Saturday, May 31, 2008
We went to the nearby lake. The Bluegill were biting. Here are some photos of the event.
Rachael's first fish:
Rachael and Kristin fishing:
Fly Fishing with Dad:
Look, another fish. This isn't so tough!:
Hey, I can fly fish by myself:
The Fishin' Family:
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
How things have changed. As I look at my fly box today it is filled with streamers, poppers, and nymphs. Sure, the dry flies still outnumber these, but not by much. I rarely tie a dry fly these days, spending plenty of time trying out new streamer patterns.
What has changed?
I attribute the change to two things.
1. A move from Colorado to Kentucky
We moved from Colorado to Kentucky in 2005. Out west you fly fish for trout. That is about it. Now that we are further East the trout fishing is not as plentiful. Don't get me wrong, there is trout fishing here. The Cumberland river is nearby, and it is a fairly short drive to Tennessee and the Great Smokey Mountain area. But in most areas the water is simply too warm to support trout.
There is, however, more water in Kentucky than I have ever been around. Warmwater. This means there is actually more opportunities to go fishing than I had in Colorado, providing I am willing to fish for other species. In 2007 I finally swallowed my pride and went out to the local lake to see what I could catch. The first time a Bass takes your fly and tries to run for the cover, you are hooked! These fish can fight, and on a fly rod they are incredible! Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Bluegill, Crappie, and more. They are all fun in their own ways.
It is still more enjoyable for me to catch them on top, using a popper floating on the surface (the Bass fly fisherman's equivalent of a dry fly). But most the time they are not taking surface flies and streamers are used.
Being in Kentucky has also opened my eyes to the joy of Saltwater fly fishing. We are only a days drive to the coast, where I have already fished for Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit, and Redfish. These species are an addiction unto themselves. But once again, most fishing is sub-surface.
2. Fly Fishing the South Fork of the Snake River
In 2006 My father and I hired Larry Larson, a guide out of Swan Valley, Idaho. We were fishing the South Fork of the Snake River. This is a section of the river that I have fished many times. I know there is an abundance of large trout in this section, but it is tough to get them to take the fly.
Larry's first passion was not catching fish. He was a fly tier first. His goal was to fins new materials and techniques to match the hatch. This made him an excellent guide, as he was focused on matching the conditions.
Larry fished this stretch of water daily. He knew where the fish sat. On several occasions he would tell us there was a large Brown behind that tree if we can put a fly in that specific location. Sure enough, a cast there would result in the fish.
How did this change my opinion of nymphing? The large trout we were targeting would not take any fly thrown at them. It had to be the right fly with good presentation. As we fished through holes Larry would set us up with different flies. Sometimes we were using a nymph and a strike indicator. Sometimes a nymph with a dry fly as an indicator. Sometimes just a dry fly. If we floated through without a hit he would change the setup. Either the size, color, or stage of the fly (or all three) would be modified. He would then row back upstream and we would float through the hole again. Sometimes we did this three or four times before we caught fish. The idea was that with the right setup, we would catch large fish.
This process of truly matching the environment intrigued me. For wild trout it is more than simply tying on a nymph and tossing it out there. It is more than matching a surface hatch with a dry fly. It is matching the conditions as they are at the moment, whether it by dry fly or nymph.
Given the choice I will still take a day of wading the river with a dry fly on the line over about any other type of fishing. But I have learned that to limit myself to this type of fishing limits my experiences. By expanding my fishing to include other flies, and other species, I have learned more about the fish, the sport, and my enjoyment and enthusiasm has increased.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Rachael is starting to miss Kristin. Kristin will be home late tonight, so I have tried to explain that after we go to sleep tonight, when we wake up Mommy will be home. She seemed to accept that.
After a bit of quiet this afternoon I decided I better check on Rachael. I went up to her room and peeked in. She was laying in bed with the covers over her. She happily looked up at me.
Hi daddy! I am sleeping in my bed so that my mommy can come home!
She will not be home until we go to sleep tonight I explained.
But daddy, I went to sleep...
How can I argue with that logic?
Friday, May 16, 2008
The finish is on the rod and dry. The fly rod is complete! Here is the final rod.
