April 26, 2023
By Dennis Pastucha
Around the time plaid-clad and bearded hipsters, farm-to-table dining, and heavily hopped craft beers started seeping into our culture in the early 2010s, fiberglass fly rods found a resurgence in popularity among the fly-fishing masses. A cultural shift occurred. People were looking to reconnect with their roots, revamp classic styles, and support grassroots, community-based businesses. New and seasoned anglers alike hearkened back to fly fishing’s past. Perhaps their parents taught them to cast with glass rods, and they forever held a nostalgic place in their hands, and hearts.
Graphite rods dominated the market, with faster and lighter rods being introduced each year, yet a small faction of talented rod builders such as master certified casting instructor, filmmaker, and New Zealand angler Carl McNeil, founder of Swift Fly Fishing Company and Epic Fly Rods (epicflyrods.com) yearned to create new glass rods and resurrect their importance to the fly-fishing community with slower, and more soulful, fishing.
“My first experience with glass rods was an old Japanese-made rod,” says McNeil. “That rod set me on my path to build glass rods that are tough, bend deeply, yet have a low swing weight with the ability to handle multiple species. The difference with glass is you feel the rod load right into the cork. It’s quite a different feel than a graphite rod for the new glass angler to get accustomed to.”
History of Fiberglass
Glass tools of volcanic glass and obsidian have been used since the stone age. Glass production dates back to early Mesopotamia, roughly 3,600 years ago, and had full-scale production in ancient India around 1,730 B.C. Glass objects have been part of the human experience for thousands of years. It’s both beautiful and functional. Ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians made glass fibers for decoration, being the first people to make a fibered glass.
Modern fiberglass development began in the late 1800s. “Mineral wool” was an invention by John Player, who in 1870 created a process of jet-steaming molten glass into strands, which was found to be good for home insulation. In 1880, Herman Hammersfahr, a Prussian-American inventor, was awarded the patent for the first fiberglass cloth that was interwoven with strands of silk to create a strong, yet flame-retardant material. During Prohibition in the early 1930s, the world’s preeminent bottle plant, Owens-Illinois in Toledo, Ohio, needed a new product to keep their business afloat. Glass insulation was on the cusp of becoming a massive and marketable material, but failed attempts to create a viable product kept them from revitalizing their factory until a serendipitous accident occurred in 1932.
Dale Kleist, an intern engineer for Owens-Illinois, was experimenting with a metal-layer gun to produce a molten glass stream to fuse together two halves of a glass block. The jets of super hot air from the gun caused an explosion of fine glass fibers. This accident set the groundwork for Owen-Illinois to develop a process of stretching glass into fiberglass. In a few months, Owens-Illinois was manufacturing fiberglass wool insulation.
In 1935, Corning Glass of New York and Owens-Illinois merged to create Owens Corning, which is still in business today producing roofing, insulation (you’ve seen the Pink Panther on the packaging), and composite materials. Charles Ellis of the DuPont company was awarded a patent for a polyester resin in 1936, which was further developed by German engineers to refine its curing process. Hitler and the Nazis were remilitarizing western German lands, a direct rejection of the Versailles Treaty, as Europe and the rest of the world had concerns of a potential world war. In 1942, British intelligence agents acquired stolen German research documents for the development of polyester resins. They gave this newly acquired science to American firms. American Cyanamid, a conglomerate manufacturing firm, produced a polyester resin that gave Owens Corning the ability to impregnate their fiberglass cloth. They used it to produce lightweight and durable airplane parts. Fiberglass gained in popularity over the next decades to produce many goods we still use today.
In the 1950s glass rods were in development, but they didn’t compare to the feel and action of bamboo. During the 1960s, R.L. Winston, Orvis, and Hardy introduced fiberglass rods and the market began to shift away from expensive and time-consuming split-cane bamboo, to a more affordable and durable product. Glass rods required less material, time, and expertise to build than bamboo, and quickly became the choice material in rod production. Less expensive rods meant fly fishing could be more accessible to working-class people and helped advance the sport. Graphite (an aerospace industry material) rods were introduced in 1973 and soon became the industry standard for all rods. Over the next 40 years, graphite reigned supreme, and is still by far the most popular material for fly rods.
