A Case for the Fly Rod

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

No, this is not a legal brief. Here’s a simple and practical winter project: Many fine fly rods do not come with a travel case; others ship with a case too flimsy to protect the rod from the ubiquitous clumsy fishing buddy or family teenager rummaging for earphones. Travel cases can be ordered separately or purchased in fly shops, but you’ll drop $30 to $90 for one and you still may not know if the tube around which it’s built is cardboard or deformable aluminum or something that will shatter with age and the application of a hobnail boot.

But it’s quite easy to make a nice strong case that will last a lifetime…and if the rod is a 4-piece, such a case will cost you around eight to eleven bucks. An incredibly strong travel case can be made out of simple PVC or ABS pipe from any hardware store. This is no news scoop and many of us do this, I know…but surprisingly many do not. So I’ll list off the simple steps I use to make one.

A case should do the following:

* Protect the rod from being crushed
* Eliminate rattling of the rod inside the case
* Especially protect the rod section ends from shattering if the case is dropped on its end
* Make carrying from the truck to the stream a breeze
* Be a buffer against heat
* Be easily identified from any other rod cases you might have
* Be easily findable in the brush if you so choose
* Look acceptably nice
* Give you years of pride
* Inspire respect from your fishing buddies
* Be cheap as blue blazes

Tube

First, I remind myself whether the rod has a cloth bag in which its sections fit. If so, that’s the padding that will protect the rod’s finish from the inside of the case. If not, I whip up such a cloth bag on a sewing machine. (Now don’t panic, guys, sewing machines are as easy to operate as a stapler; I once made a 20-foot hang glider bag composed of rip-stop sidewalls each sandwiching half-inch-foam between them, all held together by hard-to-handle monofilament sewing line and all made on a hand-crank turn-of-the-century sewing machine…and I used it to protect that glider for many years. If I can do that, any of us can make a little ol’ rod bag with our eyes closed. I’ll present a simple drawing and description at the article’s end.)

Next I choose the length of pipe. My first rule is: One rod per case. So I use 2-inch (inner diameter) black ABS pipe, and it seems to be the perfect size for fly rods, at least in the 6-weight-and-under category. Up-size to wider pipe as your rod requires. (ABS is plenty strong, and I think the walls may be just a little thinner than PVC, making for just a little more room for the rod…but PVC is just as great for this project.) Before I buy the pipe, I verify that the rod sections, all together and in their cloth bag, will slide easily into it.

Once I’ve determined the fit, I buy the least length I can that’s still long enough. Then I must cut it to the exact length I need. If the four pieces of a 9-foot rod measure 30″ each, I want 32″ of pipe. Such a length is worth a whopping $4 or thereabouts.

If I can, I use a factory-finished pipe end as one of the ends of my case. I figure out about where I’ll make the cut for the other end and put masking tape all the way around the pipe in the vicinity of the cut I’ll make…then measure and precisely mark the case’s length with one small mark on the tape. Then I find a bit of card stock (try a realty brochure from your junk mail pile) that has a perfectly straight edge, and wrap it around the pipe, lining up the straight edge perfectly…I use that straight edge to draw the perfectly straight cut-line all the way around the pipe. Then I remove the card stock piece, and with a common hack saw carefully cut right through the masking tape, exactly on the line. Care in making a straight cut will ensure the cap will later fit on properly, not to mention pleasing your eyes for many years. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Cutting the Tube Straight

When the cut is finished, I peel off the masking tape, then take a rounded-surface file (called a “half round,” and it’s better if it’s fine-toothed) and uniformly de-burr the pipe’s edges. A sandpaper block can help make the cut smooth and straight across the cross-section, fixing any places where you might have sneezed and made the saw wobble. De-burr and remove any sharp edges of the pipe’s opposite end as well (even if it was the factory-finished end–a smooth rounded edge is better than a straight sharp edge). Wrap a piece of fine-grit sandpaper around the pipe at the top end (the end you’ll use to get to the rod) and give it a few quick twists to smooth the pipe’s surface where the cap will later fit on. You’ve invested about 12 to 15 minutes so far, not counting materials procurement, and are already set to paint the tube in your chosen color.

Go outside and string a rope through the pipe, suspending it sideways in front of you where paint won’t ruin anything (see Figure 2). Coat the pipe with spray paint evenly but not such that the paint runs or drips. It’s easy and should dry quickly; if you like, and without building up the thickness of the paint, go back and add a 2nd coat in about 30 minutes or however long the paint label tells you to wait. Sometimes I just “dust” the second coat on with a contrasting color, almost a fine splatter, to give it the appearance of texture and hopefully put myself in the running to one day win the Nobel Prize Of Rod Case Design.

