The Neighborhood of Rod Building

Posted on January 2, 2014


Every rod has a story, and I’ve noticed how the last few I’ve build have forged connections far and wide.

Big rods in a small world

Recently, I set up my rod lathe again. It seems that almost unconsciously I’ve collected a rod shop of blanks. For a while I was searching for the ideal blank to build all of my rods on, so I was collecting and building 5 wts. Then Ryan Davey and I got to fishing switch rods and I rediscovered my love of two-handed rods (and the inanity of actually trying to fish most water single-handedly).  We got to talking about how hard it is to fish mountain lakes which are too steep and brushy to allow anything but a steeple cast, get deep too quickly to wade, and are really hard to get a floatation device into (even packing a float tube in can be a 30 lb operation once you add your waders and fins). But, we thought if only there were a true 3wt switch rod, then we could launch big casts from the shore for the relative small fish that inhabit these lakes.

Ryan went his way and I went mine. As our friend Evan Burck (an Allen fly rod rep) said “Switch rods are a niche of a niche.” Numerous searches online brought me to arcane Spey boards and I gradually assembled hints and whiffs of such a rod. Meanwhile, Ryan is working the Grand Ronde and meets a Jim McKune, a Spey demi-god  who is fishing this very  rod. Literally, the same day I came across the  same blank on eBay from Johnny Kuhn at Angler’s roost. And so, I built a custom 12′ 2/3wt switch rod from Anglers Roost in Buffalo, and had it lined by Steve Godshall, who built Jim’s line. Johnny and Steve are two old guys that if you email them  you will get a call back, and you should be prepared to spend a little time. Johnny, from Anglers grew up in the Bronx “when it was country” and caught salmon out of both of the rivers that flow through it. I bet you didn’t know the Bronx had rivers. I didn’t. After a few conversations with him, he invited me and my parents to come out and stay and fish with him this summer in Buffalo, and you know, I probably will. Steve informed me that Johnny had a blank he hadn’t even told me about, and as we speak he’s currently scouring his shop to find me some 3/4 and 4/5 weight blanks, which I suspect will be Meisers. Shhhhh.  All of this is not to name drop so much as to demonstrate what a small world we were moving in where everybody knows everybody, and all are free to share.

I wrapped it up in a very basic wrap with a single band, without color protector, so the main wrap nearly went blank color when epoxied. Perhaps too subtle, unless you are in the sunlight. I had my good friend Bob Triggs  make a few test casts with it as I got a Scandi line for maximum distance and don’t know how to do any sustained load casts. Ryan tossed a few out there too. Rod was a huge success except two months later the handle epoxy still hasn’t cured. Looks like I have a little rework when I get home. Johnny sent me the rod, a sock, handle, seat, guides, metal tube, two reels, and lines – Priority Mail – for like $170.  It’s a little soft maybe, but I cannot wait to build his ultra-high modulus version of this rod. Should also make a great small stream rod.

A canon down the street

Bull stick made on an Allen blank.

Bull stick made on an Allen blank.

In the midst of my research I came across the Allen blanks, and conveniently, my friend Evan Burck is their rep and lives down the street from me. He let go a few discontinued blanks and I built myself a 7-wt, the first I’ve had since the fire. My friend David Gonsalves helped me turn a foregrip into a fighting butt on his drill press to give a nice little touch.  This thing is a canon. I’ve fished it 3 times and broken it twice (not the blank’s fault, lost two guides in the brush, Forhan locking wraps suddenly seem like such a good idea). The only lines I have for it are a full sink #6 tip and a floating line that came with a Medalist reel I bought on eBay which is probably older than I am. Even with the missing guides and my seriously degraded stop it just rockets both lines. In my static line testing, I moved every guide at least an inch from the manufacturers recommendations, so I cannot wait to test it against the commercial model. I also have a Spey blank from him. These rods are fast (the distance the tip bends) and powerful. (People get speed and power mixed up. A fly rod is a spring.  In the spring equation F= kx, where f is the force, k is the spring factor, and x is the distance. In rods,  speed = x, power =k). If you want to buy and not build a rod, I cannot recommend them enough. The price/value ratio is unequaled and I would gladly have all my rods on their blanks.

I decided to be a little more flash with this one, although I regret using that brand of metallic thread. It cost me a ton of rework and never really packed right.

Why, yes, I do have a 7-piece rod in my pocket

In my blank stash I had a little 7-piece 8′ 3 wt. I had started but got glue in the reel seat tunnel. I couldn’t order the blank in the original garnet color, but I did get it in a nice teal.  I decided to wrap one up for my nephew and one for the fellow whose family owns the local furniture store in my parents’/sister’s home town, Franklin NH. My sister knows everybody in town and found out that this  entire family fly fishes. I met the dad a few years ago and he would tell me a few places to go and a few flies to tie on. Eventually I was coming in with discoveries of my own. Last summer his son, Jason,  broke his 7 wt and I stayed up until 3 in the morning repairing it, a job I was not proud of, so I decided to build him something nicer.  However, Jason was thrilled with the repair which got me an invitation to the family pool on the Miramichi river in new Brunswick. Here his dad has landed a 42″ fish, and when I walked in to deliver the 3 wt. Jason showed me a 30″ fish he’d caught on the repaired rod.

Due to circumstances under my control, I only had a couple of nights to build the two rods, and as the kit came with double-footed guides it was double the work, making for 24 wraps for each rod! They look better in person than in the macros, but the light thread on the dark blanks probably could be packed a little tighter, even though I had to use vice grips to adjust the guides. My mom made the rod bag for Liam, one of the nicest I’ve ever seen, although the picture doesn’t do it justice.  I’m trying to get her to do it as a little side business as custom rods and cases can be a bear to track down. I got the complete kits from Blanks by Roger on eBay, for $40 each.  Honest rod design and production has really gotten democratized in the last decade or so. They have the finest cork I’ve ever seen on the handles. To buy rings like this when I make handles they are ~$2.50 each. I got the line and reel from Angler’s Roost for, get this, $15, and it is the slickest line I ever cast.

The first one I laid out typically and actually ended up with the section above the handle not having any guides on it, something that is not only aesthetically displeasing, but makes it hard to spine-align the rod on assembly at the streamside. (Compounded by the fact that most non-rod building anglers don’t even know what this means.) On the second rod, I moved the hook keeper up  from the handle/winding check on to this second section of the blank, something I’ve seen on old bamboo rods. I quite like the effect. You can see it on the golden wrapped rod just below the reel seat in the photo below. I put a 5-band red inlay on it to give it a little pop, because I can’t just do a single color rod! The other thing I really like is that Roger sends these cool hinged single foot keepers. I wish I’d taken a macro of it but I think you can see it pretty well here.

Hook keeper detail

Hook keeper detail

Due to space limitations and learning the timing of an 8′ rod. I could only put out about 60′ in the yard here, but the rod is surprisingly fast, and has a bunch of power, although the tip seems plenty sensitive.  And best of all, it’s so light it doesn’t hurt my hand at all! These babies will fit into my computer bag and I also have the 5 wt version of it. Of course I still want to get a Dan Craft blank to replace the ones I lost, but I have a 10′ 5wt custom of his I got on eBay for less than the blank price, and again I cannot say enough about these rods.