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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Wesley Cooper with a bamboo fly rodWesley Cooper
Photo by Marilyn Swanson

Wesley V. Cooper
2013 awardee, Fremont (Newaygo County), bamboo fly rod builder

Wesley Cooper was born in 1927 in Akron, Ohio, and settled in Fremont, Michigan where he worked as a high school teacher and raised a family of three boys.  He grew up fishing for bass in the lakes of Ohio, but became interested in trout fishing in Michigan’s Au Sable River and now is an ardent trout fisherman.  Influenced by his uncle Ralph, a champion caster, Wes became partial to using bamboo fly rods. 

Wes’s love of fishing extends to a concern with maintaining water quality and trout habitat.  In 1959, he became a charter member of Trout Unlimited, an organization that, as of 2013, has grown to 140,000 members in 400 chapters throughout the country.  Wes also founded the White River Watershed Council which worked to conserve the habitat and water quality in his local area waters.

Wes became interested in making his own bamboo fly rods in the 1980s.  He couldn’t find an instructor to help him.  In those days there wasn’t much written information or training programs to learn this craft, but Wes found the book, A Master’s Guide to Building A Bamboo Fly Rod, by Everett Garrison and Hoagy B. Carmichael (not the jazz composer).  Amazon describes this book as “By unanimous agreement, this is simply the best work on the subject – the definitive book.  Mr. Garrison, a mechanical engineer by training, built perhaps the finest rods ever – and describes how it’s done.”  This book, in fact, was instrumental in generating a renaissance in bamboo fly rod building.

Wes has perfected his fly rod making techniques over the last twenty seven years.  The intricate process of building a bamboo fly rod by hand takes approximately fifty five hours, and Wes only makes five or six rods each year, using bamboo imported from a small region of China.   He is one of only a handful of bamboo rod makers working in Michigan.  The steps take the time, practice and patience of a master. 

Wes’s bamboo fly rods are sought after by fishermen throughout Michigan.  He makes rods of different weights to order for fishermen who wait years on his waiting list.  He also does rod repairs.  According to the website that handles some of his rod sales, Wes is the “Master of the Scarf Joint.”  Wes doesn’t have his own website, but finds sales through word of mouth. 

Wes gives back to the fishing community in several ways.  He is generous with sharing his expertise with other rod builders and has taught many others his techniques.  By donating handmade fly rods for auction, Wes has also used his craft to benefit Trout Unlimited in their efforts to preserve and protect the fishing habitat throughout Michigan.  He has given rods as gifts to many lucky recipients in his family and circle of friends.

For his quarter of a century as a maker of custom hand built Michigan bamboo fly rods, Wesley Cooper is awarded the 2013 Michigan Heritage Award.

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