Fiberglass Components

3 – Fiberglass Components

Were you born after 1965? If so, your first fly rod was probably a graphite or your dad’s old fiberglass. You’ve been exposed to very little of the fiberglass world. Similar to the only foreign country you’ve seen is Mexico at Nogales during Spring break. Here I will show you the breadth of component technology used on vintage fiberglass rods. We will look at guides, ferrules, gripe and reel seats. 

The top guide in the image to the right is a common snake guide. Below that is a double loop guide. These were used as stripping guides or the first one or two guides after the stripper. Of the three stripping guides pictured, the middle has an agate insert, the top a black insert, and the bottom is chrome plated. The agate insert was common on bamboo rods, and some fiberglass, but I have not seen one on graphite. Guides now benefit from high tech metals that are tougher and smoother. They have become larger in diameter, as much as two or three times the diameter of stripping guides found on old fiberglass rods.

Ferrules saw significant development from those found on bamboo rods. The top-left ferrule (A) is metals, but notice the rubber o-ring often found on the more expensive rods. Metal ferrules were use exclusively on bamboo rods, and not at all on graphite. This is a butt-over-tip ferrule. The butt section fits over the tip section. The (B) ferrule is a spigot ferrule. A tapered plug is in the butt section, to the right, and the tip fits over it. A metal plug is shown here, but fiberglass and plastic were more often used. Spigot ferrules were developed by the fiberglass people and are still used today. The (C) ferrule is a tip over butt, the female part is added to the tip blank and fits over the butt blank. Notice the metal wear and reinforcement ring. The (D) ferrule is a tip-over-butt, and is built into the rod blank. It is almost all we see on graphite rods today, and it comes with no additional labor or material cost, but when Fenwick patented the design it required two blanks to make one rod.

Fiberglass rods did not use many full-well shapes, which are most common today. The rod second from the right has a half-well grip. It tapers outward on the front. A full-well has the same taper on both ends. This rod also has a plastic section on the front. The middle grip has a large metal winding check in the front and a wood and plastic piece in front of the reel seat. Grips are made of half inch sections glued together and turned to shape. Sections of wood and other materials are beginning to appear on custom grips today. As in the past, it’s about ascetics. The rod on the left is a heavy saltwater 10 weight with a fighting butt that can be inserted into the reel seat. Vintage rods have a variety of grip shapes, but cork is standard as it has always been.

The reel seats seen here are all down-locking. The moveable part is forced down over the reel foot. Up-locking seats were less common, but have become universal today. These were all made by threading metal tubes and attaching the fixed reel clamp to the butt end. Plastic was also used on some less expensive rods. Remember The Graduate movie, plastic was the new thing. The one feature we see new today is reel seat tube with cut outs exposing wood or synthetic inserts. Up-locking real seats are typically inset into the cork grip, which necessitates a larger diameter, rear well. What motivated the change to up-locking? I don’t know, but it does change the grip shape and move the reel weight about 1 ½ inches forward.

It is worth saying something about the thread wraps that hold the guides on the blank and provide decoration. Thread has evolved from silk to nylon, and from complex to simple wrapping. We don’t often see the multicolor wrapping today that appeared on fiberglass rods. It’s a labor cost issue. Varnish coating the wrap has become epoxy, and multiple thin coats has become one thick coat. Again, cost savings coupled with the durability of epoxy drove the changes.

The next post will start the look at specific rods starting with Conolon and Shakespeare.

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Fiberglass Technology

2 – Fiberglass Technology

The history of fiberglass fly rods is well covered in the Victor Johnson’s book*. For this post I will focus on the technology of modern fly rods. When making your next purchase, it will help all of us to understand how a rod is made and the variables involved. Before starting down this path, I will briefly mention how it all started.

