Actually, they do work -- and work well. When it comes to keeping a wet line off the rod and increasing your ability to shoot line, spinning guides are the way to go.
Here in Florida, this concept is catching on fast with the inshore/flats saltwater and warmwater fly fishers. Adding spinning guides to a fly rod is not really a new concept. Joy Dunlap one of the foremost rod builders in Florida and the South, has been using them for years. In fact, he won’t build a fly rod any other way. (A note on Joy: He’s 80 years old and has been building fly rods clear back to when they used fiberglass antennas off of battle tanks for blanks.)
So how do you lay out a blank for spinning guides? Here’s the short version of how to get started. The procedure outlined below is for setting up a 9-weight blank. It’s not limited to just a 9-weight, though; with a few minor changes it can work with any size.
To start, you need a blank or an old rod stripped down and ready to go. Also -- it may be unnecessary to say this, but I’ll say it anyhow: Tape or use a fly tying bobbin with 3/0 nylon thread to temporarily locate the guides until you’re absolutely certain you have the spacing right.
The make and cost of guides are limited only by the depth of your pocketbook. However, use only single-foot light spinning guides. The newer single-foot fly guides don’t have enough height from the rod to be effective.
Proper spacing of the first two guides from the reel is the most important part of making this guide system work. The stripping guides are the key to the rod’s ability to shoot line. Just adding another stripper may not work, part of the key to this system is using all spinning guides. The distance to the first guide is determined by your reach or how far up the shaft you grab the line when stripping. The distance to the next guide is four inches. Period. This distance has been fiddled with time and again, and FOUR INCHES is optimum. The two stripper guides are the same size. I used # 20’s on the 9-weight according to the Fuji guide-size chart. The rest of the guides are sized as follows for a 9-weight rod: 2 #16’s, 2 #12’s, 3 #10’s, with a large-loop fly-rod tiptop, for a total of 10 guides.
The spacing for the rest of the guides was obtained from the VFS rod-building Web site. Just work in reverse from the order in which they have the spacing laid out. They do it from the tip instead of the reel end. Remember, the spacing table is only a reference: The actual distances between the guides may change, based on a few simple tests. After you have the guides temporarily in place, you may want to move them again. (That’s why we use tape or thread.)
What kind of tests do you need to perform?
The first is a deflection test to see if the fly line touches the rod at any point on its way to the tip. If it does, you need to adjust the spacing of one or several guides.
Next comes a casting test. Rig up the rod with a reel, line, leader, tippet, and fly (point and barb removed), and try it out. Watch the way the line flows through the guides. Does it balloon or hang up at a given point?
The last test is to see how well it will shoot line. Strip all of your flyline out to the backing, now false cast or double haul until the belly is out beyond the rod tip a total of about 25 or 30 feet. Now make a cast and load the rod as you normally would with about 35 ft. of line out. The rod should shoot at least 40’ if not all the remaining line. All the tests done with this concept were performed with a nine -- weight forward floating line. If you use a different type of fly line the results may vary.
Final checks, are the strippers the correct distance for your reach? Is the rod comfortable in your hands? Are the guides lined up properly? These are all important things to consider before permanently installing the guides.
When everything is right -- meaning it feels good, you are one with the rod, or you consider the rod a natural extension of your arm, and you shoot line farther that ever before-- the hard part is done. Now all that’s left is the fun of deciding the colors and designs for your guide wraps and how you will finish the rod.
Sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t -- it only takes about an hour to position the guides. Wraps amd finishing take longer than the fun part And next time the sun comes up and you head for the water, you’ll find the hour was well spent, because now you have a new weapon in your arsenal.
I would like to thank David Long of the Central Florida Rodcrafters for his expertise and for making me aware of the advantage of spinning guides on a fly rod.
All the materials for this project were obtained from the “Mud Hole” Custom Tackle and Rod Building Supply in Orlando Fla. (www.mudhole.com). Thanks, Tom, for having everything in stock when I needed it.