Our Wholly Biased Look at Fiberglass Fly Rods, Part II: The Builders

Category:
Fly Fishing
fiberglass fishing rod
fiberglass fly rod
fly fishing gear
fly fishing stuff
fly rod
mcfarland rod comapny
steffen brothers
tl johnson rod company
Added Date:
Wednesday, 30 Jan, 2008
Summary
There are a handful of small companies building glass, and a few larger companies dipping their toe in the technology, though by and large the bigger companies haven't fared well at fiberglass.
 
Content
What's New In An Old Technology (This is Part II: Read Part I here, and Part III here.)
If I described the number of fiberglass fly rod makers as "large" or even "booming," I'd be a liar.

There are a handful of small companies building glass, and a few larger companies dipping their toe in the technology, though by and large the bigger companies haven't fared well at fiberglass.

For example, the original Winston fiberglass fly rods (typically built on the vaunted Fisher blanks) were quite good, but the reissued Winston "Stalker" rods were universally derided as pale shadows of the originals (Winston no longer lists fiberglass fly rods on their Web site).


Scott rods offers four fiberglass rods, though an Undergrounder noticed their own reps didn't seem to know it.

In fact, look closely, and you'll uncover a recurring theme; the larger rod companies pigeonhole fiberglass as a material suited only to very short rods, yet those buying fiberglass fly rods are using them for everyday fly fishing on all kinds of trout water.

Which is where small, independent rod builders enter the picture.

Today, I'm going to cover three independent fiberglass rod builders, and handle the bigger rod companies and other manufacturers in the next installment. Off we go...

Steffen BrothersThough he's not well known to the general fly fishing public, Mark Steffen has been rolling exceptional fiberglass and graphite fly rod blanks in his one-man operation for years.

His smooth-casting, medium-actioned fiberglass rods offer a decidedly retro look; the opaque, maroon brown, unsanded blanks appeal to some (like me), but are unlikely to win many beauty contests.

Steffen Brothers fiberglass fly rod
Steffen's handwriting isn't much, but his fiberglass rods cast beautifully.

Despite the nostalgic appearance, his s-glass rods are all business, and surprisingly light.

In fact, you don't experience the real beauty of his rods until you're on the river "” they're exceptionally smooth, light-in-the-hand casters. Comparing rods and actions is an inexact science at best, but my feeling is that the Steffen rods play in the same range (action-wise) as the vaunted Granger and Phillipson bamboo tapers.

They're soft enough to protect light tippets and preserve a smooth, undefinable casting "feel" - yet strong enough to handle some wind, big fish, and big flies.


It's safe to that – on a purely technical footing -- his fiberglass fly rods rank with any currently being built. And at $300-$425 (depending on number of pieces), they're a bargain compared to top-flight graphite fly rods.

His reel seats and cosmetics are straightforward and functional, and don't be fooled by his Web site; it's years out of date. He now offers many models not listed (including his very fishable 5wt rods).

I own and fish a pair of Steffen rods -- 8' and 8.5' 5wts, (3pc and 4pc respectively) -- and while some suggest a good 8.5' 5wt fiberglass fly rod can't be built, Steffen's 8.5' 5/6wt suggests otherwise.

In addition, his 7'9" - 8' 3/4wt rods are universally loved, though I haven't fished one.


Closeup of the unsanded Steffen blank.

Steffen also rolls and build some exceptional graphite rods, but says that fiberglass fly rods are the fastest-growing part of his rod mix. Like McFarland's rods (see below), Steffen will build a fiberglass fly rod in about as many pieces as you want -- inserting internal spigot ferrules where needed.

Steffen doesn't build vanity fly rods, but he does build fiberglass fly rods that fish very well.

McFarland Fly RodsMike McFarland's glass fly rods are well known among fiberglass flyrodders "” both for their smooth actions and gorgeous appearance. Where Steffen's rods are (relatively speaking) high tech and plain looking, McFarland's rods harken back to a more traditional action and are frankly gorgeous.

