How to Build a Modern Fly Rod at Home

Fly Fishing Expert Robert Levin explains how to build a fly fishing rod all by yourself so you can take extra pride in what you catch.

A man casts a fly fishing rod over bright blue water.

Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan

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Just about every major fly rod manufacturer offers fly rod blanks as well as finished rods for their popular models. Constructing custom-built fishing rods is a major pastime in this fly-fishing sports activity. There are also a number of companies that just manufacture rod blanks and do not offer completed rods. There are also many companies making the rest of the components that comprise a finished rod—such as thread, guides, reel seats, and cork hand grips. For those folks that put together a number of different rods, either as a commercial enterprise or just a hobby pursuit, there are mechanized tools and accessories of endless varieties and these represent a substantial investment. For those that would just like to try to assemble that dream rod or two, there are simple, inexpensive tools and accessories to accomplish that task available these days. For the handy craftspeople amongst us, these tools and fixtures are easy to make.

This article will take you through the steps involved in the building, demonstrate the techniques involved, and guide you on where to obtain the materials you will need. Understand from the outset that there is some practice involved and a learning curve for the techniques involved. However, no great skill is involved and these things are doable by the average hobbyist—but you can’t just sit down and make a $950.00 fly rod for a few hundred dollars! A large part of that cost is for the labor involved which you are going to supply. Besides the costs involved, just as there is an extra sense of accomplishment catching a fish on a fly you have tied, there is even a greater reward of satisfaction landing a lunker on a rod you have built.

Getting Started

Where to begin is typically the first question! Decide on the weight and length of the rod you want to build. For your first project, it is prudent not to start with a 12- or 13-foot Spey rod. Besides not having a space to do your work, a long rod will have more components like guides and handles which can be costly, and the whole thing will be unwieldy to get started. I suggest you purchase an inexpensive blank, possibly one that is blemished or scratched to practice with. Rod building supply companies will have these, and if you buy a manual winding fixture or stand, some winding thread, and finish from them, they may throw one in. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Get comfortable with mounting a guide using thread winding wraps as a first step. Once you master that, you can build any rod you like. If you have a rod that was damaged and you never had a chance to have it fixed, you can use that to practice mounting guides and wrapping them in place.

Product image of the eZ Rod Builder Hand Wrapper from Mud Hole.

The eZ Rod Builder Hand Wrapper

If you are not wood-crafty, you can purchase a stand for wrapping with instructions ready to go from Mudhole.

Otherwise, for you craftspeople, visit your local home improvement center and buy an eight-foot furring strip (1” x 3”). Cut it as shown in the illustration below. Assemble the pieces as shown.

A graphic that shows how to make a stand for wrapping your thread when making your own fly fishing rod.

Graphic by Robert Levin

If you make your own stands to hold the rod while wrapping on the guides, you can buy or make a small fixture to hold the spool of thread and create tension on the spool like the ones made by CRB.

Use the suggested design or come up with your own. These are the only things you need as tools to start to practice mounting guides—except maybe a razor blade to trim the tag end of the wraps. If you buy a wrapping stand as shown, it includes illustrated instructions on starting and ending a wrap. You can’t easily find these types of illustrations online and print one out to have in front of you as you work but there are a great number of excellent videos posted on YouTube, like the one below.

Guides

The materials you will need to practice are the rod blank, thread, and guides. Let’s go over guides first. There are two types of guides used on a typical fly rod: the stripping guide and the snake guide.

An image of the author's Snake Guides and a Standard Fly Rod Tip Top.

Snake Guides and a Standard Fly Rod Tip Top. Photo by Robert Levin

The bottom guide, closest to the reel, is usually a stripping guide. You are going to strip the slack line from the reel by grasping the line in front of that guide and pulling out at a right angle. It is almost always a complete ring of metal or a metal ring with a ceramic insert mounted in a frame. The frame will have one or two feet to mount the guide with. The guide is designed to minimize the friction of the line stripping action. Fly lines can be expensive and the better it does its job, the better it is for the fly line.

