Make Your First Fly Rod
February 20, 2019
When I received a Mud Hole rodbuilding kit a few days before Christmas, I had never built my own fly rod before. I’d thought about delving into the custom rod hobby before, but to tell you the truth I was a little intimidated. I tie flies fairly well, but I’m not exactly a “handy” person. I hoped this kit would change all that.
I was 13 the last time I attempted a custom project. That kit was designed to build a percussion cap pistol—the wooden kind that pirates carried. But that kit had terrible directions, and the pistol I built didn’t resemble the photo on the box. After its completion, one of my father’s friends suggested we shoot it. But even at age 13, I was smart enough to know that igniting gunpowder inside something I had made was probably a bad idea.
More than 33 years have passed between the pirate pistol and the day I opened a box that included a midnight blue, 9-foot 5-weight MHX Native 4-piece fly rod blank ($225, mudhole.com), Mud Hole’s Basic Rod Building Start-Up Supply Kit ($145), and nearly everything else you need to make a finished rod. Alcohol is the only additional item you’ll have to purchase: denatured alcohol for finishing epoxy guide wraps, and isopropyl alcohol to remove any misplaced epoxy. I also added a bottle of bourbon to my list of supplies to make the whole process as seamless as possible.
The rod-building kit includes an HWS Professional Hand Rod Wrapper (which requires a little assembly and customizing), a CRB drying motor to spin the rod while the epoxied guide wraps cure, and everything else, including pencils to mark the blank, razor blades for cutting thread, guides, tip-tops, glues, and epoxy. The thoroughness of the components and tools gave me comfort—someone very knowledgeable spent time putting this all together. While I started with two different products—a rod-building kit and a rod blank—Mud Hole also has a Turnkey line of fly rod kits that include both the blank and all the supplies in one package. You can save some money doing it that way as well.
Mud Hole doesn’t just abandon you with the blank and the supplies. Their rod-building support and instructions are excellent, and make this project accessible for anyone. My rod-building adventure began with a nice spiralbound booklet that walks you through each step of the process. A DVD shows the directions in even more detail. If that’s not enough, Mud Hole has a website with a complete knowledge center and a list of locations for twoday rod-building courses across the country. The booklet and DVD show how to build a spinning rod, but it’s simple to translate that into making a fly rod. [Watch the TV show Techsperts on Sportsman Channel March 24 and 31 at 8:30 a.m. ET to see an entire episode dedicated to building a Mud Hole rod.]
Expertise is part of what Mud Hole is selling here, and I strongly encourage you to adhere to Mud Hole’s recommendations during the build process. For instance, Mud Hole suggests tapping the cork grip to remove dust while reaming the handle. But I decided to blow it out instead. It worked well when I blew through the grip’s narrow end, but then I blew through the wide end, immediately filling my eyes with cork dust, requiring a water rinse to see again. It was decisions like this that turned my pirate pistol into a paperweight.
The only time you might get a little “creative” is with the guide spacing which is already somewhat subjective. Mud Hole suggest ten guides (plus tiptop) for a 9-foot 5-weight fly rod, and provides a complete spacing chart for accurate placement. I used only nine line guides on this build, and used one of my existing rods as a template for the guide placement. That’s one of the joys of building your own rod—you can customize and adapt these rods to get them exactly the way you like.
I’ve spent a lot of time in fly shops listening to picky customers complain about the smallest flaws in expensive factory-made fly rods. But I see the slight flaws in my rod differently because I made them. My thread wraps are a little long because I struggled to get the first ones started and then formed the rest to match. The epoxy finish on the wraps isn’t perfect because I found it difficult to remain steady on my kitchen table, and I have a tiny bit of epoxy on the reel seat that I failed to notice when I attached it. I’m still proud of the outcome, given that it was the first time I had done any of this. I plan on getting better; just as I did with tying flies.
Instead of finding imperfections on a $1,000 rod and becoming upset, my flaws make me smile as I remember the process. And when I took the rod for its first fishing trip, it cast a nice line and helped me enjoy the day just a little bit more because I tied the flies and even built the rod I used. And it didn’t even explode in my hand the way my pirate pistol surely would have done. That makes my first Mud Hole fly rod a great success.