Synthesis Series fiberglass fly rods: The Blue Ridge Special

The Quest for the Perfect Three Weight

Ever since I moved to North Carolina (three summers ago) I have been enamored with the Blue Ridge Mountains. The very first place I explored was just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, north west of my new home in Winston-Salem. It was July, and hot, and not ideal conditions. But … I loved it. 

From that first exploratory trip I knew I needed to come up with a rod specifically for these environs. Something that could point and shoot a dry fly into little eddies and pockets with only 2 feet of line out of the tip but also accommodate a hands-and-knees approach and 30-foot cast to the bubble line at the base of a waterfall. It also needed to be able flip a small streamer or weighted nymph into a narrow, deep run.

That's a lot to ask of a sub-7’ rod.

Historically, I’ve favored a 4-wt for small water (see, for instance, the “Driftless Special”), mostly because I would need to deal with wind from time to time. But in the Blue Ridge, wind isn't a big consideration so I figured a 3-wt would do nicely. Especially if the rod could handle a 4-wt line as well.

The Blue Ridge Special and the Brushy Creek Special

I ended up settling on a 6'8" length in a 3-wt. I was thinking six-and-a-half or under, but wanted a little reach. Over 7’ could be a bit frustrating, whacking on the laurel and rhododendron in the tight spots.

It needed to have a fast enough taper to form tight loops quickly, to weave the line and fly in the tight spots under branches. But also enough flex to retain that all-important “soul” at any casting distance.

I wanted the rod to be a recognizable, and cornerstone member of the Synthesis line I began designing in 2016—progressive at short to medium distances, semi-parabolic when shooting a lot of line, and with a quick and stable tip recovery for accuracy.

As for material, fiberglass was a given. While I have built many graphite and bamboo rods, I always default to glass for my own designs. And for small waters and light lines, there really is no other good option.

In my opinion fiberglass, specifically e-glass, shines brightest on bluelines, those overlooked streams tumbling through rocky, untracked terrain. You can overpower a roll cast and accidentally hit the tip on a rock. You can slip on a rock and, in mid-fall, toss the rod to safety on a mossy boulder and not worry about breaking the blank. It's durable and reliable. And with a tip-over-butt ferrule system it's easy to replace a section in the unlikely event of a terminal break. 

Over many months, I worked with my blank maker to hone the design. After lots of (admittedly enjoyable) R&D, I settled on two tapers that I love. Deciding on which design to market and build was very difficult.

The faster or slower?

There ended up only being about a 10 percent difference in the action between the two rods, and when I put the rods in the hands of friends and strangers the opinions were split. I ended up going with the faster version, dubbed the “Blue Ridge Special,” and reserved the lighter version for an 'off menu' option. That lighter version, the 68L or “Brushy Creek Special,” ended up gathering quite a following from England to California, but especially in Texas, of all places. There are probably 18 of them in the Texas Hill Country alone.

Now, nearly two years later and having fished both rods extensively across the United States in both warmwater and coldwater environments, I have started to lean on the light version most of the time.

A Good Problem to Have—and an Even Better Solution

I like to think I'm a simple and uncomplicated person. I believe in truth in advertising and giving good value for the money people exchange for the fishing poles I make. Most importantly, I want to be sure any rod I design and build for a customer is the right rod for that person and the fishing he or she will be doing.

To be honest, I have struggled with having two 6'8" 3-wts in my lineup, even though one isn't listed. But recently I had a revelation. I thought to myself: “Self, why not make the Synthesis 68 a 4 piece rod?”

So there. Decision made. Easy to pack, still around 2 ounces overall weight, and it can fit in a backpack as a second rod.

After working through the technical issues of replicating the action of the 3-piece, 3-wt in a 4-piece rod, I drove 12 hours roundtrip to pick up the blanks, figured-out guide spacing, turned grips and inserts, wrapped and varnished the rods, and had prototypes ready to fish by the time documentarian and good buddy Dave Fason and I headed to California for a mid-week Golden trout adventure (read about that here for part one, here for part two about the rods) and here for the little summary.)

As I mentioned in my previous blog posts about that trip, I never got to fish the 4-piece 3-wt. Dave bogarted that rod. It was useful, though, to watch him fish it and to get his feedback, since he has a lot of experience with the other two 3-weights. Dave gave it a thumbs-up (just one, because I couldn’t pry his other hand off the rod).

My Impressions

This past week, after a lot of arms-length wriggling and flexing, I got to actually fish the rod for the first time. I did this by packing lots of beef jerky and trail mix to distract Dave. We returned to a creek we haven’t fished in a while, and ended up having one of the best days I can remember.

I put the rod through its paces, caught tons of native brookies (including two 10-inch fish, true trophies for these waters), and made mental notes on the rod’s performance and characteristics as I hiked out. But maybe my reaction is best summed-up in the texts I sent to a friend in Texas on the drive home.

“The 68-4 is incredible. Not sure how it’s possible, but I like it better than the 3-piece. It’s more responsive, but feels identical. Weighs a tenth of an ounce less, too. I could not be happier with the rod … it’s somehow an extension of me. It’s creepy cool.” When I mentioned to Dave what I thought about the rod, all he said was ‘I told you.’

One 3-wt to Rule Them All (But You Still Have Choices)

Perfection, in the fly rod design business, is an amorphous and, ultimately, unattainable goal. A great taper is a great taper, and “advances” (in materials or design) usually also mean changes in the rod’s action.