Complete Rod – Side View
Complete Rod – End View
Test it Out
After waiting a few days I finally had to test the action. As it was still a few days before I was going to make it to the lake I grabbed my reel and headed out back. Sure, I got strange looks from the neighbors, but it was worth it. The action on this rod is amazing! I should note that nothing was caught during this outing.
Trying out the Rod
It is finally time for the water test. I set out to the local lake where I knew I could get into some fish. Heading out in the pontoon I sent a few casts out to an area where I know the fish hold. In no time I had my first hit – a small Crappie. Not quite large enough to require an 8 weight, but fun nonetheless.
First Fish on the Rod
In 4 hours about 18 fish were caught, including this Large Mouth Bass.
Large Mouth Bass on the New Rod
What a way to break in the rod!
Building your own rod is extremely satisfying. If you can tie your own flies, you can build your own rod.
I have tried to show the steps involved. As with everything there are many other ways to build a rod. This is how I do it. You do not need many tools, and you do not need to spend a lot of money for an excellent rod. You can spend a lot of money on tools and supplies, but it is not required.
You do not need to worry about making mistakes. Until you put the finish on the rod you can always cut the wraps off and start over. You can dry-fit the handle and reel seat until you know it is what you want. I am confident that most folks can hand-craft a very acceptable rod on their first attempt if they just take their time and enjoy it. Being out on the water with a one-of-a-kind rod you built yourself is well worth the effort.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The rod is almost complete. The handle and guides are all on the blank. You are ready to take it out for a spin....almost. The next step is to put the finish on the rod.
The finish is typically an epoxy finish that locks the threads and guides into place. If you choose to use a color preserver it should be applied to the threads before you apply the finish. I am not using color preserver on this rod. I like the way the thread darkens without the preserver.
Remove any Tag Ends
Some of the wraps probably still have noticeable thread sticking out where you cut them with a razor. These should be removed before you put the finish on. If they are left they will be seen on the final rod.
To remove the tag ends you apply heat. This is best done with an alcohol burner that will not leave carbon residue on the threads as a match can. Rotate the rod over the flame and you will see the tag ends disappear. Keep the rod moving when it is over the flame – you do not want to burn the wrap. If you do burn a wrap cut it off and redo.
Setup to Apply Finish
You now need to set up the rod so that you can apply the finish. This rod is a 4 piece rod. I have decided to finish it in two parts – I will put finish on the bottom two sections and let it dry, then I will put the finish on the top two sections.
I am using a drying motor. This is a small motor with a chuck attached to hold the rod. It turns at about 6 rpm. The rod is attached to the chuck using rubber bands. The other end rests on a stand. Make sure an empty portion of the blank is resting on the stand so that you can easily apply the finish to the wraps.
Handle Attached to the Drying Motor
Tip of Section Resting on a Stand
When the rod is attached to the motor make sure it is level. The finish is self-leveling. To obtain the best results with the finish the rod must be level.
If you do not have a motor get some soup cans and set them on the tables. With the rod resting on the cans you can apply the finish and rotate the rod by hand.
Apply the Finish
It is now time to apply the finish. The finish comes in two parts and must be mixed prior to use. I am using packets that contain a predetermined amount of finish. I cut both packets and squeeze the contents into a mixing cup. The contents should be mixed well. As you mix you will notice air bubbles forming. This is normal. Give the finish a couple minutes for the air bubbles to go away. You do not want to apply the finish with the air bubbles present – they will also be present in the final rod.
Once mixed start to apply the finish. I use small brushes to apply the finish. Do not put too much finish on at one time! Let me repeat that – do not put too much finish on at one time! When the rod is done you want a nice, smooth, level finish. If you put too much finish on you will end up with football shaped wraps instead of nice, level ones. How much is too much? Try to put as little on as you can while still covering the threads. You are better off doing multiple coats with a small amount of finish than trying to put a lot of finish on in fewer coats. On this rod when I was done with the first coat you could still see the threads. I actually put three light coats of finish on the rod to get the nice, even coats I wanted.
