Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This is the most critical step in getting that fly rod you will really love. Nothing the rod builder can do will improve the intrinsic qualities of the blank. He can maximize them, but he can’t improve them. This is an area where it doesn’t pay to go cheap. That said lets look at some of the things to consider when selecting your blank.

MATERIAL: Material the blank is made from is a consideration. Graphite, glass or grass (bamboo) are our main choices today. Bamboo will always have it’s advocates because of tradition, and the “feel”. Glass has made a come back because the fiberglass used in today’s rod is not the same as that used in the fifties and sixties and some prefer that “feel” to graphite. But 99% of the time we are going to chose graphite as the material for our blank because it does the job more efficiently than the other materials. All graphite fibers are not the same. Some fibers are stiffer than others. We measure this stiffness by what is called the modulus of the graphite fiber. The higher the modulus the stiffer the fiber. Thus we can gain the stiffness required with less weight. Conversely, the higher the modulus is, the more brittle the fiber and a greater chance of breakage. High modulus graphite is more expensive than lower modulus.The blank manufacturers each have their own proprietary graphite for their blanks and most will not reveal the actual numbers.

POWER:  The power of a blank is the stiffness of the blank or the amount of energy required to deflect the blank during casting. The power of a 5 wt. blank can vary from one manufacturer to another. Different models from the same manufacturer, both labeled 5 wt., may have different amounts of power.  There is no standard for blanks or rods like there is for fly lines. The power of a blank can be easily determined by looking at the weight / deflection ratio.

ACTION:  The action of the blank is where the rod flexes when being deflected. A fast action blank will deflect in the top quarter of the blank, a moderate fast action in the top third, a moderate action in the top half and a slow action throughout the length of the blank. This action is a result of the taper of the blank and/or type (modulus) of graphite used.

LENGTH:  Single handed fly rod blanks are usually available from 7 feet to 10 feet. The waters you fish will help you determine which blank will be best for you. Small overgrown streams are easier to fish with shorter rods. Big open waters most often fish better with longer rods. The longer the rod the easier to generate greater line speed thus longer cast. Mending line is easier with a longer rod. Remember that with a longer rod the fish has more mechanical advantage. Length is also important when landing fish. If you are netting your own fish, a rod over 9 feet makes it hard to net without high sticking and the risk of breaking the rod. If you have help netting or can beach your catch a 10 foot rod is not a problem.

NUMBER OF SECTIONS: Is a 2 section rod better than a multi-section rod?  In theory a 2 piece rod should cast better than a multi-piece rod, but in reality with today’s ferruling methods most of the time it is hard to tell the difference between a 2pc. and a 4pc.rod. I feel that the taper and graphite type are much more important than the number of sections. I have some 6pc. rods which cast wonderfully and are perfect for the backpacker. The only reason they usually are not the first arrow out of my quiver is it takes a little longer to rig at streamside. All my favorite rods, the ones that I fish (1 – 12wt.) with one exception, are 3 and 4 section rods.

MANUFACTURERS WARRANTY:  No one buys a rod with the intension of breaking the rod but accidents do happen. Know what the manufacturers replacement policies are for the blank and what your rod builder will charge to rewrap that section.

These are some very general thoughts on blank selection. If you are a rod builder I’m sure you have some additional thoughts so please share them in the comments section. If you are looking to buy a rod, my advise is to cast as many models from as many manufacturers as you can. See which ones fit your casting style. Then see what your custom rod builder has to offer. If you want to know what I fish go to my web site (harperflyrods.com) by clicking on the banner at the top of the page and selecting “recommendations”. While you are there take a look at some of my custom rods and grips in galleries # 1 and 2. Hope this has helped. Next up, I plan to discuss guide selection. It will be similar to the tip top article.

Thanks for visiting

Posted by Harper Fly Rods - Dennis at 9/21/2010 12:36 PM

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Since this post was originally published the industry has come up with light wire tip tops which weight about the same as Fuji BAFT. The tube is shorter and the wire is a smaller gauge. These are the tip tops I recommend on 3wt and up rods.

Custom rod building is all about choices. We choose the blank based on power, length, and action desired. We choose components based on the choices available and which will best suit our needs. Grip choices are based on style, and size. Considerations in the choice of  guides include: wire vs ceramic insert , single foot or double foot, thin or standard wire. Each of these deserves its own separate discussion. which I hope to get to some day. But now I wanted to talk a little about tip tops. Think of a diving board, if you add extra weight at the end of the board you will affect the function of the board in its transmitting power to the diver. He wont go as high with 10 pounds strapped to the bottom of the end of the board as he would without the 10 pounds, if we make it 20 pounds that affect will be even greater. This has to due to damping and resonance frequency, but I don't want to get into the physics of that as I'm a Biologist and not a Physicist. The bottom line is the lighter the tip top the more energy is transfered to the fly line resulting in faster line speed and farther cast. Below is a photo of some of the tip tops we can choose from.

