August 6th, 2007

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Building Fly Rods from Forecast E-Glass Ultralight Spinning Blank
By Jim Flamming, Grand Rapids, MI

If you have been fortunate enough to attend one of the FAOL Fish-Ins, you know that a big part of these gatherings is casting a wide array of different fly rods. Everyone seems to pack a small arsenal of rods -- way more than they could possibly fish in the time they are at the event. All sorts of rods are brought - anything from graphite to bamboo, and from to banty rods to spey rods. While a good number of these rods are not fished, they are all put to good use. After all, who doesn't like casting and comparing new or different fly rods? It's just one of the many beauties of these gatherings.

This year's Michigan Fish-In was no exception. Many fine casting instruments were circulated amongst the eager masses. Trying to do my part, I brought up a number of rods that I thought others might enjoy casting. I was particularly eager to show off two rods that I recently built. The rods were built out of short fiberglass blanks, each six feet in length, but they weren't typical fly rod blanks. Instead, they were built out of ultralight spinning blanks, manufactured by Batson Enterprises.

Before I get too far into this article, I want to make one thing clear. I did not come up with the idea of using these blanks for building fly rods. I first heard about them while visiting the Fiberglass Flyrodders Forum. Messages about these blanks have been posted on other boards as well, including rodbuildingforum.com, rodbuilding.org, and the FAOL Rod Building and Restoration board. A number of rod builders on the Fiberglass Forum have experimented with and written about these blanks. The person probably most responsible for bringing these blanks to the attention of those on the forums is Luis Perez, who goes by the handles Loudog99 or Loudog on other forums, and by L-dog here on FAOL. Lou is an amateur rod builder who is coming to be known on most of these boards for his beautiful wraps, grips, and reel seats. He was drawn to experiment with these blanks because of the work of others who talked about using ultralight spinning rods for casting flylines and ultralight spinning blanks for building fly rods.

In my communications with Lou about these blanks prior to writing this article, he commented, "I basically wanted a short rod to use from my kayak for bass and panfish, that would load easily at short distances and find that most graphite blanks under 6.5' are too stiff. The blanks are priced very reasonably and being E-glass I thought they might fit the bill. I am always looking for bang-for-the-buck components and these blanks deliver. Also, being that they fish best with 5wt and 6wt lines, they allow me to cast a variety of flies and because they are glass, they still allow the fish to show off. Lastly, I can build a very nice rod with these blanks for anywhere from $75 to $100 using top components. You cannot buy anything like this from any of the top rod companies."

While reading the messages about these blanks on the Fiberglass Forum, several things caught my attention. I was intrigued by the idea of building a shorter length rod that would cast a heavier weight flyline. I wanted a short rod with some muscle that I could use on a couple of local Michigan trout streams that, while small in size, have been known to harbor some very respectable sized trout (upwards of 16-20 inches in length). I wanted a short rod that could cast larger hopper and attractor patterns and had the strength to turn larger fish or lift them out of the submerged lumber that litters the banks and pools of these particular streams. These blanks seemed to fit that bill nicely, ranging in line weights from 5 to 7. It is difficult to find graphite blanks less than 7 feet in length that aren't a 4 weight or smaller. In the days before graphite, higher line weights were common in these lengths, especially in fiberglass rods by Fenwick, Phillipson, Heddon, and others. And of course, the other big attraction to these blanks was the cost. I will talk about this more later, but the blanks for the two rods that I built cost only $13 and $5 a piece!

Batson Enterprises builds a number of one piece E-glass UL spinning blanks under the Forecast model name, ranging from 5 feet to 7 feet in length. Since they are fiberglass, they all have more moderate actions than similar graphite UL spinning rod blanks. However, not all of these blanks appear well suited for building fly rods. The models most widely acclaimed for use in building fly rods include the 5 foot one piece SPG601 (as a 6 weight rod), the 6 foot one piece SPG720 (as a 4/5/6 wt rod), the 6 foot one or two piece SPG721 (as a 6/7 wt rod), and the 6-1/2 foot one piece SPG780 (as a 3/4 wt rod). The rods I built were the SPG720 and the SPG721-2.

Batson no longer makes or sells the two piece SPG721-2, but they are still widely available from various online retailers. The two piece blank I bought has a butt-over-tip ferrule. While the one piece rods are very smooth, two piece rods are certainly easier to transport. If you are up for a bit of a fun challenge, buy a couple of the blanks, and convert one of them into a two piece rod by cutting it yourself and installing a spigot ferrule. The distributors of these blanks that I know of include schneiderrods.com, fishsticks4u.com, cotesflyshop.biz, and rod-blanks.com. You can also try your local fishing and sporting goods store. I found my SPG720 blank at a small local sporting goods store in Hastings, Michigan.

After purchasing the blanks and guides, I decided to install Fenwick style cork grips, which happen to be the cheapest prefinished cork grip Cabelas sells at a price of only $6. I added AJ5-B reel seats that I bought on sale for $5 each and a 1" fighting butt. I installed fighting butts on the rods partly as wishful thinking, but also as a means of keeping the reel out of the dirt and mud. In all, I spent between $20-$35 per finished rod! That's it!

Now I know you're probably thinking, "It must not be worth much if it doesn't cost very much. How do they cast?" Well if you like fast action rods, you may not like these blanks. The 720 has a full-flex or medium slow action, while the 721-2 has a stiffer mid-flex or medium action. While I like both rods, I have to say that the 720 is probably one of the neatest rods I have ever cast. It casts either a 4, 5, or 6 wt line well. I personally like it best with a WF5. With a WF5 line (I don't use anything fancy on it, just a cheap line from Cabelas), the rod starts loading with 10-15 feet of line and proceeds to shoot line nicely all the way to 50-60 feet. I would consider myself to be an average caster, and I can reach over 60 feet easily with just a light double haul. I have witnessed good distance casters go farther with it.

The thing I really appreciate about the 720 is the feel of the rod while you are casting. You can really feel the rod and line working together, loading and unloading. The 721-2 is also very nice, but it is a bit stiffer, and I think you lose some of the feeling of connection that the 720 has. I'm pretty sure the folks at the Fish-In would agree with my positive impressions of the rods. We casted them off the dock and on the lawn at Gates Lodge, drawing quite a crowd and a lot of positive remarks.

I'd really like to try out the 780 for light trout and bluegill fishing because I have heard some really good things about it as well. And as long as I have the podium, I might as well put in a request to Batson. Several people from the Fiberglass Forum have expressed interest in two piece versions of the 720 and a 780, which would make them easier to transport, and eliminate the need to install a spigot ferrule. Pretty please!

If you would like to try building some really fun fly rods, rods that give you way more enjoyment than what you paid for, then I urge you to give Batson's Forecast E-glass UL spinning blanks a try. In fact, try building one this winter and then bring it to the 2008 Michigan Fish-In! You never know what kind of fun fishing challenges we could come up with using these rods! ~ Jim Flamming


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