That said, if you like what I have done with the Synthesis series, or if you have tried either of the 3-piece, 3-wt rods I have been building for the past several years, you are going to love the 4-piece version. It is a very subtle refinement, just a little “specialer.” Packing down into a tube that is just under 21 inches, it’s perfect for backpackers and frequent fliers.

I'll still be able to offer the 3-piece version on a limited basis but the main Blue Ridge Special will now be a 6'8", 3-wt, 4 piece small water dream rod. Roll casts, laser-accurate underhand, overhand, sidearm and—the more-often-than-not hybrid crude and effective casts—it does it all, with durability and panache. It’s like the joy is baked right into the rod. If you’re fishing the rod in the places it is made for, you'll still lose your Royal Wulffs and parachute ants to the grabby rhododendron, overhanging sycamores, and deadfalls. That’s on you.





The Golden Trout Bonanza: part three, looking back

As Dave and I drove down from 10000’ elevation to the lower desert on the way back to LA we reflected on our three and a half days there in the eastern Sierras. Lots of new discoveries and experiences in fishing. Both choosy fish and fish that strike with abandon. Lots of flies lost. Lots of fish caught. The multiple personalities of a single stream that went from higher gradient plunge pools to meandering meadow to nearly a swamp. This was simply a fishing trip that we both needed. It just so happened it was also a ‘work’ trip for me to test the rods. Bonus! Looking back on the trip I see that it was one of those adventures that gave and did not take away. I felt refreshed and restored. Maybe it was the elevation, or the incredible beauty of the fish and the uniqueness of the area. Sometimes when I visit some place that I really enjoy I come back thinking of ways to live there or fantasizing about moving there. Not this time. I wanted to keep it at arms length and admire it in my memory and from across the country. It was that kind of special.

Dave put together a video that truly captures the moments that made this adventure what it was. I hope you enjoy.

The Golden Trout Bonanza: part two, the rods

Part Two, the rods.

When Dave contacted me about going to the Sierra’s to fish for Golden Trout I asked him what kind of water it would be. He said some open meadow fishing and some tight high gradient wooded pocket water. That gave me a good idea of what to expect to bring rod-wise.

As I mentioned before, back in July I went to fish with some friends in northern New Mexico. While there I fished some of the smallest, most technical water I’ve ever fished (for Rio Grand Cutthroat Trout). I used my 6’6”2wt Gila Special and felt like it did really well. But I couldn’t help thinking that something shorter, around 6’, would be even better. But with the same slightly funky taper. In talking with my blank maker, Mike McFarland, we came up with a plan for that little rod.

Meanwhile, swirling in my brain was the thought of changing my 6’8” 3wt Blue Ridge Special a little bit. I wanted to keep the same sweet, quick pinpoint accuracy taper but wanted it to be more portable. So I decided to change it to a 4 piece. Again, in conversation with Mike we figured out the way forward prototyping from the ground up.

Back to planning for the CA trip. I told Dave that I think I’ll be able to bring along a few prototypes to test but needed to check with Mike to see where we are on them. After talking with Mike, I knew I was cutting it close but really wanted to make it work. Then comes Labor Day morning. Not much going on but some yard work and rod work. I text Mike to check on blank status and he says they’re ready and will ship the next day, Tuesday. I look at the calendar and say out loud ‘D’oh!’ I need to start working on the rods Tuesday in order for me to be able to fish them the next Tuesday. Then I check in with the family and say, ‘do you mind if I go to Pennsylvania this afternoon? I think I need to get some blanks from Mike.’ Valerie looks at me like I’m crazy, the kids look at me like I’m normal. I call Mike and say that I’d like to come up there to pick them up from him. He says, ‘uh sure. Really?!” After a little going back and forth with Mike and my family, I’m on the road on a spontaneous 7 hour journey to pick up two prototype blanks that I’m not sure will be what I want or not. I thought, why not? I need the blanks sooner than later, I don’t want to be rushed later in the week when I should be packing and doing other stuff, might as well take a drive. I’ll see if a few of my friends can talk so I can catch up with them. To shorten this a little, I make the drive without any drama. Catch up with several good friends, think about stuff and listen to music. Not bad. Mike ends up being able to meet me an hour and a half closer to me somewhere in northern West Virginia at a gas station. I roll up next to him windows down, he says ‘hey’, I say ‘hey’ and we get out of our cars. He hands me the blanks, we small talk a little, I thank him and apologize for interrupting his day and within 5 minutes we’re both back on the road. I’m home by 2am and then up by 7am. I felt like I was in the Cannonball Run but in a Subaru and trying to get good gas mileage. By 7:30 I’ve sorted cork, chosen the reel seat wood and glued everything on the blanks. Over the next few hours I lay out guide size and spacing, spine orientation, look at pictures of golden trout to get inspiration for wrap schemes. By night time I have both rods wrapped with the first coat of finish on and curing. The rods are done by Thursday evening. Friday I try several lines, reels, casting styles and have determined these to be very close or maybe even exactly what I was looking for. Yee haw! 642.9 miles well worth it and completed with time to spare.

Once in California and on the water for the first time, and within minutes of catching my first golden trout I’m absolutely beaming. The 6’er is nailed. I couldn’t be happier. The first day Dave used my 6’6” 2wt but he wanted that old familiar feeling so he switched to the 68 prototype for the rest of the trip. He reported back to me that it worked as he expected and loved it. Although he did not give the rod up for me to use, I took that for a good sign. I’ll go out to one of my local haunts this week to give it a go. More later…

So, here’s before, during and after of the rods. The 6’er took a little getting used to being so short but once I did it was incredible and I couldn’t be happier. Perfect bend for ultra small water and easy to cast. Look for these this fall on my website.


