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Hemmingway Inshore

The man behind handcrafted bamboo fly rods and top-quality reels sold under the Hemingway name cuts no corners in building equipment of which Papa would be proud

Hemmingway Inshore

The man behind handcrafted bamboo fly rods and top-quality reels sold under the Hemingway name cuts no corners in building equipment of which Papa would be proud

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n 1940, en route to Ketchum, Idaho, for what was meant to be an epic fishing trip, Ernest Hemingway packed a steamer trunk with his favorite fly-fishing tackle, loaded it onto a train, and set out from his home in Key West, Florida. The trunk never made it. Verified throughout history as lost, various accounts attributed to Hemingway’s sons say it was stolen from the Railway Express, and the great author and outdoorsman lost his favorite bamboo fly rods, top-quality reels and who knows how many treasured flies.

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Fast forward to a few years ago, when rod-builder and avid fisherman Anthony Toro presented the Hemingway family with his idea for selling handcrafted bamboo fly rods and other fishing gear of the highest quality under the Hemingway name. The family approved, and Hemingway Inshore was born. Today, the brand sells a tight range of fishing equipment, including beautiful boats perfect for fishing the waters frequented by the author, but the rods and reels are the heart of the collection. Toro builds the rods himself, spending between 60 and 70 hours on each, using high-quality Tonkin bamboo and the patience of a craftsman who cares about his clients’ experience.

“Going from a piece of bamboo to the finished product takes time,” he says. “A lot of time. While I’m working on it, for me to think that I’m making a fishing pole is almost crazy. I think of it as if I’m making a musical instrument, and then it makes more sense.”

Toro explains that each rod begins with a clump of Tonkin bamboo, favored for its thick walls and long fibers.

“It grows in China, in the perfect mix of heat, humidity and rainfall,” he says. “What happens is the walls of the tonkin bamboo get really thick, and that’s what you’re looking for. Not only the thickness but the fiber. They get so much water that the way the fibers form is there will be a single piece of fiber running all the way from the bottom to the top, a single piece.”

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A piece of raw bamboo will start out near 12 feet long, Toro says, and result in a rod that’s 8 feet long. First the bamboo is tempered, with hand application of a flame via a torch. Once Toro is satisfied with that, he splits the bamboo in half, then splits it in half again. He says a typical piece will start roughly 2.5 inches thick, with walls near 1/4 “ thick, and he splits it until it’s down to 3/8” or ¾” and then starts working it from there. The final rod is comprised of a series of octagonal pieces, tapered from a thick end at the butt to a smaller end at the tip. The trick, he says, is maintaining a constant 60˚ among the edges so that when each section is put together, it forms a consistent octagon shape.

“The tapering is done by hand,” he says. “We have a metal bar, you adjust the gap in-between the groove, then you put the bamboo strip in and plane it with a hand planer. Do one side, turn it over, do the next side, turn it over, make sure you’re at 60˚ measuring as you go down. It’s kind of like the old violin makers, the old luthiers, paying attention to the thickness of the wood, how to make it sound. Everybody has their own taper to make a bamboo fly rod, everybody’s taper is different. Since I’m in saltwater, I like a heavier, stout taper. That way, when I’m fishing in the Everglades, I can pull the snook or the tarpon out of the mangroves; the rod is strong enough, and strong enough to throw big flies.”
Toro’s rods are 9wt, larger than a trout rod for example, which run 3wt or 4wt, and he points out that he doesn’t make custom-spec rods: “I just do my rods; I make saltwater bamboo fly rods, and that’s what I like.” Custom, maybe not, but they are highly personalized.

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“I make the grips out of cork,” he starts,” but one of the things I do is that I will send my client, whoever buys a rod, I’ll send them a fake wooden grip, a pair of gloves and paint. I tell them to put on the gloves, go ahead and put your hand in the paint, and then hold the grip and give me a print of your thumb where your thumb and fingers are on the grip. That way, I can fit the grip right to you. Nobody [no other rod-builder] does this.”

Using these wooden lasts, Toro builds the grips, ensuring to add a specific place for the thumb on each grip.

“I got the idea from playing guitar,” he says. “You’ve got to anchor your thumb on the back of the guitar neck. Well, when casting, it’s not so different. People will start casting and they’re moving their thumb up or down and don’t realize it. ‘I was casting great a little while ago, what happened?’ they’ll think, and it’s because they’re moving their hand just a little. I’ll hang onto these lasts, and if people need a new grip years later, they’ll call me up and I’m able to build them a new grip. I keep the lasts for every rod that I build, and they’re precise. Don’t just say ‘Oh, it’s just over an inch.’ No, it’s not. It’s 28.7mm. It makes a difference.”

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While Toro’s grips are cork, he goes the extra mile in hand-building the rod butt, reel seat and “fighting butt” out of mahogany. With other builders these parts of the rod are often done in fake wood, but Toro says he’s thinking generationally and that he likes to do all of the work. Beyond that, all of the guides are wrapped with Japanese kimono thread, 100% Japanese silk—incredibly strong, Toro explains, and applied in a “long, tedious process”—and all of the components are top-notch, including the Italian-made reels, which Toro designs (see sidebar: The Reels).

“Every rod I make, I name it,” Toro says. “It has a serial number. A composite fly rod, you’ll have it for a season or two and then you’re ready for the next one to come out. The people I sell my equipment to, they’re going to keep it, it’s not going into a garbage can. That’s what I like. That’s the part of it I really like, when I’m working and I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be something that this guy is going to keep and give to his son or his grandson.’ It’s really something special.”

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The Reels

Hemingway Inshore reels are made to Anthony Toro’s specifications and design by reel firm Everol, a Modena, Italy-based business that’s been building the highest-quality reels since 1958. “The original designs, I probably received 10; and when I first opened and launched Hemingway Inshore, the reels were gone in about three hours,” Toro remembers. Made of top-quality aircraft aluminum and designed with the highest tech possible and with combined lifetimes of fishing experience behind them, the heavy-duty reels are beyond superlative in both look and function.
“Some companies make a reel to last three or four seasons and then they want you to buy another one,” Toro says. “That’s not what we’re about. I want this to be the best, I want this to last 40 years or more. Ernest Hemingway wanted the best, but he wanted it to be the best because it worked. Function. We can do things differently, we can do it the way other companies wish they could do it.”

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