Rod Building 101 – By Shaun Futter and Michael Newby
One of the things that has always really fascinated me about the gentle art of fly fishing are the many facets of the sport one discovers and can take part in.
For many years the extent of my interest in fly fishing was merely geared towards the fishing itself. Shop bought flies were the weapon of choice until I eventually became frustrated trying to find the flies I wanted, and so decided to start tying my own, and probably like many of you out there reading this, have never looked back.
Recently, I stumbled into yet another of what I would term fly fishing related hobbies - Rod Building.
Rod building, although incredibly popular in the United States and other countries abroad, doesn’t seem to have taken off in a big way in South Africa. Apart from what seems to be a handful of professional rod builders whom one reads about from time to time in the local magazines, it would seem that there aren’t too many amateurs who have caught onto this fantastic hobby and given it a try themselves.
Why Build a rod?
Up until around 8 months ago, I had never even considered building my own fly rod, thinking that the process must be a delicate and difficult operation, not to be messed with by someone with 2 left thumbs like me. I also surmised that it probably required a proper dedicated workshop area, equipped with specialist tools too. Not having access to the above, I never really gave it much further thought.
That was until I read about some guys building their own custom fly rods on a local fly fishing website. Several novices were attempting their first builds, and I was amazed by the fantastic results they achieved on their first attempts, and using only some rather rudimentary equipment. As one by one, my misconceptions were rebutted by the more experienced guys on the website, who were all too happy to offer advice and assistance to the novices, the idea of trying to build a rod myself began to sound quite within reach and quite appealing. I found myself becoming quite inspired by the idea of catching fish using a rod I had built myself on a fly I had tied myself too.
For the novice or occasional amateur builder, who is happy to use factory turned reel seat inserts and cork grips, a specialist workshop area is not a requirement. Any flat, level, dust free work area even in the house will make do. All 3 rods I have completed to date have been built on my study desk, and with very simple tools,most of which I made myself before beginning my first build.
Obtaining a finish at least as good as, if not better than a factory built rod is also not as difficult as one would think. With a little bit of practice and taking one’s time and rigorously following the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to tasks such as mixing the epoxies, would generally mean you can expect to obtain an excellent result. One must remember that as with most mass produced goods; the manufacturer doesn’t have the time to pour over getting the little details 100% right, as you would when creating your new pride and joy.
If you were to compare like for like blanks and components, building a rod yourself does tend to be slightly cheaper than buying the factory built equivalent. One can of course end up spending significantly more or less though, depending on one’s choice of components, whose prices and quality can vary quite significantly between manufacturers.
Rod Components, Materials and Tools Required
The best piece of advice that was given to me before I attempted my first build was to build the best rod I could afford to. Ultimately building a rod is a time consuming process, and the last thing you want to do is spend all the time and effort building a rod that at the end of the day you won’t want to fish with, and will sit gathering dust at the back of your cupboard. Most steps involved in rod building aren’t permanent until the epoxy is applied, and thus can be redone as many times as it takes to be happy with the result, so there really isn’t that much risk of totally wrecking a build if you are fairly careful. One can build an absolute broomstick of a rod 100% perfectly, and it will still be a broom stick, whilst a good rod will always be a good rod, even if the epoxy finish isn’t 100% perfect.
Having said that, you also don’t have to go out and buy one of the big ticket brand names. A little bit of research will quickly show that there are many blank manufacturers out there who supply some exceptionally good blanks at reasonable prices. Ultimately you just need to decide what you want out of the rod you are going to build, and select the appropriate blank accordingly. When it comes to selecting the reel seat, grip, guides and other components, the sheer number of choices available is astounding. My advice when selecting components is to obtain the very best quality components you can afford, and at least initially to stick with the well known brands like such as Struble, Pacific Bay, and Hopkins & Holloway. Quality components generally are more consistent in quality and often require less preparation before they can be used. For example, I have found that Hopkins & Holloway guides as used on most Sage rods generally don’t need extensive filing of the guide feet before they can be wrapped onto the rod, as do some other brands I have used.
So, having said that, let’s put together a shopping list of the components you need to build a rod:
Your choice of Rod Blank
Rod Bag and Tube (Optional but essential to transporting and protecting your new baby)
Cork Grip (Preformed or turn your own if you have a lathe or similar means of turning and shaping)
Tip Top – matched to the tip thickness of the blank
Set of single foot or snake guides, sized and spaced according to the blank manufacturer’s guidelines and Stripping Guide, Winding Check (Sized for the blank at the point where the front of the grip starts) and Hook Keeper (Optional).
Rod Wrapping Finish i.e. Flexcoat High Build or Flexcoat Lite Rod wrapping finish – Used to coat the thread wraps
Epoxy Glue – i.e. Epidermix 372, a 2-part slow cure epoxy– Used to assemble the reelseat
Flexcoat Rod Builder’s Epoxy (or again Epidermix 372 – Used to bond the reelseat and cork grip to the blank
Denatured Alcohol – used for any cleanup operations (70% Stength)
Masking Tape (10mm wide)
Wrapping Thread in required colours – I use Gudebrod Nylon thread in Size A
Optional: Colour Preserver & Thread Sealer, Cork-Seal.
Assuming the builder will be using a preformed cork grip and reelseat insert
Tape measure – Used to measure the guide spacing on the blank
China Marker – Used to temporarily mark the guide spacing and other measurements on the blank, or use masking tape for this task
Spirit level – Used to check the rod is level when drying the wrapping epoxy, otherwise the epoxy will tend to run downhill
Reamer – Used to ream the hole in the cork grip to fit the blank snugly. (A reamer can be made using suitable diameter dowel or broken rod section with a strip of 220grip sandpaper glued around it in a spiral with super glue.)
800 grit water paper – used to sand the bottom section of the blank where the reelseat and cork grip will go, alternatively use 3M Scouring Pads available from any hardware. This is to ensure proper adhesion of the epoxy.
A Rod wrapping bench/stand – This can either be purchased from one of the many online rod building supply stores, or made yourself relatively easily and cheaply.
A rod Dryer – Used to turn the rod whilst the finishing epoxy dries to prevent drips and sags forming. This can also be purchased or once again built yourself fairly easily using a low RPM motor like a rotisserie motor used on braai’s.
END PART 1
Next time Mike and Shaun will show us how to actually put everything together.