fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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new fishing license; origami encouraged

California 2011 Fishing License of 22.25 Inches

At 22¼'' it’d be a very nice trout.

One of the more common discussions these days among Golden State fly fishermen these days, besides whether a bead head nymph can be called a fly, is the new fishing licenses. For those who don’t know, it’s likely that California’s fishing and hunting licensing system finally matches something your state was using 10 or more years ago.

My permanent annual license was kicked out by the Automated License Data System and it arrived the other day (a temporary was printed from the computer). Attached to the dollar-bill-sized basic sport fishing license is a required report card for the steelhead I’ll never hook.

I measured it. It’s sad when the license is longer than most of the trout that end up in my net. …Sad that the license is so long; I’m perfectly happy with smaller wild fish. Folks who add sturgeon report cards, hunting licenses or are lucky enough to have a lifetime licenses have reported lengths of 10 feet or more.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the license I purchased in Washington state last year and recently returned with fat zeros on the catch record card measured just about as long as my new California license.)

There’s an upside. It’s no longer a requirement to visibly display your license. I thought about putting mine in my wallet, giving it a girth not seen in many years.

That, on the other hand, may not be a great idea.

These licenses are printed on waterproof thermal paper. Waterproof good; thermal paper bad. Leave it exposed to heat source and you’ll be making a trip to get a new one.

However, a swipe of your driver’s license your local vendor can retrieve your current license data, and for a small fee, print a duplicate. Applying circular reasoning, maybe the boys in Sacramento, short on revenue, did know what they were doing all along…

P.S. Sometime after this post goes up I should be applying epoxy to a certain 4 wt fly rod.


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part four of building a rod: wrapping up a few things

Last week I mentioned patience as one virtue required of rod building. This week patience has been required in spades.

Wrapping fly rod guides reminds me of trying to thread a size 22 fly with 8x tippet. You hope to be lucky and get it right the first time. In my limited experience, when it comes to wrapping guides, hope and luck aren’t enough. Preparation and practice pay dividends; and I got most of my practice in with one guide that required wrapping, unwrapping and rewrapping at least six times.

The goal is to wrap thread up against itself, then up onto the foot of a guide until the guide is sufficiently held in place. Securing the guide in place requires aligning each wrap of the thread, sometimes burnishing it into place with a toothpick, skewer or other often improvised tool.

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Beginning the wrapping process with the thread locked in place.

Starting the wrap is one of the few times that being all thumbs can be of benefit. The idea is to lay down a wrap and while holding the thread in place with a thumb, bring the tag end to the inside of the wrap and, continuing to hold the thread in place with that thumb, use that thumb to gently roll the rod blank so that subsequent wraps lock the tag end in place. Three or four wraps later the tag end can be cut and the wrapping begins in earnest.

Until one gets to the foot of the guide.

Wrapping up the guide foot is easily understood. As threads wrap against each other, they should begin to climb the foot of the guide. Execution is another thing all together. The thread didn’t always act as expected, and too often the first wrap popped off the guide foot with a telltale ping. Thus, I grew proficient at reversing the wrapping process with a few reverse turns of the thread spool.

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Starting to wrap up the guide foot; easier said than done consistently.

Locking the thread into place was another challenge in trusting in my proficiency and the behavior of my materials…a bit like tying flies. I was instructed to secure a loop of thread, preferably a different color, underneath the wrapping thread.

Once the wrapping thread reaches its endpoint — where the guide angled away from the rod blank — it would be cut (again using a thumb to hold the wrapped thread in place) and the tag end inserted in the loop. Pulling the loop would bring the tag end under the wrapping thread to secure it.

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The loop of thread that will pull the tag end through secured with a wrap. Time to trust in the force...

Then, cutting the tag end cut short enough would ensure that it wouldn’t be pulled out from under the wraps. This is also the point at which practice makes perfect. Pulling the looped thread too slowly would allow the tag end to slip next to the guide foot, where a gap between the thread and the rod blank would prevent the tag end from locking into place. I did that a few times before realizing that cutting the tag end as short as possible and throwing caution to the wind and a quick yank would lock the thread into place.

With a bit of luck I’ll finish up wrapping the rod tonight. I finished all but one of the guides last night, and tonight will be devoted to that last guide and wraps on the butt section. I’ll also have to decide whether to throw on a few decorative wraps of metallic thread, but I don’t think the fish will notice one way or the other.

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A finished guide. Pretty nice. (The color of the thread will become darker after epoxy is applied.)


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part three of building a rod: getting our butts in place

I just gently set down the butt end of my new rod, with grip and reel seat in place, for the umpteenth time this week, and I still haven’t grasped the notion that some day I’ll use it to land on trout on some unknown river or stream.

