He may not be a magician, but over the last 20 years, Jerry Siem has designed some pretty spectacular rods for Sage. His friends will tell you that he does have magical powers, however, due to his uncanny ability to disappear in a crowded room. Hence, his nickname “No Si-em.” They will also tell you that he is a good hearted, private man of few words, unless you’re drinking a beer with him and then he is a man of many words. There is not much ego behind his quiet eyes, but there is a fishy soul. Jerry does not just think about rods and fishing; he is consumed by rods and fishing. He rarely fishes a rod that is in production, and he is eternally casting to not only feel the rods he is designing but also because he loves to cast. The best rod designers are great fisherman and Jerry Siem excels at both.
A half dozen questions with Jerry Siem
1). What is your most memorable fish?
It was probably the time I was fishing on the Clark Fork River upstream from Missoula; let’s just say it was a ways upstream. It was a fall day and unbeknownst to me there was a lot of aquatic vegetation breaking loose from the river bottom, virtually chocking the river. I had a wf-7 sink tip and a bunch of streamers. Regardless of what I was going to do on the river, every cast I made would hook this moss. I knew there was no way I was going to catch a fish, so I started walking up the river and I came to this spot where a spring was kind of bubbling up on the edge of the river. I saw a few fish rising around the spring, so I stopped and stood back and watched.
I had a couple of dries in my box and some fine leader and tippet material, and I took all of my fly line out of the tip of my rod, coiled it up and cut it off at the backing /fly line connection. I tied a leader to my backing. From 40 or 50 feet away or in that range with high line speed, I was able to turn over the leader and a small dry with this backing; and I hooked a fish or two. This made me realize that you really don’t need a heavy fly line to cast these small dries. After this experience, I started thinking about ultra light fly fishing and became interested in designing small rods and lines that would cast light leaders and small flies. It’s a lot of fun.
2). Favorite species to pursue?
My favorite fish is an artic char, and the reason for that is because I REALLY like fresh air. Cold, crisp air and pure, clear water. When you fish above the Artic Circle, where you catch this magnificent fish, that is the environment that you are in. In the summertime, it is very pleasant in the Artic Circle. The days are long and the air is sweet. The colors of the fish are stunning and intensify as fall approaches. I like to be part of and aware of the surrounding environment. I am pleased when a fish interrupts my time there, but there is nothing more exhilarating than being in a place that has not been touched by human kind.
One time I was standing on a hillside and I heard what I thought was a floatplane. The floatplane was coming and I was searching the sky for it for what seemed like a minute or two. When all of a sudden, a mosquito landed on the side of my cheek. The silence was so complete that I mistook a mosquito for a floatplane. That’s where I want to be, in these sorts of places. I’m sure there are jungles that are like that and flats that are completely silent. There are so many great places to go fishing, but to me an Arctic Char in the Arctic Circle is a special treat.
3). What is the most gratifying aspect of designing a rod?
I’ve always appreciated hand craftsmanship and I’ve always liked to make things. There are a lot of people in their routine of life that don’t have the time to make things and simply need time to relax and release and refresh. These folks find a great deal of pleasure in the time that they spend outdoors fly fishing and to be able to contribute to that by building a nice rod that they enjoy and depend on is really a bonus, a reward.
4). How do you begin designing a fly rod?
I develop a rod in the context of the fishery or fisheries that it will be used in and the flies that it will cast. Rods and lines are continually evolving around the flies that are being developed and used. I’d say that over the last 20 years, flies have changed more and pretty dramatically toward the heavy side and to some degree to the wind resistant side, both of which are obstacles for a skinny, lightweight fly line and graphite rod.
I am trying to always make a rod that is better for the average fly angler. The rod is, in a sense, a tool, that is designed for a purpose. So, I am trying to create a taper that will enable anglers of all skill levels to cast and fish better. This means these rods have to perform in their intended environment with their intended flies with a multitude of different skill levels
My detractors would argue that my rods are always getting faster. My response to this is that a fast rod will absorb the quick loading of an abrupt and unrefined casting stroke, which I see used quite frequently. While good casters are getting better and better, many new anglers do not develop good casting habits. They tend to apply too much power through a very short stroke, and faster rods seem to give them better results. They absorb that shock to the rod.
5). How about one casting tip?
Stop false casting so much. Get the fly back in the water.
6). Graphite or resin?
Well, you need both, but I have always thought that it isn’t so much about the glue that holds it together, but rather the fibers. The modern rod is a matrix of resin and fiber. It’s reinforced plastic technology at its finest. When used correctly, the combination provides amazing results. The resin is important to hold it all together, but the fibers provide the performance, the high level of performance.