bob had placed on the rod and I was heartened in knowing my own personal appraisal was not far off and my wallet had sufficient funds with which to purchase it so we exchanged addresses.

I got payment out to Mr Loptspeich that same day and not 6 days later I was greeted by an LL Bean carrying tube with a carrying handle clamped to it at my front door. There was no packing simply postage and a label from CA to ME! I unscrewed the clamp and found a dense wall cardboard tube inside the LL Bean tube which Ed Loptspeich used to send the rod to his son in CA then the rod, bag and tube inside it.

I inspected the rod and was happy to find it had made the trip safe and sound which was shocking to say the least. I then contacted Mr Loptspeich and told him the rod arrived safe and sound. I also asked if his father was the Ed Loptspeich who had been the fishing companion of Robert Traver, i.e. the Judge and I was told that he was one and the same.

Work was a bit hectic the next few days so casting the rod would have to wait. Finally having a break I took the rod and some lined reels with me to the back yard where most of the rod casting I do gets done. My original choice for a line was a 6 DT mounted on an AL Walker TRIII reel, the reel was a bit light and the line a wee bit heavy although the rod cast it nicely. I then chose a 5 TT line on another too light reel and the rod once again cast nicely but it wasn't singing yet. My last choice was an SA Mastery 5 WF on again too light of a reel but Holy Cr@p the rod came alive! It was at this moment the first reaction Robert Traver had in casting his Kushner was Wowie came back to me.

I loved the rod and found time to cast and fish it as often as possible, the other thing I enjoyed a great deal would be to hand it to someone at a rod gathering or at our annual Super 'Boo Gathering, it generally caused weak knees and stunned looks and was a favorite of many. It wasn't until I let Kathy Scott and her husband, rodmaker, David Van Burgel, bring it to the Catskill Rodmakers Gathering that it got viewed by a more appreciable audience who got a glimpse of Kushners genius. I was always pleased to get positive feedback about the Kushner and when Kathy Scott was writing the Judge's Bamboo Article she met quite a few folks who knew Kushner and the Judge, one most noted of those individuals was Ernie Wood who had married the Judge's youngest daughter, Gracie. It was Ernie who told Kathy that my Kushner was given to the soapman by the Judge and was the same rod Traver wrote about in Morris the rodmaker. When I found all this out I was stunned and it brought me back to the Judge's first thought, Wowie, indeed!


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