Selecting A Rod Blank
In the last article, I discussed some reasons why you should consider a custom built fishing rod. You could either build it yourself or have one crafted for you. Regardless of your choice, you will need to think about which blank you will want the rod built on. The blank will be the heart of your rod, and for those not familiar with the term, the blank is that part of the rod, usually made of graphite, fibreglass, or split cane, to which all the components are attached to. Just as you would purchase a fishing rod in either one, two, three, four or more pieces, blanks are available in the same manner.
Years ago, when blanks were primarily made of fibreglass, it was often likely that a rod builder would obtain a rod blank in one piece, cut it himself and install a ferrule to join the two pieces. These ferrules were made of some kind of metal, and of course took away somewhat from the action of the rod. These days, that is something you shouldn't have to worry about, unless you are thinking about a long one piece fibreglass blank that is probably not appropriate for fly fishing.
There are very few manufacturers still making fibreglass blanks for fly fishing, however, the F.D. Lyons company includes several glass fly rods in addition to their cane lineup. As well, Scott Fly Rods also makes glass rods for which the blanks alone are available. Most fly anglers today do prefer graphite, but you shouldn't take split cane off your list! Obviously, a split cane rod is heavier than a graphite rod, but some anglers swear that a well-balanced bamboo rod constructed by a true craftsman will not fatigue you any more than a lighter graphite rod. As well, they can be a joy to cast. The key is balance, and you will certainly want to talk to the rod maker about this.
More than likely, you will have chosen a graphite blank. Naturally, you will need to decide what length and weight of a rod you want. This, of course, will depend on where you plan on using the rod such as small streams, large lakes, or saltwater; what species of fish you will be after (certainly if you are looking for a tarpon rod, you will want something considerably more robust than the light trout rod!); the type of flies you will be using (if you cast a lot of streamers, lighter blanks are probably inappropriate); and what you are comfortable casting with. Once you have this decided, the next consideration is probably price. How much do you want to spend? Obviously, the higher quality blanks and those made of newer generation graphite cost a great deal more than those made from earlier graphite. To give you an idea of the range in prices, Custom Tackle Supply has 9' 5 weight blanks which range in price from $50.96 for a St. Croix model to $302.00 for the latest Loomis GLX graphite blank. Of course, there are prices all in between as well.
Why such huge price differences? Primarily because of the differences in the graphite that is used. Older graphite has a lower modulus, lower tensile strength and generally have thicker walls, therefore the technology required to manufacture them is less. In the race to develop lighter, stronger rods, manufacturers use newer generation graphite which sometimes poses its own problems. In order to ensure all those graphite fibers stay together, resin systems must be used while the blank is being manufactured and often newer more advanced resin systems need to be developed that are compatible with the goals of creating a lighter rod with the advanced material.
Manufacturers also claim increases in 'modulus' and 'tensile strength'. Does this mean you should purchase a blank just because the graphite it is made from has a higher modulus? My opinion is no, you should not. Most people do not even know what the term 'modulus' means. Basically, modulus is a stiffness to weight ratio. The stiffer the material, the higher its modulus. The problem with simply using this as a way to determine the quality of a blank is that the modulus is that of the graphite material itself, and does not take into account the resins that are in the blank.
The most important consideration really is how the rod is going to feel to you! It matters not how much you spent on the blank if it is too soft or too stiff for the way you cast. If you are not comfortable, it doesn't matter that the rod blank was left unfinished to reduce its weight. In other words, go out and cast a few rods. Find what actions you like. Remember, custom building a rod is not going to change its action unless the rod builder is performing major surgery! If it is a graphite blank, I don't think I would want the blank to have surgery performed on it. What custom rod building will do is optimize the blank for you. It will help you use it to its full potential.
A good rod builder should have knowledge and experience with a variety of manufacturers rods. He should be able to come pretty close to the action you describe to him after he has consulted with you regarding what you want the rod for. Manufacturers create rods of varying actions and stiffnesses. A Cairnton blank made by Talon will have a considerably different action than one from their Explorer series. A good rod builder should have some idea of what is available from various sources and will not simply try to promote one manufacturer. That's not what custom rod building is all about!
If you are considering building a rod yourself (and I hope you are!), you may want to consider making price one of your highest considerations. Although building a rod is not difficult, there are things you will get better at the more you build. I remember the appearance of my thread wraps on my very first rod. Although at the time I thought I had done a great job, looking back, I can see that in fact, it was very amateurish! If you are pretty confident that you will do a great job on your first rod, then, by all means, go all out and build yourself your dream rod! Let me know how it turns out.