Build a new rod to beat the winter boredom

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Building your own fishing rods can be a great wintertime hobby for anglers who like to work with their hands. I started building rods in the early 1970s.

Back then, rods were made from fiberglass. Just a few years later, graphite appeared on the scene as a rod material and revolutionized the technology of fishing rods. Graphite was lighter, stiffer and offered incredible casting properties. Graphite rods also cost three to four times as much as comparable fiberglass rods. And although many early models of graphite rods experienced higher than normal breakage rates, manufacturers soon worked out the bugs, and graphite became the standard material for fishing rods.

Building rods allowed me to start fishing mostly with graphite rods well before my fishing budget at the time would have permitted me otherwise. A graphite blank cost a third or less the price of a finished rod, so even factoring in the rest of the components and my time, those do-it-yourself rod projects made owning high-performance rods affordable.

As my rod building skills developed, I was able to customize the handles, guides and guide wraps of rods to suit my personal taste and fishing style, giving me rods as good or better than any factory model at the time.

Whether you are looking to save some money on a premium-quality rod, want to have a special custom piece or just enjoy the pleasure of using gear you assembled yourself, building a fishing rod can be a great diversion over the winter. Only a few basic tools are required to craft a freshwater fishing rod, and no special mechanical skills are needed. An online search for “rod building” will easily yield several of the best suppliers of fishing rod blanks and rod building supplies along with much helpful information and instruction to get a beginning rod builder off to a proper start.

Most suppliers offer rod kits that come with everything you will need assemble your first rod. For the more adventurous builder, you can order all the components individually for your own custom project.

After selecting the rod blank, the first set of components to consider when buying the individual parts for your rod project will be the handle, which includes the reel seat and the grips. Regardless of whether you are building a spinning, baitcast or fly rod, the handle is one of the most customizable areas of a fishing rod.

Reel seats range from plain to fancy, especially for fly rods, and grips come in all sort of shapes and sizes in both cork and synthetic material. Most suppliers also offer handle kits with matching pieces ready to be installed on the rod blank.

Choosing the proper set of guides is also a key point for building a rod that not only looks good but one that casts and fishes well. Rod guides are available in dozens of styles and price ranges to suit any application. I would advise always using the best guides you can afford for a personal rod project.

Once you have decided on a particular model of guides, selecting the right number and sizes of the individual guides needed can be puzzling for a first-time rod builder. Most suppliers will offer some information on guide sizing and spacing on their website or catalog as well as guide sets for some lengths and types of rods. Measuring the guides and the spacing on a quality factory rod like the one you plan to build can also be helpful. Whenever I’m in doubt about the number or spacing for a certain rod, I’ll buy any extra guide or two in the smaller sizes just in case I need them. I’ve always found it better to have one more guide than one too few.

The thread used to wrap the guides is the final bit of customization for any rod. Whether you are looking for subtle, flashy or anything in between, there are countless colors of rod wrapping thread available to suit the purpose. Smooth, perfectly wound guide wraps also convey the look of good craftmanship and a well-made rod, so take time to do it right. Like anything worth doing, guide wrapping just takes some patience and practice to master. Fortunately, thread is cheap, so don’t settle for any wrap that is less than perfect.

Once al the guides are wrapped to your satisfaction, it’s time to put the finish on the guide wraps and any other trim wraps on the rod. When I started building rods, I finished the guide wraps with high-grade varnish. That process took many thin coats over several days to achieve the smooth, high-gloss finish I desired. Nowadays, there are many brands of two-part epoxy finishes that are applied in one coat and produce a tough, durable finish that never yellows with age.

Most of these modern finishes need to be mixed and applied properly, so carefully follow the manufacturers instructions for best results.

If you’re not sure about building a rod from scratch, repairing or restoring rods you already own can be an inexpensive way to get into rod building. Replacing the guides or the handle on an old rod can be a worthwhile winter project.

The experience will let you know if rod building is a hobby you want to pursue and might bring a retired rod back into action when spring arrives.

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