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Fly Rod Building
Building your own fly rod at home is a fun and pleasurable experience for any fly fishing enthusiast that may be at any skill level. Best of all it does not need to cost a lot of money to wrap your own very high quality rod that will last for many seasons of rugged durable use.
There just seems to be something special about going out and catching fish on your own home built fly rod. You also do not need a whole bunch of extra tools and equipment, just some basic items like masking tape, a cardboard box and disposable plastic cups you can purchase for minimal cost.
If there is a particular fly rod blank you like from a mainstream manufacturer you can also sometimes buy that particular rod blank and then outfit it and tailor it to your liking with a custom shaped grip, specially colored wraps and designs, cork handle or reel seet with a wood or metal insert. There are many different options when it comes to building your own fly rod.
Fly Rod Building Basics
To start out with you will need a fly rod blank. Generally now-a-days these are made from graphite or other high performance grade materials designed to withstand a lot of stress. When selecting your rod blank you will need to know what size blank to purchase and what weight fly lines you will be fishing with it. If you are unsure here are some general guidelines:
For regular trout fishing you will want something that can handle 3, 4, 5 or possibly a 6 weight fly line. 5 weight is the all around standard.
For salmon or steelhead you will move up to 8 or 9 weight lines.
For saltwater flats for bonefish something in the 10, 11 or 12 weight fly line range.
Of course these are just suggestions. It's always much more fun and challenging to pull in big fish on very lite weight tackle and gear so you may want to go with a smaller fly rod blank. For my everyday trout rod I use a 7' 8" long 4 weight rod with double taper line which works exceptionally well but has very limited casting distances because of its short length. If you need to do long haul casts then you will need a longer, heavier weight rod that can hold up heavier weight forward or shooting taper lines moving.
Generally rod blanks come in two pieces and that is my preference. If you want to build a fly rod that needs to store compactly for travelling then get a four piece blank. Four pieces will store nice and compactly.
Next up on your shopping list is the grip or handle. Fly rod grips are traditionally made from cork, although from time to time you do see the foam variety (typically on cheaper made fly rods) they are still in the minority and not as aesthetically appealing as traditional cork. Be sure to select a grip that fits comfortably in your hand and is generally the close to the right size for your rod blank.
You can buy regular cork rings that you piece and glue together onto the blank and then sand down to make your own custom grip. But if you are just starting out I would highly suggest buying a preformed cork grip. If you are first starting out then you should buy a real seat kit which matches your choice of reel seat with a cork grip ensuring the two pieces fit together perfectly on the rod blank.
Along with the grip you will need to get a reel seat. The most important factor here is to choose a reel seat that will fit your fly reel, after that it is mainly aesthetics of what type of metal and wood combination you want the reel seat to be made from. For most reel seats you will purchase an upward locking seat, this means that the ring the screws and down and tightens the reel into place starts at the very bottom of the pole and screws upwards. Of course this is traditional on your run of the mill fly rod, however when custom building you do have the option of choosing the reel seat you want. For instance you may prefer to have a download locking reel seat instead since these have less tendency to accidentally get unscrewed while in use.
Lastly you will pick out the guides to put on your rod. When purchasing guides you will get the "snake" style of guides, make sure the package or kit of guides that you do end up purchasing are clearly labelled for the length of your rod. Matching the appropriate number of guides to your rod length helps ensure even spacing and minimal drag when casting, stripping or reeling in the line.
Fly Rod Action Matters
Next we need to go over the rod "action" when you buy your fly rod blank.
This is so critical that action gets it's very own section. Essentially there are three types of rod actions: slow, medium and fast. There are other actions that are combinations of these but for now just stick with the slow, medium and fast action rod blanks.
Depending on how the rod blank is created and the stiffness imparted into it during the manufacturing process determines the rod action. The action imparts a lot of characterists into the rod blank including the line speed and how much force the rod can strike with when a fish bites.
Generally all beginning fly fishermen should start out with a medium action fly rod because it is more forgiving if your casting is imperfect or sloppy. These are good rods where you don't need to cast for very long distances and precision and presentation of small delicate flies and leaders are more important. This of course assumes smaller fresh water settings where you don't need long distance casts.
More advanced fishermen can step up to a fast action fly rod. These rods are good for long distances casts that load the rod or when trying to cast into the wind. They can also put the hammer down when you are fighting big fish.
Slow action rods are for super delicate casts on very calm and clear water. If you are fishing extremely slow moving waters where you have to use delicate, feather weight leaders and precise casts to prevent spooking wary fish then you need a slow action rod. The tradeoff however for precision and delicate fly landings are shorter casting distance.
Parts For Building A Fly Rod
- Fly Rod Reel Seat
A more in depth article on how to select the proper reel seat for your fly rod.
- Flex Coat Epoxy
A good quality two part epoxy is required for attaching the cork rod grip, reel seat. This epoxy is not used for finish over the wrappings.
- Flex Coat Tip Top Adhesive
You will need tip top adhesive to attach the tip top guide to the fly rod blank.
Tools And Supplies Needed
You will need two part epoxy, rod building thread (see below for a discussion on threads), rod finish (finish is different than epoxy!) and masking tape. You will need a rasp or round file to hollow out the cork handle so it will fit onto the rod blank properly.
