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Fly Rods: “No More Pieces”

by Paul Bruun
I'll keep my 2-piece rods, and the fewer pieces, the better!
Sure, the case is long and the rod length itself might seem inconvenient.  But is there a performance bump?  Pictured here: the Hardy Zenith one-piece.

Sure, the rod–or rod case–length itself might seem inconvenient. But is there a performance bump? Pictured here: the Hardy Zenith one-piece.

A long time friend who has spent many years as a saltwater backcountry guide recently questioned if I were still fishing mostly 2-piece rods?

Either he was clairvoyant or had peeked at one of my recent outdoor columns accentuating this antiquated behavior.

He freely admitted that his venerable 2-piece, 9-ft. GLX Loomis 7-wgt. (later sold as The Classic) “still casts better than any 4-piece, 7-wt. I’ve ever tried and I’ve tried quite a few.”

Jim continued, “My favorite mangrove rod is still the old Scott Heli-Ply 8-ft. 8-in. 9-wt. It’s a 3-piece. but nothing else comes close. With either of these rods I don’t have to think. They just put the fly where I’m looking.”

My fly rod choices also involve 2-piecers a majority of the time. Here’s why:

1. Sturdier

2. Fewer problems

3. Accuracy

4. Feeling of confidence

I love rods. Three of four corners in a downstairs jungle called the “tackle room” are laden with rods and tubes. Overflow reverts to a garage corner.

A few members of this fiberglass, bamboo and graphite collection exceed my 70 years. Two-piecers abound because they’ve been around longer. I do enjoy several of the latest 10-ft. 4-piecers but that’s because they don’t come otherwise. Scott lists both 2-and 4-piece options in a portion of its saltwater rod series. Every other rod maker I’ve examined recently only offers 4-pieces. More “travel rods” isn’t my priority.

When fortunate times again include New Zealand and South American trips, I’ve tucked aside 4-piece, 5-to-7-wt. trout travelers. A 9-, 10- and 12-wt. stash awaits Baja, Guatemala and Great Barrier Reef rematches.

In 2011 I divested a summer business which regularly encouraged well over 100 days of trout fishing. A sturdy tackle collection arose for the pleasurable 37-year task of rowing rafts, drift boats and skiffs around Wyoming and surrounding waters.

Throughout that time I was repeatedly shocked by tackle poundings dished out by both friends and clients who treated my gear worse than their own. With a few exceptions, careful tackle care is dismissed by most.

From bamboo beginnings, my transition to hollow fiberglass was facilitated by Wright & McGill and Shakespeare. After I began float trips in 1974 my working tackle was mostly Scientific Anglers and Fenwick 2-piece rods.

Early fiberglass rods, much like bamboo, could be worn out from lots of casting. These softened rods became hard to cast. The original metal ferrule connections also interrupted actions. Eventually skillful rod makers created various sleeve and spigot ferrules that banished metal. Graphite and boron rod materials pretty much eliminated rod softening.

During casting, fighting fish and freeing snags, less can go wrong with 2-piece rods. But since rod manufacturers and importers insist that their customers demand only travel rods, the 4-piece invasion continues as the overwhelming fly rod configuration available today.

My on-the-water observations disclose that it demands extra effort and time to check and tighten all 3 ferrules on 4-piece rods. Most users, especially newer ones, ignore this requirement.

Casting weighted nymphs/strike indicators and streamer rigs loosen ferrules sooner than presenting dry flies.  Thus it became equally as important to spot a client’s loosening or twisting rod section as it was to recognize a trout take or a leader wind-knot-inducing cast.

Preventing rod section cast-off  was my goal. Despite suggesting ferrule inspections–it was disappointing to see how few multi-piece rod owners ever checked and/or re-snugged all their rod sections, especially after several hours of demanding casting. This behavior was repeated regardless of how much ferrule wax was applied earlier or how experienced the angler.

I hated rowing or chasing disconnected rod sections that escaped into the river–especially in whitewater. Counting on a small fly to hook and save your rod tip is a bad bet. But even more important was eliminating those sickening rod-snapping sounds that follow when sudden pressure is applied to a loosened ferrule. Other ferrule inattention accidents don’t come with a snap but exhibit a rather disgusting, slow-motion rod collapse.

