How To Build A Fly Rod
The goal of this blog is to demonstrate the ease of building a fly rod. To illustrate how easy it is, my 13 year old daughter Kaylin and I will build a couple rods. You’ll see all the steps from the start to Kaylin catching her first fish. Kaylin will build a 5 wt – 9 foot, 4 piece Temple Fork Outfitters BVK. By Kaylin building her own fly rod we’ll be saving OVER $100 bucks!! I (David) will build a Sage VXP and donate it to the Federation of Fly Fishers as a fundraiser when completed. I’m spending $268.00 for the rod kit and will end up with a rod valued at $495.00 SAVING ME OVER $225!!
Fly fishers evolve with time. It seems like we start because of the visual beauty of casting, then it’s about the number of fish, later it’s about the trophy (bragging rights) and finally you achieve the honeymoon stage (enjoying the moment) During this journey you get to spends lots of money. Rods, Reels, Flies, Line, Leader, Guides, Trips and then – more fly rods, reels, flies……
This blog will show you how to build your own fly rod and save some cash! Plus when you hook into that first fish with a fly rod you built the memories will be priceless. However I don’t recommend you start fly fishing by building your first rod, instead buy a medium fast action rod and learn the basics. You might find tossing a fly isn’t for you.
Who are we?
My daughter Kaylin is a straight “A” student in the seventh grade and the goalie/forward on a travel soccer team – The Extremes.
I am David Humphries and over the years I have built well over a dozen fly rods for myself, family and friends. I will be the first to say I am NOT an expert. I started building my own rods because I’m really frugal (read cheap) and I just couldn’t pay + $8oo dollars for the rods I dreamed about.
For the last 10 years, I have operated an online fly fishing store River Traditions as a side business and have actually designed and sourced the manufacturing of a couple fly rods – a long story you’ll hear about. I love fly fishing, but my real passion is hanging out with fellow fly fishers. Just like you, I’m busy; I have a day job (auto parts supplier) an incredible wife, Mary (23 years of marriage) and three active kids (Cullen 17, Megan 15 and Kaylin 13).
You really can save hundreds of dollars building your own fly rod. This blog will walk you through the process plus I’ll share my fishing experiences along the way.
In the coming weeks I’ll provide posts with pictures and videos (maybe we’ll learn YouTube together)
Generally building a fly rod is “broken” (pun) into 4 major parts:
- Selecting a fly rod and gathering the components/tools.
- Finding the spine, attaching reel seat and handle.
- Spacing guides, tip top and wrapping.
What skills do you need?
My 13 year old daughter will build a fly rod and she has some basic skills honed by years of play dough, crayons, construction paper and Elmer’s glue. Truth be told, she has tied some flies in the past, so wrapping guides should be do-able. I’ll be there to help her and I’ll document everything. In a way YOU will be right there with us.
Patience is the number one skill required. For most steps you will be able to “dry fit” before permanently attaching. If you’ve tied some flies and have some patience we can get this done.
Take the FLY ROD BUILDING skills TEST
If you’re still asking yourself if you can do this take the skills quiz below.
- Have you ever mixed ingredients for a cookie or cake?
- Have you ever whittled on a stick with a knife?
- Have you ever used glued, tape, cut with scissors or lit a match?
- Have you ever measured anything with a tape measure?
- Have you ever painted a room and waited for the paint to dry to add the finishing touches?
If you answered YES to the above – YOU CAN DO THIS!
What I will say is that if you don’t have a couple essential tools this could be a struggle. Namely a wrapping stand and a drying jig. Don’t worry though I’ll show you how to make both.
Let’s start by getting acquainted with the Fly Rod components and lingo
Fly Rod Blank – weight and length
A fly rod blank is the back bone of the fly rod.
We will be building a fly rod made from a graphite blank. The blanks are made by rolling a graphite sheet that is impregnated with resin around a form. This form is called a mandrel and is tapered in a way to vary the flexibility of the rod. Layman’s terms – the fly rod blank is a tube made from graphite that tapers from big too small so it will bend.
A fly rod and fly line is defined by a term called WEIGHT. The technical definition of line weight is determined by actually weighing the first 30 feet of the line. This definition has been a
little muddied with all the technical advances with lines and rods. The fly rod and line weight combination determines how large/heavy a fly can be cast. Remember with a fly rod it is the line that is actually being cast. (not the terminal tackle like spin casting) So a rod weight is selected through targeting a type and size of fish.
