The basic rod usually comes in at least two sections, joined either by a ferrule or by the top section fitting into the lower one to make a smooth joint. The butt is covered with cork rings to create a firm and warm grip, and a series of carefully spaced rod rings, plus a tip ring, channel the line so that it follows the curve of the rod, but does not touch it when playing a fish.
Once, the best rods were made of bamboo cane, split into lengthwise sections and then glued together in the form of a hexagon. This is called buih-cane, and the method of construction, combined with carefully worked-out tapers from butt to tip, gave these rods remarkable resilience and strength, and an action which sets the standard for fishing rods to this day.
Cane has its drawbacks, however, the most serious being thai it can deteriorate rapidjy if it is not kept dry. When used harshly and for long periods a ‘set’ or permanent bend can become fixed so that it no longer makes a straight line. The craftsmanship involved in building rods from cane could not be copied by automation, and neither could the finishing processes which included varnishing and whipping with colourful silks to attach the rod rings.
After World War Two a period of rapid development in rod design began. Man-made materials had become available and manufacturers started searching for something that would reproduce the ‘feel’ and action of cane, but without its weight, cost and tendency to deteriorate.
The quest for an alternative rod-building material led first lo solid fibreglass, which could be produced in tapered lengths. The colour was an attractive green and looked fine, but these rods lacked finesse when compared with built-cane, and anglers began to describe their action as like ‘liquorice sticks’.
It was not long before the problem was solved. The manufacturers found that fibreglass could also be made in hollow tubes, and when they were produced in tapered lengths, with cork bulls and rings whipped on, their action was a great improvement on the solid glass types. A bonus was an even greater saving in weight.
Above: The taper of the rod defines the action — the way it bends. This float fishing match rod has a through action, and bends smoothly throughout its length.
Fibreglass is virtually unbreakable, totally waterproof and when made in large quantities relatively cheap. The first glass rods were manufactured in the USA. but soon other countries acquired the plant to make them and they quickly supplanted cane rods. A few anglers remained loyal to traditional cane, but since the demand had dropped off the costs rose, making rods in that material very expensive and even less attractive to the average buyer.
Hollow fibreglass rods for all fishing styles remain plentiful and very competitive in price, but as with all manufacturing and retail industries change is the name of the game. Another material has been adopted for rod-making which is even lighter than fibreglass. It is carbon fibre, yet another US invention, and in rod sections it is finer than glass and weight-for-weight much stronger. The only thing preventing it from completely supplanting fibreglass is its price, but this is slowly dropping to within the range of the average angler’s pocket.
Freshwater fishing rods are available in a number of styles designed to meet the needs of float fishing, match fishing, legering. and spinfishing. Float rods come in lengths of up to 14ft (4.3m), enabling underarm casting to at least 28ft (8.6m), depending on the angler’s skill and the immediate area of the swim. Leger rods can be shorter, varying from 9ft to 11ft (2.7-3.3m). Their taper is less acute than that of float rods, giving what is described as ‘fast’ action – the tip does not bend strongly, so the effect on the line is more direct for striking at long range.
Spinning rods are usually quite short, with a whippy tip action for casting artificial lures. Specialist rods run from short thin models called ‘wands’, used for fishing narrow streams where casting is close-range. to heavy ‘feeder’ rods capable of casting laden swimfeeders full of maggots orgroundbait out into large. powerful rivers.
About 20 years ago, specimen hunters began designing their own rods, which needed to be capable of casting large baits a long distance, and capable of resisting the battles of powerful fish such as carp, barbel and pike, but at the same time retain the action which makes playing a strong fish so satisfying and exciting.
The first of these rods was the Mk. IV carp rod, 10ft (3m) long with a medium action all through its length. Later, a lighter version, not so powerful, appeared called the Avon. This had more ‘feel’ when playing a fish and at the same time had almost the same stopping power. Last came the ‘stepped-up’ Mk. IV, a powerful rod which could be used to cast whole herrings and other sizeable fish baits out to deep swims when pike fishing.
Another quite different kind of rod is the ‘pole’. It has a very long history and used to be made of very long bamboo canes, each heavily whipped for strength, with a lip section of bone. These poles were up to 22ft (6.7m) long, and had the line attached to the tip end, no reel being used. Pole fishing has become very popular with Continental match anglers.
Above: Simple rod rings are fitted to light rods but the rings on heavier rods are strutted and often lined for durability .
With the advent of fibreglass, poles became even more widely used, and the saving in weight was considerable. Then came carbon fibre; so light are these poles that they can be made in lengths of up to 40ft (12m).
Below: Most pole fishermen use a pole about 20ft (6m) long. The end tackle is attached to a length of elastic fixed to the rod tip.