Glass fi­bre rods

How mod­ern glass rods can im­prove your fish­ing, pro­tect you from elec­tro­cu­tion and save your mar­riage...

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

David Felce raves about glass fi­bre rods while on hol­i­day in Spain fly-fish­ing for carp

ALITTLE knowl­edge is a dan­ger­ous thing. I’m no ex­pert on cast­ing or the prop­er­ties of glass fi­bre, but I know enough to be dan­ger­ous. To your wal­let, at least, but I’ll come back to that. No-one in his right mind would sug­gest that a new fish­ing rod will make you a bet­ter caster or fish­er­man overnight. What a glass fi­bre ver­sion could do, though, is im­prove your fish­ing en­joy­ment and maybe just save your re­la­tion­ship. So, the mod­ern glass rod (var­i­ously known as ‘fast’ glass, uni-di­rec­tional glass or S-Glass) - what is it? What makes it dif­fer­ent to orig­i­nal glass fi­bre and sub­se­quent car­bon/kevlar/boron com­pos­ites? And why should you care? It’s just mar­ket­ing hype, right? Not this time.


Ob­vi­ously, man­u­fac­tur­ers have a vested in­ter­est in clos­ing sales. But I’ve got some science and anec­dote to share with you which might just make you think again. I started out with glass fi­bre; a handme-down fly rod with a bro­ken tip. Once I’d whipped on a new tip-ring and ac­cepted that the thing would never work prop­erly with a spin­ning reel and float gear, I started learn­ing to cast a fly line. It wasn’t a great suc­cess. A howl­ing gale on one of Bri­tain’s largest reser­voirs was hardly the ideal learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but it was even worse for a scrawny 12-year old with only a book to learn from and a big, floppy glass fi­bre rod. Fast for­ward a few years, with the rod moth-balled and me in the rel­a­tive Shangri-La of em­ploy­ment, in a lo­ca­tion

with an ad­ja­cent trout pond. Oth­er­wise, things hadn’t im­proved much: my tim­ing and feel were bet­ter, but the rod still felt soft, heavy and clumsy. I lacked an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the me­chan­ics; the need to slow down the for­ward stroke to al­low the rod to flex and load. Still un­aware of such de­tails, I man­fully strug­gled to cast for the hori­zon, the re­sult be­ing piles of line heaped at my feet. Ab­so­lutely no fish were harmed dur­ing this process. Prac­tis­ing one lunch-time, I be­came aware of be­ing watched by a cou­ple of con­trac­tors on a cig­a­rette break. As my ef­forts re­dou­bled to no avail, one of them wan­dered over and asked if he might try the rod him­self.