Two scientist/engineers, Dr. Havens and Dr. Howald came out of the WWII aircraft industry to develop fiberglass fly rod technology. Dr Howald developed a process of placing fiberglass fibers on a mandrel and took it to Shakespeare on the east coast. Dr. Havens started Narmco on the west coast. The Havens process wrapped fiberglass fabric around a mandrel to produce a hollow fiberglass tube. This became the industry standard process. Both companies were producing rods by 1945. People from Narmco, more than Shakespeare, soon started other companies, combining their process knowledge with the expertise of championship fly casters, and an industry was born.

How then did they build a fly rod? The process starts with a steel mandrel that is the inside diameter and taper of the of the rod. Fiberglass fabric impregnated with a binder, glue, is wrapped around the mandrel. This is wrapped with a heat shrink cellophane, and the result placed in an oven. The heat causes the binder to saturate the fabric, and the tape shrinks to compress and hold the saturated fabric in place. It is then taken from the oven to cool. The tape is removed, and the mandrel is pulled from inside leaving a tapered hollow fiberglass tube – our rod blank. Substitute graphite for fiberglass fabric and the process produces today’s graphite rod blank. In either case the blanks are sanded to remove the spiral marks left by the tape, or left un-sanded. The mandrel determines the rod taper and diameter. It can be used for three or four rods a day. Production requires many, and they must be exactly the same. These are provided by a small number of companies using a centerless grinding process. The specifications were developed by trial and error along with experienced guesses how to modify an existing mandrel to produce desired changes in rod performance. Are there algorithms today that go directly from rod characteristics to mandrel specifications? I don’t know. The first binder was phenolic, then polyester, and finally epoxy. Today the epoxy formula is one of the variables that manufacturers adjust to meet their needs. Another is the fabric material and weave. The first rods were made from square weave, an equal number of fibers in both directions, lengthwise and radial (wrapping around the rod). Radial fibers keep the rod from deforming when bent, but more fibers than necessary add weight. Fabric impregnated with a binder is called prepreg, and like mandrels is supplied by a few companies. Fabric evolved to having many more lengthwise fibers than radial. Lastly, there is the amount of material wrapped around the mandrel to produce the wall thickness.

So combine the taper, prepreg, and wall thickness with process times, temperatures, and pressures and you get the action and performance of the rod in your hand. The fiberglass people learned to understand these variables, and to manage process control in order to produce tens of thousands of identical fly rods at a reasonable cost.

In the next post I will cover the other components that go into a fine rod, and then move on to specific rods in the collection.

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* Fiberglass Fly Rods, The Evolution Of The Modern Fly Rod From Bamboo To Graphite.

Victor R Johnson and Victor R. Johnson, Jr. , 1996 (This book is out of print and very expensive if you find a copy. However, Victor Johnson, Jr has written a 20th Anniversary Edition that provides new information. He can also provide a CD copy of the original for little cost. Contact him at www.engineeringpathways.com)

Fiberglass Collection

1 – Fiberglass Collection

Dad gave me a Garcia Conolin fiberglass fly rod with a old Pfluger reel in 1957. Of course it used a HCH line, and for leader I used monofiliment from my spinning reel. This didn’t change until the late 60’s, and I didn’t have a graphite rod until the early 80’s. Somewhere along the line I advanced to tapered leaders and acquired a couple other fiberglass rods. With many graphite, “Carbon”, rods in the quiver today, I still prefer the slower actions, and I am known to over-line the fast Carbons to slow them down.

Recently after 50 years of fly fishing I came upon a vintage Wright-McGill uncut fiberglass, “Glass”, rod blank, and built it into a nine weight rod to keep in the truck for carp fishing emergencies. It is a damn good rod, too good to leave in the truck, and it has proven itself casting heavy core shooting heads and landing twenty plus pound salmon. I picked up a few more W-M blanks, built a spigot ferruled five weight, and found myself reconnected to “Glass”.