Similar accidents may plague 2-piece rods but not as easily. To quiet my whining over a steady 4-piece for diet, I have been advised by Sage’s veteran rod designer that I should either use electrician tape to further firm my multi-piece rod ferrules or—when I’m becoming more adamant—add epoxy for a permanent connection. My workshop epoxy handiwork on lures and flies is dismal enough that I’ve avoided the latter solution.

Lobbying for a return to selected series of 2-piece fly rod production, say 4, 5 and 6- wt. trout rods and 7 through 12-wt. saltwater versions is futile. Sage waved goodbye to such thoughts after the Z-Axis series vanished. I suspect, first, that emerging angler groups lack exceptional 2-piece stalwarts which they’ve learned to appreciate.

Secondly, rod sales appear focused on hauling the newest purchases on soirees where portability is paramount. Trip planning ignites frenzied rod gear purchasing better than Christmas music. I’ve heard that smaller vehicles, especially in foreign markets, necessitate downsized rod cases. Moving in and out of float planes, helicopters, airboats and commercial flights gives 4-piece rods an advantage.

The majority of my fishing isn’t destination travel. Rod performance, not portability, is paramount. Favorite 2-piece fly rods, rigged but broken down, are with me whenever shopping for another family or work vehicle. If this rod/reel combo can’t fit comfortably across the dashboard of a truck or mini-van, I shop elsewhere.

Fully rigged 9 and 10-ft. rods, slightly arched, fit happily in my wife’s Subaru Outback, the tow vehicle for her guided river float trips. Arriving with cleaned lines, new leaders and rigged rods saves her valuable time on every outing where minutes count.

Standard 8-foot pickup truck beds with carpet kits have been carrying my rigged 9- to 10-foot fly rods handily for over 20 years. Although the latest drift boat designs sport somewhat protective rod holders, my comfort level requires trout rods to ride in the truck. Backcountry skiffs usually include a safer fly rod transport system for short distances to the water. Winter/spring travel to warmer fishing opportunities in the Keys, Everglades and Louisiana marshes utilizes a mini van that safely totes 1-piece fly and conventional rods and accommodates 2-piecers in tubes.

Using my preferred tackle has long dictated a travel conveyance which permits investigation of interesting barbecue, green chile, boudin, muffaletta, fried chicken, Basque and other yummy regional treats not constricted by TSA inspections and air travel headaches.

My comfort level when pulling hard with a fly rod against large and energetic battlers improves noticeably when less ferrules are involved. Cranking off accurate presentations feels better under the same rod configurations. Fewer ferrules are one less item for me to worry about when tarpon, billfish or a barramundi are fighting for freedom.

Ow-eee! I can hear disapproving wails rising from dozens of satisfied big game chasers defending their multi-piece travelers in the face of such brash criticism.

Observe, I didn’t say big fish couldn’t be landed on proper 4-piece tackle. I’ve been successful with a variety of travel gear in the ocean. In Guatemala I was eager to present Pacific sailfish with the opportunity to flex my then latest RPLXi Sage. During the first hookup and ensuing acrobatics I babied the 12 wgt. As the trip evolved I happily noted that the 4-piece could apply adequate pressure without any bad results. But that handsome cobalt blue showpiece would struggle to match the lifting power of my favorite relic, a 2-piece RPL 1290 Sage.

I’m convinced the newer rod wouldn’t have survived like the RPL did, from the late night Cabo hotel lobby ceiling fan I accidentally challenged.

Obviously both my guide pal Jim and I are fond of absorbing the smooth grace administered on each cast with the simpler rods we’ve come to trust. They cast well, rebound from repeated struggles and provide us with abundant confidence.

But then, maybe we’re just getting old.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
For the last 40 years Paul Bruun has been involved with daily and weekly newspapers between South Florida and Wyoming. During that time he also developed the South Fork Skiff low-profile drift boat and worked with SIMMS, Orvis and Patagonia on outdoor product development. Since 1973 he has written the award-winning Outdoors column in the weekly Jackson Hole News & Guide and for the last 35 years has operated a personalized fly fishing float trip service on the Snake and surrounding Jackson Hole rivers. He may be contacted at paulbruun@earthlink.net.
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  • Michael Mikita

    Nice piece and one I partially agree with. Ferrule loosening is a real problem no matter how well designed. Castability is also compromised a bit although the really good ones render it barely perceptable. A big wonder to me is why all the fly rod makers have now almost invariably converged on four piece setups when the spin and cast rod models have barely budged towards it. I build 90% of my rods and the choices for travel blanks in the casting segment is tiny. Although my preference is always to flyfish, there is no way I am going to Belize or any saltwater destination without a casting rod. Strange.

    • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

      Very interesting point, Michael. Most spinning/casting rods aren’t 9 feet long, but then again they’re too long for a standard “2-piece fly rod” case. Are the spin fishers not flying with their gear, or are they just less paranoid?

      • Chuck Stranahan

        Hi Marshall,

        Good discussion here. I recall the era when wholesale theft of long fly rod tubes headed for Alaska via air carriers spurred the popularity of 4-piece travel rods.

        Thieves recognized that long slender tubes bearing Winston, Sage, etc. insignia carried valuable cargo that could be resold in a hurry for far more on ebay than, say, a conventional Ugly Stick that might bring $25. The need for a fishable “concealed carry” fly rod that would fit unnoticed in a duffell bag was born.

        A flood of newbie casters (enamored by “the movie”) couldn’t tell much difference between 4 and 2-piece rods, and the chase was on.

        Many of us who have fished for a few decades and live within driving distance of our fishing still haul our favorite 2-piecers around in our pickup trucks or SUV’s. We don’t need 4-piece rods for most of our fishing. While ferruling technology gets better all the time, those multi-piece rods just ain’t the same… Jim in Houston’s post below speaks to that point.

        • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

          On the item of “How we got here in the first place,” Chuck, that’s a great bit of insight.

  • Jim in Houston

    Living in Texas and traveling by plane to fly fishing destinations in the western Rocky Mountain States, Alaska or – in one case – Africa for tigerfish, my rods were exclusively four piece that I could get in my luggage to check on board an airplane. Recently, however, I broke a rod, and while Lamiglas replaced it under warranty, the only replacement rod available was a two piece, 9′ 4 wt. My last trip in November to the Frying Pan in Colorado was by car, so I took the opportunity to take that rod with me. What a revelation! I was a pleasure to cast and a real improvement over the 4-piece that it replaced. Whenever possible, this rod will be with me on future trips.

  • rarf raider

    Enjoyed this very much, Paul.

    1. Sturdier – OK…

    2. Fewer problems – Agree.

    3. Accuracy – Totally disagree. I’ve used my Dad’s 2-piece rods on many occasions and they don’t hold a candle to (newer) 4-section rods in terms of accuracy. Accuracy, insofar as being a fly rod characteristic, is getting better and better every year.

    4. Feeling of confidence – Subjective, but I’ll let that fly.

    • Chuck Stranahan

      Re: your item 3. Accuracy comment: I believe Bruun was speaking of pups from the same litter, not suggesting “allness;” e.g. all two-piece rods cast more accurately than any four-piece rods. (I’m assuming your dad’s 2-piecers are older than your newer, lighter rods – please allow for that assumption.)

      That said, my most accurate dry fly rods are all 2-piece rods; some are newer graphite, two are fiberglass, and the favorite is a Walton Powell bamboo. Like Bruun, I have guided and worked in the tackle industry for a number of years, and cast a whole bunch of fly rods.

      And, like Bruun, I know from several rod manufacturers that pleas for 2-piece rods may find them in tacit agreement regarding the 2-piece rod’s superior performance, but that sales history must drive investment and production. Simple as that. No manufacturer wants to design and build two units in order to sell one. If new unit B (4-piece) is going to outsell old unit A (2-piece) to the point that A will be warehoused at a loss and discontinuing A will not affect overall sales, despite production difficulties associated with B, the rod manufacturer will do what he must to stay in business.

      How the market was led to this position is another subject… don’t get me started.

  • JasonMerenda

    There is a reason that most of the Keys guides and other salt water guides prefer the 1 piece rods. I can recall seeing a rod come apart twice while hooked up to fish. Once the angler got the top section back. The other time the tarpon broke off and the tip section was gone.

  • JE

    Thanks for the thoughtful article, Paul,

    You last comment about age and fishing rod parts is no joke. The sheer logistical element of number of pieces to one rod argues for less is better, translating to fewer pieces to lose or potentially break. But there are trade-offs. Every rod needs to be the best fit, not just for fishing but for transport as others have mentioned.

