Although many game anglers tie their own flies, very few bother to make their own fly rods. I find this odd as it takes far more skill to tie a good fly than to make a fly rod. It is therefore my intention to show readers how easy it is to make a fly rod whilst saving at least a hundred pounds in the bargain.
The first step is to select the right blank. There are good ranges of blanks on the market to cover every requirement. It is most important to buy a blank that suits you rather than the particular blank that is fashion at this moment in time.
I have never been one of those so called "Dedicated followers of Fashion" in my choice of tackle. Basically rod blanks can be divided into three types according to their action. Fast tip action blanks are at present very popular and most of these are of American origin. They are light yet very stiff with the action mainly confined to the latter part of the top joint. They produce a tight loop of line and can cast long distances with great accuracy. American rods made by Sage and Loomis tend to have blanks that fit in to this category. Although this style of blank is very popular, it is not my personal favourite. I much prefer to use slightly softer blanks as I believe a fly rod is far more than a casting tool. I believe that a fly rod has also got to have the ability to play a good fish and absorb the impact of any sudden rush the fish should make without pulling the hook out. For this reason I am not keen on fast actioned fly rods - or even coarse rods with a similar action.
My own preference for rod-blanks is more of a compromise with the action starting more from the middle of the rod. This blank can still cast with good accuracy, form a fairly narrow loop and has a more cushioning action when a fish is under the rod top, reducing the danger of a hook pull. The softer tip can also allow the use of finer lines with a greater margin of safety.
The slow action blank that is so similar to the action of split cane is still available in some blanks but is mainly confined to loch style work where fish are taken at short range. Under these circumstances the soft action really cushions the fishes fight and really reduces the danger of a hook pull to a minimum.
The choice is yours, I can only state my preference and reasons. However before proceeding, I want to make it clear that you can buy some blanks at a very reasonable price that are as good or even better than in some more expensive finished rods. I once bought a fly rod blank for about £50 and made up my own fly rod for under £100. I then saw a commercially produced fly rod selling for just under £300 which I am convinced was made on the same blank. Certainly my micrometer readings indicated that it was the same blank. Or perhaps this was another example of rip-off Great Britain?
Over the past fifteen years, I have seen fewer and fewer adverts for rod blanks in the trout magazines but there are still plenty of manufacturers out there willing to supply rod blanks. I buy my blanks and fittings from Tony Parker. Tony is a rod builder well-known in the carp world for his catches of big carp to well over forty pounds and for his range of "Arbitrator" carp rods. He is recognised as a top rod builder who also knows his trout blanks and can supply a good range of quality trout and salmon blanks with all the necessary fittings.
Although Tony can supply ultra fast actioned American style blanks, I still tend, for the reasons stated earlier, to prefer the compromise middle to tip actioned blanks. Tony does some terrific blanks in this class.
Once I have finalised my choice in blank, I will order it with all the fittings required. I always have top quality fittings so that the finished product is also top quality. In the sample used to illustrate this feature we used a 9ft AFTM 5/6 blank, the cork handle was a good quality pre shaped "Power Wells", the reel seat was "Coco-Bolo" polished mahogany whilst the rings were American Pattern hard chrome snakes.
The first step was to bore out the cork handle to give a close fit. Tony use a mandrel that he has built specifically for this purpose. He has an old carbon blank that he wrapped with a strip of emery cloth. He cut a long length of emery cloth and glued it on the blank in a wide open spiral. The base of the carbon mandrel is placed in the chuck of an electric drill. The drill is switched on and the mandrel rotates. The cork is moved up and down on the rotating mandrel to get the cork bored out to the correct size.
The next step is to fit the reel seat. This time the bore is too large. The reel seat is placed on the end of the blank and the position of the top of the reel seat is marked on the blank. Masking tape is used to build up the blank. This is wound on in two or three strips so that the reel fitting can fit tightly over it. Slice out thin slips of tape from both the top and bottom of all tapes (this provides a key for the Araldite glue) then mix the glue and place a thin layer over the tapes. Push on the screw winch fitting into place and the remaining cork handle into position so that the top of the screw fitting sinks inside of the cork. A nice touch is to glue on a metal collar on the top of the handle to give it that very professional touch.
Before starting to whip on rings, try to find the backbone of the top section. To do this, bend the rod to see which way it bends naturally under tension. This is important, as if it is not done the rings could end up out of line when playing a big trout. I always use a little piece of masking tape to mark the inside of the backbone. This is a guide for the rings which should be in-line with the marker.
