Monday, June 24, 2019

SYNERGY - Glass Rods, Blue Lines, and Native Fish

We all have stories on how we started fly fishing and for fellow "Glass Geeks" what led us to pick up a fiberglass fly rod, or circle back to them after years of fishing with graphite.  Bob Mallard's experiences with glass aren't too far from my own (only that I circled back in my 20's) and I really appreciate him taking the time to share with the The Fiberglass Manifesto readership.

There is certainly a lot to be said about native fishes and fiberglass fly rods and Bob nails it here.

Fishing glass for wild native brook trout in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Diana Mallard

I believe there is a natural synergy between fiberglass fly rods, small streams, and wild native fish. I see them as intertwined to at least some degree: How and even if, one finds their way into the web they weave depends on which of the three moves you most, or first.  But once there, one more often than not leads to the other.

There is something inherently honest, clean, pure, natural, and right about the convergence of
fiberglass fly rods, small streams, and wild native fish.  There is no argument against it.  No conflict of interest.  The tackle is timeless and fun, the habitat natural and healthy, and the fish wild and belonging.  It represents a unique nexus not found in much of today’s fly fishing.

Like many, I got caught up in the “faster the better” fly rod craze.  Likewise, I focused primarily
on the artificial tailwaters, manipulated spring creeks, and manmade impoundments so popular with
today’s fly fishers.  Species and their origin were relatively unimportant to me.  And of course, bigger
was better, and the end justified the means.

I shunned short and slow-action rods that didn’t “cast well,” or I thought they didn’t. I abandoned small streams as they were not conducive to catching big fish, and I saw small fish as a waste of time. I wanted room to test my casting prowess.

But something changed.  Like the Grinch finding his long lost heart, I rediscovered my soul.  I
developed an appreciation for natural environs, wild native fish, and fiberglass fly rods – and in that
order.  I started to shun heavily altered waters, stocked and nonnative fish, and fly rods that cast better
than they fished.  I found I wanted more than the sport was currently giving me, much more.

I finally figured out that while I had always referred to myself as a “conservation-minded fly
”, I was actually a conservationist that fly fished.  To me, fly fishing was much more about being
where I wanted to be, seeing what I wanted to see, and learning what I wanted to learn, than just a tug
on the line, an impressive cast, or a competition between man and beast.

After twenty-five or so years of haunting mostly large rivers, I took to the backcountry streams
of my youth in search of solitude, wildness, and fish that belonged where you found them, and
compliments of Mother Nature, not Father Fish and Game.  I wanted to take back the sport that had
gotten away from me.

I quickly determined that I needed to downsize and simplify.  The small streams warranted
shorter and lighter rods than I had been using.  So did the small fish I was catching. The rods the
mainstream industry was pushing however were too fast for short precise casts.  And too stiff for fish
that rarely broke eight inches.

A wild native brook trout from Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Diana Mallard

At 60-years-young, I learned to fly fish with fiberglass rods, and not very good ones at that.  But I
took a quarter of a century hiatus where I used nothing but graphite rods.  I sold them, represented
them, and collected them.  At one point I had twenty-five graphite fly rods, all so-called “premium”

My sights soon turned back to glass and I purchased my first one in twenty-five years. That led
to another. And another.  And another.  E-glass, S-glass, and S-2 glass. Five-feet, 6-feet, 7-feet, and 7.5-feet. Two 2-weights, a 3-weight, and 4-weight.  One was even a 5-piece for use with a day pack when my pursuits took me far from the road and provisions.

For me fiberglass fly rods are as much about coming full-circle as they are discovering something
new.  They represent a return to simplicity and innocence, and the perfect tool for what I now like to do.  They complete the transition to small stream fishing for wild native fish.  They bring it all together.

As I implied earlier, there are several ways into the triumvirate of glass rods, small streams, and
native fish. For some it’s the simple, fun, and beautiful tackle.  For others it’s the uncrowded, quiet, and quaint environs.  Some get tired of fish with rounded tails, shredded fins, and other aesthetic
deficiencies.  And others figure out that native fish are important, they matter.

Regardless of how, why, or when you find yourself fishing glass, haunting small streams, or
chasing natives, each one eventually points back to the others.  It is a natural progression, the
culmination of a paradigm shift in how you view the sport and resource, and a maturation that allows
you to enjoy slow rods, little waters, and small fish.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s E-glass, S-glass, or S-2 glass, it’s all still glass.  And small streams
can be freestone, limestone, meadow, or even tidal.  While trout are the most likely game; and brookies, cutts, bows, Gila, and Apache the most likely species; warmwater fish such as red-eye bass are equally worthy and worthwhile.

While I appreciate big fish, a fish no longer has to be large to be worthy of my time.  What really
matters is that they belong where I find them, and that they were put there by nature not man.  I still
fish for browns, and even stocked fish, but they are now the exception not the rule.  Ditto for graphite
rods, they have their place: Just not on small wild native fish streams.

Bob Mallard has fly fished for over forty years.  He is a former fly shop owner and a Registered Maine Fishing Guide.  Bob is a blogger, writer, author, fly designer, and native fish advocate.  He is a founding member and National Vice Chair for Native Fish Coalition.  His writing, photographs, and flies have been featured at the local, regional and national level.  

Bob's books, 50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast, 25 Best Towns Fly Fishing for Trout, and the soon to be released, Squaretail: The Definitive Guide to Brook Trout and Where to Find Them. 

Bob can be reached through his website, the Native Fish Coalition or by email at


Jay said...

Are these kind of insights exclusive to old guys? :)

Bob@NFC said...

Hopefully not

MarkW said...

Very well articulated for those of us who prefer the road less traveled

J.P. Clarke said...

I've known Bob a few years now. Evenboughtone of those "fast wonder rods"from him. He showed me one of the modern fiberglass rods ( a Scott, I believe).
That started a desire for slower casts and smaller fish. Even though it was a few years after that, I bought a Redington Butterstick in a three wt. Then a Butter5 wt. then an Echo9 wt.
All glass.
Thank you Cameron and Bob. You saved my fishing and kept me in the sport.

Bob@NFC said...

Thanks JP.