History of Fly Rods

History of Fly Rods

 An overview of history of fly rods from
200 A.D to 2000s

One of the most interesting histories of fly fishing and fly rods was written by Dr. Andrew N. Herd of England.

Dr. Herd traced fly fishing back to 200 A. D. in Macedonia. The Macedonians used a wooden pole with a line and a bit of crimson wool attached to homemade hooks to catch fish.  Doubtless this was a solid pole and not very flexible but nonetheless a fly rod by definition.

The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle was published as part of the second edition of The Boke of St. Albans in 1496.  This book describes in detail how to construct a fly rod of the period.  The base of the rod was hazel, ash or willow, with an insert second top piece of smaller hazel.  The final part of the top section was “a fair shoot of blackthorn, crabtree, medlar, or juniper”.  The Treatyse describes a lot of soaking, drying, hole burning, fitting, binding and so on just to get a fly rod.  No running out to a store for instant gratification here folks.

These rods were massive affairs and not the little light weight 00 – 5 line weight rods we enjoy today.   The Treatyse also talks about how to make colored braided horsehair lines of different thickness for different fish species, how to make your own hooks, floats, weights, fish species and when to fish for them.  Lines were about 16 feet in length so “casting” was more or a dapping or short pickup and drop technique.

Continue reading “History of Fly Rods”

How to Choose Fly Rods

 How to Choose Fly Rods

 description of rod actions,
tests to use in choosing a fly rod,
how to save money on a fly rod

Fly Rod Actions

are described in a variety of terms depending on the manufacturer.  But essentially each description relates to where the rod flexes under load when casting.

  • Fast, tip action or tip flex — main flex is in the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the tip section depending on manufacturer.  This action loads very fast and requires precise timing and control.  (Usually reserved for advanced or expert casters)
  • Medium or Mid-flex — rod bends in the middle 1/2 to upper 1/3 of the rod.  This action is good for beginners to advanced casters who just like a “forgiving” feel.
  • Slow or Full-flex — rod bends from tip to butt section.  While very forgiving of casting mistakes, this type of rod action produces a slow rod recovery rate.  In my opinion, a slow action can be so slow that it can interfere with hooking fish.
  • Progressive — No noticeable difference between the stiffer and more flexible parts of a rod.


How to Choose a Fly Rod

As a beginner starting out there are a bewildering number of fly rod choices ranging from 6 feet to a monster two handed 13 to 15 foot spey rod.  For fly fishing Colorado and surrounding states you obviously don’t need a two handed rod.  Choosing a rod suited for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah or New Mexico depends a lot on understanding that most trout are caught at distances under 20 feet from you.  This is not just my opinion but the opinion of fly fishing great and fly rod builder Tom Morgan, “During the last 40 years, most trout have been taken from 20 to 40 feet and I expect the next 50 years will be the same.”  (From fly fishing legend Andre Puyan’s column in the 2004 Gear Guide in Fly Fishing America on page eleven.)

A professional guide I know teaches her students to fish within 10 to 12 feet. I have caught fish within 3 feet of where I was standing so long casts are not always needed.  But good presentation is a necessity. (http://www.fly-fishing-colorado.com/nymph-fishing-and-gourmet-cooking/)

A trout can take a fly and spit it out in less than 1/10 second.  Do you really think you are good enough to put out 60 feet of line, mend it for a perfect presentation, detect a strike and set the hook with 60 feet of line out in less than 1/10 second. “Let’s get real here.”  If you are planning on purchasing a rod and line to put those 60 foot casts, stop reading here.  What I have to say will be of little interest.

Line Weights

Line Weights are one of the most important considerations in choosing a proper fly rod outfit.  Lines range from Sage’s 00 to a 16 for use in salt water fishing.

Bruce Richards, former product engineer and fly line designer for 3M Scientific Anglers says that the delicacy of presentation is determined by the mass at the front of the fly line.  A DT and a WF line with the same taper and tip diameter will deliver the same.

The trick to roll casting with a DT or a WF line is to make sure the larger diameter belly is in the rod tip.  If you are trying to transmit energy through the smaller diameter running line, you will not transmit enough energy to the belly to make the line do what you want.

Almost all WF lines have heads that are 44 to 49 feet long.  Remember that most of us don’t have the need or the ability to roll cast longer than 45 feet.

