On a Monday evening in June
at Pine Valley Ranch, on a lake painted with shadows and glimmers from
the slow-setting sun, Bill Hensel held his breath.
Poised on the shore with a bamboo fishing rodone
he had crafted himself over the better part of 60 hoursHensel
could make out the body of a big brown trout gliding like a phantom
in deep waters.
This fish was different than most he'd seen
therea good 8 inches longer than
the 12-inch rainbow trout stocked in the lake by Jefferson County Open
Space. And this fish wasn't feeding like a cluster of younger ones nearby
that wriggled upward infrequently to nip at objects floating above them.
Hensel cast his soft-hackled mosquito fly 65
feeta carefully measured toss that
landed it directly in front of the big brown. Then he watched the fish
turn ever so slightly in its direction.
Hensel was a college freshman in Maryland in
the summer of 1971 when a Buddhist monk introduced him to bamboo.
The monk was watching the sun dip below the
Eastern Shore when the two metHensel
was there with his surfboard to ride the waves.
For the next week, the two walked the beach
together, the older man dispensing words of wisdom to the teen brimming
with questions that pressed beyond the confines of his conservative,
To learn discipline, the monk urged him to explore
martial arts, a practice that Hensel had already shown some interest
in. To compliment his frank manner and his honest nature, the monk told
Hensel he was like bambooa resilient
plant, hollow in design, and able to accept what comes-in particular,
Years would pass before he fully grasped the
meaning of that life-changing encounter. In the meantime, he began to
haul himself 30 feet up a neighborhood pine tree to meditate. His next
year of college was disappointingtoo
much drug use by peers and not enough satisfaction from the curriculumthough
he did find a Kempo martial arts studio two hours away and traveled
there for lessons.
At 20, Hensel headed to Colorado, where he had
hiked at age 16 with a cousin and vowed someday to return.
When he did complete his degree at Metropolitan
State College of Denvera degree that
equipped him to teach physical education, math and sciencehe
taught only one year before changing careers to pursue his passion as
a karate instructor.
"My journey really began with the monk;
he allowed me to question everything I had been taught," Hensel
remembers. "I learned that my 'teachers' were not necessarily the
ones I ran into in college but the people I ran into briefly in my lifetime."
Over the next 20 years, he owned a chain of
Chinese Kempo karate studios, and he married and had a family. Kempo
is considered a "serious street-fighting self-defense system."
But Hensel learned other facets of the martial art that developed his
spiritual equilibrium, he saida combined
practice that teaches you to "defend yourself against yourself,
to take responsibility for your own actions."
Hensel closed the doors of his own karate business
in 1996 at age 44. As a new challenge, he headed to the South Platte
River to indulge in his longtime secret pastime, armed with a little
bamboo rod he had purchased two decades before. The more he fished,
the more something shifted inside of hima
kind of creative, spiritual rebirth.
He remembered the words of a preacher from childhood:
"There are two types of churches: the ones man constructs for God,
and the ones God constructs for man."
He remembered his walks on the beach with the
monk and his connection to bamboo.
Then he sold a few expendables like his big-screen
TV, tapped the revenues of three karate franchises he still owned, took
a road trip and, over the next three years, learned how to construct
exotic bamboo fishing rods.
The rods have since earned him accolades from
men and women willing to pay the average $1,500 price tagand
they also earned him the nickname Bamboo Bill, bestowed by a friend
who works at a popular Denver fishing shop.
Owners of the rods seem awestruck by the tender
care Bamboo Bill takes to build them, a process that often takes 60
hours. He makes the rods at his home in Pine Grove, where he lives with
his third wife and "best friend," Tina Huffman, a retired
employee with the federal government.
The two met in 2001 and married two years ago
at the Little Chapel in the Hills in Buffalo Creek. Hensel had been
"addicted" to the area for 20 years and yearned for the day
he could move there. After the wedding ceremony and a stopover with
friends at the legendary Bucksnort Saloon in Sphinx Park, the couple
found a historic home for sale and purchased it immediately.
When the waters of the North Fork are low, Hensel
spends most of his weekdays fishing there. Tina spends free time hiking
trails, and taking pictures of wildflowers or Hensel casting. They swap
stories and philosophical conversations with local residents.
"Everything I have ever wanted has pretty
much come true," Hensel said.
When the big brown snatched the mosquito fly
from Hensel's rod that Monday evening in June, his body began to tremble.
For a split second, he would have let the trout haul him to the edge
of the universe. Instead, as three other fishermen watched from the
peer, and his dog Shadow sniffed his way along the north shore of the
lake at Pine Valley Ranch, Hensel began to walk the big brown like a
dog on a leash.
It is those moments that life blends together
like a tapestry for Henselthat "God
and the environment press in on him."
He is enveloped in gratitude and feels like
a little boy, carefree and amazed. Words of wisdom stir within him,
words of the monk who helped him step beyond his limited perspectives.
Words he once told his children: "Live life on your terms. Your
successes will be your own, and so will your failures." And words
of his favorite author Harry Middleton, who described bamboo fishing
rods as wands full of excitement
supple, malleable like the passage
of life itself; "something capable of giving without ever giving
up, or giving away."
Each time the big brown bolted toward the middle
of the lake, Hensel gave it line until it forgot it had been caught.
As the two moved closer, Hensel began to meditate. He slipped off his
hiking boots and ventured into the water. Feeling the flicker of the
fish's muscles, he vibrated the line to calm it, reached down without
a net, and slipped his hand under the lovely creature. For a split second,
the two were one before the trout, relieved of the hook, danced away.
"The only peace you have is going to be
in your heart," Hensel said, remembering the admonition of his
own fatheranother of his "teachers."
"How much knowledge do you want? How much
can you accept? I have reached a point, I just go fishing."
For more information about Bamboo Bill's
rods, visit: www.bamboobillrods.com or call 303-838-5638.