Fly Rod Selection

Choosing A Fly Rod (single handed, not Tenkara or Spay)

Choosing a new fly rod is easy if you know your exact needs and constraints. If not, you must lean toward a compromise general purpose rod. Look at five considerations that you should at least understand before saying, “I want that one.” In the end, I will give you my suggestion for that general purpose Colorado fly fishing rod.

  1. Predominate fishing:

Consider the classic fly shop question, “What will you be fishing for, or how?” It’s really the key question. Small streams mean smaller fish, smaller flies, and shorter accurate casts (2, 3, and 4 wt rods). Larger water including lakes get into larger fish and longer casts (5 and 6 wt rods). Then there is fishing for big fish with big flies (7 and 8 wt rods). Drift boat fishing benefits from the 5 and 6 wts because of the extra weight and strike indicators on the line, and the heavy large flies of streamer fishing suggest the 6 and 7 wt rods. Overall, a 5 wt is a good compromise. It’s overkill for the brook trout, and you will loose some of the bass that you can’t pull out of the weeds, but more than 80% of the time you are good to go.

  1. Rod technology: cane (bamboo), fiberglass, graphite

The second consideration is rod technology. Carbon graphite is today’s rod-chartcommon choice, but your dad fished fiberglass, and granddad fished cane or bamboo. All are available today. Fiberglass is re-growing in popularity, and cane rods have always lurked in the background. The chart below shows how my 5 wt graphite, fiberglass and cane rods deflect from horizontal with the same weight suspended from the tip.

The graphite rod is a medium action, not fast. The fiberglass and bamboo are slow. As the slow rods bend further under the same weight, it will take longer to complete the cast. In casting terms, bending is loading the rod, and the caster must slow down to load the slower rod.

The slower rod allows more time to control the cast, thus we hear slow rods make more accurate and delicate presentations. At the same time the line is exposed to the wind longer, and we hear fast rods handle the wind better. Increasing the pull on the rod tip by casting bigger and heaver flies, increases the bend of the rod. At some point the rod bends too much to control the line and achieve the cast. It is overloaded. The faster rod can manage more weight before overloading. It is better for long casts because there is more line weight in the air, and it’s faster line speed means less time exposed to air resistance.

It is the person, not the rod that performs, and in the hands of an expert all three rods are capable of delicate and/or long presentations. We are not all experts, but we can match our rod selection to our predominate fishing conditions and expertise. And we can enjoy, if not fully utilize the more relaxed dry fly presentation of a slower rod, or the intense heavy fly and wind defying capability of the fast rod.

  1. Number of sections and rod length

Third, consider transporting and storing the rod. Four piece rods are the most common, but five and seven piece rods are available – think backpacking. Two piece are more traditional, but the rod case will be over four feet long. Today all of these configurations cast equally well. Nine feet has become a standard, but shorter is less troublesome among the trees.

  1. Price range

I will mention price range as the fourth consideration, but your budget will peg its priority. Faster light weight rods require more costly materials, and are more expensive. Rod component technology and quality, guides, cork, and reel seats, can drive up cost. Labor always increases cost. Fancy guide wraps and beautiful finishs are expensive. All of these factors, particularly labor drive the cost of custom made rods. Cane rods are very labor intensive, and cost up to $3000. But, and this is big, the fish only sees the fly in the water, and doesn’t know what rod you used to get it there.

  1. Feel in hand, including grip

traveler-tip-deflectHow the rod performs and feels in your hand is the fifth consideration. It’s tough if you are a beginner. You won’t know what good feels like, and performance will be function of your inexperienced hand, not the rod. Here is where you want to deal with a credible fly shop representative that you trust. But, lets first understand the characteristics and terminology of fly rods.

Look at the tip deflection of three different Elkhorn 9 foot Traveler rods when a 140 gr weight is suspended from the tip. 140 grains is the weight of the first thirty feet of a 5wt line. It flexes the 5 wt rod tip 5 and ¼ inches. The same weight flexes the 4 wt rod more and the 6 wt rod less, as we should expect. Remember the discussion about under-lining and over-lining in the previous article about line selection. The point is, you can modify the performance and feel of your rod with line selection. A heavier line will bend the rod more and make it feel slower and a lighter line will make it feel faster.