Glass and I were both born in the late 40’s. By age thirty Glass had peaked and was being replaced by Carbon. It was the prominent Glass makers like Fenwick that were introducing carbon rods, and for good reason – they had developed all the technology. By the late 70’s the performance per dollar calculus gave Carbon an advantage over Glass just as it had Glass over bamboo in the late 40’s. But, Glass is still around, and gaining in popularity. Old manufactures like Orvis and Fenwick have reintroduced Glass to their product lines, and a respectable number of custom rod makers are producing glass rods made from modern blanks. We hear fly fishers say, “I like the slower delicate action of fiberglass and it durability compared to today’s fast graphite.” For many, myself included, Glass and Carbon both have their place in the quiver, and I choose to fish one or the other to enhance the day’s experience.

Having this experience and history in mind, I am setting out to build a noteworthy collection of glass rods. My goal is to represent the evolution and history of Glass. I am planning less than two dozen rods representing the evolving fiberglass technology and examples of the upper end products of the predominate manufacturers. I will stick with the vintage rods that are fishable. I don’t want a rod too good to fish, and for the purpose of the collection, I will avoid contemporary Glass.

Fly rods are a true American story. From the development of split cane in the mid 1800s to today’s carbon rods, it all happened right here in the US. Fiberglass was right in the middle. Wrapping glue impregnated fiberglass fabric over a mandrel, epoxy development, spigot and tip-over-butt ferrules, and designed hollow tube tapers are Glass technologies. Modern Carbon rods rose from improvements in material technology allowing rods to be stiffer (“faster”), lighter, and less durable because of thinner wall thickness. But, today’s high tech graphite rod makers stand on the shoulders of the fiberglass rod developers who came before them.

Finally, I will build the best glass rod that today’s technology will allow, starting with a CTS blank from New Zealand. There are other great blanks available, but my research lead to CTS. Will it out perform the best of the vintage glass rods? Follow along as I build the collection and the new rod.

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Schnieder Bamboo Rod

Jack Schneider build bamboo fly rods in San Jose, California until his passing in 1952. He, mom and dad, and Jimmie Golden often fished together. Jack’s rods, fly fishing, and Wade Lake, Montana tie us together in my memories. I write about these ties in the article below. They have all passed, mom just last summer, but I have a Schneider rod once owner by Jimmie. It took five years to find it on the market, and it will one day belong to my grandson.

Read about the rod and all it represents here Schneider Rod.

I fished this rod at Wade Lake this last summer, caught fish on a Fledermouse, and scattered mom’s ashes. Soon I will complete the story of the Schneider rod.

Kyuquot Salmon Fishing

Kyuquot bay on the north Pacific side of Vancouver Island was commercial fishing site until it was fished out. Now it is the home of the Rugged Point Lodge Owned by Matt and Kristy Guiquet. They provide ocean fishing through the summer, but in the Fall it’s fly rods on the rivers.

There are places, I hear, where salmon fishing is cast and catch on big crowded rivers, but not Kyuquot. There the rivers are small, wind through the remaining old growth timber on the island, and uncrowded. We saw one other fisherman in four days. The area is now a National Preserve. Matt allows fly fishing only with barbless hooks, and it’s catch and release. These rivers are carefully managed to bring back the historic salmon population. The surrounding area is First Nation (native Indian) land, and it is these people who provide much of the guiding and lodge staff.

Kyuquot is not next door. It takes two days the get there from Denver; the first day to fly to the city of Vancouver, and the second to fly to Cambell River followed by a three to four hour drive to Far Harbor and a thirty minute boat ride to the lodge. Each morning a twenty minute boat run gets you to one or two Zodiacs and an exciting ride up the river to the beginning of the day’s fishing. Along the way it is common to spot whales, eagles, and black bears, but it’s fish that you are after.

The season determines the fish in the river. Kings are in earlier, followed by Silvers and Chums. A few Stealhead are in the mix, but not many. Our trip late in the season found Silvers and Chums in good quantities. Fishing these rivers reminds you of trout fishing. You have to work for your catch, getting the fly to the fish, and executing a good retrieve. Ten to fifteen salmon landed a day is good.

