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Fly Rod Building

Fly rod building often adds a personal dimension to the hobby for many anglers.

Fly rod building requires craftsmanship and skill. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Fly rod building requires craftsmanship and skill.

Fly Rod Building

Custom fly rod building has become a popular hobby as anglers want to add personal touches to their fly fishing rods and increase their chances of catching fish. According to Fly Fishers for Conservation, anglers build their own rods to customize the color, the grip and other technical elements or just because they want to perfect the craft and catch more fish. Fly rod builders add their own touches, down to the color of thread and the way in which they personalize the handles on the rods. Although fly rod building requires a number of steps and pieces of equipment (making it an art form as much as a sport), many resources, kits, books and instructors are available to assist the novice.

The first reference to fly fishing in America dates back to 1775. Originally, American fly rods were up to 20 feet long and made of ash, hickory and lancewood. By 1850, fly rods were made of bamboo instead (some fly rod builders still use bamboo). Fly rods were later made of fiberglass. Modern fly rods are generally graphite.

Spincasting versus Fly Fishing

Spincasting and fly fishing differ because, in fly fishing, the line, rather than the lure or bait, provides the weight for casting. The fly rod, often as much as 10 feet in length, is longer than a spinning rod. The fly line is not rolled up between casts but is left hanging on the ground instead. The line is also heavier and thicker.

While many choose fly fishing for the challenge, building the rod is even more challenging. Those wishing to build their own fly rod must first be familiar with the sport of fly fishing and the equipment needed.

Fly Fishing Equipment

The equipment needed to fly fish breaks down as follows:

  • Line. The line is attached to the fly reel by backing, which is a braided line. The thicker line attaches to the leader and tippet, which are smaller in diameter. Lines vary by taper, weight and density. Line weight is scored up to 14. A weight of four to ten is most common. However, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the line weight varies by type of fish. For example, trout usually require fly line of four to six weight; bass require fly line of seven to nine weight. Freshwater requires lighter fly line weight than saltwater. Anglers can purchase different types of lines at various costs. Level lines are not recommended for beginners. Although they might be cheaper, they can be more difficult to cast.
  • Leader. The leader is usually made of monofilament and links the fly line to the fly. The original leaders were made of horsehair. The largest diameter end of the leader is called the butt. It attaches to the fly line.
  • Tippet. Flies are tied to the tippet, which itself is connected to the butt. Choosing the right tippet can take skill. Pick the wrong size, and it may break, or the fish won't take it. Dividing the fly by four is a good way to determine the correct tippet size.
  • Backing. The backing is a braided section of line that adds length to the rest of the line. Fifty yards of backing is used for most fish. However, understanding the habits of the fish type is important. Some will require more backing.
  • Rod. The rod is the pole.
  • Reel. The reel stores the uncast line. It is usually held in the hand or set on the ground while fishing is underway.

Knot Tying

The different pieces of equipment used for fly fishing must be built with specific knots. The basic knots are:

  • Arbor knotused to tie the backing to the reels arbor
  • Nail knotused to tie fly line to the leader or backing
  • Surgeons knotused to tie the monofilament lines together
  • Improved clinch knotused to tie the fly to the tippet

Fly Rod Building

Many Web sites, books, guides, instructors and classes are available to teach anglers how to build fly rods. Anglers can also purchase kits at sporting good stores or online. Many states and communities have fly fishing associations, which can be of assistance in finding a class or an instructor.

Red Stick Fly Fishers cautions that fly rod building takes time and patience. One of the first steps is to determine the line weight and rod length depending on the fishing conditions, according to Fly Fisherman.

Beginning fly rod builders generally need the following items:

  • Blank. This is the rod. Some purists still use bamboo rods, but most modern rods are manufactured out of graphite, which is lighter. Balancing the rod with the correct weighted fly line is key. The length of fly rods varies for different fishing environments. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, some fly rod builders make their own blanks. Fly Fishers for Conservation describes in detail how to choose the right blank.
  • Reel seat. This is where the fly reel attaches to the rod. It is usually located behind the grip and is wood, graphite or aluminum. Seats lock the reel in place.
  • Cork grip. The grip is the handle of the fly rod. Many anglers personalize these.
  • Guides. Guides are metal rings along the rod that assist in casting the line. Choosing the right guides is important because they can affect the weight and stiffness of the rod, according to Fly Anglers Online.
  • Tip top. A tip top is a guide for the rod. Its cylinder fits on the end.
  • Hook keepers. The fly is hooked to the hook keeper.
  • Winding check. A winding check is a piece of rubber or nickel silver. It is positioned in front of the handle.
  • Fighting butt. The fighting butt is the thick end of a tapered leader, to be used in saltwater fishing.


Tools that are needed to build the fly rod include:

  • Sharp scissors
  • X-Acto knife
  • Small flat file
  • Round file or cork grip reamers
  • Hemostat or vise to hold the guides while filing
  • Reading or magnifying glasses, if eyesight is an issue
  • Tape measure
  • Super glue
  • Compass
  • Small piece of wax
  • Tack cloth
  • Brushes for epoxy and preserver
  • Epoxy, to glue parts together


A rod building stand and rod drying turner also may be necessary. The rod building stand turns the rod to allow the finish to dry evenly.

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