Fly Rod Blanks!
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How do you choose a graphite rod blank?
First I'll discuss 'actions,' then below I'll discuss materials.
The 'action' of a blank or rod simply means how much it bends. That's about all there is to say. And when I say 'bend,' it just means the % that it flexes. For instance, if we say it bends 33%, then only the top (tip) 1/3 bends and the rest of the blank is relatively straight. With this in mind, consider the following chart:
|Blank Action||Bend %age|
The illustration below should make it even clearer.
But what do I say about "modulus" of the graphite? Not much, really. All it refers to in this case is the elasticity or stiffness of the material. So a higher modulus, say 55,000,000 is stiffer than say a 40,000,000.
Does that make the higher modulus better? No! In fact, no way! It is true that the higher number is lighter and that 'faster' rods are likely to have a faster action. But . . . and listen carefully . . . the action will have more to do with the construction of the blank than the modulus figures alone. I've seen this demonstrated with blanks made in the United States as well as half way around the world! So the bottom line is to get the 'action' you want ... without worrying so much about attention to modulus.
There's another probem with using modulus figures to compare blanks. Say a manufacturer used 90% 30,000,000 and 10% 50,000,000 to make a blank. Advertising convention allows him to say his blank is a 50,000,000 blank when marketing it, even though a very low percentage of the blank is actually constructed with the higher modulus material. But by putting the higher number in their advertising literature, they have you believing that you're getting a high modulus product. Bottom line is that the manufacturers description of the modulus reflects only the high strain in the blend, but doesn't mean that the whole blank or even a major portion of the blank contains the higher modulus material.
Another point about modulus: oftentimes, the higher modulus material is used only in the butt section, to decrease weight and provide stiffness. In this case, it has little, if any, effect on the overall nature of the blank's casting ability or style.
Our Hook & Hackle 'X' Series rods happen to be made with blends of different modulus materials, but we don't tell you what it is because it doesn't matter! Again, you should buy a particular blank because it has the action you desire for your fishing needs and tastes.
It is often the case that higher modulus material can be used to make blanks that are a tad thinner in taper or lighter weight in design, but I wouldn't choose a blank by its diameter or weight alone. That's a prescription to be unhappy because the blank may not behave the way you want. Secondly, HIGHER MODULUS MATERIAL BREAKS MORE BECAUSE IT IS STIFFER! Hmmmm.
If you think a butt section of .350 on your 9' 5-weight is going to make a big difference from a butt section of .380, then you're kidding yourself. And if you think the weight difference of 1.75 ounces versus 1.50 ounces is going to make a big difference then again, you're fighting the wrong battle. There is no way that a difference of .25 ounces is going to matter. I know . . . manufacturers have been tell us just the opposite, but that is generally just a way to get more money out of you, not make you a better fisherman!!!!!
What I'm really saying here is that there are many good blanks on the market. We happen to like Batson Enterprises products for the way they fish. And, of course, we favor our Hook & Hackle blanks for the same reason. And neither of these will break your bank. Truth is, almost all of the major manufacturers make darn good products, including St. Croix, American Tackle, Pacific Bay, Sage, TFO and others.
How about bamboo action?
Bamboo is actually a grass and as such, will usually have actions more on the moderate and even slow side. Don't get me wrong. Some excellent modern builders are making faster and lighter blanks, but the conventional thinking is that these will tend to the slower end of the spectrum.
Here again, it is the action that should dictate your choice. There are many professionals as well as hobbyists making bamboo blanks and rods, so choose carefully. Many of these are either inferior products or way overprices.
I will say one thing about bamboo: it is easy to cast. You can feel the line loading and you must slow down your casting because of the nature of the material. I really enjoy casting out a dry fly on a hot summer's night with a bamboo rod. It seems to slow everything down and lay that fly out there just perfectly. Also, when you slow it down, accuracy can be much better.
There are still a few manufacturers of fiberglass blanks today. Some folks call these "poor man's bamboo," but I like to think of it as "smart man's bamboo." Fiberglass blanks traditionally have actions that are similar to bamboo rods, but fiberglass is much, much lighter and much less expensive. These are fun to make and fun to fish.
Todays modern materials, particularly graphite, are strong and forgiving. We've seem tests of 2 section 9' 5-weights versus 4 section 9' 5-weight and the difference, in terms of casting and action are not noticeable to most people. Also, it is our experience that 4-piece ones break less often, but that is because the owner is more likely to put it away.
A Quick Comment on some of our H&H Brand Blanks
We receive occasional questions concerning the finish on some of our blanks, most notably, our "Xi." It is painted a gloss olive green, but the female ferrule sections is left unpainted. We do that for two reasons. First of all, some people are making rod without wrapping the ferrules properly. This ‘blank’ section helps to insure that a building will place a small wrap where necessary on the section. Also, without the paint, the thread and finish will bond the hardest, which will made the ferrule less vulnerable to damage. Always remember to wrap as close to the end of the section as you can. Second, know that weight is always a deterrent to performance, so ‘less paint,’ particularly where it’s not needed will lighten the blank. It may seem small, but it’s just one of the details we prefer. We could have them finished on the ends, it would cost just a few cents more per blank and is not significant in terms of cost, but our blanks are made for optimal performance first, then aesthetics come into play.
Personally, I prefer no finish at all, which is why our top of the line blanks, the New XEN, designed and manufactured by Gary Loomis at his North Forks Composites factory, all have a matte charcoal finish.