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.
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