Mother’s and Father’s days are just around the corner. Maybe there’s something in the outdoor gear lineup that you’d just love the little ones — or not so little ones — to wrap up for you.
Or, perhaps you might treat yourself to a luxury that you normally wouldn’t afford yourself amid the day to day struggle to keep food on the table and gas in the car.
Salmon season is only a month away. Maybe your old fly rod is just a little too long in the tooth. It might look exactly like the day you bought it. It probably casts the same as the first day you toted it on the water. It’s not worn out or broken. Why spend your hard-earned money, or let the kids spend theirs on a new one?
The reality is that fishing rods, particularly the fly casting variety, have improved by light-years over the past couple of decades.
Rod manufacturers are taking full advantage of developments and research in materials technology. Mechanical engineering is alive and well in the angling world.
Many of the lightweight carbon fibre structural elements used in Canada’s proposed new F-35 fighter jets are quite likely made from the same generation graphite as a modern fly rod.
That’s the aircraft with the huge cost overrun that’s been all over the news lately. Luckily fly rods are much more affordable than stealth supersonic fighter jets.
Back in the 1960s, when I started fishing, and through to the mid-1970s, most fly rods were made of fibreglass. Fibreglass is strong, and resists breaking, but isn’t terribly stiff in rod form. It’s also relatively heavy, resulting in fishing rods that are a tad on the soggy side.
That’s fine for spinning and deep sea fishing poles, but where lightweight and fast action is required, fibreglass is definitely not the best choice. On the plus side, fibreglass rods are cheap and almost impossible for a fish to break.
Screen doors, car trunks and ceiling fans are another matter. My first fly rod lost its tip to a screen door; another fell victim to the truck cover of dad’s 1970 Chevy Caprice. Even fibreglass can’t withstand that abuse.
But a feisty fish will be hard pressed to ever break a fibreglass rod. I have broken the best of graphite rods on fish, albeit very big and fiercely powerful fish.
For the cod food fishery, or catching sculpins on the wharf, a cheap fibreglass rod is just fine. For Atlantic salmon, the so-called fish of a thousand casts, you might desire something more subtle and lighter in hand.
Just yesterday, before writing this piece, I dug my father’s old salmon rod out of storage in the garage. The day he bought it in 1967, on Water Street in St. John’s, it was state-of-the-art salmon catching technology. I never heard dad complain about its weight or sluggishness.
So, I put a reel and line on the vintage fibreglass beast and took it out in the yard for a cast.
The experience was like spinning in a time warp back to pot auger days. The rod was heavy and the action oh so slow. You could light a smoke between the back and forward casts. Thank God for carbon fibre and materials science.
Rods made from graphite are at least 25 per cent lighter than a comparable fibreglass rod. That’s certainly an advantage when casting all day to sulky salmon. And when you finally hook a fish, it feels so much livelier on a lighter rod.
But that’s only half the story. Graphite has a much higher elastic modulus than fibreglass. What does this fancy engineering term mean? As Steve Neary once said, “Mr. Speaker, could you please ask the honourable member to put that in baby talk?”
In common language, elastic modulus indicates how stiff a material is. For instance, it takes a lot more force to squish a rod of steel than one made of plastic. Highly elastic materials store energy and rebound when force is removed. You cannot make a fishing rod out of plastic.
Fibreglass and graphite are both elastic materials, but graphite has a higher modulus and is just that much more elastic. Graphite stores more energy on the back cast and delivers it in the forward stroke to cast a longer line with less effort.
In fishing terms, the higher the modulus of graphite used, the faster the rod. That means you definitely don’t have time to light a smoke during your cast.
The only downside to graphite is that it’s more brittle than fibreglass. That simply means that they are easier to break, and early models certainly did. Nowadays, they are building graphite rods much tougher, and besides, just about all the top manufacturers sell their rods with a no-fault lifetime replacement warranty. You can’t beat that. And you don’t have to pay extra, like at most electronics stores.
If you are still using an old fibreglass rod, you might certainly be justified in upgrading. Unfortunately, trying to choose an appropriate rod for your needs and skill level can be a daunting experience.
The last decade has seen an explosion in fly fishing gear. There are so many rod companies and each offer fishing poles ranging from about a hundred dollars to almost a thousand. The good news is that you can buy a very high quality rod for a few hundred dollars.
A word of caution is in order: When it comes to purchasing a fly rod, and if you want a decent fishing experience, steer clear of the department store rods that sell for around $50. They are junk, and will only frustrate you. Even good casters cannot deliver a decent line with a wimpy pole.
Next week, I’ll give you the specifics on choosing a rod to match your abilities, needs and budget.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at