I have 16 fly rods in my garage. I wouldn’t admit that in just any crowd, but I expect other anglers to slap a high five rather than scowl at my excess. Of course, each rod has a purpose, and each one is vitally important.

Fly rods are fine-tuned, with specific design features to provide a perfect tool for a thin slice of fishing. Short rods are for small water, longer rods in the open. A light 3wt. for little brook trout or my heavy 9wt. will heave a huge muskie fly. Using the wrong rod would be an affront to the sport and the fish.

It is well known in fishing circles the ideal number of fishing rods can be explained by the equation [N+1], where N is the current number of rods I own. And one is the next rod I’m already planning to buy.

Out of my quiver, I have one favorite. In fact, dedicated kayak fishing fly anglers grow inordinately attached to their fishing rod. I admit, my favorite fishing rod is only a whip of graphite, a simple cork handle and wire line guides glued on at the right places. But my favorite is way more than a sum of its parts.

In the 1960’s, Michael Polanyi, a medical doctor, chemist, economist and the unsung philosopher saint of DIY tradesmen everywhere, wrote how our tools become an extension of ourselves. I often talk about how I “feel” my jig ticking off the bottom or a fish tapping my fly.

Technically, this is not correct; I don’t feel a fish, I feel my rod. Any force on my hook is carried like an electric shock through the tense line suspended in my guides. The palm of my hand is wrapped around the cork handle which transfers energy to nerves. The nerves run a pulse to my brain which fires messages to my fingers, arms and straight to my heart. I can detect a rock, log, snag or bite. Sometimes the hit is subtle. Other times, it’s dramatic, but I always feel it through my fishing rod.

The ideal rod loads evenly, balances power with finesse and launches a cast straight and true. It allows me to turn the table on a big fish, absorbing runs and dealing out lifting power.

Polanyi wrote, “The way we use a hammer or a blind man uses his stick shows in fact that in both cases we shift outward the points at which we make contact with the world”. My hand remains dry, yet I can feel what is happening deep down in the water. The fishing rod, via the palm of my hand, becomes the means by which I recognize a fish I cannot even see.

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Polanyi continued: “While we rely on a tool, these are not handled as external objects. We pour ourselves into them and assimilate them as parts of our existence.” In other words, from the seat of my kayak, a fishing rod becomes an extension of myself. In my hands, the rod is not an inanimate tool. It gives me intimate contact with the living natural world.

Polanyi differentiated novices who “use” tools, from mastery, which involves adopting and assimilating a tool as an extension of one’s body.

While mastery is an adjective that I’ve never used to describe my skills, I do have an irrational connection to my favorite 5wt. Lining it up, swinging false casts, gripping the worn, comfortable cork handle, brings a calm sense of familiarity combined with unlimited potential of what the rod will bring next.

An extension of the heart. | Featured photo: Barry Beck

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