My first Silver took the fly at the end of a fifty foot cast. I had let the weighted fly sink for a eight second count, and begun a steady fast retrieve. Strikes aren’t hard hits like you sometimes experience with a Brown taking a streamer. The line stops or becomes heave. Set the hook, and work to get the slack line through the guides without any tangles. Then watch the line rip off your reel. These fish are real rod benders. Salmon are tough. Some have the energy to swim 900 miles to the Salmon river in Idaho. The Silver on my line was only a mile from the ocean and ready to go one-on-one. I worked the fish to the bank at least three times before it could be netted, but in the end, I prevailed. That was not always the outcome.

The Silvers seemed to be in the six to twelve pound range and Chums about twice that size. They are different fish. A Silver will run, upstream, down, and across. Some you will never see until close to shore, and others will jump. I landed one that jumped eight or ten times. Seemed like it spent more time out of the water than in. Chums tend to want to get back to where they were, and will pull like hell to do so. Catch a couple of these, and you shake your arm hoping it doesn’t cramp.

I foul hooked several Chums, but no Silver. Paul, one of the guides, explained that the Chums stay close to the bottom, while the Silvers ride higher. I was dragging my fly over their backs. It doesn’t take long before you resist snagging another Chum. My first was hooked in the tail and took a very long time to land. The fish had all the advantage.

Gear doesn’t need to be special, just strong. I fished two Elkkhorn nine weights and a vintage Wright-McGill fiberglass. Reels need a good drag. Lines are two or three hundred grain shooting heads, and flies are Flashaboo on a weighted hook. “Throwing” a shooting head is different than casting a dry. It’s not hard, but you need to adjust your technique. Matt watched my cast and tried my Elkhorn Traveler rod. He wanted to know where to get one.

Finally with all the fishing, catching, and bear sighting there are times when you drop the rod tip and look. The clear water, big timber, white clouds, and tall mountains just grab you. The remoteness, the beauty, the fish, wildlife, and water are an extraordinary package that I often paused to observe.

Drift Boating The Big Horn

Five of us went to the Big Horn, just north of Wyoming in Montana, and fished the river for thirteen miles down stream of Fort Smith.  The first day I waded the river while the others fished with guides.  The second two days we all fished from two drift boats without guides.  This was my first trip to the Big Horn.

Big Horn Rainbow

The river ran at 2400 cfs, which is low.  Fishing started at 7 or 8am, but catching started at 9am and slowed down at 2pm.  Gray and white sow bugs (Ray Charles), Pheasant Tails, and Rainbow Warriors where the fishes fly of choice.  They had to be fished on the bottom, in the current, and preferably at the very head of a hole.  Fish were in the fast moving slick water above holes and along the banks, but bottom grass made these spots hard to fish.

In contrast to the Gray Reef in Wyoming, the Big Horn is a float and stop river.  We fished from the boat until a good spot was sited, then we landed and fished from shore.  Almost all of my fish were caught while wading, and most of Mikes were caught from the boat — what’s with that?  Montana is a fishing friendly state where the river is public within the normal high water lines.  In Wyoming and Colorado a fisherman can’t touch private land or river bottom.  That’s why the Reef is a float through river.

Big Horn BrownBig Horn Rainbows and Browns are mostly 14 to 18 inches, or 10 inches.  It’s good that there is a smaller class, or the river would have no future.  These fish are heavy for their length and strong fighters.  The Rainbows may go up or down stream, or in the air.  I even had a Brown jump and tail-walk, very unusual.  By the way, I landed about fifteen fish a day with roughly one third being 10 inchers.  I found it necessary change both weight and indicator position to stay on the bottom in differing water.  Find the fish, stay on the bottom, and fly selection were the orders of the day.

Nymphs were the money fly, but Darrel and Bruce came upon a very local PMD hatch.  For a short time they were catching fish on drys.  Bruce also had good luck with streamers in the afternoon.  I’m looking forward to a streamer fishing lesson.

This trip was also my first experience rowing a drift boat.  I did fine, even through the Big Horn Rapid.  It’s all about positioning and control.  The rower must place the fisherman in position to fish the best run, and then control the boat so that he achieves a good presentation (drift) through the run.  Running the rapids required picking a good path and keeping the boat from turning sideways. It’s good to miss rocks too.