Later this week I’ll write a little more to summarize the trip and will plan to catch up on adding some stories and pictures of some recent and distant past trips.

Thanks for coming along!






The Golden Trout Bonanza: part one

Several weeks ago, Fishing Buddy Dave called me and said ‘dude, I found tickets to LA super cheap. Let’s go fish for Goldens!’ And to that I said, ‘whoa, let me see what I can do.’ Several hours later I texted him the magic words: GREEN LIGHT. The excitement began. I was nearing the finalization of two new rod blank designs and thought the Sierra’s would be the perfect place to test them. I love testing new rods and I love fishing in new places. The timing was perfect.

In mid July I went to visit my friend Aurelio in northern New Mexico and since then I had been scheming a few new rod designs for ultra small water and traveling. I am very long overdue on writing about that visit so I will plan to do that next. But for now, I’m going to write about fishing for Golden Trout in the Sierra’s of California.

We started making plans and decided to make the trip light and fast. All airline ‘carry on friendly’ packing because of quick connecting flights that made for a challenge but ended up going smoothly. In reality, it was a minor miracle that we were able to carry on our duffles filled with camping gear and freeze dried food. I carried the three rods and reels. Dave carried the camera gear and his stuff. Flight from Greensboro to DC. Then DC to LA. Arrive 9:30 PST and on the road in the Turo rental Highlander by 10:30. Battle LA traffic then to the Lone Pine area mid afternoon after a few stops for stove fuel, fresh tortillas and fruit.

those are 20” tubes

A few years ago, I bought 5 pairs of the greatest underwear known to man Patagonia Capiline SIlkweight Boxers off ebay, lightly used for real cheap. They’re fantastic for everyday but really shine for travel. I did a special load of laundry right before leaving to make sure I had plenty of clean undies but forgot to pack them. I had the entire amount of TWO pairs of underwear along with me for the Tuesday to Saturday trip. Thankfully they dry fast (unless they freeze when wet) and don’t hang on to smells. Thankfully we had fresh water and low humidity.

my home for a few days

We arrived late afternoon, set up camp and planned to fish til dark. Dave was planning to sleep in the back of the Highlander and I brought a sleeping bag and a tarp to sleep under. I set up fast and then we got our stuff together for a few hours of fishing. It was chilly and windy. We drove down the road a bit and found a good pull off near the wooded, higher gradient section of the creek. Right when we got out of the car I peered through the brush to the water and saw a feeding fish. Dave didn’t believe me, ‘are you sure?’.

small and sunning

Not too long until I hooked my first one on one of Dave’s foam ants. I got a real good look at it but then it slipped off before I could get it to hand. A good 8”er, thick and bright and strong. I was elated! We proceeded to catch a relative bunch of fish for the next hour and a half.

The temperature was dropping fast and we realized we were hungry and tired.

black bean chili

I bought some Patagonia freeze dried meals that were on sale (out of date) at the local outdoor shop and they ended up being really good with a little beef jerky and tortilla pieces added. We were well fed, tired and ready for the next day.

We woke up the next morning to low 20 degree temps that were quite a surprise. My tarp had sagged overnight and was on top of me, inside covered in frost. Dave looked miserably cold and like he hadn’t slept. I slept really well, in between bathroom visits (had was a little overzealous about keeping hydrated and being at 10000 feet tested the bowels. Not that you really need to know that).

Dave is well known for making and enjoying good food. He made this steel cut oat mix stuff that was a hearty breakfast for us. After thawing out a bit (rental car seat heaters) we headed out for some exploring the same creek system the previous day, only different sections. Prepared with water filters, beef jerky, apples and energy bars for a full day of fishing.

The fishing was incredible. We caught golden trout all day long. Dave used some little sub surface flies at first, catching most of the fish. He saw the light and changed to dries later. He was fishing my 6’8” 3wt 4 piece prototype. I primarily fished Royal Wulffs, thin bodied Klinkhammers and Dave’s Ant on my 6’ 2wt 4 piece prototype. More on the rods later. It didn’t really seem to matter much what flies we used. It mainly mattered how we presented them and if we spooked the fish or not.

It’s a little known fact that I’m mostly color blind. For a while I tried to hide it thinking that it would ruin my credibility in the rod building business or something like that. But in reality it’s not really all that important for most things. And I have plenty of people in my life to ask about colors when I need to match something. I can see lots of colors, they’re just my own. With a lot of fish the colors are muted and I can’t really see the red fins of a brook trout until the fish is in my hands and even then it’s sort of a bright brownish red. But with these golden trout, it was like I could see colors for real. The Red, Olive, Yellow, Orange, White just screamed at me. With each fish I saw I was paralyzed with awe and wonder. How could these fish BE!? It was a special treat to behold them.

And the terrain where they live. It’s rough and doesn’t seem like would sustain life but it does. And boy does it. There are these flats with nothing but rocks and scrub brush . But then right next to it there would be lush green spongy ground with springs bursting out of it leading to a small trickle 6” wide and 6” deep and in that trickle would be a fish. Or two or three looking for a meal and sometimes would jump out of the water as soon as your fly hit. But then sometimes they would wait after a cast or two then slowly emerge from under vegetation or the bank and inspect your fly for several seconds then turn away. Then turn back and approach the fly only to tap it with their nose causing me to set the hook in vain and then immediately try to place the fly back right in that little patch while they were swimming around looking for it. Then sometimes they’d take and sometimes not. But when they did take, these fish were strong and literally never gave up. We caught probably well over 200 fish. And every single time I was awestruck in genuine wonder. That’s why I build fly rods for a living.

