Monday, November 4, 2013

Dave's Thoughts On Glass Switch Rods

Dave Henry of 2 Handed Trout posted a few photographs recently on social media that were taken by Adrienne Comeau of The Female Angle of him casting his new James Green 9'6" switch rod that he had built by Snowman Custom Rod Works

The photos were all really excellent and I asked Dave if he'd mind sending along a couple of lines of narrative to accompany the photographs on his thoughts on the Jame Green switch rod.  Needless to say, he surprised me with this really through essay in the post below.  Enjoy.

Dave wrote...  "Fly fishing, and its related gear, have gone through many stages, even in the relatively short time that I have been immersed in it.  And unlike most other sports or pastimes, old technology and materials sometimes become relevant again even as the new technologies continue to evolve. Some would argue that this is due to the fact that the old materials are superior to the new, whereas others would see these shifts simply as passing trends.  I’m not sure that either are absolutes and believe that everything has a place and function.  Everything fits a niche, you just have to find what that niche is.

I had started fly fishing after fiberglass was considered a non-factor by the majority of anglers. Graphite was the material of choice for fly fishers and fly fishing gear manufacturers worldwide.  I didn’t know anyone with a fiberglass rod and had never used or even seen one.  Fiberglass wasn’t even on my radar when I worked at the local fly shop as there were no glass rods for sale there. However, as you can imagine, there were several types of graphite rods and each year they became lighter, faster and stronger.  It got to the point where you couldn’t even keep up with the changes and to be honest you didn’t really even know if you were getting something different than the model from the previous year.  One of the greatest marketing periods in fly fishing history.  But again, that’s all that was available and we made good use of it and still do to this day.  Graphite is a remarkable material.

In time I gravitated towards two handed rods for the large pacific west coast rivers and the steelhead and salmon that called them home.  Eventually, fishing with two handed rods became even more important than the fish I was actually targeting and in time I sought to use them to pursue smaller game such as sea-run bulltrout.  Graphite rods became lighter, stronger and shorter and it wasn’t long before I started finding rods that were suited for chasing even smaller fish such as rainbow and cutthroat trout.  

Interest became a passion which grew into an obsession leading to the creation of my blog, 2 Handed Trout.  Still, fiberglass never even factored in."

"In fact there came a time a few years back when I started considering other two handed options, trying to get that “certain something” that was missing with my light graphite rods.  Even the lightest graphite two handers were still a little too much for trout.  Catching a 17 inch fish on a 10’6 3 weight switch rod is still like catching the same fish on a 9’ 5 or 6 weight single hander.  I wanted to get that feel that comes with using a three or four weight single hander and just couldn’t find it.  Converting single handed rods to double handers by adding a lower grip helped but these weren’t really two handed rods.  I needed(wanted) a true spey or switch rod with  super sensitivity that would let me really feel the fish.  My first instinct was to look into the possibility of a bamboo two hander but the cost was far too prohibitive.  This is when I started to consider fiberglass as an option, if only I could find a company that produces two handed rods with such material.  I began to scour the internet and that’s when I happened to cross paths with Zeb Tonkavich of Snowman Custom Rod Works.

 Zeb is a custom rod builder with a rapidly growing customer base and a love of fiberglass rods.  I had seen pictures of some of his work on a social media site and we began to chat about the possibility of having him build something for me.  It turned out that Zeb was in the same mind frame as I was but from a different perspective.  He had plenty of experience with fiberglass and was looking to try a two hander.  I had plenty of experience with two handers but wanted to try fiberglass.  It wasn’t long before the idea to have him build a fiberglass switch rod was on the table and Zeb suggested that we start with a blank available from James Green, one of the only fiberglass switch rod blanks available at the time.  The 9’6" James Green six weight switch rod project was born.

When I first viewed the mustard yellow color of the blank I wondered if we could make something that would look as good as some of the other rods that Zeb had showcased.  But after consulting with Zeb for a few days I knew it would work out.  All of the components and wraps were chosen carefully to bring out the best from the blank.  We started by agreeing on ghost wraps using thread colors that include daffodil, straw and amber.  We decided to use a 16mm stripper with a 12mm line tamer, both light amber agate set in bright nickel silver.  The nine guides are size three for the first four, size four for the next two, and then up to size five.  The universal snake brand  guides are large, similar to a nine weight single hander, so that I can use looped heads and tips with no issues.  Zeb noticed that the guides tightened up the action if the blank noticeably which slightly quickened the return rate."

