Tuesday, August 31, 2010
CHOOSING YOUR WEAPON
Try out as many weights and lengths of rods until you find your personal
style and feel, something that’s not too flimsy and not too stiff. It should
cast the line easily and fit the type of game fish being hunted. Materials
have changed greatly over the years and every year there are variations of
composites. Make sure you handle the rod before buying, preferably
casting with it or an identical piece.
Many rods may seem clumsy at first but after practice and correct
technique, these become irreplaceable tools. Bamboo is like this for many
who first try it. The feel of bamboo is quite different than fiberglass or
graphite, a bit more like graphite than fiber but still unique unto itself.
Veteran bamboo fishers will say it’s like no other material and they would
Much like a pole-vaulter who changes from a metal pole to fiberglass,
the flyfisher must learn to change his timing to allow the limberness to
work for him. A stiff rod will allow fast casts with minimum flexibility but
may sacrifice distance, much like casting with a broom handle. Casting
with a limber rod will take longer because the caster has to “dance” with
the line and rod, making sure each is synchronized but the spring in a
limber rod can send a fly much farther. Play around with various types of
fly rods before making up your mind. Before long you will find that one
rod that feels like an extension of your arm.
Garage sales and online auctions
Garage sales are great places to find sports equipment, especially old
rods and reels. Mostly these sales will offer older fiberglass rods and rarely
graphite and bamboo. Make sure you check for nicks and deep scratches
on fly rods found at garage sales, estate sales and auctions. A deep nick or
scratch will destroy a graphite rod and can shorten the life of fiberglass
and even bamboo if it is severe enough.
I prefer to buy my primary fishing rods new, at places I can handle
them but for my backups and collections I go for online auctions. There is
always a wide selection on eBay.com of new, old and exotic fly rods and
reels. As of today, I haven’t had a bad experience with the sellers on eBay
and I have purchased eight rods so far, including three bamboo, two metal
and one big sucker about fifteen feet long, made from a small tree and
detailed with brass, engraved with the words, Forrest Maker. This is my
favorite, with a foot of cork grip, thirteen inch fighting butt and finished
off with tight wraps of cord around the burgundy wood, which dates to
the early nineteen hundreds, I’m told. It’s a fine specimen of a spey rod.
Speys are two-handed rods of British origin.
One caution when bidding online, the cheaper bamboo rods usually
have a flaw or two and will require a little finishing…mostly a missing eye
or tip that can be replaced very easily. Newer graphites, are usually in very
good shape at a fraction of their original price. Remember to check out the
seller. I always like to bid on equipment from someone with a high number
of successful sales. Each person who buys something from someone on
most online auctions is allowed a chance to post positive or negative
Online auctions are a great place to sell your old equipment as you
move up to more advanced systems.
Also, pick a final price that you are willing to pay for your prize and
stick to it, its too easy to get in a bidding feud and suddenly spend all the
egg money. Of course, its fun sometimes to get into a good bidding war,
bid heavy then back off…just when your opponent thinks they’ve won,
Kerplow! “Granny, sell the hog!”
[An online auction tip to save you money: don’t put in your bids until
about an hour before the auction is set to close. That will give you a chance
to put in the winning bid, without getting into an expensive bidding war,
because there’s less time to really boost the price.]
Look on the rod section next to the cork grip for length and weight of a
fly rod. It should say something like 8’6” #5. This would indicate an eight
foot, six inch rod in a five weight. You’d want to match it with a fiveweight
line for a balanced cast.
When choosing a personal rod, go with the feel that best fits you, not
with just a name. Graphite is the best for lightness and quick action.
Anywhere from 6ft to 8ft of #4, #5, #6 and #7 weights are fine for trout
and average size fish (lighter for, say, brookies or bluegills), while 8 ½-ft
up and #9 plus and longer for larger fish such as big pike or salt water
species. Tarpon etc. may require rods that are10ft plus with corresponding
What should I pay for a fly rod?
Not an easy question to answer, since a fly rod becomes a close and
Combinations or kits are usually packaged with a fly rod, single action
reel, fly line, leader, tippet, perhaps some flies and maybe a how-to video.
These prices vary from season to season and year to year.
Beginning flyers can pick up a cheap Pfleuger fiberglass combination
outfit in the $40 range, and graphite combinations by Cortland around $60
Harry P Davis 45 Guerrilla Flyfishing
at Wal-Mart. Combos of this type are more for the occasional family
camper or someone who is not sure fly fishing is for them but wants to try
it without investing a lot of money. Remember, these cheaper kits usually
contain cheaper constructed rods and reels and are in sealed packages
preventing the buyer from handling and inspecting them.