I haven’t stopped thinking about them since we got back and have been looking forward to writing about them. But the reality is that words do not do these fish and that area justice. Pictures help and I’m thankful for Dave inviting me along and being so skilled at capturing the moments. I’ll share those pictures and a few more words soon.

I went fishing last week

Someone asked me recently if I ever get any work done and do I only go fishing? My answer was an unequivocal and hearty ‘YES’. Being your own boss has perks. Like fishing. But it’s also a necessary part of building fly rods as part of ‘research and development’. So last week I took my new Synthesis 66 (a 6’6” 2wt 4 piece rod) out for some exploring. I’d fished in the area before but not this particular creek. I had a feeling it’d be good and I really wanted to see all of the fishable water so I had a mission. When on a mission like this, part of it is covering ground to check out the fishery and the other part is to fish to get to know the personality of the fish there. This is a good time of year to do that since the trees still don’t have leaves and you can see the whole terrain through the forest, and the fish are starting to get active. The struggle is to keep the exploration momentum is real if the fish are biting though so it takes strict discipline as seen in the photos below.

On the way there…


There… good pools and plentiful runs. Decent game trails and beautiful fish.

More… tired dog, a stowaway mayfly and pretty fish. And a little exploration for different access next time.

My conclusion is that this stream needs more ‘me’ time. I loved it. The water is clear and healthy, the fish are smart and eager and the pools are plentiful. This will be a good early summer spot for sure.

First day of Spring

Several weeks ago, on the first day of spring, I took off. It was one of those days that needed to involve fishing no matter if fish were caught or not. I got a few official rod building items done, told the the necessary people where I’d be and clocked out. I decided to explore a new section of a creek I know well. One that hardly ever sees an angler, I imagine.

I parked, knew the general direction to walk through the woods and went. 

After about a mile I found a spring that lead to the creek. I love this time of year. New life popping everywhere. And seeing a spring just happen was icing on the cake.   May flies and stone flies and caddis flies, little green shoots shooting up, ferns and fungus.

Following the trickle, it started to build momentum. Past old logging trails and game trails. Then I found the stream, sat down and rigged up as I watched a little pocket of water for activity. I saw a few shadows dart in the water so I hands and knees’d it to within casting distance. A few false casts to test whether or not I’d hook a tree first then presented my #16 Mr. Rapidan. Swipe! I missed the first signs of a fish. Laid the fly back down and wham! First beautiful brook trout of the day. 

That happened over and over again over the next two and a half hours. Ending with a huge 11”er. Sort of. That eleven inch totally wild and native brook trout, king of the stream actually took a little line. Heart pounding, I landed the fish, admired it and let it go. Deciding then that the day was done and I felt totally refreshed. Then I saw another pocket to cast to and caught a 9”er. Cut off my fly, stuck it in my hat, took my rod apart and started the hike out in the general direction of the car. 

When I got back into cell range while driving home I called my fishing buddies and told them all about it still brimming with excitement. 

That was my first day of spring. And one of the best yet.  

Driving north. Pilot Mountain

Driving north. Pilot Mountain

Spring.

Spring.

Exploring with my constant companion.

Exploring with my constant companion.

I think Stella needed this day about like I did.

I think Stella needed this day about like I did.

The first of many.

The first of many.

The fish were super fat and colored up.

The fish were super fat and colored up.

Small and mighty.

Small and mighty.

I think this guy just ate a craw fish.

I think this guy just ate a craw fish.

Home of the big fella.

Home of the big fella.

The big fella. Wild, native and free.

The big fella. Wild, native and free.

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Another constant companion, my 6’8” 3wt Blue Ridge Special.

Another constant companion, my 6’8” 3wt Blue Ridge Special.

Early Spring in the Blue Ridge

A few weeks back Fishing Buddy Dave and I fished a nearby creek. He took great pictures. We caught fish. We saw life peaking out and bugs in the air.

The ravages of winter and life.

Stella pays attention to everything. I would love to know her thoughts.

A wee stonefly taking a break on my shoulder.

Can’t hold new life back.

Saw a bunch of these mayflies in the air. Fish were mostly feeding on the nymphs but we caught a few on dries.

Walking the old logging trails.

Fishing and scrambling up the slots.

A colored up wee fella.

Dave used sinking flies. And caught more fish.

Trying not to fall.

A hungry little fatty.

Casting to the fishy part of the pool under a downed tree.

Just sitting and watching the water. Much of fishing is enjoying the moment and reviving.

Wood and Women

I love wood. Early on, I preferred to build rods with a cork reel seat. I loved, and still do love, a simple cork seat. I fell in love with them on those early Orvis bamboo, fiberglass and graphite rods with the dual ring seats. So classic and simple and functional. 

Photo courtesy of Vintage Fly Tackle

Photo courtesy of Vintage Fly Tackle

But I’m always drawn to the beauty of wood. Furniture, guitars, floors, downed trees. It’s unpredictable, beautiful and tells story.  Recently I have used a piece of wood that I recovered from a bowling alley in Nacogdoches, Texas when I was in college during a demo/construction job. I’ve built  some rods with reel seats made from that beautiful birdseye maple. I only have a few pieces left. 

