Friday, February 1, 2013

Predictions, Rumors, And Pipe Dreams

I had planned on posting this before the first of the year, but oh well, life moves fast around here.  One part of the process of writing T.F.M. is doing a lot of work in the background.  This involves talking with a lot of rod builders, being a soundboard when asked for my opinion, and then playing the role of a detective of sorts in following up any lead or rumor that I hear about possible glass projects, reintroductions of certain lines ups, added models, tweaks, and even pipe dream projects things that never make it to full production.

I've been messing around with fiberglass fly rods since 2006 and in that six or seven year span I've seen the number of fly rod companies, indie rod shops, and blank makers that are doing something with glass make an incredible jump in numbers.  When I started T.F.M. over four years ago I listed maybe a dozen fiberglass fly rod and blank sources on the Rod Shops page.   Now there are close to forty and I am more than likely missing a few.

I thought that I would jot down a few predictions for 2013 (going into 2014), leak a few rumors, and tip off an ever growing audience on what to expect in the next couple years.

So cue up the Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter skit music to "In the year 2000" and feel free to leave a comment on this post about what you are really looking for in fiberglass that just isn't out there yet.

I think it's safe to say that the fly fishing industry has really come around on fiberglass as a medium for building fly rods in the last few years.  Sure, it's a niche material but more and more are getting it.  In the last four years I've seen companies that I approached at industry shows who more or less chuckled at me when I mentioned mentioned glass a few years ago who are now the same ones that they are emailing or ringing me up on my cellphone to tell me what they have cooking.

A safe prediction is that in the next twelve to eighteen months I believe we'll see at least six (likely more like eight) fly rod companies either completely redesign their current glass offerings, reintroduce glass after a several decades long hiatus, or the introduction of new fly rods that we've never seen before from a company that's never offered glass.

Lots of exciting new things in the mix in the coming months.  

I give a lot of credit for the continued interest in glass to the established fly rod companies that have always kept glass in their list of offerings but the small independent fly rod shops that are both creating finished builds and rolling out blanks to their own specifications have really been the ones to create a grass roots interest in fiberglass.  These small shop builders have put a lot of time and effort to develop new and exciting fiberglass fly rods and I believe the best is yet to come.  There are some truly mad scientists at work when it comes to all of this.

I think in the coming year or two we'll see more top tier builders either add fiberglass to their catalogs of bamboo and graphite...or build glass exclusively.  There is room for the inspired artisan builder who is doing everything from taper tweaking, to lathing the hardware, and creating one of a kind fly rods for their clients.  These builders are continually on the hunt for the finest flor grade cork, metal components, and exotic woods for reel seats.  They are creating art that can be fished.

No doubt this is quality that you pay for but I look at it as an investment since there are a select few builders that we see now who are producing the fly rods that will be searched out in the decades to come by anglers and collectors. What is going on today will be considered vintage in fifty years.    

If the latest issue of Fly Fisher magazine was any indication...the Japanese totally dig glass.  So much so that there are models made exclusively for their market by U.S. makers that are never seen on a river stateside and these companies can't keep up with production requests.

On the flip side Japan has quite a few small to medium sized fly rod companies and independent rod makers that are doing some amazing things with glass.  I would bet we'll start seeing more of those offerings find their way out of Japan and into the hands of anglers and die hard collectors.

The imaginary ceiling for five weight glass has historically been around eight feet.  The thought, along with digital scale proof, was that once a glass rod touched eight foot or so that it started to get noticeably heavier.  Give thanks to new fiberglass materials, taper makers, and those that just don't care what others think and we're seeing more and more 8'6" and longer trout weight glass being offered.  What used to be thought of as graphite only territory is now being trod on by a few glass makers as well and these offerings are very nice and a pleasure to cast.

I am a total geek when it comes to glass and happily fish seven, eight, and nine weight fiberglass fly rods for all things warmwater, coldwater, and saltwater.  Is graphite lighter and maybe make more sense to fish in these line weights?  Likely yes.  Am I going to do it?  Likely no...and there are others just like me as well.

Heavy line weight glass is finding true favor for a few reasons.  First, you can dump short casts with a single back cast to a cruising fish like carp or redfish easier and more accurately than you can with fast action graphite.  Second, once you get the tempo the rod does all the work on long casts.  Let it load up on the back cast and you can air out an entire fly line when needed.  Third, you can put phenomenal leverage on a big fish on glass since the rod acts like a shock absorber and the weight of the fish is spread across the entire length of the shaft.  Don't think that since a glass fly rod is bent in a half circle that it's just a wimpy stick.  It's working.

Just like longer trout weight glass has gotten lighter in hand, the same is happening in heavy line weight glass as well.  I've had more than one guide remark at how light my 8/9 weight glass rods are and it really blows their mind at how well they cast as well. 

I don't know what it is but in the last couple months I have had a wave of inquires asking about switch rods and two handers.  As true salmon, steelhead, and tributary brown trout junkies are looking for the next new thing, glass keeps coming up in the conversation.  Several fly rod companies (big and small) are listening and a few projects are in the works.  I have a feeling that these creations are going to be worth waiting for.

Don't let the word "fast" freak you out.  These fast glass tapers are still quite a bit slower than most of the graphite out there.  As tapers are being developed in glass, there are more and more choices and some of those fall outside of traditional fiberglass actions, which end up being dubbed "fast action" glass. 

