Fly Fishing Rods #1: Starting my fly rod - finding materials including birch bark

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Blog entry by Matt Vredenburg posted 09-13-2009 10:21 PM 9578 reads 7 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Fly Fishing Rods series Part 2: Cutting out the birch bark »

I am setting off to make my first fly rod (sorry, graphite not a bamboo rod – one thing at a time) with the goal of leveraging my years of woodworking by turning a unique grip. I am also making a rod for my older brother as well. I plan to make something similar to this one – birch bark grip with other laminated woods.

My first chore is finding some birch bark and since I live in Arizona we have plenty of cactus (i.e., saguaros) but no so much birch. I was originally going to post a question for where I can find some birch bark, but after sifting through my wood stash this morning, to my amazement, I found a birch log. Whenever I find a old piece of wood – I have to think back to where it came from (reminds me of places I have been and people I have met). And in this case, the log came from a tree that was located in front of my childhood home where my mother still lives (Lowell, MI). We had to cut down the tree after it fell in a Michigan ice storm. We did end up planting another beautiful birch tree in the same spot – it’s growing very well. I must have shipped this log from Michigan to my home in Arizona 4 years ago and after being in a hot and dry climate for a few years – it now weights about half.

This morning, I stripped the bark off the old log and started to clean it up. I ended up wetting down the bark to see if I can flatten it without much luck. I still need to strip the layer of wood that is stuck to the bark – this will take a little time today. My goal is to get it flat enough to drill 1 1/2 inch holes (hole cutter) to be glued up for the rod grip. This is my first time doing this process but I have lots of advice from this web site ( – if you’re interested in learning more yourself.

I plan to document the process.

I will document the process using my blog and will include the final fly rods when I am finished. Hopefully me using them and catching a fish!

From Woodworking projects

From Woodworking projects

From Woodworking projects

From Woodworking projects

-- Matt, Arizona

6 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


118322 posts in 5031 days

#1 posted 09-13-2009 10:24 PM

Interesting, I look forward to more


View DaneJ's profile


56 posts in 4662 days

#2 posted 09-14-2009 01:10 AM

If this is really your first rod you may want to use cork for your first grip, the seat and guides are much harder and you may benefit from the experience before getting really creative… blanks can be a little pricey unless you go for a St Croix blank.

Looks like the bark that you have may not be fresh, but you may be able to save it with a scraper, try cutting it into 2” strips, let it dry, scrape the strips flat, cut into 2” squares, drill 1/4” hole in the middle of each one, glue them up on a piece of 1/4” all-thread rod, be sure to put the ‘other’ disks on the rod as you build up the handle, put the threaded rod between centers and turn it into a handle. If you are going to use an up-locking seat put the hood cork on after turning and fitting up the handle.

The site you quoted looks like the handle was turned on the rod, IMHO don’t try it… turn the handle on the threaded rod… the graphite rod blank is too flexible and may self destruct as you spin it.
After the handle is turned bore it out to fit the rod, then epoxy it to the rod, much easier in the long run.

-- Dane, Fairview Pk, OH. The large print giveth and the small print taketh away... Tom Waits

View Matt Vredenburg's profile

Matt Vredenburg

193 posts in 4868 days

#3 posted 09-14-2009 07:01 PM

Thanks for the guidance Dane. It looks like you’ve made a few of these yourself. I might need some advice while I am putting mine together.

Regarding the birch bark. I cleaned it up last night and it actually looks pretty good. Let me know what you think.

From Woodworking projects

-- Matt, Arizona

View DaneJ's profile


56 posts in 4662 days

#4 posted 09-15-2009 01:17 AM

no problem, ask away… I have made quite a few various rods over the years, the most rewarding are the split cane fly rods.

Also remember a fly rod lighter than a #6 is much ‘finer’ and a handle that would look and feel great on a light spin-cast(hardware) rod may be too clunky on a fine fly rod.. also go easy on the thread a diamond weave may not be appropiate…

I have a bunch of rope-braid hook keepers that I make out of stirling silver, if you send me your s-mail I drop a couple in an envelope for you.

-- Dane, Fairview Pk, OH. The large print giveth and the small print taketh away... Tom Waits

View rustedknuckles's profile


160 posts in 5205 days

#5 posted 09-18-2009 05:05 PM

interesting, I’ve built probably 100 fly rods and have never encountered a birch bark handle. I am very curious about how it turns out. like most builders I always reach for the cork, but this might be really cool!

Tight Lines!

-- Dave- New Brunswick

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5614 days

#6 posted 09-21-2009 04:16 PM


-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

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