The top row: Over sized wire tip top, three standard wire tip tops with various platings. 
The bottom row: Two on the left are metal frame ceramic insert tip tops, third from the left REC Ti -Ni alloy with Al sleeve, on the right is a single foot guide which I sometimes use as a tip top.

The size of the opening of the tip top should be large enough for the easy passage of knots but small enough not to add unnecessary extra weight. In the wire tip tops we have two choices std. or OS. Ceramic inserts give us a range of sizes based on ring size. These ring sizes are based on outside diameter of the ring not the diameter of the opening so there will be some variation between manufacturers and the type of ceramic used. 

The effect of weight of the tip top will be related to the power of the blank. If I place a std. wire tip top (.46 grams) on a 6 wt rod it will have less effect than on a 1 or 2 wt. rod. An over size tip top (.55 gm) will affect a 6 wt more than it will a 8 weight. These wire tip top weights are an average of 10 of the std.(.46 gm) and 10 OS (.55 gm) tip tops.

The weight of the ceramic inserts is determined by 2 main factors. the frame material and the size of the ceramic ring. For my study of wt. comparisons of ceramic inserts I chose Fuji TFST ( titanium frame SIC insert ) and Fuji BFAT ( plated steel with Alconite inserts ). A size 6 insert was chosen as it will easily pass all my knots  up to a 6 wt. The TFST weighed in at .23 gm. (Half the wt. of the std wire tip top) and the BFAT weighed in at .27 gm. only .04 gm. greater than the titanium frames.  Ring size played a far greater role than frame material. In the TFST a 5.5 ring weighted .18 gm compared to the .23 gm of the 6 ring. In the BFAT a 6 ring was .27 gm..The 7 ring  was .40 gm.  and the 8 ring was .50 gm. Tube diameter of 4.0, 4.5 and 5.0 on the BFAT 6 showed no difference in weight on my balance.

The REC std weight was .16 gm. The single foot guide size 1 std weight was .08 gm. 

The cost of the tip tops will also play a role in our selection. The cost of a std. hard chrome wire tip top is some where between $1.00 and $1.50. A over size can run up to $1.75. These are the least expensive. The Fuji TFST run about $11.50, the BFAT about $3.50. The REC is $5.50 and the single foot about $.85 to $1.00. 

So how do I use this information? It has to be in benefit to cost ratio. On 1 & 2 wt rods I  recommend a single foot guide as the tip top. The cost is about the same as a std wire tip top but you save .38 gm. at the end of the rod.  You can feel this difference when you cast.
On 3 & 4 wt rods I recommend CFAT ( same as BFAT but in chrome and a few cents more ) this is about a $2.00 up grade over the std. wire tip top, your saving .19 gm. on the end of the rod. You may be able to feel this difference but it can be easily seen by doing a resonance frequency comparison. The REC would be a good choice if it weren't  so ugly and noisy.  On 5 & 6 wt rods. you probably won't notice the difference in casting if you go with either CFAT or std wire tip top. At this point is .19 gm. worth $2.00 to you. On 7,8 and 9 wt rods our choice would be OS wire or size 7 CFAT tip top. Our wt savings is .15 gm. again at a cost of about $2.00.  

The above picture shows the various tip tops installed on the rods.  On the left is an 8 wt. with an OS wire tip top, large enough opening for all my knots it include shooting heads. Next is a 7 wt. with a size 7 ceramic insert, again large enough for shooting head connections and knots.  These are followed by a 5 & 6 wt. with sdt. size wire tip tops.  Because of the power of these blanks, I felt I could add a decorative wrap to the top with little or no affect on the blank. These wraps are purely decorative and have no other function.  The next are 4 wt with a BFAT  size 6 and a 3 wt. with a TFST size 6 ceramic insert. No decorative wrap was added to minimize the weight at the tip top. The far right are 1 & 2 wt. rods with a single foot guide was used as the tip top. 

The addition of any weight to the blank will decrease the resonance frequency. thus reducing the energy transmitted to the line,  reducing the line speed potential of the blank and thus distance of the cast. Since the tip top is at the end of our long lever its weight will have a greater effect than the other guides which are closer to the butt of the rod.

In the real world if you put a std. wire tip top on 1 or 2 wt. you won't ruin the rod, however you will decrease the potential of that blank. Will this make a difference to the fisherman? Probably not. I know that I'm the "limiting factor" when it comes to casting, not the tip top or any of the other components but at the same time it's nice to know that your rod was built to reach its greatest potential. 

Hope this gives you some ideas about tip top selection on your next rod, or was this just another discussion of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin".  Let me know. Just hit the add comment below and leave your opinion.

Thanks Dennis

Posted by Harper Fly Rods - Dennis at 3/9/2010 4:52 PM | View Comments (5) | Add Comment