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Tom Ciemiega – A Lifetime of Fly-Fishing
When Tom Ciemiega was 11 years old, his father took him to the Rackham Memorial Building, near the Art
Museum in downtown Detroit, to see a film about dog training. When they arrived, the previous film was not
finished and they caught the last few minutes of that program. The program featured a man casting flies to
rising fish in a river. That was all that it took to ‘hook’ young Tom on fly-fishing. Those few minutes of film
started Tom on a life-long avocation, his love of fly-fishing.
Tom saved his pennies by washing windows and cutting grass to buy cheap fiberglass and bamboo fly rods
from Montgomery Wards. He practiced on the front lawn of the family home [and still does today] every
chance that he got. While on family picnics to Belle Isle in the Detroit River, Tom fished one of the lagoons in
the island park. He watched studiously as an African-American doctor, who they saw there on occasion, cast
his line to the fish in the lagoon. Tom watched closely and tried to mimic his movements. Tom also
remembers attending a seminar at Hudson’s, given by a touring pro named Billy Carins, about casting fly
rods. With time and practice, he was able to become adept at the sport.
Working with Paul Young
Paul Young, the famous bamboo rod maker, for whom the Trout Unlimited Chapter is named, owned a fly-shop
on 8 Mile Road in Detroit. One day Tom walked into Paul’s shop and asked him, ‘what are the best fly-rods,
glass or bamboo?’ After a two-hour dissertation on the intricacies of a good cane rod, Tom knew that he
needed one of Paul’s wonders. In the late 1950’s he started working in Paul’s shop tying flies on the
weekends. Soon, he purchased his first hand made cane rod from Paul, an eight foot long ‘Parabolic 15’ with
two tips. While fishing with that cane rod, Tom could see just what Paul was talking about when he espoused
the merits of a good bamboo rod. Later, Tom would trade 80 dozen hand tied flies to Paul for one of his
“Martha Marie” model bamboo rods. Paul Young named that rod model after his wife, Martha.
A little while after Tom started working for Paul tying flies, Paul invited him to come back to the rod-making
workroom in the back of the shop. Tom spent many hours there watching Paul craft the beautiful cane rods
for which he was famous. Paul must have taken a real liking to the young man, for on weekends over the next
few years, even while Tom was in college, Paul taught Tom his secrets of the trade. It was during these early
years that Tom would learn the basic skills of rod building. A skill that he would later hone and perfect, to
create his own ‘Tonkin Gulf’ bamboo wonders. Tom worked for Paul Young for three to four years. That
association made quite an impression on young Ciemiega.
Paul Young passed from this world in 1962. However, years later, Tom Ciemiega would help to continue the
rod-building legacy for fly fishers to enjoy.
A Return to the ‘Basics’
Tom Ciemiega has loved fly-fishing and fly-tying for most of his life. However, like most of us, other matters
entered his life and took him on other paths. Fly-fishing though, has always stayed with him. When he and his
wife Shirley became engaged to be married, Shirley bought Tom a Paul Young, seven and a half foot ‘Midge’
bamboo rod for an engagement present. He continued to visit Paul’s shop every chance that he got. On some
of the visits, he even met people like Ted Williams, Joan Wulff, [who he greatly admires as a fisher] and Ernie
Schweibert, the author of ‘Matching the Hatch’. Over the years, with the demands of a family, his working
career and other pursuits, Tom never quite got to the rod making.
Eight years ago, almost forty years since his association with Paul Young, Tom decided that if he were to ever
take up bamboo rod making, it was “either do it now or forget about it.” He had always wanted to build rods
and now he decided that it was the time to start. He poured over his notes from his days with Paul Young. He
studied rods that he owned. He investigated new tools and glues and refined the information that he had
amassed. Today, Tom constructs some of the finest cane rods ever to hit a stream in the hands of fly-fishers.
To cast one of his meticulously built bamboo poles is to be able to study artwork in form and function. The
rods not only perform flawlessly, casting forty or more feet of line effortlessly, they are perfect in their
appearance as well. Looking at the shining finish of the butt section of a four weight that he has recently
finished, I was not able to make out the joint line between the beveled rod body pieces. They just were not
visible. The rod sections also fit together at the ferules as is the rod was one piece. The guides look as if
they had grown with the rod, with wrappings that were so perfectly formed that I was barely able to see the
individual threads. These cane rods were really something to behold.
What Makes a Great Cane Rod?
Tom’s criteria for a quality cane rod includes: The rod should look good, feel good in the hand and feel good
with a fish on the line. The rod should be able to cast easily up close and personal and be able to reach out
with long distance casts. Tom says that, “you should be able to feel as though the rod is an extension of your
hand and not have to think about making the cast.” In other words, damn near perfect. The operative phrase
here is, ‘his rods are damn near perfect.’ Tom understands how to fish a fly rod, what it takes to make a fly rod
work and he takes the time and care to do the job right. I am sure that years from now people will be talking
of his rods with the same reverence that they talk of other great artisans work.
Tom Ciemiega’s cane rods can be found for sale at Hanks Fly fishing, of Novi and Lake Orion, Michigan; at the
Rusty Drake Fly Shop in Dayton, Ohio; and Angler’s All Mall in Parma, Ohio, and at Len Codella's Sporting
Bamboo/Cane Fly Rods Hand Crafted by Tom
Ciemiega - note the beautiful reel seats
Paul Young Soft Hackle Flies Tied by Tom
Ciemiega with original Paul Young materials
click to go to the recipe page for this fly