A new crop of glass aficionados like Cameron Mortenson, founder of The Fiberglass Manifesto blog, emerged around 2010, sharing his passion for glass rods. “#glassisnotdead” stickers coated vehicles at boat launches and fishing accesses across the country. [For a comprehensive list of fiberglass rod manufacturers visit thefiberglassmanifesto.blogspot.com. The Editor]. “I didn’t fish glass rods for almost 10 years, until one day I took an old, $25 Eagle Claw Featherlight glass rod to my family’s pond for panfish, bass, and carp, and fell in love with the feel and nostalgia of glass. Around 2010 Redington and Scott Fly Rods reintroduced glass rods, glass rod builders started heavily sourcing new fiberglass from Japan, and tapers and construction techniques were becoming more specific for different fishing situations,” says Mortenson.
Established and boutique rod builders started offering specialty glass rods to fly anglers. “There’s a feel to fishing glass, and a visual aesthetic you just can’t get with graphite. One great feature about fishing glass rods is their accessibility to all anglers. There are many options available today for people to either design, build, or buy the rod they want. Rods range in price from below $100 to custom builds for the dedicated glass angler,” states Mortenson.
Glass of Today
E-, S-, and S-2 unidirectional glass are the main types of fiberglass used in rod construction today. E-glass stands for electrical glass, and it’s mainly used as electronic insulation. E-glass has a lower modulus than S-glass—which creates a slower-action fly rod—yet it is strong, resistant to chemicals, and unaffected by moisture. Modulus refers to the elasticity and recovery of a material—the higher the modulus, the less deformation and recovery time it takes the material to return to its static state.
S-glass, or structural glass, has applications in building materials and aerospace construction. Containing a higher silica content than E-glass, S-glass has increased tensile strength, durability, low density, and resistance to heat, chemicals, and moisture.
S-2 unidirectional glass has all of the properties of S-glass but the fibers are laid in a unidirectional sequence rather than a cross-hatching or multi-directional pattern. This gives the material a slimmer profile than E- and S-glass, resulting in thinner walls when rolling glass rod blanks, yet keeps a high tensile strength. Many modern glass rods use S-2 unidirectional glass. They’re strong, light, responsive, track accurately, have less swing weight than E- or S-glass, and recover quickly.
Fishing Glass Rods
Many modern graphite rods have a fast action, which means they resist bending, and you often have to work to bend the rod. When fishing glass, you need to slow down your cast and let the rod work for you. You don’t need to muscle a glass rod. The deep-loading nature of the glass easily stores kinetic energy in the rod, and delivers your fly smoothly and softly. Certain conditions, such as high winds, can adversely affect this slower casting stroke, in which case a fast-action graphite rod would be a better choice to generate higher line speeds to counteract the velocity of the wind.
The proper fly line is crucial in casting a glass rod. Most weight-forward lines today are one and a half to two line weights heavier than the advertised line weight on the package. With a fiberglass rod, you’ll want to choose a true-to-weight fly line such as the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Textured Trout Standard. There’s rarely a need to overline a fiberglass rod. The modulus of S- and S-2 unidirectional glass is higher than E-glass and they can handle being slightly overlined for easier casting, especially in tight quarters situations or when throwing large flies if you choose to do so.
Glass rods can be used to target many species, not just small-stream trout. “We have anglers in Europe chasing and landing wels catfish that can be hundreds of pounds, and saltwater anglers landing sharks on our glass rods, sometimes bending the tip almost to the cork,” says McNeil.
Shawn Combs, Orvis’s director of product design and development, is a carp fanatic. He enjoys stalking big carp, getting as close as possible to them, and seeing them take his fly. He is also an avid bass angler, calling the 8-weight version of the Superfine Glass his “flip-flops and frogs rod” to throw poppers, BoogleBugs, frogs, and topwater flies. “The flex of a glass rod protects my tippet when fishing for carp and bass. I can go lighter, get better presentations, and put more pressure on the fish without risking rod failure or snapping my tippet,” says Combs. Both Mortenson and McNeil agree, you can put more constant pressure on a fish compared to a graphite rod, which can tire and land a fish quickly. Glass is also fun way to introduce young anglers to fly fishing. They’re more forgiving when casting, are tough, and can be very colorful.
