Howells: The Bamboo Fly Rods & Fly Fishing Legacy of Gary H. Howells
Joseph H. Beelart, Jr.
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Hardcover with Dust Jacket • Smyth Sewn Binding • 216 Pages • Full Color Throughout • Fully Footnoted with Bibliography • Appendices
Gary Howells bamboo rods are among the finest ever built. To see one is to experience modern American art; to cast one is to feel wonder that such a magnificent tool can be made. His rods endure; with proper care, a Howells rod will last a lifetime.
In 1948 when Gary was 15 he hand planed his first cane rod. He tied flies and built cane rods to pay for a considerable amount of his university expenses. Then, he joined the Winston Rod Company as their principal cane rod maker. In 1970, after thirteen years at Winston, he left to open his one-man shop near San Francisco. From 1970 until 1997 he made rods under his own name, but never enough to satisfy the demand. For two decades Howells limited rods to one per customer per year, and his annual backorder list was usually sold out at the start of his production cycle. Gary built rods for eight to nine months each year and took three or more months off each year to go fly fishing. He travelled from British Columbia to South America, but mostly he spent his fishing months in “Howells ‘West’” of Idaho, Wyoming, and especially Montana.
Howells was an intensely private individual, and he valued his privacy most highly during his fishing sojourns. He once wrote, “I hide in the bushes so my customers can't find me …” Howells was also very secretive about his building techniques; but, with a limited group of rod builders, he willingly shared ideas. Thus, Howells craft lives on.
In this, the first full biography written on Howells, author Joseph H. Beelart Jr. has tapped into archives, private letters, and unpublished material to craft a moving portrait of a true American artist. We’ve always had Howells rods; now we have the story behind the rods.
As a fly fisherman, Howells was ahead of his time in many ways. In the European tradition, he kept detailed logbooks long before it became a fashionable U.S. practice. He wrote long letters and kept copies as he corresponded with famous fishermen both in the US and abroad.
Howells fishing library was among the finest in the United States. Well-worn bindings show he studied his books. Howells tied over a quarter million flies during his lifetime; many, including some tied late in life for his fishing vest, were exhibition quality.
Howells left us five logbooks, 2,000 letters, 1,000 photographs, as well as boxes of shop receipts, cancelled checks and the like. He was a man who devoted his life to all aspects of the sport of fly fishing. But the personal price he paid for pursuing his love of fly fishing was heavy and his time with us was short. No longer able to fish, less than three years after stepping from his shop, he died, alone.