Article: Don’t Fear the Ferrule

FACT: FLY FISHERS LOVE TRAVEL. UNFORTUNATE FACT: Travel is a lot more difficult than it was 10 years ago, thanks mostly to international terrorism. In fact, I’ll never forget the time I watched a gentleman heading out on a cast-and-blast trip trying to negotiate security at Miami International Airport. He had forgotten that he had recently worn his travel vest while doing some upland shooting. Thanks to a little gunpowder residue in his pockets, he was locked inside MIA’s shiny new “puffer” bomb-sniffing device, while red lights flashed and security sprinted into the area (to the great amusement of his fellow anglers).

Due largely to tighter restrictions on carry-ons, and to more limited space on airplanes, the four-piece (or more-piece) fly rod has become a travel godsend. Understandably, many anglers wonder whether today’s multi-piece sticks are as good as they could be; after all, it used to be common knowledge that these rods had “dead spots” thanks to their extra ferrules.

According to manufacturers and the general impression from anglers, this isn’t the case anymore. In the old days, most fly-rod ferrules were made with extra turns of graphite around the female section of the ferrule, in order to prevent the blanks from splitting when the rods flexed. Orvis’ head of rod manufacturing, Jim Logan, explains that ferrules used to take nearly twice as many wraps of graphite as they do today in order to survive the forces of casting. These old ferrules were necessarily thicker, and typically longer, than modern ferrules.

Improvements in the resins used to hold the graphite in a rod together make all the materials stronger, but designers also integrated the ferrule into the taper of the rod. Scott Fly Rods’ Ian Crabtree says the ferrule was a necessary evil; it interrupted the taper and there wasn’t much designers could do about it, he notes. Today’s ferrules are tapered—just like the blank of the rod—so they can contribute to, rather than hinder, the transfer of power down the blank as the rod loads and unloads.

Does that mean the ferrule flexes as much as the rod? “No, the ferrule is still going to be something of a flat spot,” explains Crabtree, “but what you see now is that designers have learned how to incorporate that flat spot into the taper in an advantageous way.”

Ferrules of any kind give the rod stiffness, which is not necessarily a bad thing. “Rods need a certain amount of stiffness to do their jobs,” continues Crabtree. “Since fast-action rods have become so popular, the four-piece design works well with how anglers are using their rods today.”

Logan, of Orvis, highlights advancements in tapering technology as well, pointing out that whereas in the past a series of rods might have been made off of one basic taper extending from one end of the rod to the other, with ferrules spaced out between, manufacturers now design each piece of the rod with its own individual taper. Designers can also switch materials between different sections of the blank, greatly increasing the number of options they have in creating a flex profile. By drilling down into the specific needs not just of the rod as a whole, but also of a given piece of the rod, manufacturers are able to work ferrules into the taper in a sophisticated way that wasn’t possible in the old days (before computers and high-end testing machinery).

Today’s rods are made with two types of ferrules: The most common, the “sleeve-over” (or just “sleeve”), is the simpler of the two. With a sleeve ferrule, the male or lower end of any given section is simply manufactured to fit inside the female section. The other ferrule design is called the “internal ferrule,” which has been used most notably by Scott Fly Rods and R.L. Winston. With an internal ferrule, the ferrule is actually rolled separately (just like a miniature blank section), then inserted and glued into the male end of the rod. As a result, the ferrule sits inside both the male and female sections once the rod is assembled (the ferrule “seated”). This allows the ferrule to be considerably thinner even when compared to a modern sleeve ferrule; in turn, it is also more flexible. Internal ferrules are thus more appropriate for lighter-action rods, such as a five-weight trout rod. Importantly, some internal ferrule will always be visible when it’s seated (try to cram the section together so hard that you hide the internal ferrule and you’re likely to split the blank).

The bottom line for the modern angler is that multi-piece rods are just as good as their two-piece counterparts.

Historically speaking, it was the development of the internal ferrule back in the 1980s that gave designers the clues they needed to break away from the old multi-wrap, thick sleeve ferrule, and thus to design the modern, thin-profile sleeve, which has become the industry standard and affords traveling anglers with a great rod that packs easily and conforms to the airlines’ carry-on policies.

The bottom line for the modern angler is that multi-piece rods are just as good as their two-piece counterparts. Although the four-piece design does add some manufacturing cost (so at retail a multi-piece will cost more than a comparable two-piece), the benefits are enormous. Most airlines currently allow you to bring a four-piece rod tube (or multi-rod tube) as a carry-on item, which does not count against your bag limit. Pack smart, and you can keep all your invaluable rods and reels with you wherever you travel—without sacrificing performance.

This article originally ran in the Angling Adventures 2011 issue of Fly Rod & Reel magazine.

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