How to Buy a Rod
by Mike Hogue


Most folks have never sat down to really study the parts of rods. Since I used to build rods, I thought I would go through this with folks to explain some of the differences in rods and styles of rods you can buy. This info is useful to anyone that is thinking about buying a new rod. Many people are confused by some of the terms we use in fly fishing. A good deal of commerical jargon is also out there which adds to the confusion.

Let's look at several terms which are important:

Rod Length: Rods come in all sorts of sizes. Lengths are usally given in feet. Originally rods were made only in short lengths, because early materials like cane were not available in long lengths, this is why sometimes you see a 7 foot salmon rod. Shorter rods are less likely to get hung up in trees and brush are mostly used in spring creeks and small streams. Longer length rods allow more line pick-up and make mending and roll casting easier. Longer rods also have more leverage and strength to fight bigger fish. Usually a 9 foot rod is used in rivers, open water or from boat fishing.

Extra long rod lengths of 10, 11 or 14 are rods which are used in float tubing, boating or spey fishing. A spey rod in 14 lengths is useful in that it allows a whole line to be picked up and cast. This sort of outfit is best used on REALLY large western rivers. In our New York tribs, spey casting is generally wasted space since the stream is only 40 feet wide. Spey rods don't cast very well until you get 60-80 feet out. So as far as I know the only place to Spey cast in these parts is the Deleware ( which would scare the crap out of trout) or the Sesquahanna which is a warmwater only.

Grips: A Grip is where you hold the rod. They keep your hands from sliding and give you the ability Grips are made of plastic, cork or foam, most common is turned cork. Handles have all sorts of shapes. Typical shapes are a full well's grip which looks sort of like 2 knobs on each end of a candle stick. The wide flange shape ends are made so that your hands don't slide off the rod. Full wells are generally on heavier saltwater, salmon and pike rods. A reverse half wells is a grip which has a small knob at the base and tapers like a cone. This shape is generally used on freshwater lighter rods. Other shapes like a Phillip's, Cigar and Fenwick shape were common on older rods. Handle length is important as is the shape and diameter. If you have small hands, you sand a grip down. If you have really big hands, you can look for models with thicker grips.

I like to look for cork which is clean and doesn't have lots of pits. You can use wood filler and sand it out to even an old grip. If a grib is soiled, wash the grip with soap and water, use sand paper to get rid of deep dirt. Extra fine auto grade paper will give a rough grip a nice feel.

Guides: Many old timers call these eyes. This is where the line slides through. The guides allow the line to shoot evenly and direct how the line follows the shape of the rod. There are snake guides which are usually used in the upper section of the tip. Sometimes single foot guides are used which remove mass and weight.

Striping guides are used at the base of the rod. These help to remove the kinks and loops and aid in allowing the line to shoot evenly. Stripping guides have large rings which is made of hard materials like ceramics. If you are buying a used rod check the rings for cracks. If cracked the guide will eventually have to be replaced. Many early cane rods had agate guides which today are quite collectable.

The top is a tip top. This are generally attached with hot melt glue so that the tips can be removed. In looking at rods, one of the most expensive parts of rods is labor and the most labor intensive part is wrapping thread to attach guides. Quality rods have thread wraps. Cheap rods use tape which are sometimes pinstriped with paint to look like thread. Epoxy is used to coat the wraps. Look for clean neat work. Big globs of epoxy add weight in a tip and look like a mother ready to bear twins if done badly.

I have seen commerical rods in which the guides aren't straight. Hold a tip up and run your eye along the tip. If done right, the centers of all the guides will line up. I have seen guides offset, mounted wrong or loose on some top notch brand names.

Try this one..... string a line on a rod. wrap the line around the reel knob and pull on the tip. Look how the line tracks the tip. If the guides are spaced properly, the line should trace the tip in a semi-circle. If the lines cut in a tangent and appear to intersect the tip in points, too few guides are being used and/or the spacing is done wrong.

Weights: Flylines originally were weighed in grains. This makes no sense really because you could have a 3 wieght which was say 100 feet long and one which was 50 feet long and they could weigh exactlly the same. The head however could be completely different.

Today most companies use AFTMA which is the American Fly tackle Manufacturer's Association's standards for flylines. Some flylines today are marketed as power heads, distance lines and such still cheat by changing the flyline shapes while keeping the lengths the same and changing rear running lines. In otherwords, some lines rated as a 6 have a #7 head attached to say a number 5 back.

Lines with a smaller number are lighter. Light lines have less of an impact when they land. Light lines are more difficult to mend and are subject ot lots of problems with wind. Heavier lines are easier to pick-up, mend and shoot.

Here is a quick Guide to Lines and rods:
2-3-4: Used for casting smaller flies at a close distance. These rods are hard to cast heavily weighted flies. Casts are often delicate and landing is important. Ideal for dries, small streams, creeks. Because the rod is light, care must be used in landing and playing the fish. If you apply to much pressure, the rod will break. If you catch bigger fish on these outfits, land them quickly to take the stress of the tip.

4-5-6: A heavier rod is better for large dries, hoppers, streamers or casting things like woolies or bead flies. When coupled with a longer length, the rods mend , pick up and roll cast easier. A heavier rod can add more distance since it has less troubles with wind. Ideal for river fishing, ponds, lake fishing and such.

7-8-9: Bigger lines mean bigger fish. Lines are easier to throw, pick up and shoot. They also are not as delicate. Casting dries and getting a soft landing is harder. These rods have more leverage and are useful for playing and fighting bigger fish. Useful for bass fishing, saltwater and salmon fishing. These are great rods to use with any sort of weighted flies or sinking lines. Bigger rods are heavy and can wear you out from repeated casts.

Sizes 10 and up are usually big game outfits for bluewater fish like tarpon and sailfish.

Quick Notes on Lining. Most people think that if a rod is rated as a 4 it can only cast a number 4. NOT TRUE! For nearly every rod on the market you can go up or down at least 1 number. Over lining is adding a heavier line, underlining is lowering the weight. Much has to do with how the rod bends and how stiff it is. If a rod feels fast or stiff, lower the weight. If it feels soft or slow, speed it up by increasing the weight by one. In otherwords: I had a stiff, 7 weight, I put an 8 on it and it is much softer and slower. Most heavy rods are way too stiff. It is one way a rod maker can cheat and make a rod add distance and make it faster.

Rod Materials: Rods have been made of fiberglass, bamboo and graphite. Today the majority of the rods are graphite. Rods are made by rolling sheets of graphite material on a metal cone called a mandrell. The sheets are coating with a rosin and baked at a high temperature. The rods are then sanded and painted. Sometimes fibers are laid straight along the inside of the graphite sheet before it is rolled. Usually they use fiberglass fibers or sometimes boron to give it strength. A modulus rating is how stiff the material is, the higher the stiffer it is.

Email: Mike@eflytyer.com

For more Info Contact:

Mike Hogue / Badger Creek Fly Tying / 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068

Phone: 607-347-4946