The second guide, up from the stripping guide, may also be the same construction on long rods but typically they are the style of guide called snake guides. These are short spirals that begin and end with a foot pointing in exactly opposite directions. These feet are also fastened to the rod with wrapped thread. Several manufacturers offer single-foot fly line guides that look like stripper guides but are lighter gauge wire construction. If you are going to use your fly rod in saltwater, make sure the guides are stainless steel or titanium and not just plated regular steel—most are.

Thread

Next, let’s consider the thread. Wrapping thread comes in endless colors and a variety of materials. The most common are nylon threads. It comes in several weights or thread diameters. Size A is the smaller diameter, and fly rods will typically be made with this size except for some 10-weight or larger rods which may use a size B or D on larger portions of the rod blank. The thread comes either with color preserver, impregnated or not. You can coat with the color preserver before coating the wrap with the final finish if the color change from the final finish coat is objectionable. When you become proficient with wrapping, you can consider decorative additions like metallic threads for trim lines. Starting and ending each wrap so no tag ends show is the thing to master.

Starting Construction

When you have reached this point, you are ready to start the construction of your rod. If you have not done so yet, it is time to select a rod blank. Blanks will be available as multipart sections—two, three, or four parts—with the joints of each section having been prepared, and they interlock smoothly and do not bind when you take the sections apart. Or they will be available as a single section with the option of you cutting it apart and using ferrules to make the connections of the separated parts. I suggest you avoid this type of blank and purchase a prepared multipart blank. If you have the place to store and transport a one-piece rod without cutting it apart, these rod blanks will be less expensive.

The next step is to select a reel seat and grip type and decide if you need a fighting butt section. Reel seats come in a number of quality levels depending on the materials they are made with. If they are made with metal, the metal parts can be plated steel, stainless steel, aluminum, or plated brass. If you are going to use the rod in saltwater, anodized aluminum and stainless steel work best and won’t corrode. If you are working with an inexpensive practice blank, a plastic reel seat can be used.

You will next choose a grip type or handle. Most fly rod handles are fashioned from cork. This material is available as a pre-shaped grip ready to use in several profiles as shown below. Some are designed to fit a particular reel seat so choose one that will fit the one you have. The other choice is to buy cork rings, assemble them onto a mandrel (holder) by cementing the rings together and shaping the profile of the grip by spinning the mandrel and sanding the cork with sandpaper as it spins. The mandrel can be chucked into a drill that is clamped to a work table and used as a wood lathe. A pre-shaped grip saves a lot of work and mess from fabricating a cork grip. It is worth the cost.

There will be some work required, even on a pre-shaped grip. You need to form a taper in the hole through the center of the grip. The process is called reaming. There are reasonably inexpensive reamers available to do that job. Yes, it adds to the final cost and you will not need that tool again if you only build one rod. You have this option. You can buy a rod-building kit. A blank, reel seat, grip, guides, and a tip top are sold as a kit. The components are matched to each other and the grip is taper reamed to the right size for you. This takes a lot of the selection decisions out of the process and many first-time rod builders choose this pathway.

A product image of three tip tops.

Tip Tops

Next, you will need to select and purchase a set of guides and a tip top. The tip top is the last guide at the end of the rod. It needs to be sized to fit the tip of the rod blank. The ring of the tip top is always much thicker in diameter than the wire of the snake guides. It takes the most friction pressure of any of the guides. The number of guides along the rod blank is well established as sort of industry standards. It depends on the final length of the rod and the weight line the rod casts. There are tables to reference for these measurements if you are not buying a rod kit which typically comes with a list of these measurements. You will find these on the guide manufacturers’ website and/or the building supplies vendor’s website. The information is out there—just Google it!