Although using a brush, I try not to brush the finish on. I want to apply the finish. With a small amount of finish on the end of the brush I hold it against the threads while the rod turns. Remember that the finish is self leveling. It can level itself much better than you can. Do not try to add finish here, or remove it there to make it level. Let the finish do its' work. As long as you do not apply too much it will level itself.
Apply the finish to each of the wraps. Do not rush the process. If you do not finish the wraps before the finish starts to get tacky set the finish aside and mix up a new batch.
The pictures below show the finish application to some of the wraps. The photos are actually of the third coat. You can see how dark the thread went after the first coat of finish was applied. The metallic accent thread retained its' red color.
Applying the Finish to the Hook Keeper and Winding Check
Applying the finish to the Decorative Wraps
I like to extend the finish slightly beyond the wrap onto the blank itself. I also make sure I get some finish underneath the guide where the wrap stops. On the ferrule wraps I try to get finish as close to the end of the blank as I can without getting any finish inside the blank.
Here is a photo of the rod after the first coat was complete. If you look closely at the hook keeper you can still see threads. After the second coat the threads were no longer visible. And the third coat leveled the wraps and gave it a nice, finished look.
First Finish Coat Applied
With the drying motor I let the rod dry overnight. The finish is set up enough the next day to remove the section from the motor and do a coat of finish on the next section. I alternate the sections until I have three coats on all the wraps.
If you are using the soup can method apply the finish. Turn the rod 90 degrees every 15 minutes for a couple hours. After a couple hours start turning the rod 180 degrees every 30 – 45 minutes. As the finish sets up you can turn the rod less and less.
Sign the Rod
This is an optional step. But it is a custom rod that you built. With the rod complete I like to write my name, month, and year on the rod. Actually I like to have my wife write my name, month, and year on the rod. On this rod this was written opposite the Sage logo, in between the decorative wraps.
Using a fine-tip paint pen, that you can procure from a craft store, write on the blank. If you are not happy quickly wipe it off. Note that a cork reamer makes a great practice piece for this.
After the paint has set a couple days I like to mix up some finish and apply a very light coat over the signature. Make sure it is light so that it does not cover the circumference of the blank.
Now that the finish is on the rod wait for it to dry. I like to give it 4 – 5 days to make sure it is completely set. In some instances the mix may be off, and the finish will not dry. It will remain tacky. If this happens mix up another batch of finish and apply another light coat on top.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
With the guide wrapped you are now holding a blank and thread that you do not dare let go of, as all your hard work will unravel. We need to finish the wrap.
Finishing the Guide
When you have about 5-7 wraps left to go stop rotating the blank. We are going to do a whip finish to hold the thread in place until we put the finish on the rod.
Select a piece of thread about 3-5 inches long. Loop the thread and place it on top of your wrap. The loop should be on the side of the guide, and the tag ends facing the start of your wrap. Look at the picture below for clarification.
Thread Loop Next to the Wrap
Now finish your wrap. When finished place your finger on the thread. Pull the blank towards you and cut the thread from the spool with your razor. If your finger is not on the thread at this point your entire wrap will come unraveled and you will need to start over.
While Holding the Thread, Cut From the Spool
Put the razor down and grab the end of the thread you just cut. Put the thread in the loop you created. Pull on the tag ends, bringing your thread back under itself.
Pull the Thread Back Under Itself
This sounds much more complicated than it is. If you are uncomfortable practice a few wraps on the blank before you start on the guides.
With the wrap tied off, carefully trim the tag end close to the wrap. At this point I like to do the accent wraps. I simply remove the tape and repeat the process with the metallic threads. Your accents can be very thin or thick. I typically use about 7-10 wraps, and keep all my accent wraps the same size on each guide.
Complete Guide Wrap
Repeat this process for each guide. After each guide is wrapped carefully sight down the spline and perform slight position adjustments if required.
If you are unhappy with any wraps simply cut the thread with a razor and start over. It is better to start over now then to be unhappy with the finished product later.
In addition to the guides you may have other wraps on the rod. Here are a few additional wraps to consider.