I’ll chalk it up to never having built a rod before (though I do tie some of my own flies), and the fact that the upper sections of the rod blank are still a bit naked.

Construction is a bigger part of fly fishing than most people realize. Building rods and tying flies are the most cost-effective approaches, if your calculations include materials, tools and your time, but I don’t know too fly fishermen who are great mathematicians. Most of them, however, would say that given the choice, they’d rather catch a small wild trout on a fly and rod put together with their own two hands.

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Getting ahead of ourselves.

That’s what had me, on a foggy morning last week, arrive early at a workshop just across the Carquinez Strait for free doughnuts, to kill a bit of time and, somewhere along the line, install the grip and reel seat on the butt section of what would become my latest fly rod. It was cold day; the air was still, the fog heavy, dense and unmoving — a day when it makes sense to build something for the days ahead.

Slider, who owns the workshop, opened the door and Phil, enlisted to assist the students, pulled a rod case and other paraphernalia from the back of his truck and joined me in the still chilly shop. Soon coffee was brewing and small doughnuts were consumed, one after another. We talked about new grip designs, rod blanks and the fog before other students and mentors crowded into the shop. (It’s hard to believe by the number of students that the sport needs a celebrity cheerleader.)

It wasn’t long before tables were covered with the bits and pieces required to build a fly rod. Like men tend to do, I caught myself comparing my grip with those of others; some of more intricate designs, others made wood or composites. It’s true that there’s a certain level of art ascribed to fly rods, so while my grip might not have a spit-shine gloss or woven pattern, it’s my first; made by me with a bit of assistance.

Reel seats and inserts were as varied as the students, with hardware colors varying from nickel and titanium to blued nickel and black aluminum. It was the same with the guides and winding checks.

Being a somewhat self-centered crowd, it was a sight to see a room full of fly fishermen stop talking about their latest escapade to devote attention to the class leader and club master rod builder, Wayne. Quiet but intense might describe Wayne’s approach to instruction, as he walked us through — with the necessary visual aids — dry assembly of the grip and reel seat, reaming the grip, again testing everything with a dry fitting, adjusting the diameter of the blank with tape to properly fit the reel seat, application of epoxy and the final assembly.

Then we were set free but not left entirely to our own, with a 2-to-1 ratio of students to mentors.

The process isn’t one of great difficulty. The biggest requirements are patience and thought. Pictures best tell the story.

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The surprising small amount of hardware that would be used on our fly rods.

All considered, a fly rod requires very little hardware. It’s the work building the blank, grip and reel seat that require time. Once we confirmed all the parts were delivered as promised, the next hour or so was devoted to dry fitting, taping the butt section to create a suitable diameter where the reel seat would go into place, and reaming the center of the grip.

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Master rod builder Wayne demonstrating how to measure and mark of the butt section that will be covered in epoxy before installation of the reel seat and grip.

Much like carpentry, the key was to measure twice and cut (or ream, tape and apply epoxy) once. One important aspect of this measurement is to determine how far up the rod butt one will slather epoxy, since, because of the taper, the grip will be pushed down towards the bottom of the blank – passing the upper section where epoxy would make for a pretty ugly rod – before reaching the proper position.

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Taping the grip to protect it from epoxy – which will get on your hands – and the butt section to build up a proper diameter for the reel seat and insert.

It’s amazing, but if you were to disassemble a well-known brand of fly rod, you’d find a similar method and material used to properly seat the reel seat. What’s not pictured here is the copious amount of epoxy pushed into the gaps between the tape and directly securing the reel seat to the rod blank.

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Reaming the inner diameter of grips to properly fit the rod.

With the variety of sizes in rod blanks, there’s no way to ensure a perfect fit between everything, requiring a bit of work and continuous testing of the fit. The hole drilled out in the cork grip, or rings in my case, is often about .25”, but since the rod blank is tapered, the best fit requires tapering his hole. Cork is easily reamed, but the dozen times I stopped to check the fit mandated slow and methodical work.

With the grip, reel seat and the reel seat cap in place, a little pressure brings it all together while the 10-minute epoxy dries.

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The completed butt assembly of what will become a 7’6” 4-piece 4 wt. fly rod built by my hands.

With time to spare, we stuffed glue into the tip top guide and seated it on the top section. Some builders use a heat-sensitive glue, but Wayne’s done just as well with five-minute epoxy. There was more epoxy stuffed into those little tip top guides than I thought possible, before we slid it on the top of the rod blank. (I should note that during this process a good supply of solvent was used to ensure that epoxy didn’t end up where it wasn’t wanted.)

With our butts in place, we will move on to wrapping guides this week.

Though not fishing, this is one winter that I’ll have my hands a fly rod nearly every week. Stay tuned, more to come.

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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.