General Weight Guide
1 wt to 3 wt – bluegill and small trout
4 wt to 5 wt – trout and small bass **
** 5 wt rods are great all around rods for most stream fishing in the USA.
6 wt to 8 wt – bass, striper, large trout and steelhead
8 wt and up – this is big boy territory salmon, tarpon, musky
Fly rod length
The length of a fly rod is determined many times by the environment and type of fishing being done. A short rod will work well when fishing confined streams with very little casting room. While a longer rod is handy when wanting to cast long distances or to increase the control of the line. Most fly rods are 8’ 6” to 9’ in length.
Rod Action – modulus
A fly rod will also have a characteristic called action. Terms like fast action, medium fast and slow will be used. The action is a combination of changes in the graphite material stiffness – “Modulus” and the blank taper. This action is beneficial for different types of fly fishing, a delicate dry fly presentation will want a slow action rod, while trying to punch a large fly through the wind will want a fast action.
The ferrule is the joint between two pieces of the rod blank. The most common is a sleeve over ferrule, which has the forward piece sliding directly over the rear/bottom piece.
Since the blank is made by rolling a graphite sheet onto itself the thickest overlapping section is call the spline.
The spline will be mark so the guides and grip can be oriented to it.
This is the hardware that attaches the reel to the rod. The insert is usually made of wood or anodized aluminum. This hardware is one of the ways to really dress up your rod. I have the ability to laser engrave a personal touch in my rods. What do you think? I’m going to put Kaylin’s name on her rod just like we did for Megan (my 15 year old daughter)
Handle or grip
Usually made of cork, but this is another area to really show off your custom rod. Exotic materials are often used including shed antlers and beautiful woods.
Starting at around 7 weight rods a fighting butt is usually added. This is a small extension on the reel seat that enables you to comfortably push the rod butt into your belly to help leverage and reel a large fish.
Guides and Tip Top
Rings added onto the rod to hold the line. These little rings come in every imaginable material and size.
A small loop added onto the rod blank near the grip to hold your fly. These come in two or three different styles. This is optional when building a fly rod. Many use a guide for holding the fly, this isn’t recommended, but everyone is guilty of it.
A decorative ring that pretties up the transitions from the grip to the rod blank. The important thing is to remember to install this immediately after the grip is glued on. Once you install the
hook keeper this is impossible to add after.
This is self defining. Get Winding Thread – size A. Don’t use any old spool laying around the house. Winding Thread comes in enormous selection of colors, find something that suits your fancy. 1 spool should last for several rods.
I could get all technical here, (I have a Plastics Engineering Degree) but epoxy is a two part adhesive that reacts when combined. This reaction causes it to harden and become inert. You’ll use two types of epoxy on your rod; gluing and finishing. SUPER IMPORTANT Epoxy MUST be mixed according to the instructions. DO NOT vary the amount from the directions. If you vary amounts of components the epoxy will not harden.
Some tricks I’ve learned:
1. Mix up a little more than needed. If you try to make a small batch, measuring small quantities becomes difficult.
2. Use prepackaged tins, just snip off the end with scissors and mix thoroughly.
3. Mix with a flat bottom tool. Scrap the bottom when mixing to get all the components combined. Mix in one direction for 20 plus seconds then switch directions for another 20 plus seconds.
4. Warm the epoxy under a lamp – Not Hot. This will thin the epoxy and help bubbles rise to the surface.
5. Dab a little epoxy on a piece of scrap paper to teat to see if the epoxy has hardened. This is a lot better than touching the rod and messing up the finish with a fingerprint.
A wrapping stand is a simple tool or jig that cradles the rod blank and dispenses thread with a little bit of tension. A stand can be as simple as a shoe box with some v notches and a phone book or as complicated as a variable speed motorized monstrosity with gearing wheels, guides, multiple thread stations with foot controls. Pictured is the stand I built and have used for years.
A drying motor is a simple tool that rotates the rod blank while the epoxy finish is hardening. Because hardens with time, if the rod stays in one position for a long time the epoxy will run and drip.
How much will it cost to build a rod?