Line makers know that rods are becoming faster and faster. They make lines that are a half or even a full weight heavy so that the rod feels slower and is easier for the non-expert to cast.5-wt-deflect

Finally, lets look at three different model Elkhorn rods, all 9 foot 5 wt rods. The differences are subtle, but significant in your hand. The Namaqua is closest to a progressive taper, a rod with a uniform taper from butt to tip, and a constantly increasing deflection. It will have a more relaxed traditional feel.

The Traveler bends more out to six feet, and then the tip deflects less, a “faster tip.” It has a sense of being slower, but then the fast tip will drive the line forward in the cast. You might say it feels slower, but performs faster.

The Amp rod bends the least in the butt, “fast butt” and has a slower tip. It will easily transfer the force of your cast to the tip, and the slower tip will give a feel of line control.

Recommendation – The All Purpose Colorado Fly Rod

Now, my simple recommendation for the general purpose Colorado fly rod, particularly for the beginner. A 5 weight will meet the broadest need, and 9 foot is standard. Graphite is the practical choice, and four pieces offer the widest selection. Stay between $200 and $400, and under $200 if you are just trying fly fishing. Choose a “medium action” rod. If you are shopping at Elkhorn, try a Traveler 9 foot 5 weight. Then see if a Namaqua or Amp feels better in your hand.

Fly Line Selection

Fly Line Selection

You have your new fly rod, a five weight for example, and need a line. Go to the fly shop and say, “I need a weight forward floating line with a typical trout taper for my five weight rod.” Take what they hand you, and you will be able to fly fish successfully for years to come. You just bought the most common fly line sold, and it’s a better fly line than your grandfather could have bought at any price. But there are many options, some of which will enhance your fishing experience.

I just received a catalog listing 18 Scientific Angler and 24 Rio fly line types, not counting line sizes, plus there are other manufacturers with similar numbers of lines. Let’s narrow this down by using the decision tree in the image, knowing that we are fishing in the Rocky Mountains, and if elsewhere we won’t stumble over one of the decision blocks.Line Decision640

Your five weight rod can range from a very fast action graphite to a very slow bamboo, with medium or progressive action being a common choice. Rods are tending to be faster, and line manufacturers know this. You can now buy a five weight line that is a 5 ½ or even a 6. It’s called “over-lining”, and it will make the rod load more quickly. On the other hand, you may cast better with your really slow rod “under-lined” with a 4 or 4 ½. Try over or under lining your rod to see how it feels.

Freshwater is an easy decision for us, but if you are going to fish salt water in a warm climate, you will need a stiff line, not to mention a rod bigger than your five weight.

The type of line is almost as easy of decision. A floating line is a must. How else will we fish dry flies? Your second line will be a sinking line, most likely an intermediate (sinks, but not much). This will facilitate stripping streamers in lakes and bigger rivers. Should you begin to specialize, there are floating lines with sinking tips and full sinking lines with different sink rates.

Now we get to style, and this is where manufacturers encourage specialization – lines for bass, trout, salmon, etc. But, there are two basic styles: WF (weight forward) and DT (double taper). The mass of a WF is in the head or front end. This makes for good “shooting” or long casts, but diminishes line control. Mending and roll casts are harder for the inexperienced. Still, faster rods perform better with WF lines, and most casts distances are within acceptable line control range. The mass of a double taper line is spread over the body of the line. This makes for good mending and roll casts along with delicate fly deliveries, but it shortens distance.

Rule of thumb:

  • WF for faster rods (maybe over-lined), or when mostly nymph fishing.

  • DT for slower rods (maybe under-lined), or when mostly dry fly fishing.

  • A common “trout” taper in either case.

Remember, as you casting skills improve, your fly line of choice for a particular rod may change. What feels best in your hands matters. Finally, the best line choice will improve a mediocre rod, and the worse line choice will ruin a great rod.

