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Fly Rods (Part 1): Why construction and materials matter more than ever.

 

As with most other sports equipment, fly rods have undergone a huge technological change in the past two decades. They have steadily evolved from glass fiber rods, through the early days of carbon fiber, to the highly technical carbon composites we know today.

Fundamentally, not a lot has changed in the actual construction technique. Both the early glass fiber and the modern-day carbon fibers are quite delicate, having little tensile strength in their natural state. Epoxy resin alone is very brittle once cured. However, encapsulating the fibers in an epoxy resin creates a composite of enormous strength and flexibility – the properties required by the rod designer.

The carbon fibers are woven into a cloth or mat, which is pre-impregnated with epoxy resin, to bond all the fibers together, giving the finished material it’s strength, once cured. This “pre-preg” as it is called, is then wrapped, under pressure, around a tapered steel rod known as a mandrel. It is then baked in an oven to cure the epoxy resin.

Once set and cooled, the finished carbon fiber tube is removed from the mandrel and the work of turning this into a finished fly rod bank can begin.

The first question is ground or unground?

When the raw blank is removed from the mandrel, the natural surface weave or ribbing of the carbon fibers shows through, giving a slightly rough outer surface. If a gloss finish rod is required, this is ground off and a colored varnish is applied. If a matte finish rod is required, this surface is left unground, as with our Spectre range of rods, which allows a blank performance and action closer to the original design concept.

Snowbee currently produce four different ranges of fly rods, from the entry-level Classic range, to our top of the range Snowbee Prestige models (coming soon to the US). We are frequently asked therefore, what’s the difference?

Fundamentally, this comes down to two things:

  • The rod fittings and fixtures: Clearly the basic aluminum alloy reel seat used on the Classic range is a lot cheaper than the hand-made silver/gold hard anodized aluminum reel seats used on the Snowbee Prestige range, which feature beautiful maple burl wood inserts, so every rod is different and unique.
  • The quality of the carbon fiber pre-preg and resin used: You will often hear or read about the “modulus” of a carbon fiber rod. This is basically an abbreviation of “Young’s modulus of elasticy,” which measures the resistance of a material to elastic (recoverable) deformation under load. A stiff material has a high Young’s modulus and changes its shape only slightly under elastic loads (for example, a diamond). A flexible material however, has a low Young’s modulus and changes its shape considerably (for example, rubbers)

Clearly a fly rod blank needs to sit part way between these two extremes and this is where the modern rod designer comes into their own.

A higher modulus blank will have a faster action, a faster tip “recovery” (the speed at which the blank returns to its original shape) and will generally be lighter.

High modulus carbons are also more expensive to produce, so will generally be used on top-end rods, which will require a tip, or middle-to-tip action.

At the other end of the scale medium modulus carbon blanks are used for lower grade fly rods, where price is a consideration and a slightly slower, more forgiving action is required.

The Snowbee range of fly rods use a mix of different carbon fiber pre-pregs to achieve the precise action required for each particular range.

The Classic range uses predominately sing 24-ton carbon. The Diamond² range uses a mix of 30-ton and 36-ton carbon, while on the Spectre range, this is upgraded to a mix of 40-ton and 46-ton carbon. The Snowbee Prestige range uses a mix of 30-ton, 40-ton and 50-ton carbon. All our “multi-modulus” blanks however use our well proven “Snowbee Tri-modulus carbon” technology, where a subtle blend of different modulus carbons are used through the blanks, to achieve the precise action we require.

In our next post, we will talk about how to choose your fly rod!