My Rod is Shorter, but Stiffer

Posted on August 19, 2011


Nothing Focuses the Mind Like a Hanging

I got back into building rods recently.  I pretty much had a full quiver of really nice rods BTF, and a bunch of quality blanks to make more. I had rods that I spent a year on, one for my dad I finished the day before the fire and it was just sitting there waiting to be mailed out for Christmas. That same day, I’d also spent $500 on a CND Spey rod blank.

As I mentioned at the time, one nice thing about a fire is the catharsis of it. Before the fire I was a fly fisherman, photographer, writer, skier, brewer. But your hobbies can own you. Once you have a couple of grand in gear, a boat, etc. then you start to feel guilty about not doing all of these things you are supposed to do to relax. So I got a chance to think “Well, do I even want to replace those things?”

Rodbuilding was one thing I decided to get back into, especially as I owed my dad a rod. I asked for a new lathe for my birthday, and I even went out the very next day after the fire and bought another $500 blank. Fast forward 5+ years and the lathe is still in the box. But my friend Kat is going to work at a dude ranch and thinks fishing might be fun.  I’m not too happy with my TFO rod anyway and I love forcing functions.  Seems I forgot everything I know so I decided to retake the class at Gregg’s.

Fools Rush In

Because time was so short, I just got the only 5wt blank in town, built by ATS, a pretty well known manufacturer. I outfitted it middling, and used nice single foot guides. Anyway, I did okay, made a bunch of mistakes, re-wrapped it three or four times and finally got it to her just as she was leaving town. The single coat of epoxy was still wet, and I got about 20 casts on it in lake Tye. I hated it. It was a 2×4 and I was hoping it was the new Orvis line which I also hated so much I just about threw it in with the rod. I figured the rod was actually a 6wt, but it was so, um, undelicate I was totally ashamed of it.

I got just a little fancy

The red thread is called a band, the silver is called an inlay.

Bands on the wraps

Packed up and ready to go

It was a little bittersweet as I’ll probably never see Kat again, but I also figured she probably wouldn’t use the rod much, either. Que sera. A few months later I get an email from her and she finally used it. She is instantly hooked and wants to spend her life fishing. Do I have any hand me down gear?
So the conversation continues and it is a 6wt and yes, she needs a new rod as apparently they do not stock sturgeon in the high mountain streams in Colorado.
It turns out that after I built her rod I opened the tube with the Spey blank in it to find four other mystery blanks in there. I don’t know where they came from, maybe one of my friends at the store chucked them in after the fire and I’m a damn ingrate for not noticing sooner.

Junkyard Dog

I learned my lesson, though. No more investing ages on a blank whose performance you don’t know. I mean, I didn’t even know what brand these were. There were two 7.5′ 3wts in there, and so I decided I would buy the cheapest components possible, wrap one up, put one coat of easily soluble varnish on it, and go fishing. I borrowed a reel and had a lot of fun with it, but I was in an area where it was mostly one-handed Spey casting with a nymph, hardly a way to test a rod. It reminded me of a Tiger Eye blank I once built. Very delicate, not a lot of spine for heavy lines or flies. Even the color is about right.

When I headed back to NH this summer I threw it in my backpack. I didn’t have a tube for it, but decided to be careful. I didn’t anticipate the limo driver would snag it off the ground and sling it in the van without asking. I didn’t bother checking until I’d hiked it in, but sure enough the tip was broken off of it. There is more on the story here. Anyway, I fixed it with my nephew’s first aid kit and was very happy throwing 60′ into a very stiff breeze with it. It had lost some of its delicacy, I was no longer throwing 12″ loops, but my cast is so degraded that I probably can’t do that anyway.

When I got the message from Kat, I went out yesterday and test cast it. It’s no work of beauty. I built it in one sitting, didn’t even pack the threads.

Ugly, but the fish don't care

I’d say the photos don’t do it justice, but unfortunately they do. Oh, well too late to retake them now! Too bad, I kind of like the lighting.

I thought if the blank was good I would strip it down and do it right. I didn’t even know that since I last built the good American thread was gone and the cheap Chinese thread needed two coats of color protector to keep it from going translucent. At one point, miraculously I had the hookkeeper 90 degrees off. This actually turns out to be a nice feature for not catching your running line when casting, but I had enough ‘splaining to do, so I did cut that off and  redo it. I mean, a whole post to apologize for two rods.

I hope the fish don't care

But I could hit a dinner plate consistently at 35′, which I cannot do with any of my 5 wts, and cast it as far as I was casting my new Dan Craft 10′ 5wt on Saturday with a casting coach at my side. I know because I went and got that rod and checked.  And this was downhill, both ways, into the wind. At one point I sent if over the fence and caught the leader in my neighbor’s tree. I measured that by counting sidewalk squares at over 70′.


You can even see a little crook to the tip, some set it took in luggage. Use rod tubes

I didn’t feel like rewrapping it, but I did go in and put 5 more coats of varnish on it and try to straighten the tip over the stove, even though I couldn’t tell any difference when I cast it. Then I packed a box and tossed in, well I can’t tell you until Kat gets the box. But I made a goodie box and tossed in at least a hornberg and a muddler, and sent it off. It was a real sleeper rod. I wish I’d gotten more time to fish it.

One Blank to Rule Them All

I’m still searching though for that one blank that does it all. A rod that will place a dry fly but huck streamers on a sinking line. I’ve fished rods like that before, my dad’s $99 Redington rod/line/reel combo I can cast to the backing and Ryan’s $600 Winstons, so I know they are out there.

I bought the Dan Craft finished on eBay for 1/2 the price of the blank. I lost two of his 7.5′ 5-piece 3wts in the fire, so I owe it to myself to build on one, even though they have doubled in price. I will admit it’s pretty sweet. I also got an MHX 9′ 5  wt on the table at half that price.  I’m doing this because I have rods to build for at least four people now,  including the one I still owe my dad – make that five because I do owe Kat one nice rod – and I don’t want to send out any more rods that reflect poorly on my ability as both a craftsman and a a fisherman.  Because maybe, just maybe, they will become lifelong fisherman just like she did.

Kind of makes me wish I’d remembered to glue the tip back on to Kat’s rod before I put it in the mail. But it’s only a loaner, I told her I want it back if we ever meet on a river somewhere.

Posted in: Fly Fishing