January 27, 2021
By Ross Purnell
This story was originally titled “Deep Dive: How technology drives fly rod innovation.” It appeared in the 2020 Gear Guide issue of Fly Fisherman.
Before we talk about what’s new in fly rods, it’s helpful to have a foundational understanding of how they are built. A key starting point in that construction process is the mandrel—a tapered steel shaft that provides the form for any carbon fiber fly rod. Your finished rod is hollow because the mandrel has been removed, but the mandrel is the structural base that gives the finished rod its shape and its taper.
The tapered design of the mandrel and the application of carbon material over it are what give fly rods their distinctive actions. The taper might look continuous to you, but it’s really a series of graduated steps from larger to smaller diameters. The “multi-taper design” of the G.Loomis NRX+ S (page 10) is built on an equally complex mandrel with compound tapers throughout so the rod bends smoothly, whether you are just tip casting or trying to reach the opposite bank.
Carbon fibers come in flat sheets of rolled material call prepreg. In most modern rods, there is an internal layer of hooped carbon fibers positioned at exactly 90 degrees in relation to the lengthwise carbon fibers aligned at 0 degrees. These internal hooped fibers are often made from fiberglass, and are known as scrim. The internal layer of the new Scott Centric (page 8) is made from a lightweight layer of unidirectional carbon fiber prepreg that is about 15 times lighter than fiberglass scrim.
Both the internal and external layers must be cut and rolled with painstaking precision so that the carbon fibers within the prepreg are perfectly aligned over the entire length of the mandrel, which is essentially a multi-tiered cone. To complicate things further, you need more material toward the butt section, and less in the tip, so it’s not just the mandrel that influences the taper, but also where and how you apply the material. Because you have different requirements—such as strength in the butt section and quickness in the tip—you’ll use different types of carbon fiber prepreg in different sections of the rod. The new Contact II from Thomas & Thomas (page 33) feathers together five different types of carbon fiber and fiberglass material.
Even if you’ve never visited a fly rod manufacturing facility, you can imagine that more sophisticated equipment and technology help position these materials accurately so the rods don’t twist or tilt when they bend and recover—they track straighter. Constant improvement in production equipment is just one way fly rods become better with each successive generation.
Carbon fiber prepreg comes from the aerospace industry, where there is continual research and development toward creating lighter and stronger materials. Better carbon fiber composites are among the reasons why planes such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Lockheed Martin F-35 have significant advantages over their predecessors.
Most of the big recent changes in prepreg composites haven’t come in the carbon fibers themselves, but in the way manufacturers align them, and in the resins that give them their strength and durability. It wasn’t long ago that resins made up about 35% of the total volume of prepreg material. Now, in some rods the resin comprises only 25% of the material.
Scott President Jim Bartschi says that the biggest “leap forward” in the new Centric fly rod series is due in large part to a new modified epoxy resin that adheres better, so there is less of it. The result is a lighter fly rod with greater carbon fiber density, and less “glue.” Remember, it’s the carbon fiber that transmits casting energy and the sensations of a trout eating your submerged nymph—the resin merely protects the fragile fibers and holds them together.
New Fly Rods for 2021:
In the Colorado Rockies, trout fishing takes many forms, from close quarters and #22 Tricos on the South Platte to bombing out #6 Golden Stones in the Gunnison Gorge. This complexity calls for a trout rod that can perform across a wide set of circumstances. And while some rod companies are caught up in making rods for streamers, rods for Euro nymphing, and rods for soft presentations, the Scott Centric is an acknowledgment that a well-rounded trout fisher should be prepared for anything. The new Centric feels incredibly light, has amazing range (both fishing and casting), and it’s a fast-action rod with surprising sensitivity.
Scott president Jim Bartschi credits new rolling equipment at the Montrose factory, and new materials for this “leap forward” in rod design. The Centric uses a completely new resin system. Because it bonds so well, the carbon fiber-to-resin ratio is higher, and carbon fiber density is higher. This means the rod is lighter, tougher, and it recovers quicker than any other rod in Scott’s inventory.
“We were so excited about the performance jump that we put a big exclamation mark on it with the new components we designed,” said Bartschi. “These are the most advanced components ever seen on a freshwater rod.”