Now the hilarious event, I wish I could have seen it from the shore.  I rowed Mike to fast slick water along a tree covered bank and said, “The fish are there, make the cast.”  He did and hooked a good fish.  I soon realized that if I couldn’t anchor the boat, he would have to play the fish through the upcoming rapid.  I rowed to the least current and dropped the anchor.  It didn’t hold.  We went through the rapid, not white water, dragging the anchor and Mike’s fish.  My plan was to row out of the current, but the anchor was dragging and the fish was under the left oar.   I had only one oar in the water.  Somehow Mike landed the fish, I was able to raise the anchor, and get us ashore.  Don’t do that unless you want to look like a novice.

I’ll go back to the Big Horn, it’s a great fishery and fun to fish.

8 Rivers Rodeo

Jim Tilmant and I fished the 8 Rivers Rodeo for the second time this year.  It’s a laid back, fun competitive event that donates the proceeds to charity.  The rules are simple.  Each person of a two person team must catch one fish each in each of eight rivers over the two days.  This qualifies the team for awards, which are based on the total length of the sixteen fish.  If a person chooses not to record the first fish they land on a river, they must record the second.  If your team can qualify, then size matters.

17.5 inch Brown on the Colorado

The organizers set the order in which a team fishes rivers.  We fished the Crystal, Colorado, Roaring Fork, and Frying Pan on Friday in the Carbondale area.  The Colorado was the challenge because it was muddy from the previous night’s storm.  Jim suggested we try the mouth of Grizzly Creek in hope of finding clear water.  We found a little, caught our two fish, and were thankful.

On the Fork we both hooked and lost big fish, but Jim did land a 19.5 inch White Fish — they count.  The emotions of the event are interesting.  I was catching my fish early and of reasonable size.  Jim was following and had to accept a seven inch fish on the Colorado.  This put the pressure on him.  I watched Jim fish the Fork for well over an hour after I had recorded my fish and he had lost a Rainbow too big to land in the current.  My thoughts were, If not for the fish god, it would be me instead of him trying to get the last fish, and tomorrow it may be.  It wasn’t an easy time for either of us.

6 Inch Rainbow on the Gunnison

Saturday we fished the East, Spring Creek, Gunnison, and Taylor, all in the Almont area.  On the Taylor Jim didn’t record his first fish, a 12 inch Brown.  The Taylor is known for large fish, and he had booked a 7 incher the previous day.  Remember, size counts.  He later had to record a 9 inch fish.

I was fishing the Gunnison when Jim came down stream saying he had just caught two 12 inch fish, and had found a hot spot along with the right fly.  We went up to his honey hole, and sure enough I quickly hooked a large fish, but failed to land it.  Within several more casts I hooked another.  It provided a completely different story.  Over fifteen minutes of effort the fish took me a hundred yards down stream in the current.  When it finally came to the bank, Jim was waiting with his net.  The fish rolled on its side a foot from Jim’s net.  We had it.  No, the hook came out and we didn’t have it.  I said, “Oh darn.”  Jim said it was a Rainbow, at least 24 inches.  He guided in Montana and knows a 24 inch fish when he sees one.  Aside from Salmon and Steelhead, it was the biggest river fish I have hooked.  I later recorded a 6 inch Rainbow.

The 24 incher would have put us in third place.  As it was, we finished seventh out of twelve that qualified.  Thirty two teams competed.  What did I learn from a competition like this.  There is the experience of fishing different water — bigger rivers in my case.  But, mostly I learned confidence.  We went to eight new rivers in someone’s  home water and caught fish.  By the way, Jim and I qualified last year too.

Honholz and Tight Lines

Honholz is a small lake 2.5 hours from home.  It’s about two hours from anywhere, and this may account for the quality of fish.  You can count on it being windy, and you have to fish from a boat or float tube.  Wind and float tubes are not friends.  It has wadeable shallows (fish be there), but the bottom is very sticky mud under the grass.  If you loose your balance, you can’t move your foot to recover.  So, Dale and I were float tubing in the wind.

