SPAGHETTI RODS

Bob Boese -Sept 28, 2009

Boudreaux and DeMarco were doing construction work at the top of a new oil platform in Morgan City.  Every day, as they ate lunch, Boudreaux would talk about how wonderful his meal was.  “Today’s Monday so it’s red beans and rice,” he would say, “with andouille sausage.”  DeMarco would look down at his Tupperware of cold spaghetti and grunt.  It was like that every day because Tuesday was jambalaya for Boudreaux, Wednesday was gumbo, Thursday was chicken sauce picante, and Friday was catfish courtbouillon.  And every day that went by, DeMarco had cold spaghetti and got more frustrated at his boring lunch.

Finally, DeMarco threw down his spaghetti bowl and yelled: “Plain pasta again! If I get plain pasta one more time for lunch I'm going to jump off this rig.”

The next day, DeMarco opened his lunch box, saw plain pasta, and jumped.  At the funeral, everyone had heard the pasta story and wondered how his wife could have done that to him.

“Hey, don't look at me,” she said, “He always made his own lunch!”

Spaghetti is actually good for you. Pasta in the USA is fortified with folic acid (25% of the recommended daily value in a one cup) due to FDA regulations that require enriched grain products to contain this essential vitamin. That’s nice to know.

But...

Spaghetti and fly fishing are not usually spoken of together, at least not pleasantly. A spaghetti pile sometimes refers to the tangled mess that occurs when changing fly line, or to the line pile wrapped around a fisherman’s feet in the bottom of a boat, or to the knotty mess produced by a badly looping cast, and then there are spaghetti rods.

Unlike freshwater trout, bass have hard mouths, comprised primarily of bone.If you want to frustrate your Colorado trout fishing guide, always do a hard snap set. Doesn’t work there. Setting a hook for trout involves raising the rod gently. Setting a hook in a bass requires slamming the hook home. A two inch bluegill flying over your shoulder after a hook set means you set it about right for a bass.

In order to set the hook hard you usually need: (1) a medium to fast action rod, (2) sufficiently heavy tippet (snapping tiny tippet is infuriating and won’t catch you any fish), and (3) a fly with an adequately exposed hook. (A fly with too much of the gap taken up by body material may not have enough hooking potential.)  But of these three, the most important is having a good rod - not a strand of wet spaghetti with a reel. Infants in Sicily can make pasta.  Americans also like pasta, a lot. Think you know about pasta? Okay, there are more than 600 pasta shapes in seven general groupings: shaped (spirals, shells, etc.), tubular (macaroni, penne, ziti, etc.), strand (spaghetti, angel hair, etc.), ribbon (fettuccini, lasagna, bow tie, etc.) soup (round, alpha bits, wheels, etc.), stuffed (ravioli, manicotti, etc.) and Asian. Most pasta consumed in America is made from wheat grown in North Dakota (didn’t know that, huh?). Like many things for which more than one country wants to take credit, the history of pasta is cloudy. Pasta has existed in some form since the days of the Etruscans and Roman Empire (the god Vulcan is supposed to have invented stringed dough). Curiously, popular history says that it was invented in China, and that Marco Polo brought the knowledge of this food to Venice.  Actually, the pasta Polo imported was likely made from rice flour while it is generally accepted that the durum wheat used in Sicily during the Middle Ages was actually an Arab food. (Confused yet?) And yet, the Chinese were apparently making some kind of noodles in 3000 B.C. Eventually someone somewhere invented pasta. But, you can bet they didn’t use it fly fishing for bass.

Fly rods are classified as being tip flex (fast or stiff) or mid-flex (moderate) or full flex (slow or soft). [The terms are a bit bass-ackwards because when the amount of stored energy is large we describe the action as "slow" and, if small, the action is "fast".] Experience with slow- soft-full flex rods has repeatedly proven that they don’t work as well for bass. Trust the field tests here, a slow action rod is sometimes completely wrong for these fish. Why? Because it’s like spaghetti. A slow action rod is very flexible and will bend (load) for much (about 3/4) of it's length.  When a fly rod is flexed during a cast, some of the energy supplied by the angler is stored in the bent rod as potential energy. As the rod straightens at the end of the forward stroke and the line is released this energy is imparted to the line as kinetic energy added to the kinetic energy in the line. This total energy determines the initial line speed. Soft rods “give,” so they will not generate high line speeds on a cast and for the same reason simply do not have the backbone for a hard hook set. These full flex rods are designed for anglers that fish for soft mouthed fish, or for smaller fish with tiny flies on smaller waters where the key is short and accurate casts. A soft rod responds well to a gentle casting stroke for a soft presentation and gives a lot of feel when fighting a fish, but, this rod is almost impossible to use for long casts, or casts in the wind, or with larger flies. 

Boron and graphite make for faster rods. Some bamboo and certain fiberglass materials are famous (or infamous) for producing a slow rod. But don’t take it on faith, here’s an easy test.  Select the softest rod you own. Stand with your rod and have another person hold a piece of cardboard about 30' away, with a flat side facing you. Put a bare hook on the end of your tippet and then on the cardboard with the point facing into the cardboard. Set the hook. Don’t be at all surprised if the hook barely penetrates the cardboard. [Why?  RF + LSÞ NSP = NF.  This translates to Rod Flex plus Line Stretch produces No Setting Power and, consequently, equals No Fish.]