"The handles incorporate smoky burnt burl, flor grade natural cork, and for the wood sections and reel seat insert we went with spalted blue silver maple.  The reel seat was one of the last spey versions available at Struble before they went out of business.  They were turned to my specifications to get as close to the thin diameter of the grips on my Anderson ACR custom rods.  This took a lot of work to get right but Zeb refused to give up and they turned out perfect.

The rod bag was stitched up with lightweight beige canvas by Andrea Larko.  It's taped out in complimentary colors and lined with houndstooth fabric.  The tube has the Snowman logo, handwritten rod description, and matching colors as well.  Zeb also had my logo engraved into the cap by Dave Stackhouse of Tough Tied Outdoors for an attractive final touch.

No two handed rod that I have casted is as buttery smooth as the James Green.  It is medium action rod that flexes right through the grip.  Power is sourced from the lower end of the blank while at the top end it is somewhat of a noodle.  A relaxed casting stroke is absolutely necessary to make this rod work as you can easily over power it.  It took some time before I could force myself to slow down and let it do its thing and once I did I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this rod is to use.  I found that wind and heavy flies made things difficult so I’ve been sticking to small streamers and all sizes of nymphs and dryflies.  It works great with both single and double handed overhead casts and is light enough to use with one hand.

The softness in the tip also means that it doesn’t track as well as a graphite rod but with the right line this isn’t that much of an issue.  The soft tip also telegraphs everything that is happening with your fly right to your hands.  I can feel my fly pass by rocks in the water and change direction in current seams.  Even the lightest takes from fish are detected and light tippets are protected when one happens to eat the fly.  Once a fish is on the rod the fight brings a smile to my face."

"Fighting fish with this rod has been the best part of the experience so far.  The blank flexes into the grip with even small trout on the line.  I took this rod out fishing for pink salmon and it was bent nearly in half the entire time.  This deep flex actually puts the fish to sleep far quicker than graphite.  I had previously heard about this effect of fiberglass rods and thought that it was an exaggeration. It’s dead accurate.  Fish are landed quickly and released healthy.

I think that an eight pound fish is the maximum size that I would try to land with the Green.  That being said, due to the soft tip, it isn’t too much rod for a two or three pound fish.  This is an incredible range for a switch rod.

The James Green is certainly not a performance rod due to its slower recovery, however it’s an excellent rod for small to medium sized rivers and fish.  It’s unfortunate that this blank is so difficult to build on and this probably accounts for the fact that there are but a few of these rods around.  It was definitely the perfect introduction to fiberglass for me and I’m excited about the prospect of trying other glass rods, both single and double handed, in the coming future.

With the help of people such as Cameron Mortenson and Zeb Tonkavich, fiberglass is sure to continue its growth in popularity as a rod material.  There are currently several new two handed fiberglass blanks being researched and developed by various companies and once these rods hit the rivers I’m positive that they will catch on.  I see great things to come for both fiberglass and two handed rods.  Individually and together."

Articles like these have the ability to change perceptions of what contemporary glass can and cannot do and I really appreciate Dave taking time to pen these thoughts.

Read more of Dave Henry on the 2 Handed Trout website.


The NOCO Nympher said...

Morty, Once again inspiring others! Very impressive review and amazing images! Thanks for sharing Dave's response and pics! Always a pleasure!

Ryan S said...

This is a great article, thanks for getting it. I am building on the same blank over the winter, and initially wanted to build with agates, but decided against it based on the fact they are just not that slick and thus unable to shoot line as well as alconite or similar materials. I sided with function over aesthetics. Reading this, and the appropriate sized waters, perhaps the function of this rod is better suited to casts not quite so long, and agate is back on the menu!

btwd said...

I wonder what he meant about the blank being hard to build on?

Snowman said...

The blank has a spike installed in the butt end that was misaligned. Dimensionally it is pretty oversized and the dimensions on the handles to accommodate Dave's request needed to be close to .1250" under standard. On standard cork it would t have been as big of a deal.