For a “pretty good quality” rod and components. A basic 4 weight, 2 piece kit with reel seat, guides, grip, hook keeper, tip top, winding check, finish, epoxy and brushes can be purchased for under $90.00. If you have most of the tools and can build a wrapping stand and drying motor you will need to spend another $25 in hardware.
The sky is the limit. Blanks over $500, custom reel seats over $175, the highest quality guides, grips and hardware can add another $300. So for around $1,000 you can have the best of the best. The retail value could be well over $1,500.
What should I budget for?
For under $170 dollars you CAN build a great branded rod blank with high quality components. You will need to build some of the tools though. The great thing is that once the tools and jigs are built you have them forever!
– Blank and Component Kit = $90 to $110
– Glues and finish (good for 3-4 rods) = $20
– Tools and Hardware (good Forever) = $25 to $40.
Total = $135 to $170.
Retail value of the rod you just built will be well over $170! In addition you have most of the “stuff” to build a couple more rods. The real savings comes into play when you build a higher end rod where you can easily save a couple hundred dollars. (Sage and RL Winston)
Kaylin’s TFO BVK blank and hardware kit costs $138.00. The retail value at for comparable Cabelas’ for this rod is $240.00 plus shipping. I have the tools and material already so I’m saving over $100 bucks!!
How long will it take to build your fly rod?
The duration I’m going to tell you is TWICE as long as it should take. Plan for 10 to 14 hours spread over 5 days. Kaylin will build her rod in about 7 to 8 hours spread out of 3 to 4 days. We could probably go faster but she wants to play soccer after school. I keep telling her soccer is silly when there are so many fish out there to be chasing! It takes me about 4 to 5 relaxed hours over 2 to 3 days.
The project is spread out over days because the epoxy glue must chemically react to harden. This can’t be rushed, and you really don’t want to rush this project. Taking a break is good, you get to think through the next steps.
Rod selection – easy and hard decisions
I’ll repeat what I said in the third paragraph. Don’t make building a fly rod the first thing on your fly fishing journey. Get an inexpensive (check ebay) medium fast action rod and get out and fish. I’m assuming you already own a fly rod and you’re building one to expand your arsenal. If this is the case you’ve got a pretty good idea what you’re looking for.
– Maybe you really want a 10 foot nymphing rod so you can control the line a little better. Easy!
– Or you’ve out grown that “beginner” outfit and you’re ready to upgrade. You’ve refined your skills and maybe want to bump up a line weight or two. Again easy decision!
– You had great time last salmon season, but you borrowed your buddy’s 9 weight rod. Bam easy!
The hard decision is when you’re looking at a + $1,000 dollar Sage and you know your wife will kill you if you come home with it. This is hard – But let me give you an easy way out. Build a rod for your wife as a gift, write “I love you” on the blank. (You get to learn the skills and techniques on her rod) Then buy a Sage rod blank and build the rod of your dreams with the skills you’ve learned. Easy!!!
This is called a win-win. A gift for your wife and a gift for you.
You could build a rod for your fishing buddy, but I wouldn’t recommend writing “I Love You” on the blank.
Why a 5 weight, 9 foot – 4 piece, Temple Forks Outfitter BVK for Kaylin?
Most of the fishing Kaylin will be doing is on our property. The trout are 6 to 12 inches on average with some 20 inch fish occasionally found. The trout will take both dry flies and nymphs’. Casts will be ~25 feet in length. The BVK was built for this type of fishing. Great action and very responsive which will allow Kaylin to feel the rod load during the cast. The 9 foot length will work for nymphing and roll casts.
The TFO BVK has enough back bone to turn a trophy if required. We will play with different line weights and probably settle on a 6 wt forward floating line. I’ll dig up a light reel to balance the rod to make it comfy to hold.
The Sage VXP 5 weight, 9 foot-4 piece.
I’m building the SAGE VXP to raise funds for the Federation of Fly fishers. I selected a 5 weight because it’s a great line weight for most fly fishing in the USA. I’m hoping that the SAGE name will increase bids for a worthy cause. The VXP is the reincarnation of the popular XP but with a slender shaft. The smooth loading and ultra fast line speeds make this a fantastic upgrade from your current setup. The color and components are top notch. Maybe I can laser etch the reel seat for whoever gets the rod to help raise money.