Rod Maven, Removed

This short personality piece was written up for a regional Seattle, Washington magazine.  After I wrote it, they declined to print the article when an editor decided that if Daryll had left the greater Seattle area there was no reason to acknowledge his having ever been there.  Dustbin.

Rod Maven, Removed

by Russ Gooding


The D.L. Whitehead Rod Company, after a fifteen year stay, has left its tiny Ballard shop for Oregon.  Quietly, from inception to departure, the shop’s owner spawned a Seattle legacy, palpable already, that will impact bamboo fly rod craftsmanship nationally throughout the next century.

Daryll L. Whitehead makes coveted rods.  Production is low:  ten rods per annum.  Inversely related to production is quality.  So masterfully crafted are Daryll’s rods that they routinely trade higher than excellent-condition rods made by the recognized masters, long dead, of bamboo’s Golden Age.  The flame-tempered bamboo, seamless glue joints, engraved hardware, handcrafted agate guides, delicate silk whippings, and flawless varnish don’t merely inspire awe, they inspire his students.

One woman and nearly a dozen men are privileged to have studied the art of making bamboo rods in Daryll’s Seattle shop.  Three have gone on to become professional rodmakers. Daryll teaches a respect for detail, for method, for history.  His students, as much as his own rods, are his success, his longevity.  The diaspora notwithstanding, we students will always have “of Seattle” appended to our names.

The former Whitehead Creel Collection stands as the centerpiece of McClain & Chatham’s  Art Of The Creel.  Daryll has designed many of the tools and components that are staples in the modern rod shop.  He influences the fly fishing industry’s leading companies; the leather smith, the reel maker, the reel seat manufacturer, Seattle’s bamboo importer, each relies on his insight.  Daryll’s comments, unheard by most, heeded by a few, are echoed in the designs of angling tools that take fish across the country.

Now in my own Pennsylvania rod shop, apprenticeship complete, I can open the wooden cigar box filled with Daryll’s agate guides and recall his shop, his perennial & critical gaze, not by the contents per se, but by the redolent pipestink that has permeated metal and stone.  The rod maven, perched on his stool and puffing smoke like an old dragon, is, for his absence, timeless.  Removed, yes, but remembered.

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