Handcrafted fly rods for half a century

  • Troy Jacques sights down a section of a bamboo fly rod he is working on at Thomas & Thomas. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sheila LaShier hand rolls the wraps on Thomas & Thomas fly fishing rods in their Greenfield factory. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Thomas & Thomas fly fishing rods in their Greenfield factory. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • As a rod slowly spins in a lathe like machine, Katrina Lyman uses a brush to apply epoxy to thread wraps on each guide of rods at Thomas & Thomas. The drum holding the rods in background rotates so the epoxy drys evenly between coats. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Joe Goodspeed, product developer, bends a blank rod tip, gauging action in his office at Thomas & Thomas. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • As a rod slowly spins in a lathe like machine, Katrina Lyman uses a brush to apply epoxy to thread wraps on each guide of rods at Thomas & Thomas. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bamboo is fired, split and planed into six, 60 degree tapered sections that are then glued together to form the telltale hexagon shape of a bamboo fly rod at Thomas & Thomas. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Norm Flye cuts graphite rod sections for each to length and mates them for life, making sure each ferrule fits perfectly at Thomas & Thomas. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • John Carpenter, marketing manager for Thomas & Thomas, with a variety of its fly fishing rods in its Greenfield factory. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2019 5:52:49 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 5:52:38 PM

GREENFIELD — The Thomas & Thomas Fly Fishing rod company has been standing by a commitment to tried and true American craftsmanship for 50 years, with each employee upholding a love for the craft of rod building established by the company’s founders.

To this day, that purpose continues to drive the company and employees crafting the unrivaled Thomas & Thomas fly rods. Established by legendary rod builders Tom Dorsey and Tom Maxwell in 1969, the now Greenfield-based company has stood upon the fundamental beliefs, values and purpose developed by Thomas & Thomas .

Today, Troy Jacques carries on the legacy of handcrafted bamboo fly rods at the Thomas & Thomas workshop at 627 Barton Road as bamboo rod sales remain a large part of the company’s business. Jacques began to train under Dorsey and Maxwell in 2001, learning how to craft the intricate bamboo rods from start to finish.

“Back in the day, bamboo rods were all there was,” Jacques said.

Many of Jacques’ rods are built to order, and he makes anywhere from 50 to 60 handmade rods a year. With character and emotion put into each individual rod, fishing with a Thomas & Thomas bamboo rod allows users to connect with the experience of fly fishing in a way they never knew was possible.

“Sometimes you come up with something magic that might not be what you were working towards,” Jacques said of the craft.

Bamboo stocks are fired, split and planed lengthwise into six, tapered sections that are then glued together to form the telltale hexagon shape of a bamboo fly rod. Once melded together, the different sections of the rod are connected with nickel-silver ferrules before being hand strung and epoxied. 

Jacques uses the techniques he learned from Tom Moran, he said, and still keeps reminders of his mentors in the workshop. Both Moran and Dorsey’s glue shoes — coated in the glue that drips off the work table — still reside on the rod rack in the Greenfield shop.

According to the company’s website, in the 1960s Dorsey — an avid fly angler since youth — was in graduate school, building bamboo fly rods in Pennsylvania when he and his brother-in-law, Thomas Maxwell, founded Thomas & Thomas. An opportunity to purchase rod-making equipment and the largest cache of Tonkin bamboo in North America led Dorsey to Western Massachusetts.

The company still receives bamboo from the Gulf of Tonkin, China through a relationship with Chinese farmers. According to Sales Marketing Manager John Carpenter, the soil, geography and strong winds of the region factor into the bamboo’s exceptionally strong fibers and malleability.

Currently, Thomas & Thomas sells three standard models of bamboo rods, ranging from $2,995 for the “classic” series, to $3,995 for the “individualist” or “sextant” models.

Though the company has seen shifts in social, cultural and technological changes during its half a century in business, there still remains a strong appreciation for the handcrafted quality of its work and the sport of fly-fishing.

Dorsey was one of the first rod-makers to embrace the use of graphite in the 1970s. He was also one of the first to adopt two-handed casting, leading to some of the first graphite spey rods on the American market, according to the company’s website. Graphite rods range in price from $500 to $1000.

On a multi-piece graphite fly rod, the areas immediately above each ferrule connection are the critical stress points at maximum load. To prevent potential failure at these connecting points, a layer high-strength graphite line is carefully hand rolled over each ferrule section. Once assembled, rods are checked for security and alignment before being hand wrapped with high-quality nylon thread.

Employee Sheila LaShier has been hand wrapping rods for more than 25 years. This process reinforces the ferrule strength and durability, and the colorful thread adds a distinct visual detail found on Thomas & Thomas fly rods. Additionally, every rod that Thomas & Thomas has made in the last quarter-century is marked with LaShier’s handwriting — as she inscribes each with the model and serial number in silver ink.

From raw material preparation to the final varnish, every step in the process of crafting a Thomas & Thomas fly rod is performed in-house, by a specialist with years of experience. The company’s graphite fly rods are built using a premium quality graphite with different strain rates and recovery speeds, providing the necessary elements for the design team to create effective modern tapers and actions, while maintaining a distinct Thomas & Thomas feel.

While Dorsey continues to advance fly rod technology and design with the passion that first put Thomas & Thomas on the map, he recently handed over the reigns of the company. According to the company’s website, that passion and purpose that drove Dorsey is what first attracted current owner, fly-fishing enthusiast and entrepreneur CEO Neville Orsmond.

With a strong commitment to an American-made and serviced product, the company aims to carry the tradition of Thomas & Thomas excellence and innovation to a new generation of fly anglers around the globe.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264




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