In my mind it has it's place in the myriad of glass being offered.  Maybe not so much in the light trout weight fly rods but certainly has you look at five weights and higher up the line weight scale.

Cast it before you start hating on it.  

Not everyone has a piggy bank that they can break every time they see a fly rod they want and several of the fly rod companies get that.  I think we're going to see a few more offerings in the $200 to $300 price point, which is that sweet spot of someone's first glass rod but also the total geek that is plugging holes in their collection with a particular line weight and length at a price even their spouse will sign off on.

I've long said that one of the neat things about modern day fiberglass is that there are choices across all price points and that still rings true.  More choices keeps all the companies involved continually looking over their shoulder at what everyone else is doing and in the end we're seeing better made and more well thought out fiberglass fly rods today than ever before.  

There is something that I think about at night when the wife and children are asleep while I type away on my laptop.  That is I really hope that rod shops big and small continue to innovate and not just put glass out to just to have glass in their line ups.

A flood of cheap or poorly thought out fly rods, that are more or less dogs, could kill the momentum that is slowly building here with contemporary glass.  Just because a rod builder gets an email from an Asian factory offering cheap glass blanks doesn't mean that they should take them up on it.  What will get delivered at that shop's doorstep are crooked blanks flecked with dirt, that are heavy, dead when flexed, and aren't really anything worth building up to fish.  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. 

I hope that indie builders and fly rod companies alike will always search out and develop the best glass possible.  This fly rod niche, and the anglers that fish and collect these fly rods, deserve that.

There is absolutely no better time to fish glass than now...and it will be interesting to see what the next twelve to eighteen months brings.  I hope that I am spot on with everything mentioned in this post.  I guess time will tell.


Chasin Alice said...

Great information and most likely a very accurate prediction. Thanks so much for all you add to this 'niche'!

Anonymous said...

The Japanese market always get the good stuff!

The Fly Trout said...

Great post! I hope you're right about more economically priced glass rods. I have one of the Cabela's CGRs, as you once suggested to me and I really like it. I would like get more glass but there are not a lot of mid-priced rods out there.

Middlemac said...

What a great expanded commentary, giving us a peek behind the curtain at the Wizard who's keeping us in touch with all things glass.

I particularly liked What Keeps Me Up at Night..

More please!!

Jay said...

Good posting Cameron.
I haven't really bitten the glass fever yet.
Just waiting to take the plunge one day with a rod that would yell at me "buy me!"... :)

The Sasquatch said...

I hope you're right about economical glass, and longer trout rods. I was just discussing today whether I want to take the plunge and sell all my graphite. My issue is my 9' 5wt. I use that rod for big water. I'd rather have glass that can handle big trout water, but every glass rod over 8ft in my budget is a 7/8wt rod (old Fenwicks, Wonderrods, etc.) I was looking at a glass rod from Kettle Creek Tackle Shop in Northcentral PA, its all but $400 but his rods are awesome. I just have to save for it for a while (I'm a low-budget fisherman!)

Anonymous said...

Cameron, just let me get on board with those that are excited about fishing glass rods, but, who have to work within a tight budget. Particularly a Senior Citizens budget. I would love to see rods that more economical, but, not trash. I have purchased Feather Lights from you and really would like to try something else without breaking the bank!

FinFollower said...


Great predictions. I'm guessing that a good portion of these rods will be aimed at the trout market, but I personally use mine more for bass, crappie and panfish, mainly in my kayak.

Any thoughts on whether fiberglass rod builders are looking to make a major impact in the warmwater market?

The NOCO Nympher said...

Cam as always amazing post great information great read and I would say your precut ion is right on the money still waitin for you to come join us in gunnison!

FlyGabeRiverrat said...

I'm still dreaming of a 6/7 wt CGt switch for less than $200 (I know keep dreaming)

swampfox741 said...

I hope your insights are spot on. As far as what I'd like to see is the glass manufactures concentrate on glass tapers that suit the the material,and not to try to copy or replace bamboo or graphite. I'd like a full range of weights and lengths.


Chris Barclay said...

"Cast it before you start hating on it." Exactly.

Fontinalis Rising said...

Bravo Mr. Mortenson. As always you have your ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse.

Timothy Hough said...

I sell sticks for a well known, high end maker of all things fly. They will remain unnamed, but the first initial is "O". Well, anyway... I have been kicking around the idea that perhaps me, a lowly grunt, should have the audacity to write to the high muckety-muck of stick building to strongly suggest returning glass to their revered line up of broomstick stiff graphite and ungodly expensive grass sticks. After reading this, I think I must...and I'll attach this article to back my audacious belief that there is a market for glass out there, a big one.

Christopher Carden said...

Hopefully this is a nice little blast from the past that finds you well.

I've recently discovered glass fly rods, and I find them to be extremely peculiar and organic when compared to their graphite counterparts.

I just read this particular article for the first time, having only recently found your blog about 4 days ago. In that time span, I've done quite a bit of research just barely brushing the surface of this niche, I'm sure. I find it amazing at just how accurate these predictions are only what 4-5 years later?

Keep up the great work.

Cameron Mortenson said...

Christopher... Thanks for the note. It's really time for around round of predictions and thoughts on the future of fiberglass fly rods. There are some really cool things in the works.