Butterscotch-colored McFarland fiberglass fly rod
McFarland's blanks feature a butterscotch brown color (photo McFarland Rods)

They're still exceptional fishing tools, but McFarland uses e-glass (a slightly lower modulus fiberglass), puts a lot of effort into refining the appearance of his rods, and admits to preferring less-aggressive traditional tapers.

Available in multiple trim levels and in everything from 2-pc to ultra-portable 8-piece formats, McFarland's glass rods (the Spruce Creek Series) cover a wide range of actions: progressive, dry fly, and parabolic.

Read More The Underground Picks the Dozen Best Fly Rods of All Time Period

For the real diehard old farts, McFarland even offers fly rods with nickel silver ferrules, an "accessory" which heaps many of the maintenance issues associated with bamboo rods onto fiberglass (I'm passing on that one).

Like Steffen, McFarland is often willing to build you a rod that's not in his catalog, offering fly fishers a truly "custom" rod – a trait far more reminiscent of bamboo rods than today's mass-produced graphite.

A Mcfarland fiberglass rod and agate guide
McFarland dresses his rods with some serious bling (photo McFarland Rods)

He offers fly rods in 7' to 8'9" lengths, and from 3 to 7 weights, making him the only builder dabbling in longer, heavier line weight glass rods "” a space in the market often reserved for graphite.

The consensus is that McFarland's rods are a teensy bit slower than Steffen's efforts due to the slightly lower modulus material, though his stiff-butted dry fly rods won't necessarily feel that way.

I'd suggest they offer a strong appeal to traditionalists and bamboo fanatics, but in truth, things are just plain pretty, and very smooth.

TL Johnson RodsTerry Johnson's new fly rod company (TL Johnson fly rods, natch) is focused on its several lines of graphite fly rods, but Johnson clearly has a soft spot in his heart for glass rods.

His glass models are subtly different from the others; at their core lies a helix of graphite fiber which is surrounded by fiberglass, and as a result, his line of fiberglass rods fish a little "faster" than most glass.

A metallic olive TL Johnson glass rod
The metallic olive TL Johnson glass rod (photo courtesy TL Johnson)

When I spoke to Johnson at the retailer show in Denver, he said he wanted his rods to bridge the gap between bamboo and graphite, and a quick test of one of his rods suggested he's he's done so.

Currently, Johnson offers glass rods from 7' to 8' in length, in 4wt and 5wt models. His Web site lists only 2-pc models – a stumbling block if you're looking for a travel rod.

His glass rods are cleanly built and finished, and "” like most of the rod builders mentioned here – less expensive than a lot of the graphite rods on the market.

The rods I handled at the show were pretty – an olive color with nicely coordinated wraps – and I'd suggest their relatively sleek, modern appearance will appeal to those familiar with modern graphite rods.

Next Time...
I'll cover some of the bigger fiberglass fly rod providers, including the much-loved (and high-priced) Thomas & Thomas Heirloom rods, and one of the best values in fiberglass -- provided you can find one -- the Diamondglass rods.

See you on the river, Tom Chandler.

(This is Part II: Read
Part I here, and Part III here)

 
Reading Time:
5minutes
Featured:
No
Author
Destinations
 (1)
Nestled in the north end of the Sacramento Valley, Shasta County and its three Cities - Redding, Anderson, and Shasta Lake - are 545 miles north of Los Angeles; 162 miles north of ... moreSacramento; 433 miles south of Portland, Oregon; and 592 miles south of Seattle, Washington.

In 2004, as an effort to increase tourism in the area, the Sundial Bridge, designed by world-renowned architectural designer Santiago Calatrava, was completed. The Sundial Bridge casts its gnomon shadow upon a dial to the north of the bridge accurately once a year during the Summer Solstice. With the objective of providing pedestrian access to the north and south of Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Sundial Bridge has not only lived up to its purpose but has also become an icon for the City of Redding in the present day.

Redding is one of the best places to launch for Trophy Rainbow Trout & Trophy Steelhead Fishing in Northern California. A number of great rivers are within an easy drive and local guides can on any given day help you figure out where the fishing is great.

