fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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part two of building a rod: taking shape

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The result of last week's work.

Given that the building of my new rod will begin in earnest shortly after calendars are flipped to 2011, I booked some time with club master rod builder and instructor Wayne to shape the grip glued together just about a week before. So, two days after Christmas, on a drizzly Monday morning, the grip began to take shape.

A bit of ingenious forethought meant that the raw cork rings were mounted on a mandrel that could set into a small lathe, fitting into the chuck on one end and a nipple on the other. The first step, before even considering the shape, was to even out the surface. This was quick and easy to do with a rasp, followed by some pretty large grit sandpaper.

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Beginning the rough shaping.

Then the work began. The first tasks were to slightly round off the edges of the butt end and taper the top.

Shaping began next. Again, Wayne had a homemade tool for this; a piece of wood shaped in the negative image of the desired profile — half wells in this case — and coated with sandpaper. This form included a cutout by which to align the butt edge, ensuring proper application of the form.

After some time and a bit of pressure, the cork became recognizable as a fly rod grip. It took just about as long to fine tune the profile, but sooner than expected we had a serviceable grip. Then the sanding began.

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Roughly the shape we wanted.

Differences between the density of the natural cork rings and the burl cork rings (a composite of colored chunks of cork) required selective sanding to even out the surface and smooth the transition between the rings. With the grip still spinning on the lathe, the final fishing began with 150 grip sandpaper and progressed to 200, 400 and finally 500 grit paper.

After a cleaning, liberal application of cork sealant brought out the colors.

When as was done, though not appearing exactly as I had pictured in my mind, I think it turned out pretty nice.

I’m already thinking ahead to a new grip design for the next rod I hope to build. But first, I have to finish this one.

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The end result and truly unique part of the rod to be.


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the start of a gripping tale

The good thing is that you’ll know it’s one of a kind, allowing you to desperately hold on to the visage of a fly fisherman as a rugged individualist.

Few people will know that there was no settling for the one-style-fits-all notion, and without a close look won’t understand the level of fixation commitment.

While it certainly won’t turn fly rod design on its head, a grip of my own design, which will grace the rod that will be built with my own hands, was pieced together last Saturday.

Just about an hour of the morning was occupied by sawing a few cork rings into thinner slices, playing with glue and setting it all together. Green’s the theme, with green burl cork rings alternating with natural cork, capped by more durable rubber “cork” rings on either end.

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Laying out out the design.

The process is simple and requires little more than a steady hand, a small saw, a vise and sandpaper. A power sander can help speed things along.

The decision to add a bit more custom touch with thinner bands of cork required the use of a simple jig, drilled out to a specific depth at a diameter that would accept the cork ring. A tight fit would keep the cork ring from moving about and the vise would hold the whole assembly in the vertical.

The hope was that pushing the saw blade against the wood jig would allow for a uniform cut parallel to the ends of the ring. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but that’s something that can be fixed with the application of sandpaper and a bit of muscle. The jig again sped the process, as sanding down to the top of the jig would yield a flat surface and facilitate the creation a second, matching ring. So it went: saw, sand, repeat.

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A little dab'll do ya.

After waxing a steel mandrel on which to place the rings, it was time to glue. Gluing them together demanded setting aside the elementary school mentality that more is better as the desire is to minimize the gap between the cork rings. However, too much care and patience meant that I had to later speed things up before the epoxy became useless.

Manufacturers of fly fishing paraphernalia will sell you anything, everything and more than you might need, but in this case a little bit thought and a trip to the hardware store yielded a simple clamp that would be used to finish this step.

In a few days we’ll whip this grip into shape.

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Grip at rest.


it’s beginning to look a lot like…big brother?

Since ffw is run by a helpful bunch, a word to fellow Golden State fishermen: get your license before heading out on the first trip of the year.

The move by California’s Department of Fish & Game to high-tech licensing (like that already used in Oregon and Washington) means your local shop might not be able to sell a fishing license. The computerized and inventively named Automated License Data System (ADLS) requires the purchase of a terminal, and since there’s no money to be made on the sales of licenses, there’ll be fewer license agents, e.g. your local fly shop. Only shops selling a high volume of licenses will receive the terminals gratis. The current list of ADLS agents shows that a few of the big box retailers and one larger sporting goods chain are part of the system. Another glance at the list shows only one agent in one of our favorite fishing locales.

It might be best to order your license online.

Yes, we’re helpful.

Anticipation of the first step in our first attempt to build a fly rod had something little to do with the absence this week of the insightful, biting and humorous prose you’ve come to expect.

Vintage Fishing License

Circa before my time.


darn practicality strikes again

I fancy myself a bit of a car guy, if not in the mechanics of it all, at least in the knowledge of the many models I’ll never be able to afford…

And those who know me will be familiar with my pathological incessant need to research the heck out of anything.

