Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody, Wyoming, retired National Park Superintendent

orvis fit and fineI own three fly rods that most outdoor writers and many fly fishermen would agree are among the leading names in the fly rod industry. One is a Sage eight and one-half foot, five weight, that I built from a blank in 1997, one is a Winston eight foot, four weight that I bought from Winston in 2004, they build them in Twin Bridges, Montana, and one is an Orvis seven foot, nine inch, Far and Fine, five weight that I built from a blank in 1973.

The Orvis rod broke about thirteen years ago. Orvis hasn’t made that rod with the same graphite material for many years. All of those rods are graphite. I liked the Orvis best of all. So much so that I hunted on Ebay for years to find the same rod and I bought it. The folks that had these rods were reluctant to let them go. You had to wait for someone to die and whose heirs were not fly fishing aficionados to see one appear on Ebay. I don’t know if that forty-three year old Orvis was made with IM6 graphite, but I suspect it was. My guess is Orvis would say the rods they are building today are light years of advancement over that old rod. While all the expensive rods of today are fine fly rods, the earliest of the graphite rods and some of the older fiberglass rods were very good as well. Name brand bamboo fly rods of today are truly “light years” of advancement beyond the $12+ bamboo rods of the 1950’s, but so is the price.

I’ve been a fan of IM6 graphite for years. It was one of the early formulations of graphite for fly rods. Fly rod companies are like all competitive businesses whether they are making fly rods, golf clubs, shaving razors, running shoes, cars or anything else. Each year they introduce and hype the “latest and greatest” in their new model of whatever they are selling. Sometimes it is true. The new five blade razor really is better than anything I have ever used previously. Among the worst offenders of introducing new “best ever” stuff are the running shoe companies and fly rod manufacturers. If you find a pair of running shoes that are really outstanding – buy five pairs, because next year the same model you liked so much might be available, but it will not be the same shoe. It will be “the new improved model.”

Such was the case with IM6 graphite fly rods. All the subsequent graphite rods that followed of Boron, Teflon, and high modulus graphite were good rods and fast action wonders, but they are not IM6 graphite. You can still buy IM6 graphite blanks if you are willing and able to build your own rod, but they are not easy to find. Search the internet for IM6 blanks or constructed rods. There might be someone selling completed rods of IM6 graphite, but I don’t know who it is.

The trend in the fly rod manufacturing industry for years now is that fast action is better. In most cases it is also the higher cost fly rods. IM6 is slow to moderate action not unlike a quality bamboo rod or several of the older fiberglass rods. Orvis labeled the action of their rod I built from one of their blanks in 1973 as “Fullflex.” If you have used or own one of the modern day expensive bamboo rods you know what that older, Far and Fine, Fullflex, Orvis graphite rod feels like. Now not every fisherman is thrilled with the action of bamboo or older fiberglass name brand rods such as the Browning Silaflex and Heddon or IM6 graphite. But if you do like the “Fullflex” feel; they are still available. And, unlike today’s high dollar bamboo offerings, they are affordable. The old bamboo rods I grew up with can be found on Ebay, but I don’t recommend any of them. Build an IM6 graphite rod or look for one of the name brand older fiberglass rods. If you are really lucky you might find one of the old Orvis, 7 foot, 9 inch, Far and Fine rods, but the sellers and potential bidders know their value and casting ability so be prepared for a high price.

Lamiglas is offering their fiberglass fly rod blanks once again. They are honey colored blanks like they sold years ago. I thought I would test one and bought their eight foot, five weight blank which I might build soon. IM6 graphite is lighter than fiberglass. I have built several IM6 rods for friends. If you like the so called “Fullflex moderate” action, I recommend you build an IM6 blank or find an IM6 built rod. I haven’t used a fiberglass fly rod since the early 1970’s when I fished exclusively with a Heddon Black Beauty fiberglass rod. I was fishing with that rod when a grizzly bear charged me from the other side of Pelican Creek in Yellowstone in 1968. Lucky for me the bear shut down his blusterous behavior in the middle of the creek or I would have been chewed on and lost another fine old rod. I gave that Heddon rod to a beginning fly fisherman shortly after I built and fished with the Orvis, seven foot, nine inch, five weight, Far and Fine rod that I built in 1973. I thought it would be the only rod I would ever need until it broke after thirty years of use.

3 Comments

  1. Liked your article Clay. I too prefer to fish a rod I’ve built, and to use softer actions than what they’ve evangelized for the last decade or so. To me it’s not the weight of a blank I care about so much, since I ought to be strong enough to fish all day regardless. It’s that a rod needs to “give back” just the right amount of stored energy, and at the right give-back rate. Modulus and taper both affect the give-back rate, and if that balance is just right then a sweet old-time feel can be the result.

    But as you say, that sweet feel gets less easy to find when everyone in the market is trying to out-fast-action each other.

    > or I would have been chewed on and lost another fine old rod.

    You certainly know how to identify the main horror of that scenario Clay! : )

    – Mike

  2. Clay, You can find a variety of Pacific Bay IM6 blanks on sale at Mudhole.com. I have built spin & fly rods for family only since about 1979, beginning with composite Fenwick flared blanks. My oldest son actually and his troop decided to build flyrods after they watched another young man and me catch fish after fish on an overnight canoe trip down the Brazos River. They then created a booth at the next Scout show in Texas Stadium and demonstrated the build of flyrods. They did indeed have the greatest visitor interest of all the displays. I am in the process of completing some old blanks and ran across a Lamiglas 8wt that I bought from Clemmens shop (he retired years ago) and only have the eyes to add. I have been using Pacific Bay Minima single foot tunsten eyes, sizes 4 for the 5 and smaller and then size 5 for up to 7/8 wt. They are lighter than the typical eyes and cast wonderfully. I also find that with some blanks that have a designed weight, will cast better on occasion with either a lighter or heavier line; i.e., a 5 may actually feel and cast as a 6wt and perhaps a 7 may be better with a 5 wt line. Hope you get your third Orvis before you damage the second. Tight Lines…..

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