Ferrule Wrap – The ferrules should be wrapped to add strength to that portion of the rod. If you look at most your rods they will have a wrap where they break apart. If there is a guide close to the ferrule you can extend that guide wrap to the end. If there is not a guide close then do a small, decorative wrap on the ferrule end.
Wrap Extended to Include Ferrule
Hook Keeper / Winding Check – If you have a hook keeper you will need a wrap on that. On this rod I put a wrap on the blank under the winding check. I did this by wrapping the blank against the front of the handle, then sliding the winding check over the wrap. I then finished the wrap, including the hook keeper. Adding a couple metallic wraps gives a nice accent to the rod.
Hook Keeper and Winding Check
Decorative Wraps – I have added some decorative wraps around the Sage logo. I will use the space in between these wraps to write my name when the rod is complete. As the wraps are on the butt section of the rod it will not have an impact on the rod's action.
With the guides on I am now ready to do the tip. Sometimes I do the tip before I start the guide wraps. On this rod I waited until after the guides were complete. Either order works fine.
To install the tip heat the end of the rod tip glue stick. The adhesive will soften. Cover the end of the rod blank with adhesive and slide the tip into place. As you slide the tip into place make sure it is aligned with the spline and/or other guides. If the adhesive sets before you have the tip in place, don't worry. Simply heat the tip and adjust. I recommend using an alcohol burner as is will not leave carbon marks as a match will.
After the adhesive cools down you can scrape the excess glue off the blank with your fingernail.
With the tip installed you can do a wrap. I like to butt the wrap up against the tip, but I do not put any thread on top of the tip itself. This is personal preference. If you want to put some thread on the tip go right ahead.
Tip Installed and Wrapped
Friday, May 9, 2008
Okay, this may not seem like that big of a deal. I use size A thread, it is fairly standard. You also need to select the colors you want. There is, however, a catch. If you use a color preserver then a normal thread will keep its' color. I typically do not use color preserver. When I apply the rod finish the thread goes a very dark shade. The final shade will be similar to the color the thread is when wet. I like this look on a rod as it blends into the blank.
I also like to use a metallic thread for accent wraps. The metallic threads maintain their colors without color preserver.
As it is a custom rod, select colors you like. The Sage Z-Axis blanks are a deep green color. My original thought was to use a green thread with a metallic green accent. When the blank arrived I took a closer look, and decided to try a few different color combinations. I wrapped the blank with various combinations – green with green metallic, garnet with red metallic, garnet with silver metallic, green with gold metallic, and garnet with gold metallic.
Sample Color Wraps
I finally decided on the garnet with red metallic accents. See, I told you it was not always a simple thing to decide the which thread to use!
Attach the Guide
With the daunting task of selecting thread behind us, we can cut off the sample wraps. It is now time to start wrapping the guides.
The guide needs to be held in place as you wrap. To do this I use (are you ready for this?) small strips of masking tape. You did remember to cut a lot of those, didn't you? Carefully hold the guide on the blank with the guide centered on the strip of tape that marks its' location. Make sure the guide is as close as possible to centered on the spline. It is okay if it is not perfect. Once the thread is on you can adjust the guide within a limited range. But the closer you are now, the better the end result will be. Tape the guide down on each side. I have better luck if I angle the tape inwards on the guide. Some builders use a small bit of adhesive to hold the guides on the blank, and some use small dental rubber bands. I have recently heard of someone cutting rings of heat shrink tubing and using that to hold the guides.
Guide Taped in Place. Note the Tape Angle.
Lets take just a moment to talk about guide preparation. Some folks like to file the ends of the guides down where they touch the blank. This will make it easier for the thread to seamlessly climb the guide. I don't typically do this anymore, as I have found the guides are much better than they used to be, and I do not have any trouble wrapping them. If you are having trouble, you may want to prep the guides.
Now that the guide is in place I like to place tape strips on the blank outside the guide to butt the thread up against. This will help keep the wraps equal. It is up to you how much thread you want on the blank before you start up the guide. I like a little thread on the blank. Some people like only a wrap or two before they start up the guide. Look at other rods and make it however you choose.
