Friday, November 10, 2017

Memories Of Glass

The Old Days:

Sometime around 1952, the year I was born, Heddon introduced a line of fiberglass/resin flyrods. These were a beautiful tobacco color as organic as a willow branch, & had the old silk line designations printed on them. As there was no metric for glass rod actions at the time, Heddon attempted to match the actions of the fine bamboo ‘Heddon Pal’ rods they were known for, & succeeded admirably.    

We lived on Tucker Lake in 1960, the year fatty boom-boom Danny Cody, the mean kid down the lane, broke the old bamboo flyrod my grandfather had given me. Danny had a new push-button outfit & we were fishing (nightcrawlers), & he was feeling pretty smug thinking he owned the superior rig, & when I caught a seventeen inch brown he sulked, convinced the trout was actually meant for him & that I’d somehow usurped his chance at it. Then when I capped the brownie with a nice brookie Danny, still fish-less, broke, grabbed the rod out of my hand & busted it over his knee. He laughed. I was eight & Danny was ten & better than a head taller & with sixty pounds on me, easy. Heartbroken, furious, I rushed him – & that got me a pounding to go with the broken rod.    

As a replacement, my dad bought me a glass casting rod & Zebco push-button reel. The outfit was cool, but I was a flyrodder, & my grandfather stood in appreciation & full support of that fact, & came through with a new 8’ 6wt Shakespeare Wonderod glass flyrod. The Wonderod was white with red wraps, the blank taped in a unique spiral pattern. Though I liked the casting outfit okay – like for tying to the family dock overnight baited with small bluegills meant to catch the big bullhead catfish I occasionally sold to the ancient Goose Lady – I discovered the flyrod a better tool for delivering wee poppers to smallmouth bass, which I considered ultimate fun.  

Thus equipped, I was feeling well-turned-out & dangerous when we moved to Millbury the following year, where the Wonderod earned me the distinction of being the only kid in 4th grade busted three times in one month for ditching school to go fishing. I was unstoppable, having discovered the smallies spawning in a back cove of Dorothy Pond, & the poppers turning the trick. The Millbury cop who’d already caught me twice was so pissed the third time he purposely ran over my bike intending to put me out of business once & for all. He also confiscated the Wonderod, then, red-faced & grinning like a crazy man, broke it twice over his knee while I watched in horror. Probably a blessing in disguise because my dad (who I suspect was secretly proud) was so angry the cop had destroyed my bike & rod that he let me go unpunished, pretty much, & even went as far as smoothing things over with the school authorities, somehow.

My grandfather, ever reliable, came through with a replacement, the sweet caramel colored, 8’ 6wt Heddon Pal glass that made the move to California & lived up to its name through ten seasons of hard use until meeting its demise somewhere near Eugene, Oregon, when it blew out of the back of a badly loaded pickup speeding north on I-5 on a day of high winds, strapped to my backpack frame, & shattered on the road (along with the pack).

After the road mishap, old enough to work & able to afford them (barely), I owned several Fenwick glass rods, & loved them all. But the crowning glory of my strictly glass career was the beautiful, deep-amber Cortland Leon Chandler S-glass, 9’ 6wt; a feather-light dream & long-caster that upped my game considerably. By then graphite was coming in &, young & stupid, I felt I needed to ‘upgrade’ to graphite. Couldn’t afford a new one so I traded the Leon Chandler toward a clubby first-run Fenwick graphite that I never got used to. I still suffer an irritating twinge whenever recalling that sorry trade.   

A Couple Years Ago:

Some might remember I posted something about finding a vintage1952, 8’ Heddon Pal Thorobred glass rod at a garage sale a couple years ago. Though the wraps & guides were rotted beyond use, the blank, reel-seat & grip were still very good. I finally got around to re-wrapping it, mounted my old high school Medalist to it, & took it up to the river for trials. Though rated for a D- HDH silk line, I found it throws an AFTMA 5 or 6wt equally well. And maybe it’s just me, but I think this is the best casting rod of its class I’ve ever casted. Seriously.