It’ll be another forty to fifty thousand miles, four years and a few handfuls of Benjamins before the time comes to consider another vehicle, but hopes were high since visiting the auto show Thanksgiving week that perhaps an all-purpose solution was on the horizon.

I’ve been following the development of the Mini Countryman, an Oompa Loompa-sized amalgam of the Mini concept (small and space efficient) and a compact SUV. Something that wouldn’t break the bank on my 54-mile commute (EPA MPG estimate of 24/30 to 27/35) but with enough clearance to reach lesser-fished stretches of water in the Sierra Nevadas.

It’s not that I’ve been shy about pushing my Honda Accord down Forest Service roads. One of those roads, not to far from the cabin, eventually transported me and son Christopher to some great fishing along the Stanislaus River. But during that drive and others, I gained more gray hairs than I care to recount and lost a day or two off the back end of my life negotiating some of the less-improved sections in the dark.

The Countryman seemed to offer the best compromise. Kitted properly, it’d be awesome.

Mini Countryman

2011 Mini Countryman: Could be cool, but would I not worry?

Alas, despite being run by a German company known for mechanical brilliance (BMW) the reliability of the Mini brand is decidedly lacking. Something that is a concern for one who’s driven Honda’s for many years and rarely paid for anything but regular maintenance. As an aging guy coming into the prime of his buying power life, something sporty can be very attractive and almost overwhelm thoughts of practicality and dependability. Nonetheless, I scratched the Mini.

I’m also old enough to appreciate those manly utilitarian vehicles of the past. Air conditioning only if you’re lucky, am radio and tasteless graphics standard, and a suspension designed to protect the vehicle, not the passengers. Great for dirt roads. Not so good for my commute.

CJ-5 Ad

When men were men...and wore shirts unbuttoned to their navels...

I’m comforted by the knowledge that a few more new car/SUV designs will emerge in the coming years; perhaps a small SUV with a Prius-like drivetrain. (Don’t laugh, a lot of torque with those electric motors.)

But thinking about it, what I need:

  • a car that can move down the highway at speed,
  • adapt to a change in terrain when needed,
  • possibly cross those wide and/or deep ditches found on USFS roads,
  • bushwhack though unimproved sections of those roads,
  • possibly with night vision capabilities,
  • and some way of summoning help if needed.
Mach 5

Yup, just might be it.


I’m easy this time of year

Last week, in discussing gift ideas for my two nephews in the Pacific Northwest, I lamented in an email to my brother and his wife the loss of the old, forest-killing Sears Holiday Wishbook that mysteriously appeared on our doorstep every Christmas season. It was discontinued in 1993 and resurrected online in 2009 and while one can go online to request a copy today; it’s a shadow of its former itself. Today’s version is about 100 pages, considerably smaller than the 300-plus page books of my childhood.

Sears WishbookGrowing up, my sister, brother and I would spend countless hours, separately and together, pouring over the colorful pages of everything a kid might want. Items would be circled and page corners folded in the hope that Santa Claus might leave it under the tree.

These days the older nephews (no nieces for me) can posts lists on various websites or shoot me a text message. It’s the younger ones who’d benefit most from a book that can be laid on the floor in front of the fireplace, where they can bask in the warmth of wistful wishes.

Now I’m “growed” up and have my own wishbooks. The Wife will tell anyone, often unsolicited, that she’s married to a 12-year-old boy in a man’s body, and that’s an apt description when I’m leafing through the latest fly fishing catalogs.

Fly fishing lends itself to perpetual gift ideas. Dismissing rods and reels, there’s always a need for new tippet, leader, sometimes for fly lines, that new vest with 52 pockets, an inscribed waterproof cigar box, invasive-species-unfriendly wading boots with rubber soles instead of felt and, for most fly fishermen, there’s always a need for replacement new flies. That’s assuming the fly fisherman in your life doesn’t tie flies. If they do, the door opens to a multitude of materials and tools.

Fly fishing: a small sacrifice I’m willing to make so that gift giving is easier for everyone else.


as if invasive specifies weren’t enough

Arsenic Eating Bacteria

Meet arsenic-eating bacteria GFAJ-1.

Now that researchers at NASA have discovered “alien” life in our own backyard — arsenic eating bacteria — it’s not so far fetched that the Eastern Sierra won’t be so pleasant for fishermen…

NASA announced that a team of astrobiologists have found a type of microorganism in Mono Lake, California, USA, Earth that can use the usually poisonous element arsenic to reproduce and grow. Indeed, this little bacteria build parts of itself by replacing phosphorus with arsenic in its cells and DNA.

The discovery of this organism threatens the thought that we could forever saunter carefree in this neck of the woods.

Now we have to worry about our own Smog Monster — the antagonist in 1971’s Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster that fed upon the toxins humanity inflicted upon earth — rising up. It may be inevitable that these little buggers will make a bee line for local creeks, where arsenic could be present years after mining for gold released the arsenic sulphides often found in conjunction with the precious metal.

Forget the waders, get out the hazmat suit.