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In a seeming happenstance last year, I received a piece of wood from a good friend along with some other wood species to try. As I was turning it, I was overwhelmed by the smell. In a very good way. There was this comforting eye and nasal burn that was absolutely incredible. It smelled so good, but also brought me to a place that reminded me of good things and wonderful people.  

I learned to fish by spending time along the edges of Mississippi farm ponds with my grandmother. It was by her side that I grew to deeply love the process of fishing. The patience, the quiet, the exploration, the exhilaration. 

My grandmother would use this slimy stuff called Mentholatum. She used it for chapped lips, scratches and scrapes, rub it on your chest to help with congestion as well as any other aches and pains. The main ingredient to this smelly slimy stuff is camphor. When I was turning this piece of mystery wood from my friend, it brought me back to those times with my grandmother. It was camphor wood.

Naturally, another woman that has heavily influenced my love of fishing is of course, my mother. Moreso than my grandma actually. As a kid and on into adulthood, she lovingly encouraged my love for fishing. She has carried on the torch of Mentholatum usage. In fact, every single birthday and Christmas for my rememberable history I have received a small gift wrapped box containing a small jar of Mentholatum. A bit redundant but also much appreciated - every single drawer and hideyhole in our house has a stash of the slimey smelley stuff. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative. I truly do love and appreciate it. And when the gift is forgotten I am quick to remind my mom of her negligence. Not a day goes by that I don’t apply a little bit of the stuff to a cut, chapped lips or my chest or feet to help with some kind of discomfort.  I have a small jar of it on my desk in front of me right now.

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As usual, this has been a drawn out and semi-convoluted story so far. But, when I discovered a wood, something I deeply appreciate, that reunites meaningful family and fishing and all that is truly significant in life it was a no brainer to adopt this wood as something that I would incorporate into the fly rods I put all of my being into. 

So after all that, which is really more than anyone, other than my mom, should read. I thought I’d share a few sequence pictures of how I choose wood for my fly rods. 

Yesterday afternoon I moved my wood blank lathe out to my back porch. It was in the mid 50’s and a little breezy but I felt like I needed to do my part to summon springtime so I donned my favorite pair of cargo shorts and showed the neighborhood my pasty white legs. I packed a pipe that was recently given to me by a friend and customer with a favorite breezy day tobacco - Gawith & Hoggarth’s Louisiana Perique Flake. I took six 1.5x12” sticks of camphor wood, that on the surface only told me a little bit of what their character was and turned them down to 1 1/8” dowels.

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It was pointed out to me that my tool rest is much farther away from the work piece than it should be.  NOTED!  Won’t happen again.  Thanks for mentioning it J!

It was pointed out to me that my tool rest is much farther away from the work piece than it should be. NOTED! Won’t happen again. Thanks for mentioning it J!

As always Stella is nearby. Along with one of our cats, named Hercules, but I call him Scooter. No one is safe from the dust and wood chips.

After turning all each piece I apply a thick coat of Tru-Oil to help seal it until I can make a reel seat out of it and so I can inspect the grain of each piece. Some are simple and straight grain, some have wild figuring, some subtle rays, flecks, curls and birdseyes. It’s all beautiful and I do my best to use all of it on a fly rod. Each stick can make 3-4 reel seats. I’ll send pictures to anglers I’m building rods for so they can choose their piece and the life of the wood can continue to tell a story on a fly rod.

One further thing that surprised me after fishing a camphor seated rod is that even after several coats of finish the aroma seeps out after getting a little wet. And for all you tube sniffers out there, whoa, opening the tube gives a refreshing subtle aromatic vapor that will remind you of my Grandma and Mom.

Next time, I’ll write more about the reel seats once they’re finished.

Water Color Artist Julie Dockery

Not too long after moving to Winston-Salem I met a friend of a friend who is a water color artist. I started to watch her Instagram page and loved what she was doing.

A few months back I saw her at a friend’s birthday party and she asked my thoughts about painting fish. I LOVE fish art so I got uncomfortably excited and encouraged her to go for it. I sent her a few pictures for samples.

Yesterday I met with her to see what she’s been working on and I was totally blown away. She’s made these fish print cards that are incredible.

I think it’s a shame for people not to know about and enjoy what she’s doing and I know many of my friends out there would appreciate her work. So please give them a look. Check out Julie’s website at www.juliedockery.com and follow her on Instagram @juliedockery13. I hope to be able to offer these for sale soon and if you order a rod from me, be sure to look for one of these in the box.

Here are some cards I came home with yesterday. My pictures don’t do them justice so you’ll need to buy some for yourself. Also check out her original paintings. Simple and classic. You’ll love them!

“Rainbow” by Julie Dockery

“Brown Trout” by Julie Dockery

“Brook With Hook” by Julie Dockery

“Brook With Blue Lining” by Julie Dockery

Does that one look familiar? It’s probably my favorite one - I remember that moment pretty clearly.

Photo by Dave Fason

Hope y’all enjoy.

Good fishing!

Chris



Publicity

I’m not usually so comfortable with publicity. I mean I like to be noticed and appreciated but overall, like any good old fashioned introvert, I’d rather just keep to myself and fish. It’s hard to make a living staying in the shadows though, so I thought I’d share a few things that have come out recently…

This is Fly magazine: My good friend Dave Fason wrote up a little something in This Is Fly - page 70. Also check out page 142 for my other good friend Aaron Reed’s write up on our Southwest trip back in September. He captures it well. Aaron is a good dude and you can find more info about him here: http://bluecollarflyfishing.com/

Remote. No Pressure fly fishing podcast. Check out season 1 episode 62 to listen to my sultry monotone. Feel free to put it on 2x speed because I kinda talk slow.