While re-wrapping the old Heddon, I went ahead & replaced the guides & wraps on the Russ Peak 7'6" 5wt pictured at left. Russ Peak was known as the 'Stradivarius of Glass', & a day on the water casting this sweetie leaves you with no doubt why.  

Has there actually been real improvement in the castability of trout rods since 1952? Well, some might argue: no, not really.

This Past Summer:

We got back to glass in earnest this past summer. My friend Jeff Cottrell is an ambassador for Red Truck, & they sent him a 7’6”, 4wt glass to try out. Caramel colored & nicely appointed with quality components, & very light weight, it came equipped with a matching, click-pawl, Red Truck Diesel reel. It is a classic glass outfit with timeless good looks. Jeff lined it with a WF 4wt Cortland Trout Boss floating line. We took it fishing during the Drake hatch &, to my surprise, after slowing down enough to catch its load rhythm, Jeff was able to throw distance equal to the 9’ graphite he’d been fishing, & looked a hell of a lot more graceful doing it. Once into the groove Jeff smiled the smile of serene satisfaction, & I was reminded that the slow yoga of casting glass & the serenity it engenders was once an integral aspect of our game. Quite different than the hyper-rhythm, first-strike intensity of speed fast-action graphite brought to casting. Every time Jeff hooked a trout & it would run, we’d whoop to the sound of the reel’s screaming clicker. 

Jeff Cottrell with UC redband & Red Truck glass 4wt
 Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply glass is better than graphite. I should parse this by saying graphite definitely has its place, particularly in big game rods & rods over, say, 9’ in length. Graphite really comes into its own in longer rods. I’ve not met a glass Spey rod that I’d trade my graphites for. But does graphite outperform glass in trout-weight rods in lengths most commonly used? As regards the average caster, I’d have to say no. Guiding, the problem I see most often is anglers unable to cast 30 feet. As it takes 30 feet of line beyond the rod tip to even load the rod, you’d think being able to lay out 30 feet is a given. But no. Variables of excited expectations, fatigue, wind, boat movement, bad casting habits, you name it, conspire to somehow truncate that minimal 30-foot distance into a dreadful heap on the too-nearby water. Guy has a $700 rod, only gets out six times a year (or less), & has a hard time throwing 30 feet of line. My solution? The old refurbished Heddon Pal, which I began carrying as an extra rod. When I see somebody having trouble I have them try the Pal, & in most cases their casting distance improves immediately. It’s not that this rod eliminates bad habits, but that the load-holding glass is more forgiving of them. And once the client is slowed a bit, I’m better able to observe the cast & help with the problem(s).

I’d just started carrying the old Heddon when John Gierach came to fish with me this past summer, & hadn’t had the chance to catch a fish on it yet. If you’ve read his books but never fished with him I can assure you Gierach really is That Guy. He is light, confident & fun to be with, as accomplished an angler as he is a writer (he gets a lot of practice). We were doing pretty good on the UC redbands until just about dark when John’s dry & dropper rig became hopelessly tangled. Quickly running out of light & with not much time left before we needed to get off the water, rather than re-tie a new rig I handed him the old Heddon set up with an emerger version of the Black Quill Drake we were fishing over. Second cast, John put the emerger right on the seam, gathered line just fast enough to keep contact with the fly while it swung, & wham-O, the old Pal awoke to a new life in the hands of John Gierach, bent into a wild, 20” UC rainbow gone ballistic. I netted the trout in near dark & we admired it for a moment while praising the 65 year old glass rod, both agreeing it possessed great mojo.

Cortland Trout Boss
A Good Trout Line:

Got to try out quite a few trout lines through the past season & feel compelled to mention Cortland’s Trout Boss line as the best of show for delivering dry & soft-hackle flies. This is the line Jeff Cottrell & I settled on for lining our glass rods, though it performs equally well with graphite. The WF Trout Boss casts like a good weight-forward, yet presents with the delicacy of a double-taper. The Trout Boss floats dutifully through long sessions, while the low-memory running line remains supple & tangle-free. Simply, a good, no-bullshit, all-around trout line at any distance – the Cortland Trout Boss is true to its name. I think most soft-hacklers would really like this line. And a bonus: it comes nested in a handsome, utilitarian tin.