The next step is to mark out the position of the rod rings. I use marking tape to show the front edge of the rod ring. Tony Parker will provide you with the rod ring spacing, alternatively you can take them from a finished rod from your local retailer. However ringing a rod is very personal and readers might prefer their own pattern.
The next step is to secure the first ring in position by wrapping masking tape around one of the feet and the blank. Wrap in whipping silk around the exposed shoe, trapping the end of the whipping silk under the whipping. Take great care not to cross the whipping so that a neat very close finish is obtained.
Once you have completed about ten turns of the whipping take a sharp razor knife and cut the remainder of the trapped line flush with the whipping. Then continue with the whipping stopping about a quarter of an inch from the end of the shoe nearest the ring. Place a length of nylon in the path of the whipping silk so that the loop is facing the eye in the ring. Whip over the loop, stopping at the end of the shoe part of the ring. Cut the whipping silk so that there is about one and a half inches left free. Hold this tightly and push the end through the loop. Then pull the nylon loop backwards so that the whipping silk end is pulled back through. Pull tight and trim off with a sharp blade.
Examine the whipping. Any gaps can be lightly scratched to even out but take care to make sure the rings are in line, then Araldite the top ring in position.
In the past, I used to use varnish. I would finger varnish the whippings with, on average, eight coats of varnish leaving a day between each coat to dry. Then apply another three coats again using the finger varnish technique to the whole blank and whippings. It would take me over two weeks to make a rod!
Fortunately modern finishes are much quicker requiring much less effort to get a superior finish. The materials required are an epoxy resin and hardener, two syringes, a quarter inch flat artist's brush, razor knife, and an egg cup lined with aluminium kitchen foil.
The first step is to mix the resin and hardener but it is critical that equal amounts of resin and hardener are mixed in the egg cup. You must use separate syringes to accurately measure out both resin and hardener. Normally I mix a half ml of both components at a time.
Apply the mix to the whipping. Tony being a carp angler uses an old rod pod. However it is important to rotate the horizontal blank a quarter of a turn every ten minutes for an hour to avoid any dripping. Then leave over night in a warm room to dry.
Before applying the second coat use a scalpel to remove any lumps, bumps or hairs. Apply a second coat and go past the whipping by one sixteenth of an inch. A good hint is that gentle blowing will remove any air bubbles in the resin.
Once the second coat is applied to the horizontal rod, you must again turn the blank a quarter turn every ten minutes for an hour. Then leave it to dry in a dust free environment. The rod is then finished ready for use.
With care you could soon be fishing with your own personalised top quality rod. I enjoy being in the fishery hut with those anglers with more money than sense, telling me how much they paid for their tackle. Often I am asked what make of rod was I using. They appear a little confused when I answer a "Rushmer". I'm no tackle tart!
It is easy to make claims for rods but as I am reviewing fly fisheries for the web site, I really have to use mine to get a result - often under far-from-ideal conditions. Although I do sometimes use commercially produced rods for the odd trout fishery review the majority are carried out using home made fly rods.
I suppose the ultimate test of my home made fly rods came when fishing Hazelcopse Trout Fishery on the Surrey/Sussex borders. This fishery not only stocks with rainbow and brown trout but also has large salmon stocked. On that review I started off with a 281b 12oz salmon followed by another slightly smaller fish of 221b 8oz. My home made rods performed particularly well in playing those heavy weights. That extra 'give' in the top section proved the answer - other anglers had been smashed up with tip-actioned American blanks. As I said earlier, a rod is far more than just a casting tool!
I don't only fish stocked still water fly fisheries, I also fish small streams for wild brown trout and grayling. Again I use mainly home-made fly rods. These fish, being wild, are a lot wiser than your typical stillwater stockie and as such require a delicate approach with pin point casting accuracy. I have had some good sized wild browns and plenty of two pound plus grayling on this gear, the best grayling being just an ounce under three pounds.
In all honesty, I believe my results over the years show that for me, home-made fly rods really work. I would seriously recommend to readers that they give very serious consideration to making up their own fly rods from blanks.
If you want to make your own fly rods it is always worth contacting someone like Tony Parker before starting. To contact Tony phone 020 8894 9022 or write to him at 18 Uxbridge Road, Feltham, Middx TW13 5EE. Tony runs a genuine customised service and can supply a whole range of kits to customers requirements. He also produces finished customised rods to customers requirements.