    Just yesterday I fished the Red River with a friend here in NM and we’d be hiking more than 1000 feet into a gorge. I thought, “pack rod.” I had forgotten that I owned a something like a 7 piece 9′ 6 Wt I’d bought from LL Bean a couple of years ago, but I stumbled on the neat little case in my garage. I knew I’d be chucking weighted nymphs all day so I ruled out my nifty Ross four piece 4 Wt and a 5 piece Redington that has little backbone. Flipping weight all day, a heavier rod, longer would mean less torque on my bad elbow, too. The LL Bean would be the ticket. It weights about the same as my usual St.Croix 9′ 5 Wt. but packs to less than 24″

    With a fishing friend who brought his Winston 4 piece 4 Wt, we trudged through snow and frozen clay to the bottom of the Rio Grande. The Bean rod fished well all day long except once the butt section popped loose, but was easy to retrieve. No ” fish on”, thankfully. On my last cast of the day, I tailed one very large rainbow and was glad I had the stouter rod to bring it in and not unnecessarily wear down the unfortunate trout.

    When we got back to change our outfits to hike out, I thought I had put all of the pieces away, but after zipping the rod case and turning around to pick up my backpack, I noticed a small green stick on the ground blending with a leafless bush. Lucky 7! Ah-ha. So many fragments, so many other things to think about? Now for excuses. Why doesn’t the rod case beep when half empty? I got that feeling again, of being thankful that “I found it” mixed with disgust.

    This morning, now that I am laughing at myself, I think it’s a seven-piece rod and that I have all seven. I think got it right. I’ll go to the garage and count them, one by one, dig them out of their little vestibules. No, eight!

    I’ll take that rod again to the bottom of the Rio Grande because it did its job. I am going to strap a piece of tape on all my multi-piece rods with 3′s, 4′s and an 8. Count ‘em.

    John E Santa Fe

  • Michael Gerharz

    I loved the article. I just wish it had gone to the logical conclusion-one piece rods, Since flea rods are only 6-8 ft long, why can’t they be one piece like their spinning and casting brothers. In a permanent camp or home on the water, what would be wrong with one piecers in 8-10 ft lengths?

  • Vince

    Years ago when I was new to the salt chuck I purchased a Sage RPLXi 2 piece ten wt. because it was on sale and I needed a stick for False Albacore. It turned out to be my favorite rod of the 23 I have in the quiver. I took that rod to Baja and tailed a 30 pound rooster with it. Many fly fishers go out on the water from air conditioned rooms and never check the connections as the sun beams down on their rods and casting heavy fly lines with big flies will start the ferrules to creep. Bin dere don dat – but no more.

  • Ed Sauriol

    My preference for a 2 piece rod has little to do with performance and more to do with making better use of my time. You see, I lived near Puget Sound in Washington State and regularly chased sea-run cutts a few miles from my home. My flies were secured to my leaders at all times and my 4 piece converted to a 2 piece permanently (salt water adhesive). My work required I wear a suit and tie, so in the interest of maximizing my fishing, I slipped my waders over my suit and scooted down to the Bay. :)

    • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

      Perfect, Ed!

  • Brian Kozminski

    Great article, and often debated. I agree on many of Mr Bruun’s points, the less pieces the better the rod. I enjoy casting a Redington 7’6″ 3 wt for brookies, so a 4 pc is overkill, but when traveling… I do pack my 4 pc 5 wt Winston and 4 pc 9 wt T3. I do have more 2 pc rods in my quiver simply because I feel more connected to the line and the fly, with more ferrules, I find more loosening and less connectivity, could all be in my head, but that is what often sells~ Image…
    Tight Lines & Wet Waders,
    Koz

  • Tore

    If you ask the big names in rod design what has been the biggest development/improvement in the last 20 years they will say the ferrules. Add to that the new low resin blanks and ferrules aren’t really an issue anymore.

    I’ve only been addicted to the sport since 1987, but I have still to experience any major issues due to ferrules. It also makes it easier for the manufacturers to make multi modulus rods.

    In 1990 I would agree with Mr. Bruun’s points, but today I’d say they’re more or less irrelevant.

  • Markus Fipps

    Like most so called new products there is a place where these make sense. Unfortunately like always we usually see some pretty wild claims and illogical conclusions made when newly marketed niche products hit the market.
    Echo has had their one piece prime rods on the market for almost a year. Tim Rajeff has a much different take on the this. He admits how much harder it its to get consistency in spline and action rolling a 8 10 plank. And that the walls must be made actually thicker than muti piece rods. At echo they achieve most of any weight drop by lightening the components and chopping off 2 inches. I have cast the Prime rods and they are light but larger in diameter at the base than 4 piece models. They do have great feel when fighting big game species. If i was a guide or angler that lived in an area where i stored my rods on my boat and consistently targeted Poons … other big game stuff i would probably own one or two of these.

    • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

      Interesting. Hadn’t thought about the manufacturing challenge that comes with long blanks….

  • Richard Gordon

    I still feel the best snook in the mangroves rod is my Orvis Trident TLS 9 wt. 8’6″ 2 piece. It casts where you want it and has the guts to handle large fish.

  • Sylvaneous

    Funny. Bass anglers must NEVER travel because very few bass rods are anything but 1 piece. I suppose ALL bass anglers have their own boats and keep their rods rigged on the boat all the time, never breaking them down to make them smaller for any of the multiple reasons you may want this, like transporting your rods in a vehicle other than a darn near full sized SUV or van. I kayak fish and need or want, probably need, to break-down my conventional tackle when transporting my kayak. I also can’t stow a 1 pc. 7 ft. rigged rod inside my kayak. My favorite rods are, by far, my 2 pieces. A RPL 6 wt, a SLT 8.5 ft 5 wt. My beloved Powell (REAL Powell, USA) LGA 8.5 ft 5 wt. that I have been offered more than what I paid for it on Penns Creek. All 2 pc.

  • Nymphermaniac

    Well stated. It is hard for me to trust the newer multi-piece rods with the small male parts. On a trip to Montana, my case for two, two piece rods wouldn’t fit in the overhead, I had a stewardess take it, assuring me it would be handled with care. When I got up to leave the flight, I saw my case rolling down the tarmac. Lesson learned: Small planes require 4 piece rods.

  • Juan Ramirez

    As a member of the 1 piece trout rod club, there certainly is a difference in feel and action of the 1 piece rods. The Hardy Zenith 1 piece rods are so smooth and so sweet, it makes me wonder why I have the 4 piece rods. I can carry them rigged up or zipped in their case in my car, so that’s not an issue for me. There is a difference in the tapers and feel of the rods compared to their counterparts, but that difference is certainly a better feel and smoothness. If you don’t believe me, cast one. If you still don’t believe me, fish with one and you will be a believer. I doubted it and then cast one and then fished one. Yes there is a difference and yes it is worth it.

  • Bob The Fly Casting Instructor

    I have to agree somewhat about the merits of a two-piece. Oddly enough, as much as I espouse the 4-piece to my beginner students for their own first rod, I still load my fiberglass 2-piece 8 weight on my skiff when I go to the coast. I just like the quick assembly when I’m on board. When teaching first time students who don’t yet have a rod, I loan them one of my 2-piece 5 weights, even though I will use a 4 or 6 piece to demonstrate how to properly connect the ferrules from the tip section to the butt section and explain all that can wrong and how to prevent problems when on the water. However, as guides, instructors and fly-shop salespeople, I believe we have to take a “big picture” approach when thinking about the great “2 be two-piece or four-piece not to be” debate when recommending fly rods to new fly fishers and that “big picture” is this; get them in a position where they have maximum opportunities to enjoy their rod, take it with them to their in-laws pond, on vacation, fishing with friends, out to a field to practice, etc. where they will develop a love for fly fishing that will make them hungry for more knowledge just like we did when we first fell in love with this sport….it is when the facilitate this process of “discovery” that where the appreciate for all rods, especially the “2-piece” can make its return! I started saltwater fly fishing with a 2-piece in 1998 and in 2011 it has made its return into my fly fishing lifestyle but I had to come “full circle” after fishing the many 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 piece rods before I returned to my roots! Best Fishes, Bob Logan, The Fly Casting Instructor

  • markcarvour

    I agree that the feel of a 2pc rod is much smoother than 4pc rods. My first 4pc rod was a St Croix don’t remember the model this was about 15yrs ago. I remember stringing it up and going out in the yard to practice and was astonished how bad the feel. On both the back and forward cast clank clank clank as each section loaded. Yes, you could feel each piece jarring the next as it loaded and the ferrules were tight not loose. Never fished that rod just sat in the closet for a couple of years till I threw it away. Hopefully rod makers are producing better multi-piece rods today as I’m going to fish some streams in S E Tn and N Georgia. These won’t be the type of locations you can tote a 2pc to, unless you don’t mind that it will be 6pc rod when you get to the stream.