The Klamath river, Sacaramento river, Trinity River and the Feather river are all being frequented by local guides and fly fisher.
Fishing Waters
The Sacramento River is the principal river of Northern California in the United States, and is the largest river in California. Rising in the Klamath Mountains, near Mount Shasta ... more(in Siskiyou county), the river flows south for 445 miles, through the northern section (Sacramento Valley) of the Central Valley, before reaching the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay. It forms a common delta with the San Joaquin River before entering Suisun Bay, the northern arm of San Francisco Bay. The river drains about 27,500 square miles, with an average annual runoff of 22 million acre-feet, in 19 California counties, mostly within a region bounded by the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada known as the Sacramento Valley, but also extending as far as the volcanic plateaus of Northeastern California.
More than a river, the Klamath is part of a regional watershed that includes three of its principal tributaries – Wooley Creek, Scott River and the Salmon River. It is one of only ... morethree rivers that bisect the Cascade Mountain Range, traversing a wide range of topography from high desert to coastal rain forest. Beginning approximately three-quarters of a mile below the Iron Gate Dam, the river runs through until it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Administration of the river is split. The upper, 127 miles are managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The State of California, in concert with the National Park Service and various Native American tribes, manage the remainder. All of its tributaries, except a small portion of the Scott are under the purview of the US Forest Service.

The most notable characteristic of the Klamath is its variety of androgynous fish, supported by the river throughout most of their in-river life stages. These species include Chinook salmon (spring and fall runs) coho salmon, steelhead trout (summer and winter runs) coastal cutthroat trout, green and white sturgeon and Pacific lamprey. The river is also home to a genetically unique population of rainbow trout that have adapted to river’s high temperatures and acidity.

Considered by ecologists to be important to the area’s bio-diversity, the Southern Oregon and Northern California Coast coho are federally listed as endangered species and the Klamath River is a designated, critical habitat. This habitat also provides a home for other endangered fish including Lost River and short-nose suckers. Despite this designation, the river supports a thriving sports fishing industry as well as myriad other uses including white water rafting, birding, hiking and camping. 
The Truckee River is a stream in the U.S. states of California and Nevada. The river flows northeasterly and is 121 miles long. The Truckee is the sole outlet of Lake Tahoe and drains ... morepart of the high Sierra Nevada, emptying into Pyramid Lake in the Great Basin. Its waters are an important source of irrigation along its valley and adjacent valleys.

The Truckee River's source is the outlet of Lake Tahoe, at the dam on the northwest side of the lake near Tahoe City, California. It flows generally northeast through the mountains to Truckee, California, then turns sharply to the east and flows into Nevada, through Reno and Sparks and along the northern end of the Carson Range. At Fernley it turns north, flowing along the east side of the Pah Rah Range. It empties into the southern end of Pyramid Lake, a remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan, in northern Washoe County in the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation.

