Fly Fishing Blog

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Beginner Fly Rod

It is without question a daunting task to choose a fly rod suitable for a beginner from the many that are offered by the manufacturers and builders. Reasonable quality fly rods are a minor investment; high quality rods are expensive regardless of the standard of measure. Fortunately, there is a practical solution.

A fly rod is used for three separate functions while fishing: delivering the fly so that when it reaches the fish it is in the right place, controlling the action of the fly as it approaches the fish, and fighting the fish after it takes the fly. The first task is called casting, the second mending or stripping, and the third, well, fighting. The right rod for a beginner will make all of these three easy.

The core of every fly rod is the blank, the pole or “stick” of carbon fiber (“graphite”) or bamboo to which the reel seat, grip, and guides are attached. The most expensive graphite blanks are made from the latest generation of carbon fiber technology with a very high stiffness to weight ratio, expressed as “modulus of elasticity” or simply “modulus”. Bamboo blanks have a much lower modulus, are generally not suitable for beginners because of their cost. Let’s examine what stiffness and weight mean for a beginner.

Extremely light weight is of little concern to the beginner, since the weight of trout rods is just a few ounces even with a lower modulus (heavier) blank. Very high modulus blanks may be very light because of the thinness of their walls, but they are also relatively fragile. I don’t recommend them even to my experienced customer-fishers unless they understand that the latest generation blanks must be treated more carefully and are more likely to break under real world conditions than older styles. Contrary to what one might think, fish rarely break rods if the match of equipment to species is even close. Rods are most often broken by being knocked against a hard surface, fracturing the carbon fiber material, although the actual total break may not occur until the rod is stressed at a later time. I have never seen a carbon fiber blank break unless the material has been fractured first, for example by being rapped by flying split shot during an errant cast or falling to the pavement when leaning against a vehicle. (With the care put into the creation of all modern carbon fiber blanks, manufacturing defects are very rare.) It is a simple fact that a thick wall is stronger than a thin one, whether in a fly rod blank or guarding China. The carbon graphite technology of just a few years ago is more suitable for a beginner’s rod than the latest material, and it’s cheaper.

I mentioned the stiffness to weight ratio earlier, and we’ve already discussed weight, so let’s talk about stiffness. In general, the stiffer a rod is the more difficult it is to cast. The reason is that a stiff blank, once bent, straightens very quickly, requiring more precise timing than is required with a softer blank. With all blanks, the straightening action is controlled by the design of the taper from tip to butt. In a fast action rod – the kind most often promoted in the glossy advertisements -- the primary bending occurs closer to the tip under load than it does with a medium or slow action. Incidentally, these “action” terms can be confusing, since they don’t describe the speed of the straightening but the bend profile. It is important to understand that you can have a fast action rod that can straighten relatively slowly! It all depends on the material that the blank is made from.

The right fly rod for a beginner is one that is made from second or third generation graphite with a medium to medium-fast action. This type of rod is relatively inexpensive, durable, and forgiving. It will not require precise timing during the cast, it permits gentle and controlled mending, and will protect the fragile tippet – the end of the leader – during the fight with the fish. It can stand up to rougher treatment than a newest-generation carbon fiber, whether it’s used by a beginner or a veteran who handles it with other than kid gloves. In fact, many of my customer-fishers, once they use a “beginner’s rod” that I build for them, never use anything else.

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