Authors, Artists and Makers Volume 4: Jason Veeneman, Karma Kane Rods
Updated: Jun 14
I'll freely admit that my favorite way to chase trout is throwing streamers. For me, there's nothing like the aggressive take of a big brown on a streamer. That being said, watching a fish smack a dry fly drifting along a bubble line is pretty darn exciting. This year I wanted to focus a little more on my dry-fly game and find a way to slow myself down; a little more present and in touch with the more traditional aspects of the sport. I wanted to have a go at bamboo.
For me a bamboo rod is one part art and one part function. I've always been amazed at the craftsmanship and detail that goes into every single one. In some ways they almost seem too pretty to fish - like that beautiful side-by-side safe queen you never really want to run through the brush chasing grouse - until I fished one. It's hard to explain, but there really is nothing quite like the feeling of fighting fish on a bamboo rod.
Jason Veeneman is a crafter of bamboo rods and also someone that has become a close friend. We've spent hours on the river chasing trout, in the woods chasing birds, and on the road chasing places yet explored. Our conversations range from literature to music, to politics, to religion, to family, to travel, to fishing, to dogs, to food and so many things in between. While Jason and I often come at things from different perspectives, we share a friendship that allows us to actually appreciate those conversations; to always come away better for them.
I recently joined Jason in his shop to talk about his background, his passions, and the art of traditional rod building over bourbon and beer. I'm excited to share that conversation with you in Volume Four of Authors, Artists and Makers, I think you are really going to enjoy it.
Q: Can you give me a little bit of your background?
A: I Graduated from Grand Haven in the mid 90s, but originally from Coopersville and a small Catholic school called Saint Michael’s. My sixth grade graduating class was a total of seven kids, six guys and one girl.
I am married to, easily the most understanding woman, with two great young ladies for daughters and two dogs, Nym and Mellow.
Q: How/When did you start fishing and then fly fishing?
A: I started fishing with a Snoopy pole and actually caught a keeper pike while practicing casting with a bare hook. As for fly fishing, my Dad taught me how to cast on a small lake with a plethora of really hungry panfish. This little lake just so happened to be located near one of my favorite trout streams, so once I got a license and a shitty 1980 Chevy Monte Carlo, it was over.
Q: What are one or two or your best memories from fishing when you were younger?
A: Any time that I got to skip school and go fishing with my Grandpa Mel was a riot. He was never opposed to traveling long distances for just a few hours of fishing. According to some of my friends, I must have inherited that gene. They call it “Veeneman Time." I have no aversion to a six hour round trip in order to catch a hatch that might last only 45 minutes. Even if the hatch doesn’t come off, at least I wasn’t sitting on my ass doing shit that I’m “supposed” to be doing according to others.
Q: What is your day job – and how did you end up on that path?
I am a World History and Sociology teacher at a high school for the last 19 years, prior to that I was a recruit for Michigan State Police. Fortunately, I blew out my shoulder half way through the academy. I say fortunately because it is a lot easier to fish in the summer as a teacher than it would be as a Trooper.
Q: How did you first get into rod building? What was the catalyst? Who were some of the key influencers or mentors?
A: I got into rod building because once you catch a fish on a bamboo rod, you are going to want one, nay, need one. I met a gentleman on that aforementioned river that let me cast one of the rods he had made and (pardon the pun) I was hooked. However, after researching how much a handmade rod actually cost, I realized that my “need” was going to remain a “want” for quite some time on a teacher’s salary. I had to figure out a way to get my hands on one of those grass rods. So being relatively handy, I researched how to build them myself, bought some books, etc. Quickly, I learned that acquiring all of the tools, trial and error and the overall learning curve was going to take me a lot longer to achieve than I had the patience for. At that point, I needed to find a mentor that would make this dream become a reality. After reaching out to some people in the fly fishing world, I was given the name of one Ron Barch and he became one of the greatest mentors anyone could ask for. As the proprietor of Alder Creek Angling, with a reputation for helping teach the craft to us newbies, I quickly knew I had found the right person. The rest is history.
Interestingly enough, the gentleman that had let me cast the bamboo rod on the river was Ron’s mentor. A man by the name of Wes Cooper, for whom an award has been named for his contributions to sharing the craft with others. Every year at Grayrock, someone who exemplifies Wes’ augmentation of rod building earns that coveted award. In 2018, I’m proud to say that the recipient was my mentor, Ron Barch.
Q: Karma Kane is an interesting name – I assume there is a story or meaning behind it?
A: As human beings I believe that we take too much from our earth and don’t give enough back in return, we also do this with other human beings. All too often I feel as if we look to other people for what they have to offer us as opposed to the other way around. Therefore, the idea of taking care of the environment and others around you will complete the cycle in a more positive way. (Not only that, for every piece of garbage, stream restoration project, etc. I feel like the river gods give up their bounty a little more readily.)
I also pass this belief onto my patrons. If they are a member of BHA, TU, Casting for a Cure, Wounded Warrior Project, etc., they get a discount.
Q: Your website says this: You may have heard the saying: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” We have taken the editorial liberty to exchange that saying just a little bit to explain who we are "Build a man a bamboo rod, and he is happy, goes fishing, and enjoys the experience; teach a man to build bamboo and he becomes neurotic, obsessive, compulsive, single minded, introspective, and borderline socially awkward.” So…you can either buy a rod from guys like us, or you can become one of us. The choice is yours.
A: I wish I had written that, but it was all Kirk. If you went to a rod builders gathering, you will meet some of the coolest and most quirky individuals on the planet.
Q: You talk about needing to be in the “right mindset” when rod building – can you expand on that or explain what you mean by that?