The Truckee River's endorheic drainage basin is about 3,060 square miles (7,900 km2), of which about 2,300 square miles (6,000 km2) are in Nevada. The Middle Watershed is regarded as the 15 miles (24 km) of river and its tributaries from Tahoe City in Placer County, through the Town of Truckee in Nevada County, to the state line between Sierra and Washoe counties. The major tributaries to the Truckee River in California from the Lake Tahoe outlet and heading downstream include: Bear Creek, Squaw Creek, Cabin Creek, Pole Creek, Donner Creek, Trout Creek, Martis Creek, Prosser Creek, the Little Truckee River, Gray Creek, and Bronco Creek. Major lakes and reservoirs in the California part of the watershed include Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, Independence Lake, Webber Lake, Boca Reservoir, Stampede Reservoir, Prosser Creek Reservoir, and Martis Creek Reservoir. In the Lower Watershed, Steamboat Creek, which drains Washoe Lake, is the major tributary to the Truckee River.
Trips
$
300
-
$
400
/ Angler
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
4 hours - 1 day
Enjoy a day fishing the Truckee River near Sierraville, California. With our extensive experience fishing the Truckee River, we have the vast knowledge needed to help you catch fish ... moreand have fun doing it. We specialize in guided trips for fishermen of all types from first-time anglers, to experts.
$
900
/ Boat
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
2 days
Destination:
The Klamath River is in prime shape for fly fishing in September and October. We fish the Klamath from a jet boat, which allows us to sample many productive runs in a single day. We ... morecan also ferry our guests in to Rivers West Lodge and use that as a home base. The Klamath River is a classic swing fishery and is best fished with a spey rod. We typically catch a mix of adult fish and half-pounders.
Outfitters
Steel Bridge Guides is located near Douglas City on the Trinity River in northern California. We specialize in fly fishing with spey rods and single-hand rods for steelhead. Our primary ... morevenue is the Trinity River. Our other destinations include the Klamath River, coastal steelhead rivers, the Lower Sac, and Lewiston Lake. We offer year-round trout fishing and steelhead fishing from August through March. Come up to the beautiful Trinity River Region and enjoy some quality steelheading on the fly!
Guides:
35 comments
Graham and Sam; You should mosey on over to Cameron's The Fiberglass Manifesto blog. He's constantly posting about some of the better indie builders.
0
0
Graham - nice I'm looking for a good blank for my rod builder to build. I need a 7-8 fiberglass bass rod
0
0
Wow, this thread has be going for over 7 years! I picked up a couple of Eagle Claw Featherlight fiberglass rods in the 5/6 and 4 weight versions and for under $30, they are really something for the low price.
0
0
If you guys need a good rod builder in USA burtoncustomrods@gmail.com builds all my rods. He does good work with any blank
0
0
So I have inherited a Carbonite Supreme Graphite rod. It's unused. What is a rod like that worth? Can't find much info. On it .
0
0
[#8230;] and Services: Red FIberglass Rod Finished The Fiberglass Manifesto: Sweetgrass Fiberglass Rods Our Wholly Biased Look at Fiberglass Fly Rods, Part II: The Builders #8211; The Trout Underground F#8230; Standard Lamiglas Rod - Prairie Drifter Taxidermy amp; Custom Fly Rods Echo Outs New, Truly [#8230;]
0
0
Tom, Have you seen Georges work at Tightloops? He is very gifted... is the new glass nice Tom? Right now I have a Winston boron 11t 5wt. and a Winston DL-4 4wt.
0
0
Cool. Think my 8' Steffen is the 5/6, so it'll be interesting to hear what you think.
0
0
Tom- Just ordered a Steffan 4/5 wt. That will be made by Tightloops in Transylvania. I haves fished with Winstons for a long time,but decided it was time to try the new glass! Hope I will like it without trying one out.... I live in Idaho and also fish alot in Montana...I think I have a 4 month wait! Tim
0
0
I think you'd be better served going to one of the classic fly rod boards (Fiberglass fly rod board, bamboo fly rod board). We're not really collectors here, which is the kind of person you need. Good luck!
0
0
I am looking for some info on my Winston 8'6" 5wt fiberglass rod I have been told it's a S.F. era rod. I would like to put new guides on it but have been told it is vintage...maybe I should leave it as it is? I can't find another one for sale anywhere...my thinking it is vintage. I have owned it for at least 25 years and love to fish with it. I just had shoulder surgery and bought Boron 2X and find ... more it has the feel of the glass without the weight. I sure would like some advice/ideas where to look for info...thanks, tightest of lines! Juan
0
0
