Retired accountant is creating functional works of art

Ugo Crecco is in his kitchen. A wrapping machine — used to make both the wraps that hold the guides in place as well as construct intricate weaves — sits on his kitchen table. He made it himself. He’s holding a half-finished bamboo fly rod.

The taper — the decreasing width of the rod from handle to tip — consists of six triangular strips of bamboo, carefully glued to form the body of the rod. Towards the tip, the six sides are so thin and the glue lines are nearly invisible that it appears to be one solid piece. He said the dimensions have to be precise to 1/1000 of an inch.

While it takes a tremendous amount of effort to craft a bamboo fly rod, the benefits are felt in the integral function of a rod — the casting. Crecco said that he loves bamboo fly-fishing because of the casting ability and smoothness of the rod.

“Bamboo fly-fishing is like a different sport from graphite, and I said, ‘Wow this is something I really enjoy,’” Crecco said.

For a sport that relies replicating the natural movement of a fly, a smooth cast is invaluable.

“The rods force you to slow down and enjoy things, which is exactly what fly fishing should be all about,” said David Blair, owner of Fish Tales Fly Shop. He said Crecco is one of the best craftsmen of bamboo fly rods in this part of the world.

The love of fly fishing

Ugo Crecco’s story. Produced by Evan Manconi and Colin McHattie

Crecco is a retired accountant and uses his mathematical ability to craft these artistic fly rods. Since he was a kid, he loved fly-fishing. It has always been an important part of his life outside of work. As an accountant he spent his whole life using the left side of his brain, but his passion for fly-fishing caused him to tap into his creative side.

Crecco was born in Rome, and it was in Italy where he discovered fishing.

He recalls a time when he was fishing with his father and brothers when he was 10 years old. They were fishing along the steep banks of a murky, chocolate-brown river. Being young, Crecco was playing with the fish they had already caught.

He doesn’t remember how it happened, but he ended up falling into the river. He feared he would have drowned if he hadn’t looked through the dark water and saw a hand reaching for him.

He grabbed hold and his father pulled him to safety. Although it was a frightening experience, he learned a lot and bonded with his father.

Ugo Crecco (left) fell in love with the sport of fly fishing when he was growing up in Italy with his father and brothers.

Photo courtesy of Ugo Crecco His passion for fishing has grown ever since. Crecco said that fly fishing is a way for him to get away from regular life and enjoy nature.

“Spending time on your own and reflecting on a lot of things while you fly fish is a switch off more than anything else,” Crecco said.

The love of fly fishing never abandoned him, but flourished when he came to Canada in 1970. At only 17 years old, he arrived in Montreal as an exchange student and his first impression of the city was right after the ’67 Expo had come through.

He described it as a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a lot of culture. It was a great place to live and he decided to stay.

After finishing his schooling at McGill University — where he took finance and started his certified general accounting program — he travelled to Vancouver. In 1984, he graduated as a Certified General Accountant.

When he was 20 years old, he went to work for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. He worked there for nearly 40 years where he held several financial and accounting positions.

It was 35 years ago when he decided he wanted a bamboo fly rod, which he describes as the ultimate rod.

“So I went and tried to buy one, but of course I couldn’t afford it at the time. So I said how difficult can it be to make one. Well about 15 years later, I was still learning,” Crecco said.

He is self-taught and for the last 15 years and has been very involved in the craft. He describes the learning process as a journey. The reason he stuck with it was because of the immense challenge.

Precision is key

Crecco said that the bamboo must be cut within 1/1000ths of an inch.

Photo courtesy of Ugo Crecco It took a lot of trial and error. The only teaching came from Everett Garrison’s book A Master’s Guide To Building a Bamboo Fly Rod. The book has pages of complex calculations required to engineer the perfect rod. With the book and a journal, he made lots of notes to learn from his mistakes. He said it took about 10 or 15 years to get really good.

“After about 10,000 hours of it, you get better at it,” he said.

Crecco describes it as a great fulfillment to fish with a rod that he handmade.

In his work life, he adhered to a very analytical process necessary for his mathematical work. While being exceptional with numbers, he said he has also been described as a renaissance man.

Although most people are either mathematical and logical or creative and imaginative, Crecco is both. He is a natural craftsman — be it wine or sausage making, painting, cooking or rod crafting. The difference is that he fuses the two distinct mental disciplines. It is most greatly evident with his bamboo fly rods.

About 120 hours is what it takes to create a single bamboo rod and they range in price from $2,000 for the signature series, to $4,700 for the master series.

He said that cutting the bamboo is the most difficult part; there’s hardly any margin for error. To build a rod, there’s a specific formula to follow that ensures the rod has the right dimensions for the desired weight.

“It’s extremely challenging,” he said. “And that was the fun part actually, doing all the math.”

A labour of love

It takes about 120 hours for a single rod and with labour and material cost factored in he isn’t getting rich from his craft. Instead, Crecco is rewarded when his customer is completely satisfied with the finished rod.

Photo courtesy of Ugo Crecco For Crecco it isn’t about profiting. With the time and material cost factored in, it is very much a labour of love. His reward comes from creating something a person can cherish.

Mario Baggio owns one of Crecco’s rods and he describes it as a functional piece of art.

“It just glows when you’re fishing with it,” Baggio said. “He made it absolutely beautiful.”

Not only does the rod look good, Baggio said that it’s great to fish with as well. He said he was surprised when he took it out the first time to fish on Castle River. Even under windy conditions, he was able to get some beautiful casts with the rod.

For Crecco, that’s what he wants from rod making.

“My payment is whoever receives that rod that says, ‘wow this is great, I really enjoy it.’ That is my payment—when that person is completely satisfied.”

Now 60 years old, Crecco knows that crafting the bamboo rods will always be an important part of his life.

emanconi@cjournal.ca