I took up fly fishing just long enough ago that I still can honestly say I didn’t know what I was getting into. I remember being quite content to cast flies without knowing their names or living counterpart, hooking and landing trout with an inexpensive L.L. Bean rod and a reel without a drag system. A year later, with some classroom training, on-the-water experience and a guided trip under my belt, it was clear that my single fly box, single rod and old sneakers for wet wading would only get me so far.
It would get more complicated that I ever imagined. I began to covet the nice casting action of the big brand name rods I was given to use by the guide. Every fishing trip revealed that I didn’t have that one or two or dozen other flies — in two or three sizes, of course — that would have elevated the fishing from good to great, or great to fantastic. My growing expectation that fly fishing raised the odds that I’d hook a larger fish dictated buying a net of perhaps overly optimistic dimensions. My selection of leaders and tippets naturally grew. A second fly box was needed to separate dry flies and nymphs; then a third to accommodate anything else. There was no question that I’d need a vest. Waders meant boots. I did cut some costs building my own $9.58 wading staff out of a dowel, a bike grip, bungee cord and a cane foot.
It took two or three years and more money that my wife knows but soon I had what I thought it took to be considered a well-equipped and modern fly fisherman. I became the owner of more than one rod in the same weight class. Brand names are big in fly fishing, much like other sports, and some folks will stick to a particular brand come hell or high water. Some loyalties extend to models, and it’s not uncommon to hear the lament of that one incredibly sweet — insert rod brand and model name here — that I will never be lucky enough to cast, much less own. I remember beginning to think that one of the reasons that fly fishermen tend to catch and release is that the price per pound of any fish kept would be a bit exorbitant.
I eventually decided to treat myself to a rod upgrade, with the goal of finding one that felt good to me, regardless of price or anyone’s recommendation. I spent more time test casting rods than one might test drive new cars. Thankfully, it was on sale. I picked up a decent reel to go with it.
It was shortly after I christened that new rod and reel that I gradually began to distinguish between what I ‘needed’ and what I wanted. Though well-known brands, neither the new rod nor the new reel were top of the line but they fit me, my abilities and my not-so-conventional casting technique. The reel did its job, holding line, and when required, the drag did a good job taming the occasional hot fish.
I don’t yet have a fly tying room and the corresponding closet in which to store an abundance of gear. The extent of my fly gear storage is a small section on the far side of the garage, with just enough shelf space for five or six rod cases and two wading staffs, waders and boots, and a place to hang my vest and rain jacket. I could probably squeeze in a few more rod cases but as a trout fisherman who hasn’t yet
been corrupted by taken up the pursuit of steelhead, stripers or saltwater fish, maybe that’s all the space I need. Yet everything in that space does more than serve a purpose in my fly fishing; every rod, reel and piece of gear means something to me and can give rise to many good memories.
It’s that meaning that’s led to my first attempt to build a rod. That same meaning that comes with fooling fish with flies I’ve tied with my own hands. It’s always amazing and I never tire of it.
Last Saturday I joined our club’s rod building teacher, Wayne, and a dozen or so other students in the workshop of another club member. Lingering clouds in the sky and puddles of rainwater reminded me that trout season was over and that the next few months offered time for off-the-water fly fishing pursuits. A few long tables placed end to end led up to a podium. Catalogs from Anglers Workshop were strewn about, each containing a mind-boggling array of choices. Think of it this way, the most basic components to build a fly rod include a rod blank, a reel seat, a grip, guides and a top. Each of these could be selected from pages and pages of choices. That didn’t include options offered by club members who would fashion custom grips and reel seat inserts.
My choice of the weight (wt.) of my fly rod was arrived at during fishing with my son for the last time this season. We frequent a number of Western Sierra Nevada streams and creeks that, in addition to offering trout, include dense stands of overhanging trees, with braches low enough to snag the tip of my 9-foot 5 wt., often a big hindrance to netting fish. A shorter rod would do nicely in such situations. I decided to aim for something of 8 feet or less. Not yet being a rod
fiend collector, I thought it would be nice to fill out my range of rods, so a 4 wt. would fit in and allow me to handle most of the trout I’d meet on these waters. Most importantly, it would be a rod that would get used.
With a decision as to the length and weight, other components needed to be selected. Not an easy decision for me. Some will argue that I’m occasionally hyper-focused on details, but I can step back to look at the big picture. In the case of this rod, it required taking into account the overall look. Yes, there was some consideration of a high-speed, low-drag look…titanium or black guides, matching grip and reel seat for that “stealth” look…but that passed rather quickly in favor of a traditional design.
Come January I’ll begin work on my rod using a Pacific Bay Rainforest II Series 7’6” 4-piece 4 wt. blank (dark green), a Struble U24 Nickel Silver Reel Seat (up-locking, of course) with a Vermillion insert and chrome guides and top.
Before that work begins, and to make this a truly unique custom rod, I’ll have to shape the grip, which will be comprised of 12 ½-inch cork rings in natural and “burl green” and two dark rubberized end rings to create a striped seven-inch grip, either in a full wells or reverse half wells design.
If all goes well, you’ll read about this rod’s construction and eventual deployment here.