I own a total of 6 Steffan Brothers Fly Rods, 5 for me and 1 custom beautie for my wife. They are in 8.5ft 3-4wt, 9ft 5wt, 9ft 6wt x2, 9ft 8wt, that I built from one of his blanks, and 9ft 9wt. They are all in the range 8-20 years old. I also have a coulple of the larger manufactures rods. The Steffan Bros rods are without compairson the finest rods I have ever fished. I guide with them, let clients ... more fish them, let friends fish them and without fail they all have said "that is a fine casting rod!" I am hoping to add one of his fiberglass rods to my selection for this next summer. Build them and fish them in the USA I say! The Lamson reels selection, designed and built in Boise ID, match them nice in form, fit function and a little fashion! Buy a Steffan Brothers rod you WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!
0
0
[...] Check out the three articles through this TU article... Our Wholly Biased Look at Fiberglass Fly Rods, Part II: The Builders | The Trout Underground Fly Fis... I would love to get my hands on one of these: Heirloom Series [...]
0
0
Don masten: I own a Garcia model 2073, a 7 1/2 ft fiberglass rod. Its been stored for 30 years in my closet in an aluminum tube. I have fished with it about 20 times this year. I Like it. Anyone own one?what's your opinion? fit, finish, quality?Thanks, Don I'm not real familiar with the Garcia models, though I do own an 8.5' 8wt (thought about using it for streamers) that's very fast, and regrettably ... more gaudy in appearance. What's sadly true about many of the 1970s and 1980s model glass rods is that they were darned ugly. Hopefully yours escaped that fate.
0
0
I own a Garcia model 2073, a 7 1/2 ft fiberglass rod. Its been stored for 30 years in my closet in an aluminum tube. I have fished with it about 20 times this year. I Like it. Anyone own one? what's your opinion? fit, finish, quality? Thanks, Don
0
0
[...] This is Part I of the series; read Part II here, Part III [...]
0
0
Will, I own a 4 piece 3/4wt Steffen that I have never had a problem with. These rods are not fragile like a Winston 5 piece LT. I recently inquired with Steffen fans that own the same blank in various number of sections and was informed that they feel no difference in sensitivity between there two piece and multiple piece Steffens. Rich
0
0
rich: Living not too far from the original Diamondback plant in Stowe I can't express enough how depressing it was to watch a business that made an outstanding product with a great group of employees get flushed down the toilet when Cortland bought it. Hard to argue with that one. They built some wonderful rods, and I have no idea what Cortland had in mind when they bought the company. My love for ... more Cortland doesn't extend much beyond the 444 fly line, and the mess at Diamondback was one reason why.
0
0
Tom, Living not too far from the original Diamondback plant in Stowe I can't express enough how depressing it was to watch a business that made an outstanding product with a great group of employees get flushed down the toilet when Cortland bought it. I used to drive over and cast rods, then stop in at the Flyrod Shop across the road to banter with Stowey. I purchased my first "expensive" rod(Carbonite ... more Supreme)right there at the factory from Bill. I am fortunate enough to have found 9ft 5wt Golden Shadow that was built in the early days when the company was at the top of it's game. It is the finest graphite rod I have ever cast. Rich
0
0
Mike, If you haven't done so already there are a few rod builders on the Fiberglass Flyrodders Forum that are simply the best of the best. As far as the Steffen 8ft 3/4wt, it's the only rod I fish with anymore here in Vermont. I am thinking on ordering a 8.5 5/6wt for landlocks and the annual Kingdom Steelhead run. Rich
0
0
Glad to hear you liked it. Steffen really does seem to nailing his tapers (at least in his fiberglass fly rods, I know little about his graphite fly rods). He's one of those builders who will be greatly missed when he's gone, but somewhat unappreciated while he's around (much like the Diamondglass fly rods were).
0
0
