Vail Valley Anglers: Fly rods, fiberglass versus graphite
Vail Valley Anglers
When an angler is looking for a new fly rod, the debate between fiberglass and graphite often rises. Durability, feel and price point are a few of the concerns that drive the decision. Breaking down the positive and negative attributes of both types of fly rods answers a lot of questions for anglers.
The fun-factor always comes up in discussions about fiberglass fly rods. If fun is the main reason an angler fishes, then fiberglass defines their attraction to this material. All other positive aspects of fiberglass rods support the end result of having more fun.
Why would anglers striving for the most modern components possible to fill their fly vests choose such a retro-material like fiberglass for a fly rod? It really does come down to the feel for fiberglass aficionados. Fiberglass enhances the feel associated with all aspects of fly-fishing.
Fiberglass is a long, continuous fiber and, when used in the construction of fly rods, it results in a rod that flexes the full length of the rod. Starting with the butt of the rod above the cork grip, fiberglass begins to bend when under stress. When anglers say they can “feel” the rod when casting with fiberglass it is the slow, deliberate casting stroke that loads the fly rod for the entire length of the rod.
Fiberglass rods are specialized tools for small water fly-fishing. The smooth flex of fiberglass presents dry flies with a soft touch. This is more fully appreciated when casting to spooky, high alpine cutthroat trout, beaver-pond brookies or on small spring creeks. The lay-me-down-softly characteristic of fiberglass compliments the small water game where anglers joust with natives.
Fiberglass possesses an extreme level of durability. These rods can take a beating and still deliver top notch performance. Stumbling on moss covered rocks and falling on irregularly shaped boulders shatters most rods, but fiberglass can handle the knicks and dings that come from combat fly-fishing on freestone streams.
Plus, the flex factor provides added insurance after the bite. When a trophy trout busts across the pool after the angler sets their hook, fiberglass absorbs the shock of the initial run.
Fiberglass rods provide economical choices for anglers looking for a niche rod or a specialized tool. Unlike graphite, fiberglass is inexpensive as a raw material.
There are drawbacks to the fiberglass rod, however. The increased weight in hand from fiberglass is the no. 1 negative. Fiberglass rods become noticeably clunky when you get into the higher weights. My 10-weight Echo BAG rod is very thick immediately above the grip but still a joy to fish offshore for Mahi-Mahi.
Fiberglass rods are not quick to cast where reaction time is critical. Slow line speed and reduced tempo cut into an angler’s ability to punch an accurate cast into the wind.
Graphite serves a wider purpose than fiberglass in the construction of fly rods. As a more modern and more common rod material, graphite is the primary choice for most anglers.
Graphite fly rods are light in hand compared to fiberglass. A graphite rod carries a quick stroke capability for those don’t-miss opportunities. When a chance presents itself graphite rods slam it out there with authority. As such, graphite rods are the tools for any water.
Graphite rods are considered fast action rods where the back bone (the rod section above the grip) remains stiff. The tip of graphite fly rods provides the flexibility to fight fish. However, graphite has some drawbacks. A rod with a stiff tip can stress fragile tippets to the point of breaking.
Another negative quality of graphite comes from thin, brittle rod tips. Graphite lacks the durability found in fiberglass. Graphite tips can break when stressed or over-flexed or when struck with a heavy nymph rig.
But for the most part, graphite is the material of choice for modern day fly rods. When it comes to graphite fly rods, versatility is key. Graphite rods come in such a wide variety of choices that anglers can always find a tool for the job.
The choice can be daunting. However, anglers with a specific tactic or targeting small water will lean toward the fun factor and the fiberglass rod. Fly fishers looking for a fast delivery with your fly will favor graphite rods all day. You owe it to yourself to see how fiberglass and graphite feel. Stop by your local fly shop to compare the two and choose what feels best for you.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.