Jim Cooper

Super Grand Slam

I fished the Cameron Pass area intending to catch a Grand Slam (four trout) and maybe a grayling. Instead I caught a six fish slaTiger640m including a tiger trout, pictured here. It was the first I had seen. I understand they are a non-reproducing cross between a brook trout and a brown trout. They must be a accomplished predator with that ancestry. If you would like to see images of all six fish, read the whole story, and learn where most were caught, click Slam Article

Jim Cooper

Leader & Tippet – Equipment Selection

Leader and Tippet

If you have fished nearly as long as I, you remember carrying all your equipment, except rod and reel, in the pockets of the clothes you wore daily. Now we walk into a fly shop and are overwhelmed byDSC_1714 thousands of items on display. Remember every item is needed by someone, but no one needs every item. Your needs can be written on a three by five card. Helping you fill in that card, I will focus on the beginner end of the spectrum. This is the first of four short articles dealing with the equipment selection process, starting with leader and tippet followed by lines, rods, and reels.

The leader-tippet combination is the first connection to the fly and consumable. Along with the line, rod, and reel they have only one fishing purpose – present the fly to the fish such that it thinks it’s food. There are other aesthetic and ego gratifying values, but not for this discussion.

Leader material is available in fluorocarbon and monofilament. Mono has more stretch, floats better, and is less expensive. Fluorocarbon sinks quicker, is more abrasion resistant, and less visible to fish. This suggests that fluorocarbon is the choice when fishing below the surface with nymphs, pupas, and larva, while mono is more appropriate for dry flies on the surface.

Leaders are tapered because fly lines are designed to cast with a tapered leader attached. Now we begin to see an equipment system developing instead of a parts collection. There are manufactured, hand tied, and braided or furled leaders to chose from. I will leave the last two out of the discussion. They are more of a fishing style choice, but not to be avoided. Hand tied leaders are those that you can make, and have their place in personal gratification, expense, and customization. I use these in salt water fishing. Their downside is the knots collect moss in water where it is present. Manufactured leaders are available in many taper designs, weights, and lengths. Weight refers to the “X” designation, which sorta’ means diameter. 0X is 0.011 inches in diameter, and 5X is 0.006 inches. [ diameter = 0.011-X]. So, the bigger the X number, the smaller the diameter. The smallest leader the average fly fisher needs is 4X, and nine feet is the longest. Long leaders have their place in windless smooth water conditions, and small tippet sizes with picky fish. But, long leaders are harder to cast, and small tippets are more prone to tangles.

So, here are my suggestions.

  • Buy 7 and ½ foot 3X monofilament leaders. Immediately add 18 inches of tippet, making a 9 foot leader. Use mono tippet if fishing drys or a dry with a dropper, or fluoro if fishing subsurface. It should be 4X if flies are size 16 or larger, and 5X if size 18 or smaller.

  • Purchase spools of 4 and 5X mono tippet, and 5 and 6X fluoro tippet. 4X mono will serve in place of fluoro.

The 18 inch tippet gets eaten away with each fly change, and replaced when needed, saving your more expensive leader. Finally, you can simply use all monofilament leader and tippet to save cost. Your fly presentation is more important than the visibility of the tippet.

There are many brands, and without a preference, ask the folks at the shop what they use. I try to use the same leader and tippet brand with tippet spools that are easy to manage on the stream.

Knots are also a consideration. Blood and Surgeon’s knot serve well to tie tippet to leader or tippet to tippet. It does become hard to reliably tie materials differing by more than 2X (3X to 5X is OK, but 3X to 6X is problematic). Wet the knot before tightening, particularly with fluorocarbon.

One last tip, stretch your leader to remove the curls, and put floatant on the leader if fishing drys, otherwise fish may see the leader where it dips below the surface.

12: Rod Repair

Repair Ferrule 640In the back corner of a display area at an antique store in Ouray I noticed a collection of fishing rods. As usual these were mostly bait and spinning rods, but there were a couple of bamboos. One was a Japaneses rod of no value, and the other a Shakespeare three piece. Its reel seat, cork, and finish looked surprisingly good. Assembled, it was straight, and had a decent action. This was a nice fishable bamboo fly rod with a $100 price. It was missing one guide, and when taken apart one female ferrule pulled loose. I offered $80 and went home with a project.

