All About Fly Fishing!

Custom Rod Component Selection (Part II)

In the last article on custom rod component selection, we discussed several things to consider when choosing your grip and reel seat. As promised, this week I would like to take a look at what is available in the choice of guides. Some don't put a whole lot of thought into this part of their rod, yet the proper choice of guides and their placement on a rod can be vital to the finished rod's casting and fish fighting performance.

Traditionally, snake guides have been used on fly rods, with usually two stripping guides towards the butt section. For those who are not familiar with the term, snake guides are those that are one piece, slightly thicker than wire and are bent so that its two ends are wrapped with thread onto the blank and the fly line then travels between the blank and the bend in the guide. Interestingly, there is a difference between British and American snake guides in that they have an opposite twist or bend in them.

Although there are other types of guides to consider, for fly rods either snake or small ring guides with an insert are the primary considerations. Most ring guides are single foot and are made with a Silicon Carbide (SiC) insert. They are similar to single foot guides you would find on a spinning rod except quite a bit smaller. As well, they are more expensive than snake guides.

Other than traditional sentiment, are there any good reasons to use snake guides on your rod? There are differing opinions on this - some say that SiC guides are the only way to go on a fly rod while many still use only snakes. Some anglers believe that snake guides provide more accurate casts. Personally, I am not sure that they do if the rod was built properly in the first place with SiC guides. There is a situation in which I would highly recommend snake guides however. If you plan on using your rod where there could be a high chance of ice up, then snakes will certainly prevent this problem. The shape of snake guides makes it less likely that ice will form inside the guides to a degree that will interfere with your fishing. Round guides on the other hand do allow ice build up when angling in below freezing temperatures.

Silicon Carbide is one of the hardest substances known. In a fishing rod guide, it provides an ultra smooth surface with very little heat build up due to friction. If you are skeptical about the amount of heat build up in a guide due to fly or fishing line, I would suggest that you try the following experiment: Take some monofilament or fly line and lay it against the skin of your arm. Have someone take either end of the line and draw it rapidly back and forth against your skin. You will feel heat! Now imagine that fly line running rapidly back and forth as you fight a fish and the line is under pressure of both your bent rod and the fish. It may not be a huge advantage when all things are considered as far as the life of your fly line, but it could be one thing that will help you extend the life of your fly line, and with the price of good lines these days, most of us will want to ensure long line life!

Another advantage SiC has over chrome guides is the resistance to scoring. Again, with constant friction of the line running through the guides, chrome does tend to score. This can cause line damage and decrease castability over the long term. Chrome snake guides will need to be checked more often and possibly removed from the blank and replaced. On a graphite rod, you run the risk of damaging the blank's thin walls when the thread wraps are cut away in order to replace the guide.

There could be one disadvantage to Silicon Carbide. SiC does tend to be a bit on the brittle side and if you are not careful with your rods, you could find that you have chipped a piece of the Silicon Carbide ring. As well, cheaper brands tend to have rings that are not epoxied in well to the guide frame. When I was building rods, I also provided a repair service to several local tackle shops. It was my experience that when a guide needed replaced due to the ring, whether it was SiC, Aluminum Oxide or other ceramic insert, it was the cheaper guides that tended to have the most problems. Why try to save a few dollars on poor quality components when in the long run it will cost you more, not only in money but with disappointment?

The final consideration when choosing between snakes and SiC ring guides is your own feelings about them. I once had a friend who refused to believe that a fly rod with SiC guides would cast as well or better than one with snake guides. To him, a fly rod simply was not a fly rod unless it looked like a traditional fly rod. For my friend, as long as he believed the rod would not be as good, he would not fish with his normal confidence. If you do not have confidence in the components you are using, then quite simply, choose those that you will have. It is far better to enjoy fishing with equipment you trust and are happy with. And that is what custom rod building is all about! Your choices.