10 Steps to Building Your Own Fly Rod
As someone who has loved fishing for his entire life, I’m always looking to improve my skills, learn new techniques, and chat with others who share my affinity for all things fishing. Thanks to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, I recently had the unique opportunity to take a fly rod building class. The class was very informative and explained in detail each step in the rod building process. Like fly tying, rod building is not super complicated to pick up, but I also learned that it’s not something you can ever completely master. For anyone who has considered making their own fly rod, or for anyone who hasn’t thought about it or thought it seemed too intimidating, I put together the following information that will take you through each step that goes into the process.
Massachusetts has a dedicated angler education program that focuses both on bringing new members to the great sport of angling and continuing the education of those who already have the obsession.
The class was taught by Ray Cote of Cote Fly Shop in Leicester, MA. Ray has been making rods for more than 20 years and recently reached the impressive milestone of completing his 10,000th rod. The second I entered the classroom, even though everyone was standing around and talking, I knew which one was Ray. He has an aura of fishing knowledge surrounding him that is thicker than a mayfly hatch in spring.
If you saw Ray pull up to a river while you were rigging up, you would definitely pay attention to which direction he went if you didn’t just follow him.
After some brief introductions, we received our rod blanks and kits and got to work. Attendees were able to put together the rod of their choice, so I went with a 4 piece 9’ 5wt. This was the first rod I learned to cast on and the size I use the most, so I thought it was fitting that it also be the first rod I build.
Ray handpicked all the materials we used for the build with the exception of the rod bench, which he built himself.
Supplies You Will Need:
• Rod Blank
• Cork Grip
• Round Tapered File
• Flat File • Epoxy
• Rod Thread
• Building Bench
• Rubber Bands
• Reel Seat
• Tweezers or Hackle Pliers
• Masking Tape
• Lip Stick Pencil (anything that can easily rub off)
• Popsicle Sticks ( for mixing and applying epoxy)
Building the Rod:
Step 1: Find the Spine Every rod has a “spine” which can be used to add more power to your cast or give you a quicker lift/ extra strength when fighting a fish. This is the first step in customization: choosing which advantage you want to have. Don’t try to find the spine by putting the whole rod together. Instead, to locate the spine, put a ring of masking tape around each individual section, and when you bend the rod and find the spine; mark the masking tape so you know what side it’s on.
Step 2: Size the Grip Next, you want to take your cork grip and fit it onto the rod. You should be able to drop the grip from the top to within a quarter of an inch above where the reel seat will end. To increase the size of the hole, we used a round metal file to gradually make the hole bigger until it fit snuggly onto the rod (you do not want the hole to get too big).
Step 3: Mount the Reel Seat Obviously the reel seat is much wider than the rod blank, so to make bushings for the seat to hold onto, you wrap three small rings of masking tape around the rod until the thickness is enough that you feel it when you push the reel seat on (but it doesn’t hinder it from sliding on).
Step 4: Epoxy the Reel Seat and Grip to the Rod Once the reel seat and grip fight snuggly (always dry fit anything before applying epoxy), remove them and apply epoxy to the bushings you made and the area of the rod that the grip will cover. Once everything is put back on, use rubber bands to hold everything tightly while it dries.
Simple masking tape plays a key role in many steps of the process, including making bushings for the reel seat.
Step 5: Attach the Tip Next, attach the tip to the end of the rod. Take a stick of rod cement and heat it up with a lighter. When it gets to a soft consistency, roll the end of the rod in it and then push the tip over it. If the tip is not facing the direction of the spine, you can use the lighter to slightly heat up the rod tip. Do not let the flame hit the rod because that will completely compromise the rod’s integrity.
A whole rod can be ruined if a lighter hits it for just a second.
Step 6: Measure Out the Guides Next, put the whole blank together. Blanks come with sizing charts to give you the best recommended spacing for the guides. This is easiest to measure out on the ground with the rod lying on a tape measure. Use any sort of marking implement that will easily rub off (Ray used a lip stick pencil).
Step 7: Prep the Guides You could attach the guides directly to the rod at this point and everything would work fine, but you would have a shelf in your wrap and the rod would look bumpy. So, take a metal file and file the end of the guides down almost to a point. Once this is done on all the guides, they are ready to be wrapped.
Step 8: Make Your Wraps Now comes the fun part: tape your guides onto your blank so the middle of the guide is over your markings from Step 6. Place the section of the rod blank you are working on in the rod bench and set up your thread. Feed the thread through the bench and then lay it over the blank. Wrap it under and then cross the thread over itself. Holding the crossover with your thumb, start to turn the blank and make your wraps. Once you are up the guide far enough, you take a single piece of thread and make a loop. Wrap over that loop then cut the thread you were wrapping. Put it through the loop, then pull the loop out so the tag end gets pulled under the wrap.
Slow and steady wins the race when wrapping. You want tight wraps that fall one right after the other.
Step 9: Epoxy the Wraps Take your epoxy and apply it to all of the wraps and just above the insertion points of the blank for added stability. It is important for the epoxy to dry evenly, so you either need to manually turn the rod a quarter turn every four minutes for four hours, or use some sort of mechanical rotisserie (rod dryer). If the rod is not rotated while drying, you can end up with bubbles or drips of epoxy.
Step 10: Go Fishing Take your newly built rod and put it to the test. That is the whole reason you are building this rod: to get on the water and get hooked into a fish.
The Extra Step: What’s building a custom rod without a little flash? Once you get these skills down and can make a clean rod, then you can start getting into those little details that will really pop on your rod. Whether it be diamond wraps with multiple colors, inlaying feathers, signing the rod in calligraphy, or even burning a design into the cork grip, adding a little something extra will help to personalize your rod. I know it will take time for me to get to these steps, but I look forward to honing my rod building skills and improving on each step of the process.
I hope this guide gives you the inspiration to get out there and try building your own rod. There are plenty of additional resources online, but you can’t beat the experience of sitting with someone who has rod building in their blood. Check your local areas and look for a rod building workshop to get you started. If you have any questions about rod building or getting started, please feel free to leave a comment below.