Figure 2. Painting the Tube

End Caps

All you need now are end caps and a basic case is already done. Buy whatever end caps you like; PVC caps are rounded and will fit either kind of pipe you chose, but I prefer the flat-topped black ABS caps because they’re small, light in weight, and easy to work with for the steps still ahead:

The end caps must both be padded–the biggest danger a cased rod faces is its segments splitting by being jammed against the case end. But that’s very easy to avoid. You’ll need some flexible foam; I use stuff nearly an inch thick, as in the Figure 3 photos. (Note that you don’t have to use pink! No law requires it. In my own defense I’m simply using some electrostatic foam from the industry in which I work, because I’m a cheap SOB and I can get scraps of it for free.) Cut a disc of the foam you’ve chosen; the disc outer diameter should be the inner diameter of the pipe (a tiny amount of clearance is okay but you don’t want much). To size it, you can take the portion of the pipe you did not use, blacken its end, and twist the surface of the foam against it, to make yourself a circular mark on the foam. Then clarify the edge of the circle with a marker, and cut out your foam disc with an exacto knife…and/or something with fine teeth such as a thin bread knife or a bare coping saw blade, if the type of foam you chose cuts better that way. Make two of them.

Figure 3 Cutting Foam Discs

Look at the caps’ inside surface; is there a dimple or protrusion there? If so then cut a recess in one side of each foam disc (See Figure n) so that the protrusion won’t act as a stand-off (i.e., won’t keep the disc from lying flat inside the cap). See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Cap Dimple Recess

Mix up some epoxy cement, carefully glue the foam discs into the caps ensuring they’re centered, and set them aside to cure where no one will bump them (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Cementing the Foam

When the pipe paint is dry and the epoxy is cured, you’re basically done. Choose the case’s “bottom”–the end of the pipe that you’ll likely never open–and install a cap onto it. It will stay on nice and tight; you don’t have to glue it (and I do not…one day I may need to open it for some reason…like if some bozo spills something sticky into my rod case, or a tenacious critter crawls in and hangs on…or more plausibly if I decide to repaint the tube some day and need to run a rope through it again). I simply garnish this bottom cap with a strip of blue painter’s tape so I know which is the bottom.

Slide the rod sections, already in their soft bag, into the case from the top. Install the top cap on. You now have a very nice, extremely strong, long-time-serviceable, long-time-floating, dirt cheap rod case in a color of your choosing…and you made it yourself.

Back to the Soft Rod Bag

If you don’t have one, you can make one easily enough. I just use a load-from-top tubular bag design. Whatever cloth you choose can be soft and limp; it need not be thick, as it’s just an inner bag.

The design I use will need to be sewn in concentric “spiral” pockets. But first make sure the cloth is cut at least 5 inches longer than the rod segments themselves, and “hem” both ends before you start to longitudinally sew each successive concentric pocket.

Then start to sew each concentric pocket in turn, stitching lengthwise down the side of each pocket (see a top view of how it comes together, and an oblique view of the longitudinal stitching process, in Figure 6). Sew the first (innermost) pocket, leaving room on both lengthwise edges for sewing a hem on each side. Leave more slack for each successive outer pocket, because each pocket’s cloth allotment must go around the outside of the last pocket sewn.

Figure 6. Stitching the Bag

Ensure each individual pocket has the capacity to contain the rod section for which it’s intended. The second-to-last pocket you sew should be a medium-sized pocket to house the segment that has stripping guides, and the last (outermost) pocket sewn should be a larger pocket to house the segment that includes the rod grip…which will need a wider pocket than you may think. If you leave a little extra slack in each pocket, you’ll likely find it’s not really extra–with all the sections in the bag together, the space needed is more than you’d suspect. And if there is extra (thin) cloth in the final result, it hurts nothing…so be generous in sizing each pocket’s width.

Finally, close off the bottom end with a bunch of hemming, and then sew some shoestring or parachute cord near the top end (just to the outside, not through all pockets please!), to be used as a tie. Give that string more length than you think you may need too…it’s an easy matter to cut and sear it later if you’ve got too much.

That’s one easy way to make a soft bag, and unless you used heavy cloth or leather it should fit into your new rod case easily and protect the rod’s finish.

In its soft bag, the rod will likely be snug in your new case down near the rod grip. But if you find that it can rattle back and forth up near the thinner ends of the rod segments, you can cut a little foam collar out of what’s left of the foam, and slide it on there each time you put the rod into the case, for added protection against accidental shock (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Soft Bag and Optional Collar

Put a strap on the case if you like; I find I don’t need one and tend mostly to just carry mine in a day pack out to the water.

A couple of photos of cases and bags I’ve made and put into long-term service follow in Figure 8. Again, this little project is hardly a news scoop, but I offer it in case some think it would take significant time and planning; it does not. And once completed, an angler has full peace of mind and a new bit of gear to take pride in and to reliably protect that favorite wand.

Figure 8. Finished Case

10 thoughts on “A Case for the Fly Rod

  1. Robert N. Betts

    Wow, Michael, that is as complete for making a serviceable rod tube as I’ve ever seen. Nice work! I like your choice of ABS plastic rather than the heavier PVC.

    Every rod must be cased when not in use. The first thing I do when I return to my vehicle after fishing is I case my rod, even before I remove my fishing vest, wader, and boots. It’s a good habit to form. I’m betting there are plenty of anglers reading this post who have witnessed forgotten rods on vehicle roof tops or broken uncased rods in a crowded SUV.

