How did I get to be a rod designer?

How did I get to be a rod designer?

Paul Arden | Monday, 19 October 2020

Well firstly, before I begin to answer this, there are various parts in the rod design process that I don’t do. I don’t design the shape of the carbon templates for example. I don’t pick the mandrel. I don’t decide which cloth we are going to use. And of course I don’t work in the factory!

My input is that I know how I want the rod to feel, behave and perform and I work out how to shape the prototypes along to get to this point. There is trial and error involved, sometimes we go backwards, but we always get to the point where the rod becomes what I want and then we  release it.


Sometimes it’s taken as many as 8 or 9 prototypes to get there, however the process has been getting quicker over the years and now it’s usually between two and four versions. That’s no doubt because the starting point is now very much closer to the finishing point, no doubt because my friends in Spain, who do actually design the templates, have already done so for the previous Sexyloops rods. In some ways the hard work may have been done.


I’ve taken it for granted that I can do this. But I was surprised to find out that many can’t. And I think there are a number of reasons for this. The first is that they haven’t got the perfect rod in their minds, if you don’t know what you want, then how can you get it? Another problem, and I say this with respect, is that some simply don’t have the level of casting skill required to develop a rod: a performance rod needs a performance caster for development. And finally, how do you go from what you’ve got in hand, to what you want to have in hand? What adjustments to make and how to communicate this?


This means of course that you need to have an excellent relationship with the template designer. Because if he doesn’t understand you then it’s a non-starter. I have a friend in Spain, who I’ve known for over twenty years, Alejandro, who works in the Spanish rod manufacturing plant. He is an outstanding caster and fly angler - he has a different idea as to how rods should perform than I do, and that’s not only fine, that’s actually great because it gives me a distinct product!


Incidentally I have never said “I want a rod that behaves like such and such a rod”!!! What would be the point of that?!


Something I noticed, was that rod design went in a funny direction about 15+ years ago with rods that felt very rigid in the lower sections. Obviously that may suit some people but not me! I like a rod with feel. And the thing is this: you don’t need to sacrifice feel for speed. Speed is pretty much determined by the frequency of the rod and feel by its action and stiffness. Of course there is a handshake between them but it is nowhere near the point where many of today’s “saltwater” fly rods sit.


And I think there is actually a problem in the fly fishing world. Rods are too stiff for the majority of casters. This is why many anglers are habitually overlining their rods and many fly line manufacturers are making their lines heavier than the approved standard. For example RÍO often make flylines one line weight heavier than AFFTA standard - this makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but it is a clear indication that the majority of the flyrods on the market nowadays, are too bloody stiff for the vast majority of anglers.


When I put a number 4 above the handle I recommend using a line that not only has number 4 on the box but actually weighs 120 grains at 30’. Feel free to tinker, but I did not design that rod for a 5 line nor a 4 1/2. It’s a four weight and a phenomenal one too. You can fish 7X tippet no problems, it has lots of feel and sensitivity for short-lining and you can also, with skill, throw 100’+ with a DT4 quite comfortably in a fishing situation! It’s perfect and my all-round go-to trout rod. In fact I haven’t cast another 4WT that’s even in the same league as this one. But I digress!


So we’ve made (and are still making) a range of rods with feel that are fast. Light in the tip. Low swing weight. Robust - man we thrash them before we release them! But the other thing that really sets us apart, is in trying to minimise tip wiggle/bounce as the tip recovers after the Casting Stoke. Little wiggles might look sexy on the dance floor, but in the rod leg of the loop I would much rather they weren’t there.


I’ve been testing for that wriggle, or lack of it, when assessing rods, for the past 25 years. Ever since becoming a fly casting instructor. So let me give you some history over how I’ve come into this situation because obviously I wasn’t born yesterday.


I shifted from coarse fishing to fly fishing in 1980 at the age of ten years old. It immediately became my passion in life and at the age of 15 I got a job working in a fishing lodge. I dropped out of University, twice, and at the age of 21 I started spending six months/year fishing New Zealand and the other six months somewhere else. At that point and for the next 20 years, I became a full-time traveller (/travel fishing bum as they are now called). I spent 20 years sleeping in cars and tents, always living outdoors, in the New Zealand mountains, all over Australia, USA, Canada and Europe.


To make ends meet I taught advanced fly casting skills - I’ve been a professional instructor since 1996 - and we sold advertising on Sexyloops - which I started in 1998. Sometimes I didn’t eat :D


After 20 summers of flyfishing in NZ, I decided I’d experienced most of what it had to offer and it was time to move on and learn a new species/destination. Shortly after, I started fishing and living in the Malaysian jungle and have been here now for 8 years. For five of these years I was living in a 12’ aluminium boat - heaven! I’ve fly fished more than 10,000 days in life, fish over 330 days/year, and have given numerous fly casting demonstrations at gamefairs and taught casting workshops for 25 years. I’ve been a full-time fishing and casting instructor, I’ve worked in the tackle industry (sales manager for a UK fly tackle distributor), I’ve been involved in competition flycasting for 20 years,  I make a pretty mean curry and I’m a fly fishing guide in the jungle, but mostly I just fish as much as I can - because after all that’s what life is all about and you only get one shot at this. (Unless you are Buddhist).


And so this is how I know what I want from a rod performance-wise :D I’ve never compromised anything in life and that’s what you get from our fly rods.



Here in the jungle we don’t get typically many shots in a day. 10 shots would be an excellent day, right now it can be as low as 3 or 4. And these can be difficult shots requiring accuracy, speed, often no false casts, and you have to get it right first time usually. And so that’s three or four casts in a day, or about 100 casts per month!


How on Earth could anyone expect to maintain peak casting ability making only 100 casts per month? Not possible. So I practise. Usually it’s 20 or 30 minutes out in the boat practising shots. But the other week I started casting the lumiline off the roof. This is a glow in the dark “100’ DT” (the actual measured length is 97’. It might actually stretch to 100 but I didn’t try that because I don’t feel like swimming at the moment).


Anyway, like many competition casters, I can carry this line to the backing knot. Ie false cast with the entire 97’ flyline held to the backing knot with the line hand - and not just once, but for minutes at a time. Granted I am on the roof of a boat, which allows me to regather imperfect casts in the air.  This therefore  is an exceptionally good practise situation and allows us to alter loop shapes by changing how we use our bodies and so on. It also teaches about being able to aerielise Spey Cast anchors but that’s another Front Page story.


And then I wondered if I could carry this line without looking, ie blindfold. It turns out no problems - which was interesting because I’m always telling people to pick targets but of course there are no targets in the dark - ok the outline or hills, or stars can sometimes be used to navigate loops. Of course the advantage of closing our eyes is that we get to increase our reliance on other senses. You have to be particularly careful when extending your carry not to go beyond the backing knot because that can be painful!


And then of course it happened... could I do it left handed? Well of course not. But I’ve started working on it. It’s actually the Sexyloops’ casting challenge of the month for those who have done everything and want a new challenge. Can you carry 90’ of flyline, blindfold, using your non-dominant hand for 10 false casts? It’s a tough one but you have a month to learn!


Board Challenge 2 


Have a great week!


Cheers, Paul