Monday, February 3, 2014

On the Glass--Graphite Divide

"I just don't care about glass rods." I found myself saying this in response to Cam Mortenson's recent article (here) after a friend forwarded it to me. That friend and I proceeded to have a constructive conversation on the case of Glass v. Graphite, resulting in some much needed reflection. Below are some of my arguments and resulting conclusions from that conversation:

I will use a glass rod if that's what I have (or what is available to me), and I get and respect the reasonable arguments that glass does well in-close (short-range shots), is generally accurate, and is very durable.  I totally get that they can land fish of many sizes and species, and they have a distinct look to them in a market dominated by graphite. But these are not "advantages" of glass over graphite (e.g. accuracy is often facilitated by slowing down casting stroke). In fact, they could be seen as limitations. Whereas one can make a graphite rod into a full-flex, mid-flex, tip-flex, or super-tip-flex, one can really only make "slow" (i.e. full-flex) glass rods. With graphite, you can make a 3-weight rod anywhere from 6'-10' long and it will still be light enough for the weakest among us to fish all day without tiring. Hell, you could even make it a 7-piece pack rod and the weight would still be fairly negligible.  One could paint the blank whatever color you want (and frankly, I wish the graphite industry move a little faster on giving us livelier options).

But authors promoting glass often conflate action with material, and even action with advantage. This is what bothers me most. Graphite rods do not have to be broomsticks. The flyfishing industry has seen an accelerated movement toward constructing stiffer and stiffer graphite rods over the last 2 decades. This may have opened the door for the glass renaissance. But it is still valid to criticize the broomstick movement from within the graphite arena. You don't have to throw graphite out with the bathwater. There is still a diversity of graphite rod actions available from which to choose.

And this is where I think we should be moving the conversation: Rather than glass versus graphite--like some kind of material-based team identity constantly duking it out--we should debate under what conditions certain flex profiles ("actions") are advantageous. When is a super-stiff rod better than a mid-flex? In what situations is a mid-flex better? How about a super-slow or full-flex rod? Many people have already written about this topic, and yet it still resolves into identity politics (e.g. "I'm a tip-flex guy").

One conclusion from such writings and observations, and reinforced in my own fishing, is that slow rods, including many glass, shine in the 10-40' range. This is a distance where many fish are caught, and it is surprisingly important in both fresh- and saltwater. Rising trout in Driftless spring creeks is a common thought, but how about sight-casting redfish from the bow of a poling skiff? In the later scenario, single fish sometimes pop up right next to the boat, and a slower rod can be an advantage. Maybe a mid-flex is the more versatile, but you get my point. Conversely, when blind casting 70'+ from a beach with dunes behind you and rising surf in front, or when chucking 10" musky flies on sinking lines, an ultra-fast tip-flex rod is your best ally. You want something that can turn it over, punch in the wind, and do it quickly, without wimping out. You'll forget your blog- or forum-loyalties when the frustration of the "wrong gear" mounts.

So you've heard my point. If not, here it is: reducing the complexity of rod engineering to a dichotomy of materials-as-identities dumbs us down and can create a poor fit between gear and conditions, and, not to mention, unnecessary drama. Was that clearer?

And let's not forget, this is fly-fishing. Unless you are working in the industry full-time, it's probably not life or death. In fact, we fish with fly gear and not bait because we can, because we don't need, because we aren't desperate for food, and because we want to set ourselves apart from those who use other gear. Ultimately, it's a privileged passion. Let's not let it get to our heads.


  1. I do agree with you somewhat. I require a sturdy rod in certain situations - something a bit more rigid than fiberglass. I wouldn't mind a glass rod with small fish though.

  2. Can you think of a situation where glass Is better than graphite?

    1. RC,

      Thanks for the question and for reading. I've honestly been thinking about this off and on since you posted the question. I'm just not a glass guy. I honestly can't, but that's for the fishing I do with the casting stroke I have. If it's about aesthetics, then I'll concede that some glass rods have phenomenal looks to them that are unmatched from what we've seen in the graphite market.