On board boat you cannot ‘make do’ with a general-purpose rod: you need the correct gear. In a day or two you can make just that, tailored to your own specific needs.
Building a boat rod is quite simple and can be done in two or three evenings. The tools required are two files—one rough, one smooth; sand paper—medium and fine; a razor blade, and a good glue.
The right test curve
Select the blank according to the type of waters it will be used on. Most good tackle dealers carry a comprehensive range of blanks and can advise you of the best test curve for the fishing you intend to do. As guidelines, in shallow water, with not much of a tide run, a 20lb test curve is ideal. In deeper water, requiring weights from 14oz to 2 lb, a 30lb test curve is correct. For wreck fishing and really heavy work, select a blank with a 30-50lb test curve. The hollow glassfibre blank has a much better action and is lighter in weight than a solid glass blank. Car-bonfibre blanks are also available: these are lighter and thinner than hollow glassfibre rods, but are usual- ly two or three times the price. Commercial boat-rod blanks are usually 5-6ft long.
The reel fitting and the rod rings are a matter of personal preference but should be the best you can afford because they are subjected to a lot of wear. Remember too, that saltwater is a corrosive. The Modalock screw winch reel fitting is an excellent design, holding the reel firmly on the rod, one of the absolute essentials for playing a large fish. The expense of a really good stainless steel winch fitting will pay off in the long run.
The average boat rod is 6-6V&ft, with five intermediate rings and one tip ring. Buy the tip ring at the same time as the rod blank, as the tops of rods vary in size. Roller tips are normal on stiff action rods where heavier lines are used. When wreck fishing, for example, the thicker lines used in these deep waters run smoothly through roller tips. For the same reason, they are the most suitable tip rings for use with wire line for this line wears rapidly through the usual static tip ring.
Cork is probably the best material for a boat rod handle, especially in the winter when hands get cold. If you are going to make a full 20in cork handle, you will need approximately three dozen corks. About 20 or 22 corks are slid down from the top and are glued in position as described for ledger rods in section 28. The corks that will seat the reel fitting are then added and, when they are dry, the remaining corks are slid on. If you are using a fast-setting glue some of the filing necessary can be done on the first night. Using a rough file, gently rotate the rod as you work, to make a shape which suits your grip. Complete the shaping with a medium file, and fine sandpaper. To achieve a really silky finish, you can purchase flour paper—a very fine type of sandpaper. If a butt cap is to be fitted, file down the corks so that one can be glued and pushed on to the base.
Cork and wood handle
An alternative to the full handle is to put corks above the reel fitting and fix a wooden butt below it. A butt can be purchased pre-cut and shaped, and is handy if the rod is not as long as you would like—it adds about 1ft to the finished length.
The section is filed to size (if necessary), glue is applied and pushed up inside the glassfibre. The reel fitting is then attached over the join between the wood and glassfibre, as this strengthens the union.
The spacing of the rings on a boat rod must be correct but is not as critical as on a beachcaster or a freshwater rod. Fit a loaded reel on to your handle, place the tip ring over the tip and tape the rings on in line with the reel fitting. Approximate measures should be 5in from the tip ring to the first, 6in from that to the next, 8in to the next, 12in to the fourth and 15in to the bottom one. Thread a line and, under tension, check before whipping that the rod rings follow the natural curve of the rod. The colour of whipping silk for the rings should suit the colour of the blank. Some tip rings only require gluing but others have side legs which need to be glued and whipped like the other rings.
As in all things you get what you pay for, and to economize on rings is a big mistake. Cheap guides do not stand up to even moderate wear for any length of time, and while your whippings may hold the legs in place, the chances are the bridge will come adrift the minute you start to bring up a worthwhile fish.
The development of rod guides is now at a very sophisticated level, and materials tested over long years and used in various aspects of America’s space programme have been incorporated into top-class rings. Frames designed to be shock absorbing are fitted with a variety of centres including white porcelain, aluminium oxide (a hard substance that resists the cutting action of wire line), silicon nitride (which is even harder) and industrial sapphire and ruby. Oxide- and silicon-nitridecentred rings are best for the rugged hurly burly of deepwater boat fishing. The choice of frames is wide, but a threelegged, one-piece construction is ideal for all aspects of deepwater sport. They suit, in particular, jigging and trolling techniques. This makes them ideal for working a pirk or string of lures over wrecks where the largest pollack, coalfish and ling feed. This branch of sea fishing exposes the slightest weakness in a rod ring.
Rings with a lower profile and oversized feet, suitable for bottom fishing, are available if preferred. This type is normally fitted to rods in the 50lb IGFA class.
Some guides glow in the dark, which obviously has a number of advantages for the night fisherman.
Whippings need to be sealed with varnish to preserve their colour. For the whole rod, ‘exterior’ varnish is the best choice and two or three coats should be applied with a small, fine brush or the fingers.
To maintain your boat rod in the same gleaming condition as on the day you finished making it, it is necessary to routine maintenance. After any day’s boat fishing, dry the glassfibre with a soft cloth and wipe the handle with a damp one. Once a month, check the smoothness of ring linings with the side of a pin and rub the spigots with a knob of candle wax. Scratches in the varnish can be touched up, too.