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rocky bob how we make our fly rodsIt’s quite common that anglers want to know how we make our fly rods at Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods, as well as WHY we craft our handmade fly rods the way we do. “Rocky” Bob Knowles, the owner & founder of Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods, is a master fly rod designer & builder, and a master angler. He also has a lifetime of experience as an outdoorsman. It’s this expert perspective and lifetime of experience in fly fishing, fly rod design, and building that drives how we make our handmade fly rods here at Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods.

For starters, we handmake our fly rods one at a time, on a workbench. Rod components such as the reel seat, the guides, and the cork grip are hand-fitted to each rod. As a result, these fly rods feel “alive” in your hand and offer a pleasant “dancing” sensation.

The Fly Rod Building Process

Step 1: The Rod Blank

First, I start with the right rod blank, with the action that I think is best for both novice and experienced anglers, be they men or women. Fly rods from Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods are graphite, unless you choose to have us build a custom configuration. I’ve hand-selected graphite rods blanks that offer an excellent blend of price, value, and “medium action,” which means the rod bends further down the rod (from the tip to the middle). Choosing rod blanks that offer medium flex action helps mitigate the problem of accidentally yanking the fly out of the fish’s mouth. This typically happens when you have a fly rod that’s too stiff. Rocky Bob fly rods offer a medium action to avoid this common problem in fly fishing. The exception is our entry-level, hand-made fly rod (the Brookie), which is a tad stiffer than our other rods to help anglers make an easier transition from stiffer, machine-made fly rods to a handmade fly rod with more play in it. I also use four-piece rod blanks, which can be broken down more easily for travel.

Step 2: The Reel Seat

Next, I add a downlocking reel seat to the rod blank. The majority of factory-made fly rods use uplocking reel seats. On a downlocking reel seat, the sliding hood that clamps the reel to the reel seat slides down vs. up to hold the reel to the reel seat. I use aircraft-grade aluminum for reel seats on my fly rods because aluminum is an elemental metal that doesn’t corrode, and it’s lightweight. By using a downlocking reel seat, it drops the weight lower on the rod, which provides better balance.

Step 3: Adding a Cork Grip

I offer a variety of cork grips in different shapes and sizes to better fit your hands, and I always use “Best” grade cork that’s smooth and solid, with no pitting. Regardless of which cork grip you choose, it will be carefully hand-fitted to the rod. Cork grip options include:

  • Full wells fly rod cork grip (typically for men)
  • Reverse half wells fly rod cork grip (for men or women)
  • Modified Western fly rod cork grip (typically for men)
  • Cigar fly rod cork grip (typically for women, or men with smaller hands)

Step 5: Hook Keepers

I use single-foot, loop-style hook keepers to allow anglers to secure the fly and line to the rod to avoid catching it on foliage & branches. Over the decades of fly rod designing and building, and fly fishing, I’ve found that the circular shape of a single-foot, loop-style hook keeper makes it more durable.

Step 6: Adding Guides

Fly rod guides typically don’t get much attention or respect, but they are so important for ease of casting. I use use single-foot, loop guides, positioned strategically along the fly rod. Single-foot fly rod guides require less wrapping, which increases the “aliveness” of the rod. (Wherever you wrap the rod creats a “dead zone” on the rod that limits its flexing ability. The loop guides are used over snake guides because loop guides create less friction, and that makes for nice, easy, smooth casting of the line. Each guide is carefully hand-fitted to the rod.

Step 7: Wrapping the guides

I use nylon thread for wrapping guides to the rod. Once the guides are hand-fitted and wrapped, I apply several thin coats of varnish with a drying period in between the application of each coat of varnish. This results in a strong but thin veneer, which helps maintain the flex in the rod. (Too much varnish stiffens the rod and limits the flex.)

Here’s a quick summary of the benefits of my approach to building rods. Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods offer the following:

  1. A medium-flex fly rod = responsive feel, avoids yanking the fly out of fish’s mouth
  2. Downlocking reel seat = better balance and control
  3. Hand-fitted cork grip = less hand and arm fatigue from better fit to your hand
  4. Single-foot, loop guides = faster casting due to less friction
  5. Hand-wrapped, hand-fitted guides with multiple thin varnish coats = better responsiveness of the rod

My perspective is that fly fishing is about more than catching fish, and fly rods are about more than complicated-sounding technology. There is a connection of the water, food sources and fish, and the state of mind from the fishing experience.

Rod technology is getting a lot of attention these days. But it really comes down to whether the rod helps you keep your line and fly in the water, where you want it placed in the water, and to feel what’s going on. Rocky Bob’s handmade fly rods are carefully designed and handmade to help you place the fly in the target area as quickly, gently, and easily as possible, and to also have the sensitivity to help you feel the fish strike, to feel how much pressure to apply to avoid yanking the fly out of the fish’s mouth, and to avoid fatigue. Handmade rods with hand-picked rod blanks and rod components from Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods are based on my 50+ years of experience fishing, with the goal of creating a comfortable, magical fishing experience. That’s why these fly rods from Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods feel alive and truly dance in your hand.


About The Author:

Rocky Bob KnowlesRocky Bob Knowles is a master fly rod designer & builder, and a master angler with a lifetime of fly fishing, fly rod building, and outdoorsman experience. He is the founder and president of Rocky Bob’s Fly Fishing Rods, and hand makes fly rods, one on a time, at his studio in Denver, Colorado. Bob Knowles can be reached at: 720.810.9763;; or

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