A: For me, I like to work on rods when feeling calm and relaxed. Since there is absolutely NOTHING quick in the rod building process, I don’t ever want to feel like I need to hurry or feel any pressure to get one done.
I know that this is going to sound funky, but for some rods I have playlists going in the background to keep the mood I feel when building a certain rod. Usually, some form of a jam band like Dispatch or folk like Brandi Carlile or Tyler Childers.
Q: What is your favorite part of the rod building process?
A: That’s easy! Research and development, it also goes by another name: fishing.
The other would be swapping rods for other items that mean something to me. So far I have traded rods for dog training, shotguns, art, flies, guide trips and a bow. I would rather barter than get paid for a rod. It makes the whole process that much more fun. Not only that, I never want to feel like rod building as a means to make money. It makes me feel like I’m whoring out the rods and those who taught me how to make them.
Q: You’ve described the process as almost therapeutic. Why?
A: All day everyday society tells us we need to rush from one thing to the next; be more productive at work, get the kids to swim practice, get papers graded, earn more money, etc.
As I stated earlier, the rod building process can’t be rushed. It is one area in life that I feel like there is no excuse but to embrace what it has to offer.
The process reminds me of a quote by Lao Tzu, “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Q: What is it that you love about fishing bamboo? How would you describe it to someone who has never tried it?
A: A friend of mine used to mock me for only fishing dries with bamboo, then he caught a thirteen inch rainbow to which he exclaimed, “I can feel it’s fucking heartbeat!”
The natural feel of it and how it makes me slow down and fish with a deliberate intent. I also believe that I lose less fish while fishing with bamboo, not to mention, casting a grass rod is about as close to nirvana as you can get.
Q: Are you a purist, or do you fish glass, carbon fiber etc?
A: Not even close. I believe people should do what they want to do the way they want to do it. The flip side to that is that they need to shut their mouth and respect someone else's choice as well.
As for describing it to others, you know my real answer, but I will keep it PG-13:
I liken it to swimming. Swimming is fun, refreshing in hot weather and overall very enjoyable, just like fishing with graphite.
Skinny dipping is more fun than swimming, just like fishing with glass is more fun than graphite.
Skinny dipping with a gorgeous woman under a warm summer moon, that is fishing with bamboo.
Q: Do you have a favorite method of trout fishing – dries, streamers, indi, etc? Why? Do you have a “go-to” fly in your box?
A: Nymphing doesn’t make the list. I would rather find that Snoopy pole and drown a crawler. For the rest, here are some of my favorites:
Dries- March Brown Comparadun
Streamers- Mad Pup or a Conehead Wooly Bugger (Gold conehead, black body, with grizzly hackle)
Q: Without giving away too many secrets, what is your favorite body of water and why?
A: The one that holds trout. That’s about as specific as I will get.
Q: Finish this sentence: “A perfect day on the water…”
A: To be honest, there are so many. Whether fishing with my daughters and watching them cast a fly rod or laughing with friends on a fishless day while solving all of the world’s problems, they are all pretty damn perfect.
If I had to choose one though, it would be on the water with my dad, when his health was better, we would bounce around the U.P. trying different streams. Those were definitely the perfect days.
Q: Besides fly fishing and rod building, what are some of your other hobbies or passions?
A: I love all things outdoors, but bird hunting behind my Braque Francais, Nym and deer hunting with my daughters definitely are the top two.The absolute best is when they accompany Nym and I on a hike to see if we can’t drop a grouse or timberdoodle. When we do manage to connect with an errant shot, the fight is on between the two of them for the table fare. They love wild game!
Q: What primal need do you think hunting and fishing stir in us and why is that important?
A: It is something so simple and innate that it allows us to step away from what our world has become; a flurry of keeping up with the newest iPhone, social media posts, and all of that other shit that is making our society dumber and lazier.
Q: Do you find any similarities in rod building and fishing/hunting?
A: Absolutely! It all takes time and effort to be done well. Again, you get out of it what you are willing to put into it. Also, I like to keep all of them as simple as possible.
Q: I already know this answer but…if you could have a cocktail with any famous person in history, who would it be and why?
A: Ben Franklin-
Wrote such classic essays such as “Fart Proudly” and “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress”.
He was kicked out of France for being a womanizer. For Pete’s sake, it is FRANCE!
Obviously, his contributions to our nation.
His endless curiosity and “can do” attitude.
His most famous quote: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”
Q: Favorite artists. I’m always curious to know who inspires those that inspire me. So, who are some of your favorite artists (painters, musicians, writers, makers, etc) and why? Who inspires you?
A: Wes Cooper and Ron Barch- Both great mentors and rodmakers that have given so much to the craft.
One of my favorite contemporary poets that often gets my brain into the right space is Michael Delp. When I read his work, I am immediately transcended to previous haunts that still resonate with a deep hold of my consciousness.
My grandfather, F.E. Umlor (Fritz Edward) is someone that I think has given me my wanderlust and cravings for seeing new places and creating new adventures. I still have his steel belted Coleman cooler from the seventies. It is worse for wear, but the stories that thing must hold. Some members of the family got his guns when he passed, like his Winchester Model 1894 32-40 Octagon Rifle 1908 among others, but I think of all of the time he reached into that cooler for a beer or a jug of cider to share with an old friend or someone he just met and I can’t help but think that I get the better end of the deal. Two things that always traveled with F.E., his dog (usually a golden retriever) and that shitty old cooler.
Q: Your website is https://www.karmakanerods.com, how else can folks track you down?
A: As you know, I find that social media is a growing cancer that is undermining our true selves, but alas, you and your kids post some great shit. I am on reluctantly on Instagram @KarmaKaneRods