Professional combinations run around $150 and up. Redington Rods,
which has a package with Red Fly rod, Red Fly palming reel with fly line,
backing, leader and carrying case. Scott has a combo featuring their
Voyager rod, palming reel with fly line and backing and carrying case
starting at around $250. Professional lines use a known model rod and reel
in their combos and are usually backed up with a lifetime warranty. The
carrying cases are quality zippered types.
Most beginners, who don’t have a pro shop to help them, find buying a
combination will take care of the guesswork of piecing everything
together. It’s always best to work with a local tackle shop or fly rod dealer
who cares about your budget and personal needs. Most shops are low key
and great to be around but there is always the exception. When you find a
fly rod shop always pushing the most expensive equipment they have on
you–it’s time to mosey on down the block.
Purchasing your rod, reel and leader individually is always the best way
to get the balance you want. This way, you can customize the look and feel
you want for the style of fish and conditions you are after.
You can spend $30 or $2000 on a rod. I keep telling myself the action and
quality of graphite rods today are so much better than even a few years
ago, the cheaper rods are equal to the moderate priced rods of a few years
ago and today’s moderate priced ones are equal to the expensive rods of
earlier models…I’m gonna snap ‘em anyway, so might as well look for
The same rule goes for single rods as with combos. If you are going to
just fish a day or so during a vacation, I would suggest going with a
fiberglass or lower end graphite with brand names like Eagle Claw,
Pfleuger, Martin or Renegade and paying anywhere from $19 on up.
Some of the cheaper brands have foam grips instead of cork and the
graphite of lower end rods may lack the backbone of moderately priced
graphites. Foam grips are a bit too squishy for me and I found that
varmints love to chew on them in the wild.
If you want a rod to investigate the sport and think you will spend more
than just vacation days on the water, the moderately priced professional
models, those under a hundred bucks just may be the ticket. Redington has
a full line of fresh and salt-water graphites starting at $75 with an
unconditional lifetime warranty that applies to the rod, not just the owner.
Scott starts their Voyager series at $150 and lifetime warranty. St Croix
begins their fly rod series at $85. I list other manufacturers in the web
Recently I bought a new Redington Red Fly 9’5/6 and am impressed
with the action. I like a fast rod and the Fly has a nice backbone but isn’t
too stiff where it sacrifices a good play. This rod feels like a much more
expensive rod feels and I like the subtle color with no flashy reel seat to
scare fish. One reason I bought this rod is because the owner never
pressured me to buy anything, just treated me like an old fishing buddy.
Say hi to Bill next time you’re in Littleton Colorado at Anglers All.
What is my rod worth if I break it in half?
Be very careful with graphite rods…if you nick them they will snap! It
may be wise to carry them in a rod holder when not in use. A strong point
about fiberglass is that it holds up to a beating but you sacrifice on
flexibility and action although Lamiglass boasts some new technology in
fiberglass crafting that cuts down on weight and increases flex. They also
have some travel models, which I would consider if going deep into the
wild for a few weeks because of the material’s toughness.
There are some new materials on the market, including one known as
nano-titanium. This product of the space age is combined with graphite
and makes the molecular composition adhere more tightly than graphite
alone. Nano titanium also gives the graphite a tough coat, resisting
scratches and cuts while keeping the action of graphite.
There have been some supernatural graphite blank manufacturers,
claiming to have a graphite rod that you can stomp on, drive over and tie in
a knot. Companies like these seem to vanish like a writer’s muse, leaving
only urban legends behind. The only way to ensure you have a rod that is
worth the same, broken, as it was when you bought it, is to buy one with
an unconditional, lifetime of the rod warranty. This is a must, particularly
once you move up to higher lines of professional rods and that day will
come as you grow in the sport.
Grips can be made of wood, cork, foam or a combination of materials. I
like the cork grips because they provide a firm, non-slippery surface. The
choice of styles is a personal taste but some basic ones are: cigar (looks
like it’s name but makes an expensive smoke and tastes like burnt cork),
full wells, half wells and reverse wells (these are a bit thicker toward the
tip end than the cigar grip without such a severe taper). There is also a
coke bottle grip and other variations.
A common style of holding the grip is to fold your fingers around it,
with your thumb facing you…similar to holding a hammer except with a
thumb up. Your thumb is straight up when you hit 12 o’clock and straight
out from you when at nine. Knowing and following the thumb’s up grip
will keep the caster from having to watch the rod tip…simply point the
thumb in the positions you want the rod tip to be in and it will follow.
Remember, the rod tip is the end of a lever and you are the axis every time
you move your wrist or arm, the rod tip will move further. Being limber,
the rod will flex back also and the tip will move in the direction given by
the thumb. This is why I say, even the professionals don’t hit a perfect 12
o’clock because the rod flexes.
Anyway, it’s just a marker to shoot for and you will get better the more
you do it.