This scenario can put a bamboo rod in your quiver for less than a $100 when a new rod can cost $500 to $5000. It is the same rod your dad or granddad fished, and can give you a new experience on the stream – after you get it repaired. So let’s apply our rod building skills to repairing it.

Loose ferrules on old rods are almost assured. The builders were using hide glue that loses its grip over the decades. In that case the fix is easy. You can see that the wraps have a gold trim band. As I removed the original red thread, I took care to leave the gold in place. This meant I didn’t have to find both red and gold silk thread. Note, bamboo rods were and are almost always wrapped with silk thread. It can be found today in shops and catalogs.

First remove enough old glue from the bamboo to allow the ferrule to slide in place with ease, but take care. Removing too much “wood” or causing it to be out of round can result in the ferrule not being aligned with the axis of the rod. In other words, a permanent bend in the rod.

Next apply epoxy and slide the ferrule into place. Turn it as you go to spread the glue. Wipe off the excess, and let dry. When wrapping the ferrule, I started the wrap against the gold band and packed them tight. The rest of the wrap was completed as usual.

The biggest challenge in old rod repair can be finding replacement components. Shops and people who do rod repair can help, and my friend, Jim Tilmant, was able to find a guide that matched both the color and size of the missing one.

Repair Wrap Start 640In wrapping the guide, I again started against the gold band and completed the guide wrap as was done many times building the three previously discussed graphite rods. Color preserver was applied to the thread tag ends, which were trimmed after drying.Repair wrap comp 640

Finish on bamboo rods has always been varnish, often spar varnish. In this case I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, an oil and urethane product. I have used this on both bamboo and fiberglass rods with good results. The new wraps were saturated with color preserver. And then three coats of varnish was applied. Older rods tend to have crazing in the finish around the guides. This has the appearance of cracks. A couple of coats of new varnish over the old will make all, but the worst crazing, disappear.

When all is said and done, we have a inexpensive bamboo rod ready to fish. The same skills could have been applied to fiberglass or graphite. In many cases broken rods can be fixed, and bamboo rods that are not straight can be straightened. If you have a rod needing repair beyond what you are comfortable doing, bring it into the shop. There are people who can replace a guide, or completely refurbish a valuable rod.

This ends the series on rod building. I will soon be writing on other subjects, so stay tuned.

11: Decorative Wraps

Wrapping a rod is a learning experience each time unless you do it more often than I do. I hope this blog will serve as a process reminder for all of us. In this post I will discuss decorative wraps, often called Trim Bands and Inlays, and at the end provide references to good online descriptions.Wrap Loops 640

I will wrap from left to right, producing the completed band seen in the last picture. The main thread is red. There will be yellow and black trim bands, and a metallic gold inlay. These are colors that I have on hand, and all together they look pretty good. Start by taping the two trim colors to the blank with four or five inches working area between the tape and a couple inches of thread past each tape end. Tape down two loops, one for each band. Start the main thread with four to six tight wraps to assure it stays in place.

I plan on two wraps of black and four wraps of yellow. Remove the tape over the loops and release the black thread from its tape. Wind two wraps of black thread by hand. I wrap away from myself here. Run the end of the black through a loop while holding it in position with a spare finger. Then pull the loop to the right, pulling the black thread under the main thread. Repeat this for four wraps of yellow using the second loop.Wrap Inlay 640

At this point the tag ends can be trimmed and covered with wraps of the main thread, but I like to continue the red thread leaving the tag protruding. This allows me to pull the tag ends tight if needed. If using a color preserver, I place a drop at the base of the tags to lock them in place.wrap Rt end 640

Continue turns of red until eights wraps from the left end of the inlay remain. Place the inlay color, gold, under the red, and wrap eight more turns over the gold. Now, make three turns of gold by hand. I wrap these toward me so that they don’t tend to unwrap the red. Be sure to wrap these turns over the red thread. Lock down the inlay by wrapping a few turns of red over the gold. Assure that the gold wraps are tight, and pack the red wraps to the left. Trim the gold thread leaving an eighth inch. Turns of red will cover this end. When the red has reach eight turns from its end, place two loops under the thread, and finish the eight turns. As before, do the two black turns over the red, and use a loop to pull the end under. Finish with the four yellow wraps, but this time place both the
red and yellow through the loop and pull them under. Dab the tags with color preserver and walk away. Upon return, trim all the tags and you are done.