Tape Strips to Mark Thread Wrap Start
Wrap the Guide
With the guide marked you are ready to wrap the guide. Start by setting up the thread in your thread tensioner. The setup I made has two tensioners – I use one for the main color and one for the accent.
Setup the Thread Tensioner
You are now ready to start the wrap. Hold the thread against the blank and rotate the rod blank so that the thread wraps over itself. As I mentioned earlier, I do not use a power wrapper. I like turning the rod by hand. After a few wraps over itself, the thread will hold. It may take a little practice to get this move down – the thread will move around on you as you are getting it started.
Start the Thread
With the thread started do about 5-7 wraps. After every couple wraps push the thread tight against itself. Tight thread wraps will look nicer.
Thread Wrapped Over Itself
Hold the thread in place and cut off the tag end. Do this carefully using a razor blade. Cut the end as close to the wrap as you can. It is very helpful to have a sharp razor or exacto knife. Do not be discouraged if you cut the wrong thread and the whole wrap unravels. It will happen.
Cut the Tag End Close to the Wrap
With the tag end cut, rotate the blank to wrap the guide. Watch the wrap as you go. If the threads are not tight, stop and but the thread up against itself using your thumb. If the thread jumps over itself reverse the rotation until the thread is at the right spot, and continue on. As you approach the guide foot keep rotating. The thread should climb right up the guide. This may take a little practice, but by the time you are finished you will be a pro. As you reach the tape strip holding the guide stop and remove the tape. Then continue on.
Wrapping the Thread
Monday, May 5, 2008
I have purchased a pre-made handle. You can also purchase cork rings and shape the handle yourself. Either option works fine. But no matter what you choose, the handle will probably not fit on the blank. You will need to ream the hole in the handle to fit the blank.
I used to use circular files that I had in my toolbox. Eventually I purchased a cork reamer. I should have purchased one much sooner – it is easier than the file, and the fit is better.
The cork reamer is tapered to match a rod blank. And it is very coarse, making quick work of the job.
Using the cork reamer, work your way through the handle a little bit at a time. After a few turns, back the cork reamer out. Repeat until the cork reamer has gone through the handle. I recommend you do this outside if possible. It makes quite a mess! Also take note that if it will ream cork, it will also ream the skin on your hand. Don't ask me how I know that!
Using the Cork Reamer
When the cork reamer is through the grip test the fit on the rod blank. The photo below shows the handle fitting on the blank, but it will not slide to its' final position.
Testing the Handle Fit
Keep reaming the handle until it fits properly. The handle should slide to the base of the blank, leaving enough of the clear for the reel seat. The proper fit is shown below.
Handle in Proper Position
Notice that the rod blank extends through the reel seat when done.
Handle and Reel Seat with Blank Extending Through the Reel Seat
On this rod I actually slid the handle down another approximately ¾ inch. This was to accommodate the fighting butt. The fighting butt inserts into the end of the reel seat, touching the end of the blank.
Handle and Reel Seat Installation
Now that the handle fits properly it is time to epoxy the handle and reel seat into place. The first thing you will probably notice is that the inner diameter of the reel seat is larger than the rod blank diameter. The rod blank will need to be built up to the correct size. There are graphite inserts that you can purchase. If you use these you will need to ream out the inside of the inserts so that the fit the blank properly. Another method is to use masking tape. When the epoxy is liberally applied it will hold properly.
Build up the blank in two locations. You want the space between for the epoxy. It will help set the tape into place. I like to build up the blank with a single piece of tape until it is too large for the reel seat. Then I pull some tape off, one wrap at a time, until the reel seat fits properly. I then do a dry fit of the handle and reel seat. With this dry fit in place, I place a small mark on the blank at the front of the handle so that I know the proper location when I put epoxy on the blank.
Blank Built up with Masking Tape
With the dry fit successful, it is time to mix the epoxy. I use a 5 minute quick set epoxy. With this reel seat and handle I will do the epoxy in two stages. The reel seat has an end ring that will be recessed into the handle. I will mix up one batch of epoxy and put the handle and end ring into place. Once these setup I will mix up a second batch and install the reel seat and fighting butt.
