Michigan Heritage Awards
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1998 awardee, Traverse City (Grand Traverse County), builder and preserver of bamboo fishing rods
Bob Summers, born 1938, constructed his first fly-fishing rod at the age of 16. He has since perfected the craft and become known throughout Michigan and other parts of the country as the foremost maker of tonkin cane (bamboo) fly-fishing rods.
Bob believes fly fishing "puts you in a state of mind." (1) He began fishing when he was seven years old and owned his first fly rod at the age of ten. Later, he was employed with the Paul Young Company in Detroit, a business known for its tackle and rods. Here he learned his exceptional skill of making bamboo fly-fishing rods. His rods, along with those of others, were featured in the exhibit Caught on the Fly: Fly Fishing Traditions in Michigan at the MSU Museum.
A characteristic that makes Bob's rods unique is that virtually every component is made from scratch, including the case. His materials include cork, metals, and tonkin cane. He has even assembled a variety of metal presses and other mechanical tools to assist him in his creations.
In 1956, Bob moved to Traverse City and began his own rod-making business. His fly rods are in demand all over the world and are considered collectors' items as well as cherished equipment; these handcrafted objects are so appealing that there is a waiting period of years rather than months when ordered. The name "Bob Summers" is constantly mentioned when the subject of bamboo fly rods is discussed in the fly-fishing community.
Bob strives to maintain the importance of the bamboo rod amidst the fiberglass and other synthetic rods. One of his methods is teaching his skill to others. His pupils, many of whom are scattered throughout Michigan, regard him as an "exciting and skilled artist and technician." (2) His efforts to maintain and preserve the tradition of tonkin cane rod making, coupled with his superior skill in crafting it, have earned him recognition as one of Michigan's finest makers of bamboo fly-fishing rods.
(1) Summers, Bob. Personal communication with Kurt Dewhurst.
(2) "1998 Michigan Heritage Award Winners," 1998 Michigan Folklife Annual. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Museum, p. 83.
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