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  1. #1

    Default Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    Once upon a time fly rods were built of split, aged bamboo. They glowed a golden, natural material hue, some pale others flamed darker. Wrapped in silk and hand varnished, wood or cork and nickel silver reel seats seemed a natural accompaniment and the best bespoke of high, hand craftsmanship. While great and hand built cane rods continue to be made, most of us fish with plastic rods. While fine hand craftsmanship continues to be of importance, the inherent appeal of natural materials is absent. What should graphite rods look like?

    There are three fundamental aesthetic approaches. One is to embody the look of old school cane in the abstract. Paint the carbon blank a natural color, fashion the cork grip in a traditional shape and select handsome hardwood spacers and gleaming nickel silver hardware. Winston comes immediately to mind, a company with roots in bamboo fly rods, some still in production. Their actions too harken to the smooth deeper loading of cane as well.

    Then there is form-follows-function. Think the lightly sanded spiral tape scarred and matt natural graphite color of Scott or many G.Loomis blanks. Lighter weight, more rigid and inert machined aluminum reels seats supplant antique nickel silver and, dating back to GLX in the 90's, woven carbon seat spacers replaced heavier hardwood. These rods revel in letting plastic be plastic and their more technical tapers contribute to this as well.

    The third and probably dominant style involves painting the sanded blank some color ranging from black to blue to red; subdued to brash. Use aluminum hardware with an emphasis on low weight and smooth function but without harkening to traditional style along with shaping the cork emphasizing ergonomics and tip the hat to the classics with a nice wooden spacer. Color might be chosen to distinguish one series from another. Sage would be archetypical of this look like a modern not a bamboo rod.

    Rod makers following all of these avenues are able if willing to execute good thread wraps with tipping or inlays and flat none-overlapping epoxy work...or a more commercial, one coat type job. Personally, I think all could do a little better in this department with the exception of a couple like T&T or Shimano-Loomis's Asquith. Most but for the thickest, most globular epoxy ones are acceptable though.

    In the final analysis, it is how the rod performs while angling that is most crucial and this is more the province of the material science and creative taper design which is at the heart of the rod and more fundamental than external appearance. Nevertheless aesthetics are important to many of us and I believe somehow reflect the philosophy of a rod company along with their emphasis on performance characteristics.

    What are your opinions on this matter?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Belle Vernon, PA

    Default Graphite Rod Aesthetics


    I enjoy the look of Scott rods myself. Especially the rods of the G Series, whether original or this latest version. There are Sage rods that have caught my eye, particularly the Dart and X models. Nothing too bashful of G Loomis rods. Love my NRX. The prettiest rod I own is a C. Barclay Synthesis Series 68. A fiberglass brookie rod that is 6 8 and a 3 weight. Handmade to precise specifications of Chris Barclay himself. I am so enamored that an 82 Synthesis will be ordered this spring. Gorgeous yellow blanks and hand polished hardware, just spectacular. It fishes damn well too!

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    As a reel and rod designer I have a few thoughts…

    Early in our operation I came to a realization that is was going to be extremely difficult to win the hearts of those from a more “classic age” in fly fishing. The people that grew up with split cane and clicker reels were a market that was going to be difficult penetrate. With that in mind we decided to focus on a modern, bold style, with a bit of a younger appeal. Bold colors, new materials, and a median price point became our focus. I do think there is something for everyone in the world of fly fishing. My personal preference doesn’t really care for the old school style. It not that it is bad or wrong, I just don’t have the attachment or nostalgia because of my age (mid-thirties). I hope that our current marketing strategy builds a brand loyalty that grows with us though the years…. Who knows maybe what we are doing now will one day be viewed as “old school”.

    I do think performance matters significantly more than aesthetics. I would rather fish a top performing product than my personal style preferences. Performance matters most…. but a touch of color wouldn’t hurt either.
    Quality Fly Fishing Reels at

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  6. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Isle of Lewis, UK.

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    I guess an interesting example of your 'bamboo in abstract' category is the Bruce and Walker 'Hexagraph' series which adopted bamboo's hexagonal shape, an '80s liaison between B&W and EC Powell, apparently.
    They were pretty pricey on release and often bought by wealthy English gentlemen who would, in their posh accent, pronounce it, ''Hexa-graaaaf'', with a flat 'a'. I've only just realised that the 'graph' is 'graff' as in 'graphite', with an open 'a'. Ha! That's only taken me 30 years!

    Anyway, the Hexagraphs, I've been told, were powerful but overly-heavy rods and not much fun for the day unless you were built like an ox. When I informed an old beat gillie that my guest was going to fish his Hexagraph tomorrow he rolled his eyes, looked to one of the great, rough-hewn tree trunks holding up his hut's veranda and said, ''He'd be as well putting rings on one o' them!"