Female Cutthroat

I saw a few Callibaetis mayflies on the surface, but no fish rising.  Nymphs seemed to be the fly of choice.  I started stripping a Pheasant Tail behind a large black Copper John.  Neither two inch strips and pause or longer strips produced a strike.  I changed to a olive green Hare’s Ear in place of the PT, and hooked a cutthroat within several casts.  The Cutts in Honholz are 12 to 18 inches or 4 to 6.  I was in the big fish region, and soon landed a second.  These guys are real rod benders and don’t quit fighting until you wonder if they ever will.

Dale was a ways off, but when he could hear I shouted, “Use green.  It’s the hot color.”  For me it was a 24 fish day, but I learned that Dale only landed six.  He said he had many strikes, but couldn’t hook them.  I had few strikes that I didn’t hook.  There is a lesson here.  Dale fished a floating line and dry fly with the nymph on a dropper.  I used an intermediate sinking line with the two nymphs.  My theory (engineers can have those) is that I had a straight line from the rod tip to the fly.  I keep the tip close to the water to assure a tight line with this setup.  Dale had a straight line to the dry, and then an angle down to the nymph.  The dry dropper rig required pulling the angle out of the line before much of a hook set could occur.  The intermediate line is perfect for fishing the top four feet of water and moving the fly parallel to the surface, while keeping the line tight.  The pauses in the retrieve give the fly a forward — sink — forward action.  It was perfect for the day.

Is it a Brown or Cutthroat?

“Grand Slam” — Four Trout Species

It should be easy, and it was except for the hard part.  I set out Friday to catch all four trout species (Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Cutthroat) in the Big Thompson drainage.  The Rainbows came from the Big T below Estes Park, the Brookies and Cuttroats from Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Brown from both.  The Cutthrots are Greenbacks, a recovering sub-species, are only found on the east slope of the Rockies in Colorado.  In the Big T and Park these fish are all wild.

I started where Rainbows are found in the Big T, but they wouldn’t hit until 9 AM.  Four were quickly netted, and I moved upstream to a Brown location and landed one quickly.  I was going to be done by noon.  Fall River flows out of the Park into the Big T, and Roaring River flows into the Fall.  Roaring contains Greenbacks.  The river drops 800 feet over half a mile to the Fall River.  I expected to hike up the canyon and fish the plunge pools, but the water was too high and not fishable.  I got my Greenbacks after hiking the entire canyon, and then took the 1.5 mile trail back down.

Fall River meanders through the valley and is a classic Brook Trout stream.  After crossing the valley to get away from the fish-by-the-road folks, I was able to catch only Browns — nice ones up to 12 inches.  At the junction with Roaring River I caught more Cutts.  Why did I hike up that canyon?  No Brookies yet.  I moved upstream into the willows and started over.  Here I found Brook Trout, but scattered.  This is a stream that seems ideal for a large fish population, but holds few.  Typically hundreds of four to six inch Brookies  should be seen.  On the other hand, the ones I did catch were eight to ten inches.

Catching four species was easy.  Hiking seven miles was hard.  Next time I will try a different spot for the Brookies.  What I would really like to do is find Rainbows in the Park.

Rainbow

Brook Trout

Brown

Greenback

Fly Fishing for beginners

Here is the PDF of the Fly Fishing seminar.

Fly-Fishing-For-Rocky-Mountain-TroutLR

Addendum:  Important Safety Rule: Wear a belt around the waist of your waders. I take this for granted and didn’t mention it in the seminar, but if you fall in, you don’t want your waders to fill with water.  This is equally important in a river, boat, or wading a lake.  Lakes often have muddy sticky bottoms along the shore.  Imagine your feet stuck while standing in two feet of water.  A gust of wind throws you off balance, you fall over, and your waders fill full of water.  Do you see a problem here?  Wear the belt.