    Reply
  2. Michael Vorhis

    How right you are, Robert. I typically set my rod carefully on the car roof while I take off the waders, just to get some mobility and comfort going, then put the rod carefully away. But during our family camping trip last June, I set my own rod and the special one I’d given my 14-year-old daughter for getting all A’s up on the Landcruiser roof…but then, what with the thousand things that make up getting the family and snacks and chairs all loaded into the vehicle, I drove us away from the stream with the rods still up there. I heard one of them fall off on the country road on the way out to the highway. I was sick to my stomach getting out of the truck to see what had happened, because my own rod is one I’d built myself across a few hundred hours of loving care some years back…but Fate smiled upon me just a little when I realized it was the sweet little 8.5-foot 3-weight I’d bought for my daughter that had fallen.

    The tip section had broken and the reel had bent. it ruined the rest of her fishing on that trip; the cheap reel was an easy replacement, but the rod is no longer made, so I couldn’t get a new tip section and had to hook her up temporarily with a cheap inferior substitute, wrapped in a world of apologies. Still working on recovering from that.

    Now I still put rods on the roof, but part of my regimen is to drape a bright yellow cord over them that hangs down onto the windshield, so I cannot forget where they are.

    I too like the ABS. The cases I make for these rods actually don’t take much time to make, and they’re very strong, light, perfectly sized, indiividual, and damned cheap. I probably milked the article into something longer than it needed to be by sharing every single detail. I admit it. : )

    Happy 2020!

    – Mike

    Reply
  3. Robert N. Betts

    I’ve learned a habit of casing a rod is especially important when traveling in a rental vehicle with a bunch of buds. They often throw their gear willy-nilly into the rear of the SUV and the result is a large pile of scrambled tackle. So, I not only case my rod immediately after I return to the vehicle but pack away my wader and boots and fly vest with all the dangling hemostat, nipper, and tippet spools in a laundry bag. Nearly every time we unpacked the vehicle I would hear complaints that their tools were stripped off their vests or a rod was damaged. Me? I just grabbed my rod case, wader bag, and laundry bag and headed into the cabin for a single malt without worry about my gear.

    Reply
    1. Michael J Vorhis

      Hey Robert, you bring up another excellent point about gear loss and damage–carelessness of buddies. I know from a wide array of gear-intensive sports how prone buddies can be to sitting on, lying on and stepping on others’ packs. “Dude, how could I have known you had sunglasses [or hand-held transceiver or GPS unit or fly boxes or squeeze-bottle of shampoo or bag of bananas] in there??? I was just lookin’ for somethin’ ta sit on, that’s all. Sorry dude…it happens, it’s only money…we good?”

      Buddies…they never learn. That’s one reason why I try to keep my fly fishing a largely solitary experience.

      Nice tip on the big laundry bag; would indeed improve the picture. Here’s another: separate vehicles. : )

      – Mike

      Reply
  4. Robert N. Betts

    I’ve acquired a couple of waterproof laundry bags, which work even better. If our group is five or more, we do rent two SUVs. But I see the jumble of tackle in both SUVs. So far, nobody just sits on somebody else’s bag or gear. That is a no-no in my crowd. When we return to the cabin, we usually turn our waders inside out to dispense with condensation and hang them to dry. Tackle repair is done right away in preparation for the next day while another guy fixes dinner. We’ve been blessed with several who are good cooks. Another has KP. We leave breakfast to a retired Navy captain who always has strong, hot coffee ready and a great breakfast ready no matter what time the rest of us arise. Since he was Navy, he insists on beans as part of the breakfast. But he doesn’t go along with grits and claims there is no nutritional value in grits. I claim he knows nothing of emotional sustenance. I sneaked in cheese grits once by claiming it was Southern polenta. It was too late for him to object. We eat quite well no matter where we go or how desolate the area.

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Beans! I guess I was not cut out to be a seafaring man. Actually I learned that in the Coast Guard…I resigned the Academy after two years because my equilibrium wasn’t designed for the open sea…they say you get used to it but I’d have been the extreme case. And now the thought of beans for breakfast only proves that I’d made the right choice.

      I didn’t grow up on grits, as I was just a little north of the Mason-Dixon. But tearing a hole in the middle of a piece of bread before frying it in butter, and breaking an egg into the hole and frying it all up in the butter, is something I did grow up on…I could eat that every morning for hundeds of years. And there’s also no aroma on a camping trip better than frying bacon.

      You sound like you guys do really eat well Robert. That’s the kind of trip that becomes a tradition. Tell me when and where, and I’ll show up with an appetite. : )

      – Mike

      Reply
      1. Robert N. Betts

        Beans were only a side dish to the scrambled eggs and bacon. I got used to them as well as some of the others. But the best feature of the day besides doing well at the river was returning to the cabin at the end of the day, propping my feet on the rail of the porch, holding a single malt wiskey, and lying like hell how I did that day as did the others. All were accomplished fly anglers, but sometimes I had my doubts about the tall tales. The stories told were absolutely hilarious. The routine seemed to repeat itself regardless where we fished, e. g., local waters in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, New England, Arkansas, Ireland.

        Reply

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