Shorter, ultra-lite fly rods can be cast with the same grip except using
the forefinger in the place of the thumb, pointing toward the tip gives a bit
more control. Everything else is the same.
The most exotic rod I’ve ever owned
My most exotic rod is a small block of wood, wound with
monofilament…attached are two hooks and a piece of lead tied to the end.
This efficient device came to me during a volunteer trip to I took to
Honduras with a group of men who had each given up ten days of vacation
time to help out after Hurricane Mitch. We were there working in a small
village called Flores des Oriente (Flower of the East) with two local Youth
For Christ leaders, Mauricio and Anna Erazo based in San Pedro Sula.
Most of the trip was just plain hot work, either mixing concrete on the
bare ground with shovels and wheel-barrows for a new house that had
been totally washed away, or tearing away old asbestos roof tiles from a
small school that had been gutted by the flood waters. The great reward of
the trip was seeing the smiling faces of the children helping us haul bricks,
or just following along behind us.
On the last day of the trip, we were treated to some time on the beach at
Tela. I had packed my fly rod and heavy duty reel, “just in case” we got a
break like this on the trip and “yee haw”, it was gonna happen!
Well, a couple of things happened that would have stopped a rational
guy from going fishing. One thing was the inlet around Tela had been
polluted by Hurricane Mitch, and the other was I forgot my fly reel at our
base, a morning’s drive away. But I wasn’t a rational guy, I was a guerrilla
(‘course, I didn’t use that word in Central America) and I was going
fishing! Pollution or no, I didn’t take all those shots for nothing . . .and as
for my fly reel, well, I remembered my roots, long ago when I first started
flyfishing. The only thing I ever used the reel for, in those days, was to reel
up any excess line when I was through fishing. I used my thumb and
forefinger as a break and hauled in line and let it drop at my feet or float in
the water, dragging it around behind me. Playing a fish was always done
with my hands back then, switching line from my free hand to my
forefinger, pressing it against the cork grip and taking another length with
my free hand. Now I have been civilized and use the reel…uhhhh,
At any rate, I knew I could fly fish just as well without a reel as I could
with one, so I unwrapped an extra pack of fly line, rigged up a marabou
streamer, tied on some nylon cord as a backing, stuck the cord in the
pocket of my shorts and headed for the beach.
The surf was up a bit higher than I like it–but what the heck–it’s the
Caribbean! Guerrilla Flyfishing the Caribbean . . .it would be a bestseller!
Except, Mitch had gutted the inlet and there were no fish!
Undaunted, I exited the water and headed for the pier, a ways south of
our group. We were warned not to go north because of “banditos” hiding
out there–I think it was north. Anyway, I walked out on what was once a
road-sized pier, but now a bit shaky having felt the full force of a killer
storm. Ah, no banditos, just fellow fishermen.
The pier was missing quite a few beams out near the end, where the few
hardy fishermen were perched, casting out some short lines. I remember
trying to keep my balance a while trying not to crowd anyone’s fishing
spot. Fishermen the world over, understand this phrase in any language: “a
respectful distance please!”
“ Hola, amigos…pescas…pescados?” I asked, pointing to the water and
trying to pronounce ‘fish’ in a Honduran lilt…one of the few words I
could halfway remember.
“Non, acki…pescados ahi! (No fish here…fish there),”one of the older
gentlemen said, pointing far out to a portion of the pier left standing that
could only be reached by boat and was full of people. “Mitch!” the
gentleman said, shaking his head.
“Ah, Mitch, Diablo!” I nodded, hoping I didn’t just call someone’s
mother the devil. Another sad result of that devastating storm, even a mess
of fish for supper was just out of reach for those without fancy boats but
still I was to learn of yet another guerrilla tactic in the arsenal of fishing:
Making equipment from what you have.
I had packed some extra fishing supplies to give away to villagers we
met along the way and I had a large spool of Eagle Claw fishing line with
me and lots of hooks of all sizes. I motioned to the fishermen around me
and gave them what I had and to my surprise they whipped out some flat
pieces of wood that had been smoothed by lots of handling. They tied their
lines to the wood, wrapping it around like a spool of kite string around a
They then tied a couple of the small hooks onto the line with nice
looking knots I still can’t duplicate and finished up the assembly with a
lead weight on the end. The rig was ready to go.
I watched the gentleman rig this up, bait it with a bit of cut bait, and
drop it straight below us. He immediately caught several small, “sardinas.”
He then put together another rig, with more line spooled around the
wooden block and several of the sardinas (sardines to us ‘gringos’) were
baited on the hooks.
Stepping back a bit, the Honduran spun the weighted end of the line,
sardines and all and then let it go…out…out…out and away! I couldn’t
believe how far the line went out…it sounded like it was spilling off of a
two hundred dollar Shakespeare…and not one backlash!
