Butte’s Glenn Brackett is one of the country’s renowned makers of bamboo fly rods, but first and foremost he’s a fisherman.
Brackett, 73, is co-owner of Sweetgrass Rods in Twin Bridges, and he says he’s built his life around his love of the sport.
“I love to see what’s at the end of the line,” he said. “What’s going to bite? What they are biting on? What’s underneath the rocks? What’s around the bend? It’s a wonderful sport because it combines so many disciplines, but also it’s a great spiritual (tool) … It helps balance out a person’s life in terms of having a busy career and family life. And it just gives you that moment of peace and tranquility that reconnects you to all the things that make for a well-rounded life.”
The Montana Arts Council recently awarded Brackett the prestigious “Montana’s Circle of American Masters in the Visual Folk and Traditional Arts” for his work with bamboo rods.
Since its inception in 2007, the award has recognized 39 artists for their contributions to a visual medium that employs traditional craft elements. Brackett said he certainly appreciates the award, but he’s not much interested in accolades.
“I don’t know,” Brackett said during a recent interview with The Montana Standard at his shop in Twin Bridges. “I never thought of myself in terms of notoriety and acclaim and all that. You know, you don’t work in this craft for acquiring some kind of notoriety. I’m certainly deeply honored by it, though.”
Cindy Kittredge, of the Montana Arts Council, reviewed the different nominees for the award. She said a bamboo fly rod is the perfect marriage between form and function, and that Brackett’s work is perhaps the best she’s seen.
“I grew up fly fishing,” Kittredge said. “The beauty of a fly rod that works and has the kind of motion that a bamboo fly rod has is phenomenal. It’s like a dance watching someone who is immersed in that form and uses that tool.”
Brackett, who traveled to China to personally import the bamboo for his fly rods, agrees.
“Bamboo, as a material, is unbeatable,” he said. “It has qualities that none of the other materials possess, or will possess, and that boils down to one thing – a reserve of power that allows the stroke to unfold in a smooth way, unlike graphite which has a kick to it. As a result, (with graphite) you’re always holding back, compensating for the speed. As for bamboo, once you get into the bamboo stroke it takes over. Very smooth and effortless. You hate it at first, but you learn to love it.”
The arts council award also recognizes how folk artists, who by definition learn their craft without formal training, are able to give back to the community that nurtures them.
Brackett takes this mentoring seriously, and has taken many young fly rod makers under his wing. Recently, he said, he had a visiting apprentice from Norway learning the craft at Sweetgrass Rods.
Brackett also comes from a family of craftspeople. And he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, literally surrounding by some of the world’s best fishing. There were also legendary fishermen aplenty to offer tips and schooling, according to Brackett.
“Being in San Francisco — my god, it was all there,” Brackett said. “If you fished, you couldn’t avoid it. Not only just the industry and everything that grew out of that, but the fishing community was so diverse … the Golden Gate Casting Club was there, characters like John Tarantino, and, of course, my mentors Doug Merrick, Gary Howells.”
He was trained as a fishery biologist, and one of his first jobs out of college was at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He also worked at R.L.Winston Rod Co. in San Francisco before taking
co-ownership of that business and moving it to Twin Bridges in the 1970s with Tom Morgan. He split from Winston to start Sweetgrass, which he co-owns with Jerry Kustich.
ALL ABOUT THE FISHING
Of course, waxing on about fly fishing has become somewhat of a cliché, but Brackett thinks that’s fine, especially since it helps attract new practitioners.
“I love to see the great cross-section of people coming into the sport – young people and women,” he said. “The veterans now, especially the disabled veterans. It’s become a great help with their well-being. We work with them providing equipment and funds, and it’s becoming more and more important in helping them regain their health and well-being.”
Brackett’s married and the father of five, all of which he adopted, four of which were siblings.
His co-owner, Kustich, 66, has high praise for the man.
“We’ve been able to get along, and I think a lot of that is because we have the same philosophy about life and business,” said Kustich, who has published books on fly fishing. “We are somewhat laidback, and we let people blossom and grow. We’re supportive and try to help. … From Glenn’s standpoint, he’s allowed me to accomplish other goals in my life – become a writer, an accomplished angler, and has allowed me the time to go away from work.”
As for Brackett’s dedication to the craft, Kustich said it’s easily summed up.
“I would like to retire,” he said. “But when (Glenn) dies he’d like to be on his bench working and just slump over.”
Brackett smiles, and might not disagree. He says it’s all about the fishing.
“Fishing is the key element,” he said. “Fishing and anything related to it. And anyone who comes to work here has to have a fishing background. They don’t have to have a rod building background. I can teach that, easily, but I can’t teach fishing. I mean, I can teach it, but I’d rather have them bring it in so we all have a common ground.”
— Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at email@example.com