Spare the Rod and Spoil the Fight – Part 1

Mountains of material is being written about placing temptation in the way of fish. But once a bite is taken of that Piscean apple, word on how to get that fish into the boat or onto the bank amounts to molehills. Between pump and wind and pump and grind, we get by. But there’s more, much more, as Rod ‘Harro’ Harrison explains in part one of this fascinating two-part series. The anglers we see out on the water, on tele and DVD seem to have developed stereo-typed up-down rodwork. Amongst the role models, high-stickers vastly outnumber flat-stickers.
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When it comes to big fish such as this Giant Tarpon rod anglers coupled with angler skill are critical to success.

Does it really make a difference, you’re asking? In freshwater, where we’re not talking hundred pound yellowfin tuna or tarpon? Why drive a Ferrari when unable to control a four wheel drift? So many of us learned to drive during tackle’s T Model Ford era. But traffic flows have speeded up since and nowadays are no place for the white-knuckled and blinkered.
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… ‘The evolution of rods is rich in history – ancient, medieval and modern’ …

A little more background. The evolution of rods is rich in history – ancient, medieval and modern. The times of Isaac Walton saw “greenheart” rods were hewn from the same elastic English Yew sapwood used in the legendary longbow. Caber-like compared with today’s lightweight composites, Greenheart rods soldiered on into the 20th Century.

The early times

As the age of Britannia opened trade routes to The Orient, bamboo became a better rod material. English and Scottish craftsmen began building salmon and trout flyfishing rods for peerage and other products of the British class system. The rod makers art had began in earnest. It was an exacting and time consuming process that involved cutting tapered triangular strips from lengths of bamboo and gluing the segments together. Bamboo staffs from the outer parts of the stand were preferred. Being more exposed to the full force of hurricane driven winds, so these craftsmen reasoned, made for a “bendier” bamboo. The hexagonal rods thus produced were expensive and counted amongst a man’s most prized possessions. The generic name of split cane became universally adopted, bamboo had too much of a coolie connotation. The odd bamboo builder is still around today.

Post War Developments

In the decade following World War 11, countries were too busy re-building economies, populaces too busy working, for leisure time activities such as fishing. Not to be deterred, some enterprising Americans turned tank aerials into whippy though somewhat weighty poles. A huge war surplus saw to a ready supply. In much the same timeframe, solid fibreglass emerged as a rod material. This followed the discovery that by melting glass and allowing the liquefied material to be drawn through minute holes while still hot, flexible filaments with high tensile strength could be produced. These were then arranged in a tapered form and a bonding resin added.
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Lefty Kreh, the master, controls a big fish with a relatively light rod using low rod angles.

A major breakthrough came in the form of fibreglass cloths that could be rolled onto a mandrel and baked in an oven. The process resulted in tubular blanks that were lighter and stronger. Fenwick were first on the block with the technology. Then a California collaboration between tournament caster Phil Clock, Dick Snyder and the late Don Green, Fenwick started cutting their patterns from first generation “E-glass” cloths. The next step was “S-glass” made from more advanced low-alkalai filaments, along with aluminium and manganese, and bonded with phenol and polyester resins. The new material offered a 30% strength to weight ratio improvement over its predecessor. . Fenwick again grabbed the developmental high ground with the release of their HMG (high modulus graphite) flyrods – but were to lose the impetus that comes from being first with the departures of Don Green and Dick Snyder. Nature’s gentleman, Don Green established Grizzly, a company soon associated with quality fly rods that then went on to become Sage. Dick Snyder departed for the Australian beaches, setting up B&S Laminates (Butterworth & Snyder) in Brisbane with production primarily aimed at surf fishing . When machinist mate Gary Loomis discharged from the US Navy, valuable skills learned, he went to work for Dick Posey, steering Lamiglas on a steady as she goes course. Loomis was looking for a more adventurous ride and went on to set up Loomis Composites, a move that made it two big players in a one-horse town; Woodlawn, Washington State. Gary is good mates with legendary aviator Chuck Yeager and that association helped with a pipeline into the aerospace industry, where the graphite composites developmental spearhead is. It was a revelation to share a boat with Loomis and Yeager when the salmon were running.

A competitive market booms

The intensely competitive American rod market saw the big names of the rod world locked in a modulus arms race that eventually hit a dead end. As blanks became lighter and more responsive, durability suffered. The next steps await the arrival of new filaments. The ascent of gel spun lines has Fenwickian echoes. Braids are doing to mono what graphite did to fibreglass. However myth, misconception and uncertainty dogged the passage. To capitalise on consumer confusion, so called “braid” rods began appearing. These tended to have a little more length and softer have parabolic tapers. Their rationale addresses the widespread perception that braids are the blame for breakages, short strikes and lipped fish that escape; redemption lies in using rods having more forgiveness. In truth, they are a backwards step. A knee-jerk response to imagined concerns, deftly about-faced into marketing opportunity. A bonus, not on the horizon as HMG and GsP merged, and gutsier casting reels arrived, is a new performance plateau this threesome creates. Gel spuns have become an intermediary that re-defines the roles of rod and reel. In the past, the limitations of monofilaments have kept the playing field pretty level. To optimise casting efficiency and disguise presentations, thinking fisherman had little choice but load reels with the lightest practicable lines. The step takes nerve and skill. In hazard strewn water the risk of a bust-off is never far away, still, anglers break far more lines than do fish. Enter GsP. The dynamics change dramatically. Lines 25% the diameter of monofilaments having the same breaking stain introduce more firepower than the rod can handle while at the same time adding yards to casts. Spare the Rod and Spoil the Fight will continue next month on Kaydo.
Demonstrating how it's done the author, Rod Harrison, is pictured here hooked up to a billfish.

Demonstrating how it’s done the author, Rod Harrison, is pictured here hooked up to a billfish.

Rod Harrison

About Rod Harrison

Rod Harrison is a sportfishing ‘lifer’. At the cutting edge of the sport since the 1970s, he remains at the top of his game and continues to spend the amount of time on the water that the rest of us only dream about. A former shearer and street cop, he has since guided fisherfolk extensively in both fresh and saltwater, his most recent venture being at Queensland’s world renowned big barra paradise,Lake Awoonga.


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