My Rod is Shorter, but Stiffer

Posted on August 19, 2011



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 fireand 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 (“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”)  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, 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.

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. I thought if the blank was good I would strip it down and do it right. But I could hit a dinner plate consistently at 35′, which I cannot do with any of my 5 wts, and cast is 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.


I didn’t feel like rewrapping it but I did go in and put 5 more coats of varnish on it. I went back in the house 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. I’ve fished rods like that before, my dad’s $99 Redington rod/line/reel combo I can cast to the backing and Ryans $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 also got an MHX 9′ 5  wt on the table.  I’m doing this because I have rods to build for at least four people now,  including the one I still owe my dad, 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.