Building A Fly Rod

A few weeks ago I finished building my first fly rod and I thought I’d post a little bit about my experience. First of all, this isn’t a “how-to” kind of thing. If you’re looking for more in-depth discussions on rod building I suggest the following sites:
Rod building 101

The whole rod building thing started off in the fall when I was beach casting for salmon with a 9′ 8wt rod. The rod was pretty soft and although I could cast my Scientific Anglers Stillwater line okay with it, I would have preferred to get more distance. More practise and skill would help, but so would a new rod. As well, if I could use the rod for steelhead then it would be that much more useful. I was cautioned that the 8wt rod was borderline for steelhead and chum…

So I researched two-handed spey and switch rods. I came across Rob Meiser fly rods and it sounded like he was The Man when it came to switch rods. I decided to phone him up and ask him about building options for a switch rod. Bob was very easy to speak with and he quickly talked me out of the switch rod. Bob seemed to be familiar with the areas I plan on fishing (Squamish, Vedder, Harrison) and he thought that a rod in the 12′ to 13′ range would be good. These rivers aren’t huge and a longer rod probably wasn’t required especially considering that I’ve never two-handed casted before. I decided to go with his Clearwater rod because it was affordable and surely equal to any other manufacturer’s models.
I bought the components for the rod locally from RodBuilder Suppliers. Since I was going to try and build as cheaply as possible, I wasn’t going to have access to a lathe of any kind so I decided to get pre-built grips that I could modify with some sandpaper and a drill.
For the thread wraps I built a little jig to hold the rod and used my sewing machine to tension the thread.
rod wrapper

Wrapping the thread was pretty straight forward although I did have to re-do an number of wraps because I was unhappy with tag ends sticking out.
Apply the epoxy was pretty easy too. Anyone that has worked with epoxy knows that it can be a pain the butt though. One thing about using 2-part epoxy for rod building is the waste. You need to mix a minimum amount of maybe 1.5ml in order to get an accurate mix together. Of this, you probably only need to use 0.5ml at a time and the rest is waste. In order to create an even layer of epoxy, people either spin their rods on a lathe at 15rpm (or something like that) or they do like I did and hand turn the rods at regular intervals. I mainly stuck to turning the rod 180° every 10min for 1hr, followed by maybe 180° every 20min for the second hour. After that I tried to spin the rod every hour or two. Since I was doing this work after the kids went to bed, I inevitably didn’t do much rod spinning after the first couple of hours. This meant that I had some football shaped epoxy coats. They weren’t too bad though.
One thing I did finally realize is that with the epoxy I was using, it was really much better to keep touching up the epoxy layer with a brush for the first 45min. That was the best way to avoid sags imo. I was using U-40 LS Supreme. Here is a picture of one of my better wraps.

For attaching the grips to the rod, I came across some really bad advice on the above mentioned forums. In several places it was suggested that Titebond could be used. Trust me, that is not the solution. I used U-40 rod bond in the end. Putting the grips on was messy and a pain. Because I was using stock grips, the bores were quite oversize from the rod bland diameter (same with the reel seat). I used fiberglass drywall tape to help build up the rod diameter. A lot people use masking tape which probably works okay. Since I needed to add quite a bit onto the diameter I decided to use the more structural fiberglass tape. Getting the tape in place and keeping it in place while sliding a cork grip with a snug fit over it is not easy. The next picture shows the lower grip in place with the reel seat still loosely fitting over the rod.
Bob suggested that I place the reel seat downlocking which might be better for rod balance.

Prior to placing the upper grip onto the rod, I used a file to shape a recessed bore that would fit the reel seat.

Once that was done I used a white paint pen to write on the rod. Epoxy was then put over top of my signature and hook keep wraps. Again I had problems with some sags and uneveniness with the epoxy. I decided to sand the bumps flat but instead of putting another layer of epoxy on, I sprayed on a couple of thin layers of instant dry glossy lacquer. The lacquer filled in the microgrooves left by the sanding, and the final finish was perfectly acceptable.
sand epoxy before varnishDSC_0895

The rod was now done. It then took me several weeks more to get together the rest of the spey rod setup. I opted for a Pflueger Trion 1912 reel, an Airflo Delta NW Skagit line and an Airflo Ridge Running Line. This setup will be good for winter steelhead and learning to cast. Maybe next year I’ll get a shooting head or something like that for beach casting. The reel was bought off of ebay and I bought the lines from Pacific Angler.



Yesterday (Dec.16) I finally had a chance to try the rod out on a river. Whistlerflyfishing and the local Loop pro staff put on a casting day on the Squamish river. Pat from Whistlerflyfishing gave me some good tips and had me making casts within a few minutes. When he tried the rod, after 2 casts he had a big smile on his face and said that it was really nice feeling rod, and very sooth. I think Pat also commented that the rod worked well with a nice smooth casting stroke, which makes sense for any quality rod I’d think…