You have heard the saying about skinning cats, and while cleaning fish I have seen the belly slit from throat to anus, and the other direction. Wrapping is the same way. I have shown one technique here. You can find others among builders and in the literature. You should look at Scott Youschak’s “Guide Wraps and Trim Bands” part 1 and part 2 on the internet. Search his name with “Trim Bands”.Wrap Comp 640Wrap w Tags 640

We have blogged through building three rods and decorative wrapping. Now I hope you someday experience the difference between, “The rod that Grand Pa made for me.” and “The rod that Grand Pa bought for me.” The next post discussing rod repair will be the last in this series. With that, I hope you will stop and say hello if you see me out fishing. I will likely be using one of these three rods.

Read previous Post: Summary

10: Summary

The rods are complete, I have been fishing them, and all is good. Watch the Saturday Fly Tying announcements. One day soon I will bring the three in for show-and-tell after the demo. For now I want to review what is important and what I have learned in this process. This I know from experience, you will learn more doing it and writing about it than just doing it.

Starting at the butt end, if you build a rod like the 8 wt with a large gap inside the reel seat, make or buy bushings to fill it. Find reel seats that are sealed on the front so that epoxy can’t get under the front ring that holds the reel. Before applying glue, make sure you have an assemble process to assure that the reel hangs below the spline and the best side of the cork is up. Start gluing with Acetone on the bench by your side along with cloth and Q tips. Some builders do the grip/seat step first and others last. It doesn’t matter unless there are guides on the butt section, but you do have to mount the grip before wrapping the butt section.

Mark the spline along with the guide locations, prep the guides, and arranged in order for assembly. Tape the guides in place very close to the proper alignment, I wrap from the large end to the small of each section. Guides can be adjusted under the wraps if little thread tension wass used. More about that below the first picture. Using a color preserver on the wraps is an advantage. Place a drop on the end of a needle, and then on each tag where it comes through the wrap. Once dry, they are locked in place and can be trimmed flush. During this process I find it hard to maintain a consistent length of wrap over all the guides. Do your best.

I mentioned placing a Kevlar thread wrap under the visible wrap on the female ferrules of the 8 wt. I didn’t. It’s not easy to wrap over a previous wrap, and I will just be more careful about the ferrules loosening when hauling big line.

When it comes to finish, I like Lite Flex Coat because it works well using several thin coats of finish, which is my preference. It allows me to saturate the thread and further trim tag between coats. If bubbles appear, have an alcohol flame or heat gun handy to easily remove them.


Three things are important when wrapping a rod. The width of wraps, trim bands, and inlays should be consistent. There should be no gaps between individual wraps of thread, and there should be no overlapping thread wraps. These all depend on good light and good thread control. I found midway through the second rod that using a bobbin to hold and control thread worked well for me. It was particularly good on the small front section where tension will bend the rod. I use both bobbin weight and hand control to apply tension. Note, I also use my hackle pliers for grip and weight on the tag when needed. Those fly tying tool can be re-purposed.

Sometimes this all seems complicated, and in addition to the three aesthetic needs above, the thread ends must be locked under the wrap so that they don’t loosen before finish is applied. I learned that as a guide foot is wrapped, a gap between thread and the rod will form on each side. The loop that is normally placed under the last eight or so wraps so that the tag can be pulled back under the threads is best placed in this gap on the far side of the guide. It can then be easily pulled through, and the tag end pulled tight and under the threads away from you. Find a method to lock the thread ends that works for you. Use dividers to measure widths, and get started. Before you know it, you will have built a fly rod.