Fishing glass rods for this story made me nostalgic. My first fishing rods as a kid were fiberglass spinning rods. When I first got the fly-fishing bug I dove headfirst into graphite rods, fishing faster rods as my angling experience grew. Throughout writing this story, my interest in glass rods has grown into a love and newfound appreciation for them. Having the insight from experts like McNeil, Combs, and Mortenson and hearing them share their passion has made me realize that glass is indeed not dead, in fact it’s thriving, and more anglers need to get these rods in their quivers. As Combs joked during our conversation, “Glass puts the giggle in the wiggle,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Scientific Anglers Fly Line
True-to-weight fly lines are built for those who love to cast. With a fiberglass rod—especially an E-glass rod—a line that weighs within American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) guidelines will cast best. For instance, according to those industry standards, a 5-weight line should weigh from 134 to 146 grains in the first 30 feet. This is the range where fiberglass rods excel, and a line like the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Trout Standard fits the bill.
$130 | scientificanglers.com
Orvis Superfine Glass Fly Rod
Orvis has redesigned its Superfine Glass rods with improved tapers and construction techniques that increase accuracy, and reduce swing weight, yet retain the smooth and soulful casting of fiberglass. “S-2 unidirectional glass is a higher-modulus material compared to E- or S-glass, resulting in noticeably thinner-diameter blanks, especially in line weights 2 through 5,” says Shawn Combs, Orvis’s director of product design and development. “Traditional E-glass has a tendency to ‘bounce’ on the forward cast, which can affect accuracy. The higher modulus of S-2 unidirectional glass has better tracking on your cast, and will recover much more quickly.”
Offered in six rod sizes, from a 3-piece, 6'6" 2-weight, to a 4-piece 8'8" 8-weight, the new Superfine Glass rods are a great addition to your quiver, whether you’re fishing for Appalachian brook trout in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, backpacking into the Rockies for alpine trout, or slowing down your approach for bass and redfish.
I fished the 8' 5-weight model on Pennsylvania’s Big Spring Creek and Yellow Breeches. Soft, delicate casts to wary spring creek trout and easy loading while standing in thickets of briers and cattails allowed for smooth and accurate casting. Roll casting nymph rigs and throwing large Hexagenia mayfly patterns on the Yellow Breeches was a breeze. Being able to easily load the rod while having trees, steep banks, and bushes behind me was advantageous over a fast-action graphite rod. When hooking an average-size trout the rod bent deeply, but the S-2 unidirectional glass had more backbone than I anticipated, which allowed me to easily land and control the trout.
Available in a sanded matte olive blank with hard chrome double-footed snake guides, a black type III anodized aluminum reel seat with a burled hardwood insert (2- to 5-weights), or an aluminum tube insert (6- to 8-weights). Made in the U.S.A.
$498 | orvis.com
Redington Butter Stick - V3
Back by popular demand, the third rendition of Redington’s Butter Stick revamps the fiberglass rod world with its nostalgic, semi-translucent sunrise yellow blank with red and brownish wraps, vintage lettering, and clean design. Built with T-glass, or technical glass, which is similar to S-glass, the Butter Stick is strong, light, and has a medium action and recovery, reminiscent of classic fiberglass rods. A comfortable half wells cork handle and a cork reel seat add to the retro styling of the Butter Stick. A newly designed threaded locknut is a nice addition to keep your reel in place.
I field-tested the Butter Stick 8' 5-weight version on Pennsylvania’s west branch of Codorus creek, which is a class-A wild trout stream known for gorgeous brown trout. It loaded easily in the narrow, tight quarters of the Codorus. I landed a few nice wild brown trout on 5X tippet, with no worries about breaking my tippet due to the deep flex of the rod. Now available in a 4-piece rod, in three rod sizes;
7' 3-weight, 8' 5-weight, and 7'6" 4-weight, the Butter Stick is ready for your next blue-line backpacking adventure. Comes with a durable, yellow Cordura rod tube and a lifetime warranty.
