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Fiberglass Rod Review: Thomas & Thomas Heirloom 5-Weight

by Benjamin Clary
photos by Benjamin Clary

Thomas and Thomas Fiberglass RodAfter what looked like a bullwhip routine, I took a breather, tied on a new fly and told myself: “You’re not in the land of Z-axis anymore.” Switching from arguably one of the fastest-action rods out there to the slow, deliberate action of fiberglass probably was not smart in retrospect, but worth the trouble.

Like many who scour the Internet for fly-fishing-related material, I have always been intrigued by a corner of the web manned by fiberglass guru Cameron Mortenson.  “Glass is Not Dead” stickers appear in fly shops across the country, so he must be doing something right on his ubiquitous blog “The Fiberglass Manifesto.”  Of course my intrigue led to a desire to fish fiberglass, a rod material that produces a bamboo-like action “for the masses.”

Lucky for me, Mortenson puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak.  To further spread the gospel of glass, he has instituted a fiberglass rod loan program.  He is more trusting with precious fly fishing equipment than most, and all the participant has to do is pay for insured shipping to have the opportunity to fish a range of glass rods.  Of course Mortenson insisted I take the Cadillac of fiberglass rods—the Thomas & Thomas Heirloom series, specifically the 7’6” 5-weight.

Right out of the case this rod is treat for the eyes.  Treading into green blank territory is a risky move, but the burgundy wraps complement the olive rod nicely, as does the elegant up-locking reel seat (with a stylish Thomas & Thomas engraving on the reel seat lock).  The rod also sports sleeve-over ferrules and a western grip.

T & T Fiberglass Fly Rod

Delivering the fly delicately to some challenging water.

I had the pleasure of taking this 5-weight to fish on numerous western trout streams in the great state of Wyoming.  Along with the tailwaters that the West is known for, there are numerous opportunities to get off the beaten path to more skinny water.  I tried to use the glass in every situation I fished, but due to some extreme wind, I was only able to fish it in some of the more protected environs (although after familiarizing myself with the rod I do think it has enough punch to cut through moderate wind coming at a drift boat).

In some ways switching from the Z-axis to glass was not the best decision but it certainly highlighted the features many have grown to love about glass.  Once dialed in one could feel the rod flex all the way to the butt, and it had more punch than my fiberglass preconceptions had allowed.  The rod has a great feel and was able to deliver tight loops into moderate wind as well as delicately deliver a fly to soft pockets.  (It also has the ability to slap the water and scatter every fish in sight but blame that on operator error, not Thomas & Thomas.)  And of course the full flex of the rod made fighting spunky 12- to  18-inch wild cutties an absolute pleasure.

Fiberglass Fly Rod

Little by most standards but a blast on glass.

My chief complaint is the price.  At $675 suggested retail, it flies in the face of the affordability that has drawn so many anglers to glass.  Not to mention that there are other custom glass rods offering more personalization for about the same price.  Although one of my fishing companions complained that the rod lacked “feel,” I found using a weight-forward line was a big help.  The rod is a beauty in the cosmetics department and performed as well as it should have in the hands of a fiberglass amateur.  In all, it was a pleasure to fish and worth a second look for anyone considering a move to glass.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Ben Clary was born and raised along the Atlantic coast but did not take up fly fishing until he lived in the largest metropolis in the Southeast.  He relishes the many warm water and saltwater opportunities in the state of Georgia but is hopelessly addicted to trout of north Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  He can be reached at benjaminaclary@gmail.com.
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  • Steve

    I have used a fiberglass rod from Mike McFarland, a boutique custom rod maker from pennsylvania. It is a 7′ 2″ 4/5 wt parabolic taper designed by him. It is a fabulous dry fly rod, and the performance is superb. I have used Sage SLT, Z-Axis, One, several bamboo, and other high line rods, but find the fiberglass to be very enjoyable for drys. I also got a 7′ 8″ fiberglass from him for nymphing, and it is also a pleasure to fish

    • naveed

      Hi steve its great to see nice collection of rods you have, just want to know can we do fly fishing in salt water or from the sea beach? does it works? plz get back to me soon i love to do fishing but dont have good equipments either nothing. so plz let me know on loveguitar02@gmail.com. thank you, naveed

  • BH206L3

    I still fish my Fenwick 5 wt 8′ and 6′ rods, I had them since I got them in 1965 along with the phfuger reels. Sure the Sage 8 1/2 for five Graphite Is my trout rod of choice going on now for thirty years. Its a blast during hopper time to that the 6 foot fenwick out to Merritt Brook and Little River, or any of the small waters we have. That rod just speaks small stream Maine Brook Trout. and a cast iron skillet.

  • Greg

    I have an original Diamondback Diamondglass 7′ 3wt that is an absolute blast on small streams and panfish. The new ones are in the $300 range.

  • Ray

    At 17 I built an 8 weight 9 footer from a Lamiglas blank for bass bugging. 35 years later I am still using it and it is due for a rebuild. I can’t part from it; it is an old and trusted friend. I still love fiberglass and have had most of my equipment for many years, though I did recently acquire a very nice Okuma 5/6 weight fly reel via Ebay. I have to be extremely budget conscious in my shopping. I’ve just read John Mordock and find myself agreeing with him that one of the major issues facing fly fishing today is the pursuit of tackle instead of fish, as well as the high prices of much of the gear. Maybe I’m just spitting in the wind but is anyone else bothered by this? Perhaps there should be some way of introducing kids without making them feel like they need everything? Opinions welcome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501487627 Sean McGee

      I agree. A decent fly rod should be as cheap as a conventional fishing rod in order for the sport to grow. I think a major problem that fly fishing has, though, is that in conventional tackle land, a company can sell a rod for cheap and make up the difference on lures, etc. Fly fishing has the advantage that, if you want, you can make all your own lures on the cheap. This, though, eliminates a lot of potential income for a rod company who, otherwise, might be making money on lures. (Shakespeare, for instance, makes really good rods for the price, but their parent company, Jarden, also owns a bunch of other lure companies.)

      I subscribe to the “ultralight” school of fly fishing. If it can’t fit on my lanyard or shirt pocket, I don’t take it with me on the stream. Of course, I don’t do long, remote wilderness fishing. And my trips are usually a few hours after work. However, those are the type of trips that kids would be likely to go on anyways. After school, or on the weekend with Dad for a few hours.