I was impressed; I think I said something like, “aye, yi yi!” or,
probably, “momma mia!” I was always saying things that sounded more
Italian than Spanish but anyway, everyone laughed and then he made
another and gave it to me to keep.
I whirled the lead weight around and around like David’s sling, sharp
hooks whizzing an uncomfortable distance from my face (mamma’s voice,
“you could put an eye out with that” suddenly very clear inside my head!)
then–whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr–and a distant– kerploosh! I placed the wood
block down on the pier, put my foot on it, and watched it as I tossed a
shrimp pattern at a school of needlefish with my fly rod.
With a wink, the fisherman looked at the distance of my cast, turned to
tend his lines and said, simply, “Barracuda!”
Well, I didn’t get to fight a barracuda bare-handed but I did get a stringer
full of memories and a reinforced sense of camaraderie among fishers
regardless of any language barrier. I also learned how to make a really
efficient rod and reel with a short piece of flat wood. This gift holds a
place of honor in my memories and in my house.
Protection of rods is very important because of the type of material they
are made of and also because exposure to certain weather elements can
impair the action.
Nicks and cracks on a fly rod can quickly transform a fine casting
instrument into a broken casting instrument. Blemishes occur by
transporting rods in truck beds, out car windows, dragging them through
trees or using them as pet chew toys.
Graphite and fiberglass rods can be protected from all these
catastrophes through the use of rod cases. Most modern rod cases are
plastic or lightweight metal tubes lined with foam and equipped with a
handle or strap.
Post W.W.II, the Japanese made some very nice rod holders from light
veneer plywood. These boxes held a companion split bamboo rod with at
least two tips and were built with compartments in the lid, holding strike
indicators, handmade flies, leaders and other neat stuff. The fly rods could
be reversed and used with a bait caster or spinning reel as could some
American made bamboos of that era.
One of the old Japanese bamboo rods I have on my wall is finished in
a delicate rice paper from the butt to the tip and shows the effect of time
and the elements as the paper is brittle and peeling in some areas. But so
am I, so it’s a good fit.
Another Japanese made split cane of the same age is made of plain
blonde bamboo and the case is a simple box, demonstrating a different
craftsmanship and marketing styles of that period.
The third bamboo on my wall is an American beauty of the same age.
This piece of art is split bamboo painted with black enamel it also can be
switched to either fly or spin.
All of these bamboo fly rods are about the same age and yet the
American is fishable today and the other two are too brittle to be used. The
only difference in them is the finish. One has a thick coat of black enamel
and the other two were not covered with enough protection to last over a
few years. I’m sure there are other factors but you can see the two that
were made to sell and the one was made to last. The same idea holds on
some American rods I have that were not coated well.
Build your own rod holder
Rod holders come in all shapes and sizes, from cardboard tubes to
guitar cases. The cheapest rod holder that holds up to real punishment is a
simple PVC pipe from your local hardware store! It’s a no-brainer, but is
as good as most rod holders on the market for protection.
First, measure the intended rod (this is much cheaper than placing the
rod into the pipe and then cutting it) and cut the pipe about two inches
longer than the rod to allow for end caps and foam to be added. Cap the tip
end and place a chunk of polystyrene water pipe insulation into the pipe.
This makes a cheap and simple rod holder and that can be further
customized, with a few cuts of a hacksaw to allow the reel to be attached
and protrude from the side of the butt end. Add a rope or strap to the unit
and it is as good as
any rod holder on the market. Rod cases can cost several hundred dollars
or you can make this one for five bucks.
A classic rod holder used by old timers is a solid piece of wood a bit
longer than your rod lengths when broken down and about the diameter of
a heavy walking stick. The wood is then shaved or routed out on each of
four sides so the individual routs create a channel where a section of the
rod can be placed. Two tight straps around the holder restrain the rod
sections, and you’re off. The holder also doubles as a stream crossing and
walking stick…pretty nifty.
My wife gave me my first “store-bought’n” case for Christmas. It’s not
as classic as the walking stick rod holder but it sure keeps the elements out
with a secure zipper. Enemy dust and sand is kept away from my reel and
sunlight and moisture wicked away from the rod. Sunlight and moisture
can ruin a good rod through heating and warping, and even with a rod case
you should always store rods and reels in a clean, dry area. It’s not a good
idea, either, to store rods in a closed car or truck during the day for long
periods, because of the solar heat build up. Cracked finishes and brittle
glue spots will result from overheating.
Instead of tossing away those old fly reels, I like to sort them in shapes and
sizes and use them as coffee coasters when I’m entertaining special friends.
Harry P Davis
-also Author & Publisher of
Tales of 5 Rivers
SOS -Gulf Campaign
Gulf Coast Recovery