When checking out your next “I think I’m going to buy this” new rod, think of pasta. Consider that some noodles hold sauces better than others: you want macaroni to have more resilience than angel hair, penne to hold a rigid shape better than fettuccini. When semolina flour is used, you get the basic pasta flavor with a creamy yellow color and this pasta has lots of gluten to give the dough elasticity to use for a variety of shapes. (You probably like this and think of it as “regular tasting pasta.”) Whole wheat flour produces nuttier tasting pasta that is medium tan to light brown in color. Buckwheat and oat flour produces strong nutty flavored pasta that is light to medium brown in color (but you don’t see these often). Rice flour produces a mild pasta that is translucent white in color. Everyone can enjoy different pastas, but you shouldn’t expect to like them all, and you shouldn’t expect to like every rod you try.

Slow action rods have a specific function in fly fishing and are designed to alleviate specific problems. The tremendous flexibility of a slow action fly rod allows some of the strain that would otherwise be put on a tippet during a fish strike to be transferred to the rod itself.  Because of this, when using very light tippet, a slow action fly rod can prevent many a lost fish due to tippet breakage. [Most fly fishermen are acquainted with tippet down to 7X, but tippet is available as small as Varivas Midge Super Tippet in 12X (.0026") - that breaks if you even breathe “mid-flex” in its direction.] Also, because of the reflex action caused by a soft rod’s bending (loading and unloading), a full flex rod can be very forgiving. The best example of this is roll casting, a very easy task for a soft rod where the “whip” of the rod produces a smooth easy loop on the water. This same skill requires better timing and technique for a stiffer rod. Of course, for some, trying to use a full flex rod can be totally frustrating [it seems as if you could nap while waiting for the rod to load]. Then there is line wave. After the line is released from a soft action rod, if there is the slightest overpowering of the rod, the rod continues to flex in the opposite direction and the rod tip may drop below the line. This will produce an undesirable wave in the line which inhibits a straight layout on the cast and causes slack. The wave is less pronounced when using fast action rods since less energy remains in the rod and the reverse tip deflection is small. Consequently, while slow action fly rods are ideal for some situations, the lack of all around versatility makes it a bad choice for fisherman who can’t afford a complete arsenal of rods.

Now for the other side of the coin. A stiff rod that is used to cast short distances will not flex very much (if at all) and the energy stored in the rod will be negligible. A soft rod under the same conditions will flex and more of the energy will be stored in the rod for release. Casting a stiff rod takes practice because it requires more muscle (since the rod flexes less, physics tells us it provides less assistance in propelling the fly). In some cases, particularly on short casts with only a little fly line out of the tip top, it feels like trying to manipulate a 9' broomstick (because the rod will not flex), and can quickly wear out a casting arm. That being said, a firm flex has advantages in that it can generate greater line speed, does excellently on sidearm and underhand casts, and casts better in windy conditions. However, even though a stiffer rod will do all these things a soft rod can’t, there are two drawbacks - cost and breakage. Breakage? Yep. Here’s why. “Modulus” is the stiffness to weight ratio of the graphite that’s used to create a rod blank, it relates to the tensile strength of the rod’s fibers - the higher the modulus rating, the stronger the fiber for its size.  When rod makers increase the modulus of the graphite, they increase the ability of that graphite to store and release energy. Increasing the modulus increases the reaction speed and power of the rod blank - and the cost. A tip flex rod is composed of higher modulus graphite, which can cost the rod builder 10 times as much as a lower modulus shaft. Like a strand of uncooked spaghetti, higher modulus also results in a rod blank that is somewhat brittle and more likely to break from impact fracture (like being hit by epoxy coated, conehead or beadhead flies, or being dropped) or from stress (hook set). Good high modulus rods aren’t as brittle as uncooked spaghetti, but are susceptible to breakage, particularly on some of the new 4-6 piece rods where there are ferrules at critical stress points. When an immovable object meets and irresistible force something’s got to give. A really hard hook set on a big fish can snap a fast flex rod. Trust the field tests on this.

One last issue involves carrying rods and rod storage in a car, boat, canoe or kayak. Most fly fishermen hook the last fly they used in the hook keeper or first guide on the rod, tighten the line till it is straight and snug against the rod, and then put the straight rod and snugged line in a car rack or into boat storage. Sorry, but this just won’t work with a soft flex. Getting the line tight enough to keep the hook in the hook keeper of a slow action rod bends the tip of the rod significantly. The rod becomes question mark shaped and is almost impossible to carry or store in that shape. The solution to this is to retrieve the fly line until the fly it is completely snug against the tiptop so that, from fly to reel is a straight line all the way down the guides.

Bass eat prickly things including other fish - fish with fins and spines. If not for hard mouths, this would be most difficult, certainly uncomfortable, and maybe impossible. Oh, and as for hooked fish supposedly feeling pain, maybe PETA members should try eating a crawfish whole. If it hurt, fish wouldn’t do it.

                                              

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