This finishes the initial rod building blog, but there are still two subject that I want to cover in a followup. Decorative wraps with Trim Bands and Inlays add a personal touch to a rod. These are not hard to do, and I will cover (touch upon is a better description) these in a blog post. Also, the skills learned to build a rod can be applied to repairing a rod. I will discuss how a bamboo rod with a loose ferrule and missing guide was repaired. These two repairs turned a $80 rod acquired in an antique store into a perfectly good fishable bamboo fly rod. It doesn’t get us the expensive and very good bamboo rod that can be purchased new, but it gets us the rod that our fathers or grandfathers fished.

Read previous post: Completed Rods

9: Completed Rods

  All three are complete and taken for a wet-run. The Rainbow is the first fish on the 6 wt, and the Brown the first on the 4 wt. I went out one afternoon for Carp with the 8 wt and had some opportunities, but no takes.1st-fish-4wt

Each rod casts its standard weight-forward line well, though I will try a half weight heavy line on the 4 wt when I get the chance, might also give a double-taper a try. The feel of a rod’s cast in your hand is an individual thing. A slow rod will feel faster when underlined, and a fast rod will feel slower if overlined. The 4 wt is intended for Front Range stream fishing, so a double-taper line may improve its accuracy and roll casts in the short game. Ah, the choices we have to make.

The group photo shows a collection of wraps from the three rods. They are all done in the same colors and styles.Done-Wrap_640

In the past I have inked my name on rods that I have built, but this time I had them laser engraved by Laser Imaging in Loveland. The result on the metal 8 wt seat is particularly pleasing. Elkhorn can have this done for any rod you build or own. It looks pretty cool.Done-Seats_640

The next post will summarize things that I have learned along with a few recommendations. I feel good about learning as I go. It makes the effort worthwhile. Not only have I learned from the process, but your comments and questions have added greatly. There was a request to write how-to instructions for a wrap with a highlight color. I have been thinking about doing this with just enough words and no more – it’s coming.


Read previous post: Reel Seat – Extra

8: Reel Seat – Extra

8: Reel Seat – Extra

Let’s take a quick look at a problem that arose when I began to assemble the cork and reel seat on the 8 wt rod. The seat is all metal without a visible wood insert. Its inside diameter is five-eights of an inch and the rod diameter is slightly less than three-eights. This is too large of a gap to fill with tape and epoxy. What to do?

My first thought was to cut a piece of wood the length of the seat and drill a 3/8 hole through its length. A piece of 3/8 all-thread through the hole would be chucked in the lathe, and the outside turned down to 5/8 diameter. Glue this into the real seat and the problem is solved. But, this is not a workable solution if you don’t have a lathe. We all have an Ace hardware, so I decided to solve this problem with a trip to the local hardware store.

I found a 5/8 OD, ½ inch ID nylon bushing along with a ½ inch OD, 3/8 ID bushing. Gluing these together produced the needed diameter deduction.

Two half inch surfaces holding the rod in the seat doesn’t present a strength concern with the seat being a solid metal tube. Nor am I concerned about enough glue surface to hold it in place. There isn’t much twisting force against the seat during normal use.P1070062

The photo shows how all the parts are aligned when assembled. Note that the rod blank doesn’t extend to the end of the seat. It butts up against the end cap plug. This plug is threaded to accept the screw in cork butt. The alignment pictured isn’t exact, the bushing needs to be forward so that both the blank rear-end and the cap front-end are inside the bushing. This complicates placement of parts during final glued assembly, but all things are possible.

My good friend says, “I do it the way I think I should the first time, and the way I should have the second time.” If there is a second time, I will get three bushings, two for the blank and one for the cap, and the alignment challenge goes away. This unplanned post arises from having to overcome an unplanned problem – always the source of anxiety your “first time”.


Read previous post 7: Finish

Super Duper Grand Slam


Super Duper Grand Slam

Jim Cooper, August 10, 2015

SuperDupperSlamFrom top right:  Cutthroat, Brown, Grayling, Rainbow, Brook Trout, and Tiger Trout