You have to weigh the pros and cons," Ed Mesunas of Penn.Fishing Tackle told me as he explained why many people are returning to E-glass when it comes to certain rods. "E-glass is definitely much heavier than graphite or graphite composite, and it doesn't match these materials in performance," said Mesunas. "However, E-glass has always been much more rugged and can take incredible punishment."
Representing both South Bend and Pinnacle, marketing specialist Bob Schmidt agrees with Mesunas and notes that his companies are also retrenching with E-glass and graphite composites in certain models, such as surf spinning and conventional designs that need to withstand hard use.
The higher modulus and thinner, walls of graphite make it more susceptible to stress cracks caused by striking a hard object.
Dick Barries of Rodco has more than three decades in the tackle business and notes that rod tips don't usually break unless they are stressed. Under normal sage, the tip simply points toward the fish and does not bear very much load unless the rod is incorrectly lifted to a position 90 degrees or more from the horizontal.
Bames confirms that when a rod breaks under pressure it will do so in at least three places, sometimes more. If a rod breaks in only one spot it indicates a stress fracture.
Return of the Fast Taper
Bames also sees a return to older-style rod tapers. Fast-action tips used to be in vogue, but were eventually overshadowed by the parabolic taper, a much slower action. Now the fast tip has returned as the primary choice.
Action is a term that describes where the rod blank flexes. Sometimes the people who produce tackle catalogs confuse the word action with power. They will tell you a rod has a medium action, or a heavy action. What they mean to say is that the blank boasts medium power or heavy power.
Hold the rod with the butt at your belt buckle and the shaft parallel to the floor. Swing it, back and forth in a very short arc until you establish a rhythmic wiggling motion. If the blank flexes in the top third of its length, it is considered to have a fast action. If it flexes in the midsection it has a moderate action and if it flexes in the lower third it has a slow action.
It's important to understand why graphite is the material of choice for those who fish with plug, spin, and fly gear. It is more responsive and more sensitive than any other material. Modulus is a measure of stiffness, and the modulus race has cooled down simply because there are limits as to how far a manufacturer can go with graphite and still produce a quality product.
Gary Loomis has been a pioneer in the graphite business and one of the most knowledgeable men in the world when it comes to working with graphite. If you listen, he'll tell you that graphite, fibers are longitudinal (running from butt to tip). The higher the modulus, the, less graphite wants to bend. Instead, it has a tendency to stay straight. In the rod-building process, its necessary to put a light, woven scrim on top of the graphite to give it hoop strength (keep the blank round). A graphite scrim is four times more expensive than fiberglass and much more difficult to manufacture. However, the fiberglass scrim adds weight to the blank, but not stiffness.
Picture a rod blank as a round tube tapered toward a point. Under load, this tube compresses on the underside and elongates on top. Actually, the round tube becomes an oval that is wider and thinner. The scrim helps to keep it from failing and returns the blank to its round state when the load is removed. For fly fishermen, the dampening associated with the recovery process helps to determine quality. Loomis explains that a graphite scrim contributes much more to rod performance than fiberglass scrim and provides much better dampening action.
In broad terms, the blank manufacturing process is basically the same for graphite or fiberglass. A pattern of cloth and/or longitudinal fibers are wrapped around a stainless steel mandril that becomes the core of the tubular blank. The position on the blank where the end f the cloth lies is called the spline. If pressure is applied to the blank, it tends to rotate toward the spline. Rod builders know that putting the guides on this line helps to eliminate torque. Dick Bames tells me that this can be critical on heavier rods, particularly those with roller, guides. One of my favorite light-tackle rods was not splined before the guides were wrapped on. It has plenty of reserve power, but when fighting a big fish the rod wants to twist out of my hands.
There's a trend today toward specialty rods. Anglers around the coast seem to want rods designed specifically for the fishing they do in their particular area. South Bend and other rod makers are trying to accommodate these requests. Ed Mesunas of Penn repots that more people are using spinning gear on the offshore grounds, and that Penn is now offering a rod capable of handling 30-pound-test line to go with its big new 9500SS spinning eel. Mesunas also confides that levelwind reels are gaining in popularity, and that anglers are using longer rods with these reels, particularly on party boats where a longer rod has the advantage of being able to reach beyond fellow anglers.
One of the most innovative rod designs was recently introduced by Pinnacle. This rod has no guides at all, and the line simply runs though the center of the blank. It really works quite well.
One major rod builder talked about an experiment he ran in which he placed each succeeding guide 90 degrees to the one before it, so they spiraled around the rod. He said that the same blank with standard guide placement cast only six inches farther than the experimental model!
To showcase its new titanium-nitride guides, Pinnacle sent samples to outdoor journalists along with a file. The company challenged us to file a groove in this hard material, which, obviously, the file cold not do. A number of companies have switched to guides made from harder material than stainless steel, particularly for some of the new braided lines; however you'll still find plenty of stainless steel guides in use. One reason is that guides made from ceramics and the newer metals tend to be much more fragile than the rugged stainless guides. In fact, there's still something to be said for the age-old foulproof design, although it doesn't see much use in today's market.
In the category of erroneous concepts, to many major rod builders still refer to some rods as fresh water and others as salt water. Neither the rod nor the fish know the difference. You would think that a rod should be labeled as to the breaking strength of the line it is designed to handle and not where it will be used. That's been a dream of mine for many years, but for some reason it just hasn't happened.
A rod has a pretty simple mission. It has to present a bait or lure, enable you to set the hook, and then provide the backbone and power to beat your quarry. Pick a rod that matches the species you intend to catch and the lures and baits you will need. The choices in today's market see endless, but the final decision comes down to your preferences. The rod you fish has to feel good in your hands and you should have fun using it. If you can meet those requirements, you bought the right rod.
Reprinted from the SALT WATER SPORTSMAN, SEPTEMBER 18 1996