    I can't recall just who, but at least one company used to make a graphite rod actually painted to mimic cane ..... Shakey? Berkely?

    There must be a place for the once ubiquitous Fuji reel seat in your list, s&s, but I'm not sure where? I respect their functionality but not their looks, especially after a few years use when fine scratches accumulate and they go a mottled grey. While more latterly seen as a cheap choice of seat they were once to be found on some better builds. Perhaps more custom than trade, though?

    Where, I wonder, would you place the Orvis un-sanded, varnished graphite rods? Perhaps a subset of the Form-follows-function sanded, slate rods, but also a distinguishing brand style.

    My own preference is unvarnished matt slate or, if varnished, a translucent coat which allows you to see the sanded wraps below, giving a bit of depth and pattern. Good cork is becoming more important to me these days. It looks better longer and feels better too. After all, this is the one point of contact we have with the rod. Well worth an extra $10 on any build and a shame for companies to skimp on. I don't like flash from the hardware (a functional & an aesthetic choice) so shy away from shiny and I'm a sucker for a bit of burl on the insert so avoid 'peekaboo' reel seats preferring open 'old style' simplicity where I can see the beauty of the wood.
    Finally, I prefer the look of a drop-ring keeper over the 'U' shape but I don't think they're as practical, just prettier.

    While I agree with you about over-epoxying being unsightly I do wonder whether this affects the rod action much, if at all, given modern epoxy's plasticity compared to that of varnish? I'm not talking 'rugby balls' here, but I've only just looked at a Winston BII on line and thought, "bit too much on there''.

    I'm getting far too fussy in my prime.

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    As word gets out, many will learn that Taylor's new Truth rods fit into the "plastic is beautiful" group two in my post. Down below in Rods I wrote about their 9'/#4 which combines advanced material technology and fabrication in concert with excellent components and build. I could have added Truth to the small group of commercial rods with perfect flat, none-overlapping epoxy I am now.
    Last edited by sweetandsalt; 01-03-2019 at 08:04 AM.

  9. #6
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Franklin, West Virginia

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    Less if best for me, although that can be and is a great presentation if done right. Still some of those old bamboo's with all the signature wraps and intermediates are quite elegant and they held the rod together well too.

  10. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Western Portal Sequoia National Forest / Kern River.

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    The five things that I won't miss when they finally fade from the retail fly fishing landscape are felt, cork rings, snake guides, rod socks & barbs.

    Rod aesthetics,

    Graphite reel seat inserts: Prefer them colorful and high gloss, but have many that are not.

    Wood inserts: Like them with deeply contrasting grains and satin finished, more than high gloss. The surfaces seem to hold up better.

    Reel seat hardware: Prefer more of a titanium to polished aluminum surface or even gloss black, rather than nickel silver.

    Wraps: Keep my wraps to a primary color that blends in with the blank and a very thin trim band of a complimentary non-metallic thread.

    Blanks: This is were I deviate from the conservative path, I admire blanks that bring some color to the game. High gloss, jewel like Burgundy to Ruby, Sapphire, deep Emerald, even an Onyx. Yet I fish several that have your basic muted charcoal finish.

    Graphics: Keep them on the small size, understated and non-script. If I have three rods of the same series ( and I do ), I don't want to have to a decipher some guys messy script in order to tell one from the other.

    Rod cases: I'm over aluminum tubes threaded caps and separate rod socks. Give me a cordura covered pvc tube with separate sleeves for each rod piece and a zippered cap.

    A rod that's just to easy for me to talk myself out of buying, even though it's sort of a steal. The Aetos, absolutely love the blank color and finish and its a capable stick, but everything else about that build says " Meh " to me, so no sale. On the other hand, I wasn't head over heals about the blank on the Jet and even though it would cost more than the Aetos, even when discontinued, to quell my curiosity about the rod, the build quality made it to hard to pass up.


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  12. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Columbia, MO
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    Good thought-provoking question.

    I love a fine split bamboo rod; the way it looks, the way it feels in my hand, the way it flexes. In my mind, I am the stubborn, traditionalist, nothing-else-will-do but custom cane fisherman. But then, I gravitate to natural materials in most things.

    In reality, read checkbook, I fish the "Plastic" rods referred to by S&S. Graphite and occasionally, glass. I fish mainly Orvis rods which, I suppose, fall within the middle-of-the-road quality range. Aesthetically, not ugly, but most would probably say more function than beauty. The older ones were mainly grey, un-sanded blanks with assorted wrappings and hardware, depending on the era and model. The one newer and higher end rod I own, a Helios2, is definitely prettier with the dark blue blank and black wrapping. Still, it isn't up to the Winston level of beauty.