Basic fly lines for use in Colorado and surrounding states are:

  1. Double Taper — A 90 foot long line tapered equally at both ends.  The first and last 15 feet of line are tapered to increase in weight from the tip to the belly of the line.  Then the line diameter and weight is constant for the next 60 feet.  Next the line starts to loose weight and line diameter until it reaches a tip size equal to the front section of the fly line.Usually marked as DT1, DT2 and so on through DT6.  When one end of the line becomes worn, you can turn it around and use the unused tapered end.Janice O’Shea , a professional fly fishing guide recommends a DT5 weight line as a good starter line for fly fishing Colorado.
  2. Weight Forward — The first 30 to 50 feet of the 90 feet fly line contain most of the weight.  The line behind the head is a smaller diameter line.  Noted as WF5, WF6, WF7 and so on.  Generally weight forward lines are used on rods for 7 weight up.  A weight forward line will load a rod quickly.  They are good for casting heavy nymphs, bushy dry flies and terrestrials into a stiff breeze.


Choosing a Balanced Fly Rod, Reel and Fly Line Combination

In my research, I have found these three considerations seem to be common.  Continue reading “How to Choose Fly Rods”

Analysis of Fly Rods

 Analysis of Fly Rods


How to tell premium fly fishing rods 
from cheap fly rods

Are there ways to tell premium fly rods from cheap fly fishing rods?  The answer is a definitive Yes!

Here are some items to examine when looking for a premium fly rod.  See the premium 9 foot 4 piece travel rod shown above.

  1. Premium fly rods will generally have 1 guide for approximately each foot of rod not counting the main stripping guide. Premium fly rods may have two stripping guides but the second one is counted in the guide count. For example, the nine-foot premium fly rod pictured above has a total of ten guides not including the main stripping guide.

    As the rod length increases so should the number of guides. Remember the rule of 1 guide for approximately each 1 foot of rod length plus a tip top guide.  (Ex.  A premium 8’6" fly rod should have 9 guides plus the main stripping guide = 10 guides.  (Round up to the next higher whole fly rod length number, then count your guides)


  2. A good model fly rod will generally have 1 less guide than the premium models.  For the nine foot model shown here, a good rod would have nine guides not counting the main stripping guide.


  3. A cheaper model fly rod will generally have still fewer guides not including the stripping guide. For example, a cheap nine-foot fly rod may have only eight guides not including the main stripping guide.

    These less expensive fly rods will not cast long lengths of line as easily as premium fly rods will. Think about it. The guides carry the line as it shoots forward toward the target.

    With less guides on the fly fishing rod, the line will tend to develop a little belly between the guides. With any belly in the line between guides, a lot of energy is lost.  Loss of energy equals loss of forward motion and casting distance.  Cheap fly rods also make you work harder to cast because you have to work to put more energy into the cast instead of letting the fly rod do it for you.  Thus, a 60-foot cast with a 12-foot leader is more difficult using a cheap fly rod than with a premium rod.

    Continue reading “Analysis of Fly Rods”

Fly Rod Manufacturing

Fly Rod Manufacturing

How is my fly rod manufactured?

If you want to get a headache in a hurry, just start researching how fly rods are manufactured.  So many terms — scrim, prepreg, resin, modulus of elasticity, high modulus graphite.  Not to mention all the special PR spin each fly rod manufacturer puts on their materials.  (Graphite II, Graphite III, Graphite IV, IM6, GL3, GL4, High Matrix, Sage fly rods new G5 technology with modulus positioning system (MPS) or St. Croix’s IPC technology to produce rods with one continuous taper.  Let’s start with a Glossary of Terms.


Glossary of Fly Rod Terms

  • Carbon fiber or Graphite — fibers of carbon processed in one roll with the fibers aligned along the length of the roll.  The fibers then are coated with a bonding resin.  
  • Scrim — The addition of a small amount of fiberglass to the graphite matte.  Or by spiral wrapping additional graphite fibers around the rod blank.  The last method yields blanks of 94 to 96 per cent graphite and is the more versatile of the two methods.
  • Resin — is a type of plastic like adhesive that is added to the blank to strengthen the matte and scrim.  The resin is harden by curing in a baking oven.  Different resins will give different rod characteristics.
  • Pre-preg — the combination of the carbon matte, scrim and resin is called a pre-preg.  The pre-preg is then cured in an oven at a set temperature and time.  After that, it is ready for cutting a pattern called a "flag"
  • Flag — the rod blank pattern cut from the pre-preg.  The flag is now ready to be rolled around a mandrel to form the actual rod blank.
  • Mandrel — A precisely tapered metal rod used to define the shape of the rod blank.  Different mandrel shapes help to determine rods of different actions and tapers.  Quality rods are designed on a mandrel for each piece.  

