Have you ever decided it would be nice to do something, bought
all the best materials to do it right, then didn't like the end
results? I recently did that with a birdhouse and a birdfeeder.
My first examples of each were promptly passed on to in-laws who
really couldn't turn me down, but placed them in places that the
public couldn't see. I have built several of each now, and
although they are nice enough to be shown in public, I still
find things I would do differently on each one I create. I
call it a learning curve.
The same principal applies to building fly rods and tying flies.
I don't know a single person who was totally satisfied with the
first fly he/she tied, and I don't know anyone who was totally
satisfied with the first fly rod he/she built. There is a
learning curve with projects like that, even with the best
instructions, and you'll change the way you did it a little
each time you build a new one until you're satisfied that it's
the best you can produce. Good instructions will help shorten
the curve, and there are some common mistakes that you should
be able to avoid if someone is willing to share them with you.
That stuff will help, but you'll still have to deal with the
I'll start with fly rods this week, and progress to flies and
maybe more later. Every rod builder I know will have other
things to add to this list. By the time it appears in print,
I'll probably think of a few more to add myself, but for now,
these are the most common errors I have seen in the first few
fly rods beginner builders have shown me. The words that usually
exit my mouth are something like "Gee, that's nice Jack. I bet
it casts like a dream," but the words in my head are often akin
to this "Holy Smokes! That is one ugly rod, and it weighs so
much I'll bet it casts like a lump of lead."
There isn't any point in hurting feelings if I don't have to.
I'm not terribly fond of fibbing, but I do what I must to keep
things civil. I guess that's why I quickly agreed to write a
few columns on common errors. A few of us are growing older
han we care to admit, and don't want to suddenly find ourselves
trying to justify falsehoods to our maker.
If you remind yourself of these common errors when you build that
first rod, you might avoid a few errors that will cause you grief
in the future.
Error 1 - Not mixing the finish right.
I think this is probably the most common error committed on a
first rod. The usual cause is not mixing enough finish to get a
good, equal mix. First time rod builders will take all the pains
to mix just the right amount of finish to barely cover the wraps
with one coat. When the finish won't dry I get an e-mail, or
someone else they trust gets a call for help.
Two-part finishes and epoxies must be mixed right or they won't
cure or set up properly. This applies to mixing the epoxy for a
handle or reel seat as much as it applies to rod finishes. The
problem is that you don't have an equal ratio because you didn't
mix enough of the finish to adjust for slight irregularities in
the measuring tools you used to measure the parts. If you would
double the mix, that slight irregularity just became half as critical,
and that is usually all the adjustment you'll need to correct the
problem. Saving nickels and dimes has cost a lot of people hundreds
of dollars, and it will continue to do so in the future.
Error 2 - Over-wrapping guides.
What I'm talking about here is using way too much thread on each guide.
I have actually seen rods that had over an inch of thread wrapped on
each side of the guide. The builders didn't want the guides to
All the thread does is hold the guide in place. Any thread that
isn't on the guide foot is just extra weight. It doesn't serve
any structural purpose. Granted, most of us take a few extra
wraps off the guide foot for looks, but if the guide is wrapped
properly, these extra wraps are purely cosmetic. Think hard,
when have you ever seen a fly rod you thought was good looking
and felt great, that had more than minimal thread wraps on the
Error 3 - Using too much finish on the thread wraps.
The finish you apply over the thread wraps has two functions.
It seals and bonds the thread to the rod, and the other is cosmetic.
If you just want to perform the structural function, a single, thin
coat is all you need. Since most of us want a smooth finish over
our thread wraps, we usually apply a second, thin coat to level
Many first time rod builders apply way too much finish over the
thread wraps. They don't want the guides to work loose and more
is better, right? Wrong! I have seen a few rods I swear had 6
coats of finish on the extra long wraps. They were heavy and
Finish adds weight to the rod and weight always detracts from the
rod's performance. Another bad thing about excess finish is that
it doesn't flex as easily as thin finish so you usually end up with
ugly cracks in the finish where the guide foot meets the rod blank.
Less is best, so use only enough to achieve the cosmetic look you
Error 4 - Improper guide spacing and guides that aren't straight.
There is no excuse for this one, but it is a common problem. It
comes from getting in a hurry to get your new rod done so you can
cast it. You won't treasure it for long though, because it will
be ugly and probably cast poorly. The kid next door needed a fly
rod, right? Did you really want to buy the stuff twice?
Error 5 - Bubbles in the finish.
This is easily corrected with a drinking straw or alcohol lamp if
you don't wait too long. Gently blowing air on the bubbles will
pop most of them, but if a straw doesn't work, applying heat to
the bubble may be the only cure. If the finish is dry before
you notice the bubble, it's too late.
When you're mixing that finish, you're not beating eggs. Aggressive
mixing adds air bubbles to the finish that might not occur if you
just gently stir the mix. Pouring the finish onto a wide surface
before you apply it to the rod wraps will allow it to get thin enough
to force most bubbles to pop on their own. I pour my finish into an
extra-wide breakfast bowl after I mix it.
Error 6 - Thread wraps that are too loose or too tight.
We don't want that guide to work loose, right? So, we crank down
on the thread to just short of the breaking point and wonder why
the rod broke the first time we tried to land a fish on it. Too
much tension creates a shear zone at the edge of the wrap that
can destroy the structural integrity of the rod blank.
The other extreme (usually after we sheared the first rod) is too
little tension on the thread wraps. Your thread wraps should hold
the guide in place but allow a very slight amount of movement before
you apply the finish. If you can spin that guide around the blank
after the thread is applied, you need to re-wrap with more tension.
If you can't budge it at all, and if you didn't glue it down like
I often do, you probably need to re-wrap with less tension.
Error 7 - Using real expensive components on that first rod.
This could rate as number 1. Like I said earlier, your first attempt
at a project of this sort will probably result in a lot of changes
you plan to do on the next rod, birdhouse, birdfeeder, etc. The
neighbor's kid or your kid needs a rod right? Use that rod as a
first project to work out many of the things you need to correct
before you build a rod you'll want to show off. You could always
build a rod you don't plan to use a lot because it is a seldom-used
size or weight. But, if your first attempt at building a fly rod
involves real expensive components, you better make sure you have
some good experience looking over your shoulder and coaching you
as you go along. If you don't, odds are pretty good that you won't
fish that expensive rod for long.
Error 8 - Going too cheap.
I know this sounds like a direct contradiction to my advice in #7,
but really, it isn't. There are some real junky components on the
market that should be avoided. There is nothing wrong with buying
lower end components for a first rod, but everything wrong with
buying cheap and poorly made components. You'll find quality
components from inexpensive to very expensive by browsing the
Sponsor's pages here on FAOL. Joe Bob's mail order stink bait
catalog might sell fly rod blanks, but do you really believe
they are going to be decent quality at $19.99? Shop with the
guys who do fly rods for a living and you'll be a lot more
pleased with the results.
Like I said earlier, there will be other things that could be
added to the list. Maybe a string on the bulletin board would
be a good idea to cover what I missed.
Good luck on that first rod. ~ AC