More stuff coming out over next many moons and I’ll be sure to update here.

Thanks and good fishing!!

Chris

Here’s a pretty waterfall.

Here’s a pretty waterfall.



Road Tripping : Fish, Friends and Food - a post by Dave Fason

I recently returned from a truly epic adventure with some very good friends. Some of us hardly knew the other at the beginning but as life goes, by the end we were close friends. My friend Dave Fason (who takes most of my photos) wrote up a fantastic account on the Fiberglass Fly Rodders Forum that I cannot improve on so I am going to share it here…

“The past few weeks have been a insane. From new fishing adventures, work, life, etc it has been an whirlwind of a ride. Rewind to earlier this summer to a conversation I had with a person I never met, Aaron. He had an idea to start in Austin, TX and travel to Colorado, Arizona then New Mexico. Fish for Rio Grande Cutthroat, Gila and Apache Trout all in their native waters. Toss in some native Guadalupe bass, Rio cichlids and other random warm water species and you have a party! The trip was part of a assignment for him and he let me photograph the entire trip. To make it even better Chris Barclay and a good friend of Aaron's joined. Four dudes, a Jeep and 2,500 miles. 

The Crew :

Aaron - The great mind behind it all

Aaron - The great mind behind it all

Jess - Dr. Pepper addict

Jess - Dr. Pepper addict

Chris Barclay

Chris Barclay

Dave Fason

Dave Fason

We flew into Austin to meet Aaron and Jess. Mind you I have only talked to Aaron and Jess over the phone and will be stuck in a car with them for seven days. Add backpacking, camping, driving and everything else! We ended up getting along and will cherish the memories I made with them. Aaron was extremely kind and purchased custom nets for the trip from Dustin at Heart Wood Trade. After a couple beers and food we were off to Brushy Creek for an hour to fish for native Guadeloupe Bass.

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Heart Wood Trade nets and tacos!

Heart Wood Trade nets and tacos!

After a few to hand and a couple sunfish we were off to the house to pack. It was extremely interesting learning the difference between a Guad and large mouth. I really want to go back to chase the larger guys!

Aaron and Brushy Creek

Aaron and Brushy Creek

I think I should fish a damsel fly.

I think I should fish a damsel fly.

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We arranged, packed and took off into the sunset. We decided to drive through the night which almost killed me. The trip was almost derailed after a MASSIVE elk almost drilled out car in the middle of the night. After a wild ride up a rocky road we landed to our spot. The moment we got out of the car we spotted Rios. The scenery was inspiring, the fishing was lights out and the company was even better. 

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Funny photo : I stalked a Rio and was able to get a fish pictures RIGHT behind it. 

We packed, loaded and were on our way to Apache area in Arizona. To say I was impressed with Arizona is an understatement. The landscape was gnarly, wild and raw. We were after the Apache trout and while we landed a couple they were NOT in the mood to play. The next day we hit larger water and hooked up to some nice hybrids and browns. I saw more wildlife here than anywhere else. Elk, goats, lizards, snakes, owls, etc. INCREDIBLE!

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Bryan the AZ biologist, Aaron, Jess

Bryan the AZ biologist, Aaron, Jess

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Next stop was Gila wilderness. From what we read we expected a mild hike but not hard. It ended up being a GRINDER of a hike in and really put a hurting on us. Regardless of the hike we made the best of fishing. The Gila were like the Rios and very active. I really wish we would have had two-three days here. The granite rock scape, amazing forest and perfect waters. This leg of the trip really brought us together as it pushed the boundaries of what we could do. 

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Almost halfway.

Almost halfway.

back at the trailhead

back at the trailhead

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After the grueling hike back we slugged beers, ate food and then ventured back to Austin. We made a pit stop on the Llano river for more Guads and Ciclid. This is were I landed my first RIO!

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Randoms, funnies, food :

At the Cafe outside the Great Sand Dunes

At the Cafe outside the Great Sand Dunes

Reorganizing/finding our stuff

Reorganizing/finding our stuff

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When in chili-land…

When in chili-land…

beer bottle/belt buckle

beer bottle/belt buckle

To say the trip was less then legendary would be disgraceful. 2500 miles driven, 40+ hiked and 100000000 funny stories. I was able to see parts of the country I never knew existed, met new friends, new food, new fish and new memories. I can't thank Aaron enough for bringing me along. 

ENJOY! 
-Dave”

Like I said, a trip of a lifetime with some of the best guys around. The diversity of fish caught and landscapes traversed is hard to describe but hopefully Dave’s pictures give a good idea of what we enjoyed.

Be sure to look out for Aaron’s series of articles in the coming months.

Thanks for looking! - Chris

The 2018 Carolina Conclave: thoughts, thank you's and photos

I'm just now digging out from the aftermath of the Carolina Conclave.  I had to hit the ground running (almost literally) when I returned home with a busy end of year school schedule, rod builds and a few unexpected things.  

We had people come from quite literally all the way across the country as well as folks from just around the corner and it was as close to perfect as possible.  

My good friend Steve (Mary, his wife, deserves the credit honestly!) from Missouri catered some incredible brisket, coleslaw (vinegar based) and chips Friday night for our meet and greet.  

Steve!

Steve!

Ecusta Brewery hosted us and Hawg Wild Bar B Que fed us Saturday night.