    The flag or pattern is rolled around the mandrel using pressure or shrink tape.  If shrink tape is used, the rod blank will have spiral marks that must be sanded or ground smooth.

    The mandrel and wrapped flag is cured in a baking oven at a precise temperature and for a precise time.  Then the cured flag is removed from the mandrel. Better blanks have a smoother finish right off the mandrel.  Shrink tape wrapped blanks will have small ridges left when cured.  These ridges must be ground down to a smooth finish.  A matte finish blank is left unvarnished or finished with a matte or satin varnish.  

  • Modulus of Elasticity — is a fancy term for the amount of stiffness in a rod blank.  (It actually stands for Young’s Modulus of Elasticity from Physics.).  As typically used, Modulus refers to the stiffness of the dry graphite fibers — before mixed with the resin to become the prepreg.
  • Spine — All rod blanks have a "spine" from the manufacturing process.  The spine means the blank will favor flexing along a particular plane.  Each rod section may not have the same spine so fitting rod guides is finding the "Effective Spine"  Best quality rods today may have little or no spine.

    Finding the spine.  Take each rod section and set the butt section on a table or non-slip surface.  Put slight pressure on the rod about in the middle of the section with the finger tips and then roll the rod blank gently in one direction.  You will feel a point where the blank "snaps" over a point of stiffness.  That is the spine.  Sight along the blank and see if if the guides are aligned along the spine.  

    Do this with each rod section for the rod you are looking at.  With the rod assembled, you should be able to tell the spine by the same test.  Do this gently unless you want to buy a broken rod.

    Why the Spine is important!  Under load, the rod will always turn itself so the load is resisted by the spine, the rod’s line of greatest strength. The guides must be aligned along this line of resistance. Failing this, the rod will turn under load to the spine regardless of where the guides are set.  You don’t want to be fighting a big fish and have the rod twist under load.  


Blank and Rod Properties

  • Tapers — Rod tapers come in several flavors.  
    • Compound or progressive where the blank makes several changes to the taper over the length of the total blank.
    • Continuous or smooth where the blank is one smooth taper from butt to tip.  (These types of tapers are a newer taper allowed by better ferrule design.)
  • Ferrules — The connection points between sections of a rod.  The ferrules generally offer a point of increased resistance in the blank which will affect the overall action of the rod.  A badly designed ferrule can break a blank from the leverage force applied to the inside of the blank.  This applies to two piece and multi-piece rods.  Newer ferrules are often thinner walled than older designed ferrules.  And so offer a better rod action.
    • Tip over Butt — are ferrules where the butt of the section above tapers enough to allow the male end below to be fit into the female ferrule section above.  (These were the first effective fiber glass design ferrule to replace metal ferrules.)  They are still in common use today.  The female section of the ferrule is usually reinforced with a section of cross-wise graphite fibers for lateral strength under load.  Each blank section with this type of ferrule must be made on a separate mandrel.
    • Internal or Spigot Ferrule — A spigot is glued into the butt section.  The spigot is a perfect fit for the ferrule section above.  To reinforce the female ferrule section above, graphite is glued perpendicular to the graphite blank.  Many rod manufacturers who use this type of ferrule, maintain it provides a consistent transfer of energy and adds very little weight to the blank.  There is usually a slight gap in each ferrule when the rod is assembled to allow for wear.  (note:  I have one 9 ft graphite rod with this type of ferrule system.  I much prefer the tip over butt system.)
    • Sleeve Ferrule — an external female sleeve is glued over the butt of each rod  section.  Then the male end is fit into the the female sleeve to assemble the rod.  There is a continuous taper inside the ferrule which is an extremely strong design.  But some rod designers feel this type adds too much weight and stiffness.  

      Scott Fly Rods have engineered a sleeve over ferrule to produce a thin walled extremely strong smooth ferrule.  Scott claims their ferrule system allows for a smooth transfer of power through out the rod blank. 

    • Flared Ferrule — Designed and patented by Gary Loomis.  This ferrule is based on the tip over butt system.  The rod section has a flare at the female end of the ferrule.  The butt section is inserted into the female end.  This type of ferrule produces a small tip over butt ferrule with excellent energy transfer through the short ferrule length.  (Editor Note:  I have a G.Loomis rod which I very much enjoy using.)



Analysis of fly rods — How to tell premium fly fishing rods 
from cheap fly rods

How to Choose Fly Rods