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The rod is the most important piece of equipment a fly fisher owns; it's the base of all his/her fishing tools. At one time made of wood and 18 to 20 feet long, fly rods are now smaller and more flexible. Modern fly rods are between 7 and 10 feet and generally made of bamboo, fiberglass, graphite, or boron. Each type of material has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Bamboo

Split bamboo is the oldest fly rod material still in use. It is both strong and durable and casts more smoothly than any of the other synthetic rods. The basic design has not changed dramatically in over a century. Early rods were made from Calcutta cane but were later replaced by Tonkin cane from southern China. The rod is made by splitting a stock of bamboo into strips and planing and tapering each one into a long triangular shape. Six of these strips are then laminated together to form the rod.

Compared to the lighter synthetics, the bamboo rods, especially the longer ones, can be heavy. Quality bamboo rods also tend to be expensive, often more than $500, and most fly fishers opt for cheaper materials.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass was first discovered in the early 1900s but did not come into question as a material for fly rods until World War II. Initially, it was expensive, but new production techniques were found and the fiberglass rods soon surpassed sales of the traditional bamboo rods. The rods are made by rolling a fiberglass cloth impregnated with resin around a core called a mandrel and then wrapping it with cellophane material to hold the shape. They are then cured in an oven, the mandrel is removed, and the rod is sanded and finished.

Fiberglass rods are inexpensive, lightweight, and strong. However, because of the power and stiffness of the material, rods for very light fly lines are hard to produce. Fiberglass also has a tendency to vibrate during casting, making it less smooth.

Graphite

Graphite is generally the most popular of all fly rod materials with its incredible lightness and power. Beginning in the seventies, fly rod makers took graphite and subjected it to heat treatments of 200 to 2,800 degrees. The fibers carbonized and graphitization took place, forming crystals that could be stretched into fibers. The fibers were laid side by side and wrapped on a mandrel. The rod that was formed had a power-to-weight ratio far superior to all other materials previously used.

To create rods of lesser power that could handle light lines, longer rods with greater flexibility and softness were made. New refinements have created shorter rods that can also handle the light lines. The initial high price was quickly brought down by the rod's popularity and is now an affordable, quality investment.

Boron

After the introduction of graphite, boron came up next as a possibility for rod construction. The fibers that make up the rod are made from a compound deposited as a vapor on extremely fine tungsten wire. The rods are light and extremely strong.

The rods are used mainly on big rivers or on large sea-run fish. Because of their power, boron rods have not been successful with lighter lines. These rods are also uniformly expensive.