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