Titanium stripping guides with zirconia inserts, low-glare Snake Brand Universal guides, and a machined reel seat with speed threads, easy grip knurling, self-indexing hoods, and a stand-out red Delrin lock washer set Centric rods apart on fly shop racks as well as on the water. $895 | scottflyrod.com
Sage has two main types of carbon fiber technology: KonneticHD, which has a high density or high carbon fiber-to-resin ratio, and Konnetic Technology, which has Sage’s best current methods of aligning the carbon fibers for maximum performance, but not the density and stiffness of the HD material. Or the price. The Sage Sonic is a high-performance, fast-action rod built with Konnetic Technology, and it can literally “do it all,” whether you are dropping streamers along the bank with a sinking-tip, indicator nymphing a shallow riffle, or hunting flatwater snouts. Sometimes fast-action rods with super-stiff materials also come with difficult timing, but the Sonic has impressive feedback and makes it easy to shape your loop, know when to shoot, and feel sometimes subtle strikes. The juniper blanks come in line weights 3 through 8; with full-wells grips, anodized aluminum reel seats, “hidden” hook keepers in the reel seat, and cork/EVA fighting butts on the 6- through 8-weights; and snub-nose half-wells grips, hardwood inserts, and regular hook keepers on the smaller models. $550 | sageflyfish.com
Hardy Ultralite Sintrix NSX
The Sintrix NSX blank is made from Hardy’s newest carbon fiber composite, with a proprietary resin that increases the strength-to-weight ratio over Hardy’s previous materials. It helps create a rod with a lower swing weight, better hand balance, and all the juice you want when you need to reach the other side of the river, cast with less effort over the course of the day, and make crisper, easier mends while fishing. The 9-foot 5-weight we tested weighed a stunning 3.0 ounces, even with the uplocking machined aluminum reel seat with a maple burl outer spacer, and a durable carbon fiber insert for the reel foot. It also has a flexible CERECOIL stripping guide with a ceramic insert, laser-engraved line weight on the reel hood, and low-profile single-foot line guides. This is the best trout rod in the Hardy universe, on par with the best-casting rods on this side of the pond, but there are little extras that make you feel like you’re unpacking a piece of heritage each time you open your rod case. The three rod sections with female ends each have a machined and polished aluminum ferrule insertable cap that keeps dust and grit out of the hollow section, and prevents them from being inadvertently crushed while the rod is unassembled. Yes, it’s beautiful, and provides the air of fine craftsmanship, but it also makes the rod tougher for trips where you leave the burly aluminum rod tube at home, and hit the road with the sock only. $795 | hardyfishing.com
G.Loomis NRX+ S
G.Loomis rod designer Steve Rajeff first started using what he calls “multi-taper design” to more gradually step down rod wall thickness with the intention of strengthening parts of the shaft that were prone to breaking.
What he learned through years of rod design and testing is that these gradual “tapers within a taper” actually create a rod that casts smoother, and it fishes better because it transfers sensations more efficiently and gives you a greater feel for what’s happening with the line, leader, and fly.
The new NRX+ S rods are the pinnacle of this type of compound taper construction because they give you the high line speed and power you need in saltwater situations, but you still have the “feel” to load just the tip of the rod and make a leader-length cast when a tarpon ghosts up from the 6 o’clock position. With these micro transitions in the NRX+ S, you can engage just the tip, or you can dig deep into the butt section when the only shot you’ve got at a permit is 80 feet and going away.
That versatility helps you deal with adverse conditions you see both on the flats and offshore. Travel brochures make it look like saltwater fishing is always clear and sunny, but experienced saltwater anglers know that actual fishing conditions will include wind, clouds, rain, and darkness, and many of your shots in these conditions are disadvantageous. But because it’s a better fishing tool, the NRX+ S can help make the best of lousy situations.
The 9-foot rods are available in 7- through 12-weights with Recoil snake guides, Titanium SiC stripping guides, and anodized aluminum reel seats with fighting butts. $895 | gloomis.com
Hardy Zane Pro Saltwater
This is Hardy’s top-shelf saltwater fly rod, designed with the help of saltwater professionals like Keys guides Brandon and Jared Cyr, and 11-time tournament winner Andy Mill, author of A Passion for Tarpon. Using upgraded aerospace-grade carbon fiber and the new Sintrix 440 resin system, Hardy has created a rod with a smaller blank diameter to cut through the wind and improve tracking. This required a complete redesign of the mandrels and rethinking the layup of these materials to create the best saltwater rod Hardy has ever produced. This is a stiff, fast rod, built to cast long distances, drive flies into the teeth of a gale, and/or handle some popular saltwater lines that are seriously over-weighted.
