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An interview with Tom Dorsey
by Andy Dear


First we had interviews with Jim Green and then Tom Morgan. After that we had the Press Powell And now we have Tom Dorsey.

TOM DORSEY

Let's face it...in this day of mass produced, imported, cookie-cutter products, there are very few items that are worthy of the adjectives elegant, classy or graceful. Thomas and Thomas fly rods, however, harken back to a time when elegance and grace were king in the fly rod business and pride of workmanship meant more than sheer quantity for dollars and cents. Founded by Tom Dorsey and Tom Maxwell in the late sixties, Thomas and Thomas Rodmakers built its reputation on their now legendary bamboo rods. Picking up where the bamboo masters like Payne and Leonard left off, Thomas and Thomas raised the bar for what constituted quality in a bamboo rod. Pioneering new construction techniques and refining classic hardware design, Thomas and Thomas established themselves as a company who not only maintained a healthy respect for the history of the bamboo tradition, but was ready to lead the industry as an innovator as well. As fly rod design shifted its emphasis from bamboo to glass to graphite, Thomas and Thomas made a seamless transition into these new materials as well. Not at the expense, however, of lowering their standards and straying from the bamboo making ethic. Much like their bamboo rods, Thomas and Thomas graphite rods have become the hallmark of quality, performance, and craftsmanship among the large production rodmakers. Recently, Tom Dorsey was kind enough to spend some time with me and share some insight about the history and philosophy behind Thomas and Thomas Rodmakers. I think you'll find it not only extremely enlightening and informative, but inspiring as well.

ANDY DEAR: Why don't we start at the beginning? How and when did you get started building rods?

TOM DORSEY: Well, let's see, I can't narrow it down exactly, but it was in the sixties I first became interested in fly fishing. Living in Ohio, we didn't have that much trout fishing, and there was quite a bit of bass fishing around, but you had to go to Cook's Forest in Pennsylvania and places like that for the trout. My first rod was horrible...just a dog. I thought, "my God, I've got horrible casting skills and I just can't make this thing work." I struggled with that rod; it was always a fight. I think they weighted it for a 6 weight line, but it needed about an 8 weight. That was my first inkling that rod tapers mean everything.

I had been going to school in Ohio and moved to Michigan shortly after that to get my undergraduate in Philosophy. Well, there was plenty of fishing in Michigan. By this time like everyone else, I had become enamored with bamboo rods like the Paynes and the Leonards. I would see rods around, but most of them were very expensive, which in itself, gave me the initiative to learn to make rods because I couldn't afford the quality of the rod I would like. But even with the high quality rods, there were some disappointments with many of the rods I would pick up. I had a neighbor in Michigan and one day he brought out a little 7'0" 4 weigh, I think. I'll never forget it. It was a tan colored Heddon glass rod. I got out in the yard and cast it and it was such a wonderful rod! Suddenly, my casting skills had improved threefold compared to that first glass rod I owned. So, I began playing around with putting stuff together out of glass blanks just to have rods to fish with. I was just so infatuated with the fact that this little rod cast so well. Suddenly, there was this revelation that the relationship between the line and the rod were a set of very critical dynamics. In looking around, I had tried other bamboo rods, many of which were fairly bad, and it was then that I began to see specifically what was wrong with them. Many of them had what I would call a hinge....sort of like "kaboing- kaboing!" They were not proportioned, that is, all the flex was happening disproportionately down towards the ferrule. There again, I could see that rod tapers were either being misunderstood or ignored or whatever. I don't know if it was intuition or what, but I could see exactly where they needed less material or more material. You need to understand that by this time, bamboo was considered obsolete by the whole industry. When fiberglass was discovered, Montague Rod and Reel Company, for example, sold all of their bamboo milling machines because they thought that was the end of bamboo. Prior to that, everything was made out of bamboo, the mass production rods and the high grade stuff. So one day, I was visiting my brother-in-law, Tom Maxwell (who later turned out to be my partner) in Pennsylvania, and I went into a little tackle store there. The man who owned this shop didn't realize that with the demise of the production rod companies, the status of bamboo became elevated; approaching something like a collectible art form. There was suddenly this mystique about bamboo and the surviving companies. You no longer had the mass production stuff, but you had the finest rods....the finest of the day at least like the Paynes, Leonards, Dickersons and Orvis. So now, bamboo rod making was born again on a different level, which was the mass production level, or you know, the "every man's rod".