I ordered a Steffen 7.5 ft. 3 piece 2/3 weight a couple months ago and it arrived in time for our annual 5 day fish-a-thon on our southeast Minnesota spring creeks and I couldn't be more happy with the performance of the rod. It was the perfect rod for the tight fishing we experience on these creeks. Commonly you are only fishing 5-10 feet of flyline (and a 9 ft. leader) in very tight quarters. I ... more wanted a rod that would load quickly with a 3wt line and the rod was the ticket! The rod is very smooth casting and was perfect for pinpoint casting. The rod was a lot "faster" than I expected...it is definitely NOT a wimpy rod! I would describe it as a "medium" action rod with a very lite tip. It did a great job of protecting 6x tippets. I landed browns to 16" on the rod and it had great "backbone" while bending like you would expect (and want) a quality fiberglass rod to do! The rod looks great...but I've always have been a fan of the unsanded blank look and the wraps and hardware were A+. It is a very nice looking rod. The negatives? You do have to cast this rod. I normally don't false cast...at all...while fishing but with the medium action/fiberglass you need to false cast your way out to the fish. It does "shoot" the line...but not like a fast action rod. The big advantage of this is that you can really pinpoint cast this rod. In general, the browns in our spring creek streams have a very small feeding lane. As I was fishing the rod I was thinking this is the rod to fish accuracy is absolutely necessary... when 1" might as well be 1 foot away....they are not going to take your fly! It also NOT the rod to use in a wind...any wind! The 3 wt line just isn't a wind line...but with a fast rod to can compensate. The fiberglass just doesn't throw a tight enough loop. You need to slow down your casting stroke to fish this rod effectively....or you'll be throwing tailing loops (wind knots) all day! Bottom line: A+ Very nice looking rod with superior performance that was just plain FUN to fish and land fish on! The perfect small stream rod.- Andy
0
0
@Andy: I kinda like the retro look, and for sure I like my Steffen rods. Thanks for stopping by.
0
0
I own 5 Steffen graphite rods and they are all A+ fishing machines. I've ordered a half dozen 7.5 3p 3wts for friends and they all agree it's a favorite rod. After reading this article I'm going to order a glass rod and I'm confident it will also be A+. Mark's ability to make excellent muti piece (3 or 4piece) rods is tops. Comments were made about the unsanded blanks, I personally really like them. ... more They are not "bling" rods, but still very attractive. If your buying a rod for its "fishability" they can't be beat.
0
0
I've been fishing Dave Lewis' 6 piece 7' 3/4 for a few years now, especially on the Shenandoah Park streams, not far from where Dave builds them. They are beautifully built and finished, and fish like they look. This one is perfect for backpacking and tossing dry flies on little pools. Thanks, Dave, and thanks Tom for an informative article.
0
0
Graham: I like the low-buildup look of spar varnish. Arnaud: I understand that the 8' 3/4wt is one Steffen's own favorites, and everyone who owns one seems to like it. Glad we could help!
0
0
Tom, Just wanted to thank you for this article: I was already enjoying the blog for a while when this was published and I immediately feel that I needed a glass rod (right now!). I ordered a 8' 3/4wt from Mark Steffen: What a rod!! This is my main gear now and is a great pleasure to cast and fish. Keep on the good writing! Cheers from France, Arnaud
0
0
Tom, I believe that is correct, but take a close look at the workmanship. That's not epoxy either. Dave developed a severe allergic reaction to epoxy after many years of excellent epoxy work that forced him to use spar varnish. I think you will agree that his results are impeccable. Graham
0
0
The Dave Lewis glass rods seem to be using the Lamiglas honey colored blanks (they're discussed in the next installment).
0
0
Nothing beats the Dave Lewis series of fiberglass rods. See: http://tinyurl.com/2t7rqg and: http://tinyurl.com/2nq72f No commercial interests here! Graham
0
0
Mike: I can't suggest any builders off the top of my head. Dave Lewis is a good builder, but I don't know if he'll build on a blank you send him. And a Steffen will never look as traditional as a McFarland -- the blanks are just too different in appearance.
0
0
Man I love my glass rods with my favorite being a Vince Cummings 7 1/2 ft 5 wt...so smooth... Yes Glass has Class. Dano
0
0
Would you happen to have a suggestion for a custom builder? I would like very much to have someone build me a Steffen Bros. 3/4 weight rod with more traditional finishing, a la McFarland.
0
0
I think the rods are pretty strong, though the more ferrules, the more they move up the rod into the thinner tip material. Ian Rutter warned me that throwing streamers all day tends to loosen the tip section of rods with four or more pieces, but that's a fairly extreme kind of gig. Getting the tip section on and off my 4-pc Steffen is definitely a "focus, people, focus" moment, but travel rods are ... more pretty much the norm nowadays. I wouldn't worry about it.
0
0
I'd love to get a rod like Steffen Brothers for backpacking. How much do rod strength is compromised in adding pieces? Thanks for this excellent fiberglass series, Tom! -W
0
0

Discover Your Own Fishing and Hunting Adventures

With top destinations, guided trips, outfitters and guides, and river reports, you have everything you need.