    Not sure if I'm answering the question or just rambling, at this point. So, I'll summarize: I love bamboo, but fish graphite and while I appreciate beauty, function tends to win out.

    "As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler" ...Izaak Walton

    "Nothing is as bad as something that is not so bad"...Sr. Percival Blakeney, aka The Scarlet Pimpernel

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  14. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    quiet corner, ct

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    Plastic rods may be fine tools, but they have no soul..
    The simpler the outfit, the more skill it takes to manage it, and the more pleasure one gets in his achievements. --- Horace Kephart

  15. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Graphite Rod Aesthetics

    S&S, A Quandary of thought and an observation inducing topic for sure.

    My thoughts steer more toward the evolution aspect in a why, when, reflection. My early geographic history engaged my relationship with Morgan and the early "Green" team members, spending many a late day after guiding sipping adult beverages and conquering the world of fly fishing's dilemmas with historic and insightful chat and visions for the future. The level of respect for the sport, and the work ethic focused on superior craftsmanship abounded, and, was really viewed as a "normal" practice back then. From this, my appreciation for the people and their works made me a loyal green devotee and collector for that period and majority of my life since. However, I need to point out, that my respect and loyalty was toward the specific people, specific model rods, and not always just the brand. I've found similar solace and admiration for several other makers along the way as well. For me, a rod must be an experience, an emotional connection, to become anything more than a tool, and the older I get the more I desire to spend my precious time on the water having that experience and not just the act of fishing, with highly successful production being a very distant secondary consideration.

    In roughly 1988-1989 I purchased the new to market Sage RPL.....the rod was pretty, nice craftsmanship and solid hardware and cork, but it wasn't jewelry, as I was accustomed to. Still, by todays standards, it was a much more polished finish focused on competing with the standard cosmetics of that day. It was a "fast" rod back then, and in my mind, that era, mid-late 1980's was the turning point of when manufacturers began to compete for improved technology and new design vs strictly cosmetic and classic appeal.

    With this, my mind begins to think of form, performance, function vs cosmetics- and I'm sure like so many we logically will take a rod that's performance exceeds our expectations over pretty. Putting lipstick on a pig comes to mind. Nevertheless, I still yearn for the days that fly rod building was an art form, with a focus on producing not only beautifully crafted rods, but rods that fished amazingly well - mind still questions why we cant have those days back and why they went away in the first place....cannot a manufacturer produce an amazing technology, groundbreaking, rod of epic performance....and then finish the rods to the highest standards? Answer, they could....but... would that put them into a boutique niche of rods with a price point alienating the mass of average anglers? Certainly not some place a larger production rod maker wants to be in market.

    I suspect we mostly have always gotten what we paid for....whether that be cosmetics or performance or any combination thereof, and, have also settled for the standard menu offering on occasion, in a compromise of sorts, to get a portion of the characteristics we seek. I think each manufacturer has worked hard to establish themselves within the space with a particular, recognizable, signature of sorts, and worked equally as hard to maintain a loyal following, who expect a certain "type" of product from them, and they continue to deliver that to their following while trying to remain current and garner new adoptees of their brands. One can only assume that competition is fierce and each year or two another new development must come to market to keep leapfrogging against one another, jockeying for market position with the latest and greatest.....and somehow the "total package" aspect never rears it's head as part of that go to market strategy.

    To that, if the masses continue to show acceptance of the products by supporting purchases, it would be unrealistic to believe the manufacturers will ever go the extra mile if they don't need to. If they can sell more water than they can produce, there is no reason for them to freeze it and sell ice. Many makers have simply carved their place with a level of acceptance deemed ok by their following and, honestly, if its not broke, don't fix it, appears to be the new standard of today's business culture. Some innovation aside, I doubt we will see rod quality improve, as it pertains to finish, anytime in the foreseeable future.

    Bottom line, todays fly fisherman is not so ingrained in the nostalgic aspects, the history, the culture of the past, and is willing to accept a different experience than was once part of the intrigue of fly fishing, manufacturers have proven this to be true, and have adjusted their production to this target demographic and are positioning themselves to those new demands of their consumers. What was beautiful and elegant in the 50's,60's,70's,80's etc, is not embraced as such today....every decade had its new "modern", "current", "relevant" everything, fly fishing we are seeing what that new "current" looks like in 2018, just another chapter in the book. My last thought is I doubt the fish care what generation we are in, and I'm pretty sure they don't care what we are casting with....fishermen on the other hand.......IMO. YMMV. Outlaw out.
    Last edited by cooutlaw; 12-18-2018 at 08:31 PM.

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