Mix the epoxy per directions. I use packets that contain the A and B mixtures in equal parts. I simply cut the ends and squeeze the contents of both packets into a mixing cup. After mixing apply epoxy to the blank where the handle will go. Do not apply any epoxy past the mark on the rod where the front of the handle will be, as it will be very difficult to clean off. With the epoxy on the blank slide the handle into place. I recommend that you cover whatever surface you are doing this on, as the spouse typically is not happy if you ruin the table.
With the handle in place I put a little epoxy in the recess and on the outside of the reel seat ring. The ring needs to be positioned correctly – there is a small cutout for the reel. This needs to be aligned with the spline of the blank. I carefully place the ring into the recess on the handle and let the epoxy set.
Handle and Reel Seat Ring Epoxied in Place
Once the epoxy has set I mix up a second batch of epoxy. I liberally apply the epoxy to the blank and masking tape. It is okay if there is a lot of epoxy on the tape – when you slide the reel seat on it will push the excess into the gaps. The reel seat is then slid into place. Note that some reel seats need to be aligned with the spline. This particular reel seat does not need to be aligned, as the ring in the handle recess has already been aligned.
Now that the reel seat is on, I apply some epoxy to the inside of the reel seat and onto the fighting butt. The fighting butt is slid into place. Any excess epoxy is quickly wiped off with a wet paper towel, and the epoxy is allowed to set.
Handle, Reel Seat, and Fighting Butt Installed
Close up of the Reel Seat and Fighting Butt
I am pleased with the components and final handle / reel seat layout on this rod.
Important note: This is typically the time to put the winding check on the rod. If you put the guides on first you will not be able to slide the winding check up against the front of the handle. I did not put it on at this point for this rod because I am doing a wrap underneath it, that will be shown later.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Male and Female Cardinal in the tree. It is fun seeing the contrast between the male and female.
Here are some close up shots of the Male Cardinal sitting on our bird feeder.
I think this is my favorite of the group.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Okay, you probably already know how to use scissors. And I'll bet you even know how to unwrap masking tape from the roll. Why do I have this listed as a step then? You will be cutting small tape strips throughout the project. A lot of small tape strips. You will get sick of tape strips. You will be finding them all over your house for months. Did I mention you will need a lot of small tape strips?
Cut out enough strips to mark each eye position, plus a few extras.
Cutting out Tape Strips
Find the Spline
Rod blanks have a natural curve in them. This is called the spline. To maximize the rod's performance I want to place the guides on that line. But first I have to find it. This is not a difficult thing to do. Hold the section of rod at an angle and with one hand push down slightly in the middle. With the blank in this position, roll the rod. You will feel the blank “jump” where the spline is. Mark that side on each piece. Some manufacturers mark the spline for you. The blank I am using has small white dots marked on each piece. This is the side I will put the guides on.
Finding the Spline
There is some debate whether placing the guides on the spline really makes a difference. I look at it this way – it is not doing any harm. It is easy to find the spline, so why risk it?
Mark the Guide Positions
Now that you have located the spline, it is time to mark where each of the guides go. There are many guidelines that you can use for the spacing. Most rod building instructions will give you charts. There are sites online that can help you out. Some companies provide recommended spacing for their blanks. Sage is one of these companies. I looked up my blank and printed out the recommended number of guides and the recommended spacing.
To mark the eye position lay the assembled rod blank out on the floor (or a large workbench). Lay out a tape measure next to the blank.
Laying out the Guide Locations
This is where all your hard work cutting tape strips starts to pay off. (Did I mention you will need a lot of little tape strips?) Most spacing charts list the distance from the tip to the guide. Place a tape strip at each location you want a guide.
Guide Locations Marked on the Blank
In this case, one of the guides was directly between two sections of the blank. I had to adjust the position of that guide, and by doing so had to readjust the position of other guides as well. This is okay. When the guides are on the rod I will run some line through them and check my spacing to verify it is adequate. I can change right up until I put the finish on the rod.
As a side note, Sage also provided recommended guide sizing. I purchased larger guides than recommended so that I can more easily pass knots through them. This is a consideration when I am using my shooting line / head setup. This is, after all, a custom rod.