To begin assembly of the rod, you will mount the reel seat and grip on the rod blank first. You can’t put the guides on first because you will need to slide the grip down the rod blank to fit it and cement it in place. Same for the reel seat which will go on first in many cases. The reel seat and grip are held in place with glue. Epoxy glue works very well for this, it is waterproof and very strong. Dry fit the parts before you try to cement them. A light coating at the beginning of the part of the rod blank that will be covered by the grip or reel seat is all that is needed. As the part is seated onto the blank it will distribute the glue ahead of itself. Be careful with the excess glue so it does not drip onto parts that show. You can use some masking tape to protect areas where you don’t want any epoxy to cover. Excess can be removed from any mistakenly covered area with alcohol before it cures. You need to work carefully.

You are ready now to mark the placement of the guides on the rod blank using a pencil and tape measure. Before you do that, you want to determine the “spine of the rod” so you know where on the diameter of the blank to mount the guides. Flex Coat, the manufacturer of rod building supplies has some excellent videos posted online. The one below covers the subject of determining the spine of a rod blank.

For multisection rods, the tip section is the one you use to indicate the spine. Once you make that spine determination, mark the guide locations on the blank as per the guide placement table for guide spacing on your blank and proceed to wrap the guides in place. Before you mount each guide temporarily in place with a piece of masking tape to hold it until the wraps of thread begin to hold it, examine the leading edge of the mounting foot. In most cases, there will be some thickness to it. That will create a step when the thread wraps reach the edge and you don’t want that. The edge of the guide foot should slope away to nothing as you see in the example below.

The graphic reads "End of guide foot needs to be sanded flat." and "Thread cannot go up a step smoothly."

Graphic by Robert Levin

That can be done with a small file or a Dremel tool. You want no step where the thread meets the edge. You can prepare all the guides before you start the fastening process. Once you have the guides wrapped you are ready for the final step in the construction, applying a finish over the guide wraps. This process requires the correct workspace as well as the right materials and technique. I suggest you watch the video below.

You don’t need the rod finishing lathe shown in the video, but having an inexpensive rod turning device of some kind will allow applying and drying the finish evenly a possibility for you. Without one, you will need to apply a number of very thin coats with a brush on the stand you used for wrapping the thread, and even with the most care, the job will not look as smooth and even. Crafty people, consider something like this.

Rig this up with your stand for wrapping. Use a rubber crutch tip from the hardware store as a chuck to hold the rod and turn it. It becomes a rod finishing lathe. Or, you can purchase a rod-turning device like this.

Instructional Videos

Google ”Rod Building” and you will get a ton of choices. If you narrow it down by including “Fly Rod”, you get a group of choices that will include Bamboo fly rod making. Working with bamboo is much more difficult than constructing a rod using a rod blank made with fiberglass or graphite. The tools and equipment for creating the rod blank in bamboo literally take years to learn how to use. Not the place to get started in rod building even though it is fascinating to watch!

You’re Ready To Go

Hopefully, this article has helped guide you on the path to getting started with building a fly rod, even if you use a fly rod kit. There is a lot of help on this path out there. The rod building supply vendors like Mud Hole Custom Tackle and Get Bit Outdoors post a bunch of “How To” videos, as do the manufacturers of those supplies like Flex Coat, American Tackle, and many others. Angler's Workshop, Proof Fly Fishing, and The Rod Room are also great resources.

Many folks who have given rod building a try have really enjoyed it and it has become a favored pastime for them. They make additional rods for themselves, friends, and family. For some who do really well, it has become a part- or full-time vocation. Companies like Alps manufacture mechanized tools and equipment for rod building and you will see these illustrated in some of the learning videos you watch. The good thing is you can do this activity without making that kind of investment.

Consider giving it a try. If you have any questions, reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations. See you out on the water—get tight lines!

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Written By
Robert Levin
Robert Levin
Fly Fishing Expert
I have been an avid fisherperson since my teenage years. Caught the bug from my dad who fished exclusively with a fly rod. Not that he ever fished with a fly on that rod, he trusted the weight of the fly line as it would not break when he pulled a five foot Chain Pickerel out of the lily pads in the...
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