Zane Pros are available in five new 1-piece models (weights 8 through 12) and seven 4-piece models from 6- through 12-weights. Zane Pros have titanium Recoil stripping guides with ceramic inserts, and the latest generation of titanium Recoil snake guides. The black, anodized aluminum uplocking reel seat reel has double O-rings, and a cork composite fighting butt. $850 | hardyfishing.com
Every saltwater rod in the world is advertised as “fast action” so the term isn’t all that helpful. For the sake of comparison, the Maverick loads faster and easier than the much stiffer Sage Salt HD, with better one-backcast performance for quick deliveries. And it’s $400 cheaper. Here’s how they do it: Instead of a soft tip section—which you might imagine helps load a rod down into the midsection—the Maverick has a stiffer tip section that drives the energy down into the midsection, loads the rod quickly, and launches the cast not just where you want it, but when you want it. That same tip section gives you a powerful pickup, especially when dealing with heavy sinking lines, and lifting power for bigger gamefish. It’s the kind of action I love for flipping flies under mangrove branches for tarpon, snook in the dock lights, and GTs and sailfish where you use oversize flies at closer ranges. The Maverick comes in sizes 6- through 14-weight, and the two lighter weights are also wonderful, quick-shot freshwater rods for smallmouths and other species where you want to spend more time fishing and less time backcasting. The hardware stands out as well, with two oversized Fuji ceramic stripping guides, extra-large chromed snake guides, a hook keeper hidden in the reel seat, and the line weight laser etched on the uplocking reel seat band. $550 | sageflyfish.com
Moonshine Rod Co. Vesper
Let’s face it, your fly rod is more than just a tool, it’s a reflection of your personality, and of your appreciation for fly fishing. That’s why Moonshine makes “small batch” fly rods that are distinctive in their performance and in their looks. From the old-school looks of the Drifter and Epiphany, to the colorful custom burl reel seats of the Midnight Specials, these rods turn heads. The new Vesper is Moonshine’s highest-performing rod so far, with a nano matrix resin, light and powerful high-modulus carbon fibers, and an anti-glare matte slate blank with black bindings, metallic copper accents, and tiny orange alignment dots to help set your rod up quickly and correctly the first time.
The Vesper has flor-grade cork (previous Moonshine rods had AAAA-grade cork), solid titanium frame SiC stripping guides, “tobacco tiger” wood insert reel seats, and double blackout uplocking rings with Delrin bushings. Every Vesper also comes with an extra tip and a lifetime no-fault warranty. The no-fault warranty is something we take for granted from bigger rod companies, but not something you see very often from small boutique rod makers. Moonshine seems dedicated to differentiating themselves not just through styling, but by keeping people on the water despite unfortunate accidents. $450 | moonshinerods.com
The power in any long cast comes from deep in the rod butt. If you can bend the rod down there, your work is already done. When it snaps back to the straight position, the rod launches the line and delivers the fly to the fish. That’s the premise behind the ArcticSilver “free-flex” concept: If you can engage more of the butt section you can deliver more energy into the cast. With a traditional fly rod, if you work hard when you are casting, you can bend the carbon-fiber blank down to the cork, but that’s about it. The “flexing” stops there. That’s why the Norwegian creators of ArcticSilver created a hollow handle so the flexing doesn’t stop, but continues down to the tip of your thumb where the power originates.
The handle is made from carbon-reinforced polyamide with a tacky silicone coating. The Quick-Lock reel system is simple and smart. The reel snaps firmly into place with spring-loaded system operated by a single user-friendly trigger. The Zense series is built with carbon fiber blanks, nanotechnology resin, two stripping guides with ceramic inserts, and titanium snake guides.
The Zense technology and hardware comes in three different actions—medium deep, medium fast, and fast—and in line weights 4 through 10. All the aluminum parts are machined and anodized to handle both fresh and salt water, and anything from trout and bass to sea-run browns and salmon. $800 | arcticsilverUSA.com
We’ve heard about and used nanospheres for several years now. These are tiny particulates with only one measurable parameter—the radius. These particles were originally used introduced to the resin of aerospace carbon fiber prepreg to fill tiny voids, and make the composite stronger. The Greys GR60 series may represent the next step in this type of technology, with the first use of Toreon Nano composite construction in a fly rod. The Toreon composite uses carbon nano tubes instead of particles to align with and better support the carbon fibers. According to Greys, Toreon results in a 10% to 20% improvement in flex strength, stiffness, and resistance to impact compared to conventional carbon blanks.
The Greys GR60 is a complete range of freshwater single-handed rods from 3- to 8-weight, and 11'1" two-handed rods from 6/7-weight to 8/9-weight. They have two-tone gray-and-black anodized aluminum reel seats with woven carbon fiber inserts, and AAA-grade cork grips with durable cork composite on the wearable edges. The stealth black matte blank has alignment dots to line up the rod sections, and metallic red wrappings to indicate measurements of 12 and 18 inches. $200-225 | greysfishing.co.uk