The elusive Pisgah Forest Sail Brookie

The elusive Pisgah Forest Sail Brookie

BEER!

BEER!

Hawg WIld Bar B Que

Hawg WIld Bar B Que

The weather was just right.  The water was up and provided a little challenge but we were up for it.  

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I'm not much of an organizer (not fishing for compliments here, it's reality!) and couldn't have pulled this off without the help of SO MANY people.  FIrst a big thank you to EVERYONE who made the effort to be there.  Fishing and fellowship are what these gatherings are about.  Thank you to Jillian and Jacob for the help, Larry Christopher at the Pipe and Pint in Greensboro for the BEER, Davidson River Outfitters, Josh at Ecusta Brewing, Hawg WIld Bar B Que, Steve! (and mostly Mary), The FIberglass Manifesto, Vedavoo, Nate Karnes, Fred Paddock, Joe, Jon, Dan and Kevin, Brook, Bob, David (the rod winner!), Chris, David and LInda, Tom and Alexis (406 Fly Lines!), Doug, Roy, Ross, Dave and Ed.  There are more but that's what my memory can handle at the moment.  

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I'm already looking forward to planning next year's event (ideas and feedback welcome!).  The area was perfect for it with plenty of lodging opportunities, awesome and various fishing opportunities and the locals know how to show hospitality.  Couldn't ask for better.  

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At this very moment last week I was fishing with Jacob and Jillian (betweentwobanks.com) on a small Pisgah Forest creek stalking rainbows.  What a perfect way to end an incredible weekend.  RIght after that, I was eating venison around a campfire with some very good friends.  

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p.s. watch out for the clear 'Virginia Creek Water' being passed around in a Mason jar.  

 

Spigot Ferrules: Part of the Design

Spigot Ferrules: part of the rod design

I get a lot of questions regarding spigot ferrules.  Up until recently I have chose to use spigot ferrules on my fiberglass fly rods exclusively. When assembled, spigot ferrules have a gap of 1/8" to 3/8" between rod sections.  This prevents the sections from rubbing against each other and allows for future
wear*.   Spigot ferrules do not need wax, but a light coat of hard wax can be used.  Wax should be applied sparingly and buffed into the male ferrule and all excess should be removed  to prevent collection of debris.

Forcing the two sections together and pushing is a big no-no.  It only takes a small amount of pressure to assemble the sections and usually takes a slight 'push-twist' to assemble and line up the sections.  To separate the sections a 'twist-pull' action takes care of it.  

*Wear gap between sections:  Again, a small 1/8"-3/8" gap is normal and allows for potential eventual wear down.  Though with the modern materials I use, and proper care the ends should never meet and there will be a healthy gap between the sections for a very long time.  If a repair is needed because there is an improper fit or the gap is too close, it is fairly easy and quickly done.  

Carolina Conclave 2018: mark your calendars

Hello everyone,
I wanted to announce that I'll be hosting a Carolina Conclave somewhere in or near the Western North Carolina Smokies April 27-29 2018.  I'm still putting details together regarding exact location and further info.  Hopefully this is enough notice to get it on your calendars.  

Anyone willing to help host and put together details please contact me and I'll add you to the planning committee.  And of course, sponsors are welcome too! Please contact me here:  http://cbarclayflyrods.com/contact/

This said, and to help answer some questions, I will not be able to work out hosting the Coulee Conclave so I am holding this in place of the Coulee Conclave.  

Thanks, and I hope to see y'all there!

Research and Development

Yesterday I took the day for some research and development on a section of stream I’ve been aware of but haven’t ventured to explore yet.

Stella keeping her eyes peeled for water.

My goal was not necessarily to fish but to scout for future fishing opportunities. I did, however, take a rod with me just in case I found an appropriate circumstance to fish.

First of all, it was a lot of work. Which is part of the fun about discovering new places. From scouring maps to driving on dead end private and forest service roads and bushwhacking. This area is in a known area of brook trout drainages off the Blue Ridge Parkway but I’ve not been able to find information about this particular stream. The beauty of autumn along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a definite bonus though and it's a perfect time to explore new water.

An old nondescript logging trail ended into a thicket of laurel and rhododendron.

I saw no signs of any recent human activity and there was no established trail though I did see old overgrown logging trails, fords and piles of stones that had a purpose at one time.

An old stone foundation or ambush point?

Saw some good sized brook trout and caught a bunch of sub 4”ers along with one accidental 8”er. I tried to stay out of the water and leave the larger fish alone as they looked to be starting to pair up for spawning. And though I didn’t see any redds, I didn’t want to disturb anything I could not see.

First signs of water

When I first reached the stream the first fish I saw was about a 10” brook trout. I was floored!  Not at all what I expected to see. The water was extremely clear and the sun was bright so he spooked quickly. He and a few other friends were in skinny and well protected water at the headwaters of this stream. I saw several more this size or smaller and all were feeding actively.

Clean and clear water

I bushwhacked downstream for about two miles and then walked up the stream bed, staying out of the low and clear water looking for fishy holds. The fish were everywhere they were supposed to be. I occasionally fished tail outs and riffles where the smaller fish would be to see what would be there. After one fish I’d stand up and look more carefully to see who else was there and would often see larger fish scatter. Usually every first cast produced a 2-4”er - barbless hooks and a little slack and I was usually able to release them quickly.

First fish on the mystery stretch

Walking around I saw that a recent rain washed a lot of the fallen leaves downstream, clearing out what I imagined would have been a lot of leaf jams.  Evidence of higher consistent water levels, plenty of holds and hides for the fish, and a healthy growing fish population with quality forage opportunities show promise for an excellent fishery.  

