Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

December 29th, 1997

Finish or Not?

Don't you just hate it when you run into one of those people who knows absolutely everything? A person who thinks they can lay stuff on that you will accept as fact? You know, the self-proclaimed expert ... who is an instant authority on all the important stuff?

Well, it happened again. We've been around the block a time or two - and neither of us claim to be expert. There are some things we can do quite well. But, fortunately for us, not being experts we can still questions so called "facts," and maybe even learn a thing or three.

The lecture we got was on fly rods. Well, not exactly - it was on the finishing of fly rods. If you've been around for a while, you probably know all this stuff. But bare with me.

The really old fly rods were made from wood. We are talking here about merry old England and Dame Juliana. Rods were just a branch, whittled and trimmed. The fly lines were braided horse tails.

Some where along the line, bamboo fly rods were invented. They were, (and still are) made from finely cut and matched sections of tapered Tonkin bamboo, glued together. A coat, or several coats of varnish were applied to protect the glue, and to cover the thread wrappings on the guides. I suppose the varnish did seal the bamboo and keep it from absorbing water.

How much water would a bamboo rod absorb? Don't have a clue. Then again, I don't personally know any fisherman who would leave any fly rod soaking in water. Well, there is one guy who lost his fly rod in the lake while landing a big rainbow. That was not intentional, and no, he didn't get the rod back.

My first fly rod was my grandfathers. It was steel and telescopic. Frankly I don't remember if it had a coating of something on it. It didn't rust 'tho. Gramps was rather fussy about putting things away and the rod was wiped off before it went in its bag.

Fiberglass rods were the next biggie. All colors, shapes, and sizes. All that I recall had a shiny finish on them. Don't know why, except they did look neat. The very best of the fiberglass rods were made by a small company owned by California rod genius Russ Peak.

Now we have space-age technology in fly rods. The wonder material graphite, is the choice-de-jour. This is where the "expert" comes in. He swore graphite rods had to have a total epoxy finish. Not just covering the guide-wraps, the whole rod. When I could get a word in edgewise, I asked, "Why?" Ah ha! Because graphite absorbs water, or if you hit the rod with your fly while casting, the epoxy finish protects the graphite from damage.

Sounds logical. But in my mind, I kept seeing the great Loomis rods. Epoxy only on the wraps, the rod itself is unfinished. Why would Gary Loomis allow that if the rod would be vulnerable to damage?

A friend who had been a long-time friend of Russ Peak offered to call Russ for me. (Remember, he's the man I mentioned who made just terrific fiberglass rods ... well, he also made graphite rods.)

Results of the call? No, you don't need to finish graphite rods. My friend had not asked "why not" so I got on the phone.

Part of the reason I thought graphite rods don't need a finish is that I have a graphite tennis racquet. It takes a huge amount of stress. It does not have a finish. I don't recall seeing a finish on graphite skis or golf clubs either. Again, big stress and they also get wet.

More phone calls.

Here is the real scoop. Graphite rods do not need a finish. Yes, the guides are wrapped and epoxy finished. The resins used in making graphite rod blanks can absorb moisture.

But to have the rod absorb moisture you have to boil the rod, submerged, for 48 hours. Or even more bizarre, fish it for several hours at 175 degrees F. That might be a problem since both you and the fish would be quite well done in short order.

And the part about protecting the rod from nicks? Bull Pucky! The epoxy finish on your rod is just like the paint job on your car. If your car gets hit, does the paint keep the metal from denting? Even worse, to make a car dent-proof by using paint would require so heavy a coat that the car couldn't move. That's pretty visual. Same thing with the finish on the rod. If you hit the rod with a fly, (which travels at about the speed of sound) you will damage the rod. Period. The fix? Learn to cast.

That is the real answer. So there, Mr. Expert. So why do rod manufacturers put a finish on graphite rods? Cosmetics. So it looks nice, or different or even unique. Some rods have really deep finishes in cool colors: green, blues, earth tones. They look nifty. Add thread wraps in contrasting colors and you almost have a piece of art.

Does it make the rod better? Probably not. Since the rod bends and flexes, the epoxy can crack. And chip. Yucky! If the epoxy chips around the guides, you can have water deteriorating the guides. Not good. By the way, Loomis and perhaps other quality minded manufacturers coat the guides on the rods before the wraps go on. Added insurance against problems.

Here's another point, no finish also means the rod weighs less. Easier to cast. This is similar to how some rod makers lighten a rod by using single foot rather than double footed guides. One company told me a particular rod dropped one full weight when the change was made to single footed guides.

There are many rods in the fly-rod world. As in everything, the more you know, the better choices you can make. ~ The LadyFisher

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