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"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."

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, religious upbringing.

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, truthful revelations.

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: or call 303-838-5638.






































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