$280 | farbank.com
Moonshine Rod Co. Revival S-Glass
Simpler times, simpler fishing. That’s the mantra behind the Moonshine Revival S-glass fly rod. Moderate action, yet deep loading, and easy to cast in tight quarters, this new version of the Revival uses a new, proprietary taper design. The introduction of S-2 unidirectional glass, compared to the original Revival, which was built with E-glass, gives a crisp tip-flex action, improves accuracy, and has faster rod recovery.
I field-tested the 7' 3-weight on Pennsylvania’s Letort Spring Run and felt it was the ideal size to tackle one of the country’s most technical spring creeks. The Revival S-Glass made me more deliberate with my casting while laying out 20-foot casts with #18-20 ants, and Ed Shenk’s Letort Crickets. A 10-inch wild brown trout felt great on the rod, bending it deeply and protecting my 5X and 6X tippet yet remaining strong enough in the butt section to land the fish quickly. I paired the rod with a 3-weight Scientific Anglers Amplitude Textured Trout Standard fly line, which is a true-to-weight line, to match the rod well. The burnt orange blank, black butt section label, and hand-turned spalted burl reel seat dyed to reflect the blank enhance the vibe of this rod. The Flor-grade cork handle and TiSiC (titanium carbide) light wire snake guides add to the aesthetic and reduce weight. Grab your flask, backpack, and briar pipe, it’s going to be a good day of fly fishing with the new Revival S-glass. Moonshine offers a lifetime warranty, an extra tip section, and embroidered rod case. Available in 2- through 6-weight 4-piece rods to make transport easier than the original 3-piece.
$399 | moonshinerods.com
Epic Fly Rods Reference 476 Fastglass
New Zealand is a land of big mountains, big trout, and big ideas when it comes to fly rod design. Epic founder Carl McNeil, a master certified casting instructor for over 20 years, set out to build rods that will last a lifetime. The blanks are treated with a proprietary coating trademarked as SnakeBelly. The 476 FastGlass is chip-resistant with a stunning translucent amber finish. These aren’t your grandpa’s glass rods. The FastGlass series uses S-2 unidirectional glass to create a crisp, progressively faster-action rod than most other glass rods. Epic’s FastGlass technology offers 8-micron S-2 unidirectional glass, which translates to less swing weight, increased tensile strength, a high modulus, and improved accuracy over traditional E- and S-glass. This technology was originally used to construct helicopter blades.
I fished this rod on a cold, windy, and rainy October day on Pennsylvania’s Yellow Breeches. You won’t need to worry about putting some heat on a larger fish with the 476, it’s built to take abuse. It’s light with a low swing weight that shoots line quickly and accurately. What I loved most about this rod is its construction, the attention to detail, and the confidence I had fishing it. When you order an Epic rod, the name speaks for itself.
The 476 is a 7'6" 4-weight gem. “The 476 is being revamped for 2023, with upgraded components and adjustments,” says McNeil. “The low swing weight, durability, and accuracy perform well for small to mid-size streams, and our trademarked resins and glass are able to easily handle fish up to 6 pounds.”
He’s not joking. He told me stories of anglers landing wels catfish, sharks, and huge carp on larger FastGlass rods, nearly bending them in half from tip to cork. McNeil isn’t just a casting instructor, he’s a hardcore angler building the best tools of his trade.
A 30-day “Love it or return it” guarantee allows fly fishers to easily return the rod if they’re unsatisfied. After speaking to McNeil, and diving into the details of these rods, I would be shocked if anyone would be unhappy with this rod series. The Reference FastGlass series rods are available in 3- through 10-weight versions in multiple colors, as well as complete rod kits to build your own. All rods are 4-pieces and come with a rod sock as well as a slim, lightweight fiberglass rod tube that’s perfect for backpacking.
$595-$695 | epicflyrods.com
Dennis Pastucha is the art director for Fly Fisherman. A graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania, he is an avid fly fisher and fly tier.