You can get two part epoxy made from a company called Flex Coat or a comperable one from Cabela's. I have also seen epoxy made by Pacific Bay, though I have not used it.
You will also need a special glue for the tip top guide onto the blank, this usually comes in a hard stick that you melt with a lighter and dab on the end of the rod blank. Tip top glue is available in most any sporting goods stores with a decent fishing supply selection.
You do not have to have an expensive electronic rod wrapper, a long box with V notches cut in either end will work just fine for wrapping thread onto the blank and when it's time to apply finish. There are also some inexpensive manual rod wrappers which may be a good investment if you plan to make more than one or two rods.
All rods have guides on them. When it comes to fly rods you usually will use the "snake" type guides.
If this is your first rod build the best thing to do when selecting the guides for your rod are to buy a complete kit that has the style you want and the proper number of guides that match the length of your rod blank. Depending on how long it is there is an appropriate number of guides that go on the rod. For casting and shooting the line out the rod you need to use the correct number of guides. I cannot stress this enough.
Don't skimp on the guides. You want something of decent quality, a cheap guide that cracks or chips easily will quickly tear up your fly line. And replacing a guide after it has been glued onto the blank is a major pain (getting dried epoxy off is very long and tedious) especially if you dont have the same colored thread to match you may end rewrapping the entire rod.
The kits come with the proper number of guides for your blank length, tip top and hook holder and sometimes the cork grip and reel seat with insert. Again make sure you check the specs for the rod blank length and especially the tip top diameter to make sure everything fits properly on to your blank.
Putting It All Together
You will start by assembling all the components: blank, thread, epoxy, guides, handle and reel seat.
But first start by finding the spine of the rod blank. During the blank manufacturing process of winding graphite around a spindle to create the fly rod blank (or any rod blank) will create a natural position the rod wants to bend at. You use the spine to position the guides because this is the strongest part of the blank when it bends.
Finding the spine is done by gently bowing the blank with your hand against a hard surface then rolling it slowly back and forth to see where it "jumps" into it's natural position. It's sort of a difficult process to describe so be sure to check out the video below for an excellent demonstration of how to find the spine. Once you have found the rods spine mark it clearly since the inside of the spine is where you will be mounting up the guides and reel seat and handle grip in a line.
File or rasp out the cork handle and slide it on the end of the rod blank, align it with the reel seat to make sure they fit properly onto the end of the rod blank. Use masking tape looped around the fly rod blank to build up an area so the reel seat fits snugly onto the end of the blank and so it will hold epoxy to glue them together.
Do not rasp, file, sand or cut the rod blank itself. This can weaken, crack or break the blank!
Once you have the reel seat and handle positioned mix up some of the two part epoxy and glue the reel seat and cork handle onto the end of the rod. Let the epoxy cure and dry overnight before continuing on.
Visually align the guides onto the blank and tape them onto the blank using masking tape. This can be a difficult step and you need to be precise. Take your time and make sure the guides are properly spaced and in a straight line going down the rod blank.
Remove the masking tape and start winding the thread over each of the guide foots one at a time. Keep the thread in a neat and even wrap and continually check to make sure all of the guides are in alignment from the butt of the fly rod to the tip. Adjust as needed before you apply any epoxy.
Visually inspect the guides one last time and make any adjustments to keep them in a nice straight line. This is really important because you will notice a guide this is not perfectly aligned and it's to late to adjust it when you have applied the epoxy. Mix up some two part epoxy and sparingly apply a coat over the threads. It's perfectly fine to put a very lite coat of epoxy on the first pass, and apply a second or third coat later on.
You need to keep turning the rod continuously to prevent the epoxy from dripping or forming unevenly until it starts to harden and cure. This could take awhile. Let the epoxy dry and cure overnight before applying a second coat.
Apply a second or third coat to the threads completely and evenly as needed when hard you should be able to run your finshers over the threads and have them be smooth without feeling the ridges of the thread, make sure to turn the rod blank so the epoxy will cure evenly.
Rod Building Thread and Wraps
You want to buy rod wrapping thread that is specifically made for winding around a rod, not your garden variety thread used for stitching together clothes.
Gudebrod is a major manufacturer of good quality rod wrapping threads and when first starting out you will probably want to stick with thread that doesn't require color preserver and will maintain its color and not fade. Having to use color preserver can add more challenges and difficulty.
When it comes to wrapping threads a simple continuous wrap will be sufficient. You will wrap each of the snake guides onto the blank, the hook keeper and around each ferrule where the pieces of the rod are put together for added strength and prevent them from cracking or breaking under use.
There is a trick for hiding the thread tag end; when you are close to finishing off a given wrap take a small piece of thread and create a loop with it and wrap the thread over the loop with the end of the top of the loop pointing in the same direction you are wrapping. When you finish your wrap cut the thread and feed the tag end of the thread through the loop. Finally gently pull on the other end of the loop which will pull the tag end of the wrap back underneath of the wrap effectively hiding the tag end and pull the loop completely out of the wrap.
Remember to take your time with the wrapping process. It's perfectly fine to unwrap and re-wrap as many times as it takes to get the wraps correctly, only when you lay down epoxy does it become permanent.
As you progress you may want to learn more advanced wrapping patterns like diamond shapes, chevrons, fish and even flags. There are few good books out there that teach you these more advanced patterns.