Never be­fore had I seen so much of my fly line. It soared to the far bank, landed like this­tle-down and im­me­di­ately tight­ened as Andy (soon to be­come a firm friend) was into the fish. While I was still pick­ing my jaw off the ground he made to hand the rod back to me. I had the good grace to refuse. So now I knew. You could put out a good line with old-school E-Glass (to use its of­fi­cial name). Yet to be learnt was the time and ded­i­ca­tion this en­tailed. Time moved on, how­ever, and an in­tro­duc­tion to mod­ern graphite led to a fas­ci­na­tion with the ‘arms race’ to­wards ever lighter, crisper cast­ing rods, cul­mi­nat­ing in the for­mi­da­ble Sage TCX; ar­guably one of the fastest blanks on the mar­ket. This rod is, with­out ques­tion, the world’s slimmest can­non. Even a medi­ocre caster like me can, with a lit­tle prac­tice, fire vir­tu­ally a full line into or­bit. Just the thought of reach­ing that un­reach­able star is a be­guil­ing propo­si­tion for the aver­age caster: like other, more frowned-upon ar­ti­fi­cial stim­u­lants, it’s highly ad­dic­tive and can lead to bank­ruptcy and ru­ined re­la­tion­ships. Se­duced by this cast­ing Nir­vana, the mer­est men­tion of glass was now enough to make me snort with de­ri­sion at the mem­ory of my past strug­gles. Let’s fast-for­ward again to more re­cent times. The scene is re­mote, cen­tral Spain, sear­ingly hot be­neath a cloud­less sky. In crys­tal clear wa­ter at the foot of a dam, some de­cent fish, pre­sum­ably barbel, lazily pick off in­sects trapped in the sur­face film. I’m con­tem­plat­ing a cast when an­other move­ment catches my eye as the dark shadow of a much larger fish cruises in. It’s a big carp. All thoughts of barbel are ex­tin­guished as I tie on a size 8 San Juan’s Hop­per and pre­pare to cast. As the fish be­gins to feed, ‘cloop­ing’ nois­ily, I know you’ll have one shot, and one shot only. No longer are those beads of sweat just down to the heat. Some false casts, par­al­lel to the shore, to ex­tend the line with­out spook­ing the fish; then, with the line still aeri­alised, I switch di­rec­tion and fire it to­wards the in­tended tar­get. The line rolls out per­fectly, gen­tly de­posit­ing the grasshop­per im­i­ta­tion a me­tre or so in front of the fish. Time stops. “Cloop.” Nearly there. “Cloop.” Closer still; here it comes.... My grip tight­ens im­per­cep­ti­bly on the rod grip. Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. Too soon and I whisk the fly from its mouth. Too late and... “CLOOP.” The ‘hop­per van­ishes in a swirl. I lift the rod, feel the re­sis­tance and strip set-the hook. There is a mo­men­tary pause as the big fish re­alises its mis­take, then the calm sur­face erupts as the le­viathan rock­ets to­wards Por­tu­gal. The rod tip flexes slightly and line starts to pour from the reel. Bang. That’s it. Gone. Game over. Finito ben­ito. Los En­dos.


Iso­lated by the un­com­pro­mis­ing na­ture of the su­per-fast-ac­tion graphite rod, my vul­ner­a­ble 5kg tip­pet has sur­ren­dered,

“What makes it dif­fer­ent to orig­i­nal glass fi­bre and why should you care? It’s mar­ket­ing hype, right? Not this time.”

leav­ing that beau­ti­ful big carp swim­ming off with a sou­venir hook in its mouth, and me feel­ing sick to my boots. Hop­ing no-one’s watch­ing, I feel des­o­la­tion per­me­ate my soul. Not that fast-ac­tioned graphite was the only cul­prit here. Old tip­pet ma­te­rial, poorly tied knots and op­er­a­tor er­ror may well have been its part­ners in crime. I’ve caught enough carp and barbel, how­ever, both in­cred­i­bly hard-run­ning fish, to know that the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the rod haven’t helped. And as none of us likes to leave a fish with a hook in its mouth, I owed it to my­self and the fish to avoid any re­peat. Re-en­ter glass. But new glass, not old glass. This is S-Glass. The rod that blends the crisp­ness, light­ness and high speed of graphite, and the feel, pre­sen­ta­tion, and tip­pet pro­tec­tion of glass doesn’t ex­ist yet. But S-Glass brings it damn close. I’ll keep the tech­nol­ogy brief. Glass is heav y, soft and slow; but re­sis­tant to dam­age and rel­a­tively cheap. Car­bon is light, stiff and fast; but rel­a­tively del­i­cate and ex­pen­sive. ‘Mod­u­lus’ is a term much bandied about (‘high mod­u­lus car­bon’, for in­stance) and is a mea­sure of the ma­te­rial’s re­sis­tance to bend­ing. For car­bon fi­bre it’s around 4.50 GPa (Giga pas­cals, a unit of pres­sure), while for E-Glass (the type of glass fi­bre orig­i­nally used for fish­ing rods) it’s around 75. That big dif­fer­ence makes car­bon, weight for weight, much stiffer and there­fore more re­spon­sive, re­quir­ing a shorter cast­ing stroke to ping out a good line. Elas­tic yield strength, on the other hand (also mea­sured in GPa) is the mea­sure of the stress limit beyond which per­ma­nent de­for­ma­tion will oc­cur. In car­bon, it’s 60 GPa, but in E-Glass it’s 2,800 GPa. That’s why car­bon will de­form way be­fore glass does. It will snap rather than con­tinue to bend. This must be put in con­text, though. Any de­cent rod man­u­fac­turer will tell you that, us­ing the right com­bi­na­tion of ma­te­rial com­po­si­tion, wall thick­ness etc, it’s easy to repli­cate al­most any ac­tion us­ing any of these ma­te­ri­als. So you can have a rel­a­tively f lex­i­ble, slow-ac­tioned car­bon rod, if you want. And you could have a fast-ac­tioned, stiff fi­bre glass rod too, al­beit ex­tremely heav y. Gen­er­ally, though, when en­coun­ter­ing big, pow­er­ful fish, its softer and slower prop­er­ties make glass in­fin­itely su­pe­rior; less prone to frac­tur­ing at high pres­sure and ex­treme an­gles, while also flex­ing to pro­tect light tip­pets against the sud­den surge of a des­per­ate, pow­er­ful fish.