I brought along an old beat up Featherweight reel loaded with a WF3 from 406 Fly Lines and a rod I’m developing that I’ve nicknamed the Blue Ridge Special - a 6’8” 3wt. This place was an ideal test for it. Research and development indeed.

I accidentally left my main fly box at home but found a size 16 black ant imitation in the Jeep that I took along.  Simplicity at it's finest.

There was a healthy population of yearling brookies everywhere

It was a fantastic and totally exhausting day, especially given that I wasn’t sure what to expect. And now I can’t wait til I can go back to fish for real!

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Thanks for reading! 

The Beauty of the Driftless

One of the reasons I love going to the Driftless area is the beauty I see there.  From my new home in North Carolina it's a much longer drive than it was from St. Louis, more than double.  As I was driving to get there I went through Chicago.  After I survived Chicago I was wondering aloud to Stella, 'why is this drive worth it??!!' remorseful of making the decision to make the drive in the first place.  After Madison, I saw it.  The rolling hills, the brief and sudden coulees.  Peace, fresh air and beauty happened all at once.  Then I said aloud with a deep breath of relief, 'oh yeah, this is why.'  There's nothing quite like long solo road trip to teach one the art of self conversation - I can say I'm talking to Stella but that's not exactly the truth although she does perk her ears to hear what I'm saying then when she determines that it's not applicable to her she goes back to sleep.  And as we drove deeper into the Driftless Region all the memories of exploring the coulees and hollows started to come back to me.  The fish caught, the flora and fauna and the people.  

My time in the Driftless this May was no different.  Though we had some very unusual weather and storms the beauty was still there. Fishing before, during and after the rains brought newness to everything.  Yeah it was surprisingly cold and miserable at times but the inherent beauty of it all supercedes that and is what I remember.  The bugs hatched, the fish ate, the flowers bloomed, the streamside mint filled the air when you stepped on it.  Oh man, the mint!! When you see a fish rising in the pool or run ahead and you crouch down to stay out of their senses and you get a lungfull of the mint you just stepped on - there is nothing in my imagination that compares with that.  It reminds me to take it slow and easy, not to rush - observe and enjoy that particular moment.  Check my fly, check my tippet, watch the fish and see if I can learn from it, then make my move to see if I can fool it.  

Part of this past trip to Viroqua was the wonder of the people there.  One morning when I was hanging out at the fly shop I decided to walk down the street to the new coffee shop.  On my way there I ran into -almost literally- a lady walking briskly up the street.  She was walking with some serious purpose and what seemed to be a little agitation.  Right before she reached me she paused and said in a high local dialect 'I sure hope you're goin home cuz the big storm's a comin!!' The night before there were some big storms in the area and I think she expected more.  Then she said hi to Stella as most people do, then she kept on.  I heard her say something in the distance but couldn't tell what it was.  When I stopped in at the coffee shop (newly opened Kickapoo Coffee Cafe) I saw a remotely familiar face that I later realized was someone I recognized from the Driftless Cafe from years past.  I ordered a coffee then was talked into a pastry (I'm not much on pastries).  But this thing, I think it's called a Pate Brisee, is savory, local and amazing.  It has all kinds of stuff in it that I would never put together - egg (I just recently started liking scrambled eggs, barely), spinach, ham, cream cheese, aioli all in a flakey croissant pastry shell.  It was truly incredible and addicting. I ended up wearing 1/3 of it. Every day after that I ate one - each day a little different with fresh local ingredients.  One night I even dreamt of them - once having a bonafide nightmare that they sold out before I could make it in town.  By the end of my week in Viroqua I felt like I had friends there at the coffee shop.  I would stop in once or twice a day, say hello, get my morning pastry goodness and coffee, and my afternoon coffee and treat, chat, show off fish and fauna pictures and talk about the day.  It was a great place to stop with my fishing buddies, look at maps and make plans.  I'm sure they were tired of stinky and wet fisherman, wearing their strange rubber pants and space boots, stopping in, but they didn't let on.  Always smiles as big and friendly as ever.  One day on the picnic table outside I noticed a pot of herbs - with a tall stem of mint in the middle.  Hospitality, food and feeling welcome is a beautiful thing.

If it's not obvious, I'm a sucker for plants.  I love running across wild plants that I recognize from other places - my childhood and recent gardens.  I saw some pink honeysuckle for the first time.  And I saw some columbine not yet in bloom.  Makes me want to go back when the columbine is in bloom.  Hmmm - now I'm thinking of when to go back....

The leaves of colummbine make me smile.

In his book Trout, Ernest Schwiebert says "I fish because of beauty".  I can't think of a better answer to give when someone asks me why I love fishing, why I build fly rods and why the Driftless area has such a hold on me.  

Coulee Conclave 2017 - Viroqua Wisconsin - pictures

A few days ago I returned from my trip to one of my most favorite places in the world. Viroqua, Wisconsin.  Every year I organize a gathering of fisherman and fiberglass fly rod enthusiasts to get together and enjoy the wonders of this special place.  This year I decided to give myself a few days ahead of time to get reoriented to the area, make plans and alternate plans in case inclement weather set in and changed our direction.  This gave me an opportunity to spend more time in town and getting to know a few of the people and businesses there.  I love the fishing there but the people make it even more wonderful.  

Here are a bunch of pictures from my time there; before, during and after the gathering.  I plan to write up some more about it soon.