We’ve seen the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with E-Glass, though, so what makes S-Glass dif­fer­ent? Glass fi­bre is ba­si­cally long, fine fi­bres of sodium borosil­i­cate, bonded by a resin-like ma­te­rial to cre­ate a durable ma­trix. Dif­fer­ences in fi­bre di­am­e­ter or in the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion/den­sity of the bond­ing resin will af­fect the ma­te­rial’s char­ac­ter­is­tics, but essen­tially that’s what it com­prises. E-Glass dif­fers from the more re­cent S-Glass in that its fi­bres are cross-wo­ven rel­a­tively ran­domly and the fi­bres may even be chopped strands. This makes for a strong ma­te­rial with a high tol­er­ance to dam­age. S-Glass has finer, con­tin­u­ous fi­bres aligned lon­gi­tu­di­nally along the blank. While it costs more, it’s some 30 per cent stronger and 15 per cent stiffer than E-Glass, while its more slen­der fi­bres make it pos­si­ble to pro­duce a glass rod that’s a lot lighter than ever be­fore; but which also has a crisp ac­tion due to its faster re­cov­ery speed. None of which sac­ri­fices the full flex and ‘feel’ of glass. Uni-di­rec­tional glass tech­nol­ogy is evolv­ing, with in­creas­ingly finer fi­bres im­prov­ing rod-build­ing po­ten­tial. We’re al­ready see­ing S2-Glass from some man­u­fac­tur­ers and one or two now have S3. A fringe ben­e­fit of these fea­tures is that the rods are in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile. You can un­der- or over­load them as you see fit, and yet you may not need to. An 8wt can give you the power to deal with heavy, pow­er­ful fish or deal with a tricky breeze on the coast; but it can also give you the del­i­cate pre­sen­ta­tion you’d ex­pect from a 6wt or turn over a big pike streamer at short range. So you won’t be need­ing that 10wt af­ter all. Ef­fec­tively, the 8wt glass has made three of your rods re­dun­dant (in­clud­ing that orig­i­nal car­bon 8wt). Fewer rods to buy, more floorspace cleared. Re­mem­ber what I said about sav­ing your re­la­tion­ship? Which brings me to the elec­tro­cu­tion bit. Now we’re talk­ing re­ally big fig­ures. Ohms per cen­time­tre is the unit in which we mea­sure elec­tri­cal re­sis­tance, but it’s the dis­par­ity in the num­bers that mat­ter: glass fi­bre 100 tril­lion, car­bon fi­bre 0.0032. Mean­ing that while the onus to get away from wa­ter, stay low and get in­doors re­mains, should you be fish­ing as an elec­tri­cal storm ar­rives, at least you can take your glass rod with you, safe in the knowl­edge that you’re not ef­fec­tively hold­ing a ‘come on down’ sign. And although light­ning doesn’t usu­ally strike twice in the same place, it may well do once you’ve tried your first fast-glass rod. Be warned…

“It can also give you del­i­cate pre­sen­ta­tion or turn over a big pike streamer. Ef­fec­tively, that 8wt glass has made three of your rods re­dun­dant (in­clud­ing that orig­i­nal car­bon 8wt).”

If you love the sound of break­ing glass, the new-gen­er­a­tion rods may be some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment.

Man on a mis­sion: Dave’s early mis­giv­ings over glass are but a dis­tant mem­ory.

Choose well and one of these rods might just re­place two or three of your oth­ers....

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