I was aware of this and I was into this new mentality about bamboo, and when I asked this man if he had any bamboo rods, he said "well, I do have one bamboo rod under the counter, but its been pretty hard to sell." He pulls it out and it still had the original price tag on it of $25.00. It was a Wright McGill Granger Victory, two tip, 3 piece 5 weight. It took me about two seconds to reach for my wallet (laughter)! I went home and cast that rod and it was just a wonderful rod. With this rod, I could tell that they really knew what they were doing. It had such wonderful progressive balance and that further inspired me to look into rod tapers. By this time, I had some equipment like V blocks and other stuff to make my own. You know, its kind of nice because you can make parts and try things and experiment with tapers. So I began to keep a log of the results I had with rod various tapers and I began to learn. To me, rod design as far as tapers go, has always been a joy anyway. I love that sort of discovery process. Now, all through this time, I had also been a musician. I am an upright jazz bass player. I had been restoring instruments because to own a really fine instrument takes a lot of money. I would go to pawn shops and come home with two or three broken up instruments. I would take the best sounding ones after restoring them and reassemble them and work my way up to a really fine instrument. Now, there is an analogy here; I would play around with retapering the top and back of instruments to change the sound and I would play around with the diameter and the type of the wood used in the sound post. So, my first peek at a new bamboo rod....taking a rod like this Granger Victory out of the case or taking an old Payne out of the case....the smell of a varnish and rejoicing at the beauty of it, it struck the same funny bone as wooden instruments did. And it gave me the same kind of joy as far as craftsmanship is concerned.

AD: I completely understand. I have been a guitar player for 19 years and used to build guitars in my late teens and early twenties.

TD: Okay, its that same sort of research and experimentation. If you choose to experiment with those things, you can understand there is definitely a parallel there with rod tapers. The same joy with creating a beautiful finish, they really do have a lot in common. At this time, I was attending graduate school in Maryland and playing music extensively as an added source of income. But, I also began to make rods for others at this point, because people would see one I made for someone else, so I thought, OK, you know, "I'm a graduate student, so make some money, play some music, make a few rods," as an added source of income. Tom Maxwell had worked at General Electric and had become disenchanted with the corporate way of thinking. And for whatever reason had moved down to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He took a job that allowed a little better lifestyle and living in Pennsylvania takes you close to the fishing we loved, which was down around Boiling Springs. It was a convenient drive up from Maryland to that part of Pennsylvania for me. At that point, we hadn't yet thought about any business venture together. I was in graduate school with all my course work done and all I had to do was write a dissertation. Since I didn't need to take courses any longer, I decided to move to Pennsylvania. I could be near the fishing I loved and work on the dissertation up there. You know, make a few rods, and the other things I has been doing. Good paying music gigs I could still drive down to (Washington) D.C. to play. In fact, when I left there, I had been playing with the Lloyd Macniel Quartet and Roberta Flack, and we had even played on Barbara Walters/Hugh Downs morning show. When I moved to Pennsylvania, I was looking for a position to be a college teacher. Well, those kind of job offers were really putting me off because I wasn't fond of having to move someplace else to teach at a university. I wanted to live in a place that gave me the feeling that we were after as fly fishermen...you know, near fishing and rivers and mountains. So, since the universities weren't standing in line to offer me a position in Bozeman, Montana (laughter) ....so, how do you get a job where you really want to live without compromising a lifestyle? The job market was looking bad and meanwhile the list of people who wanted us to make rods for them had grown. I had such a long list of backorders. Tom Maxwell was doing the wrapping and varnishing, while I was designing tapers, planing them and mounting them. I was neglecting work on my dissertation, so I had decided that I had to stop working on both rods and the dissertation and choose one. Tom Maxwell had decided to go back to graduate school as well at Kent State. There again, both of us thought that a teaching position was a nice lifestyle for a person who likes to do other things, namely, make rods and fish, and so on. Well, things were very political then. He was at Kent State when all those students got shot. I had been in Maryland when the war protests were going on, and state police were slugging people around with bats, so we just decided to make our own way. So, in 1969, we formed Thomas and Thomas Company using our first names and decided to have a go at it. We ran an ad in Fly Fisherman magazine. I was living in a farmhouse that had a long wing on it which we used as a shop. Well, Tom was able to commute to Chambersburg, and we would work there at my shop. Well, all of the locals used to show up. Vince Marinaro used to show up. We were sort of the pride of that area because there was something new and exciting going on in their backyard. So here we are with hand tools and it was so hard to make a living and keep up with the demand. Our standards were high, so we were fussy about what went out the door.

It was tough, but we loved it. Well, we were selling a few rods to a guy named Ed Koch, who is a pretty well known fly tier. He owned his own fly shop and he used to sell various bamboo rods. One day he says, "you know, there's a man up in Greenfield who is considering retiring and he has some equipment and a wonderful stock of bamboo. If you guys want to be more productive, then you could go buy his equipment." Now, that man was known to Ed Koch because Ed had been selling his rods through his shop for a fairly low price. The man's name was Sewell Dunton. Well, Sewell was the CEO of the Montague Rod and Reel Company. So when Montague abandoned everything, he was the guy who bought the milling machines and the thousands of culms of bamboo...some people say it was a million, which is probably not correct, but it was extensive. When South Bend went out of business, he purchased all of their bamboo. He had this raw bamboo in a barn up in Greenfield. Well, we had heard the equipment was good, substantial, very professional stuff, and we had also heard about his bamboo. You have to understand, when the U.S. enacted the trade embargo with China, companies like Leonard and Orvis and Payne had no source of bamboo because of the embargo. During that time, the United States government attempted to grow bamboo in Puerto Rico and southern parts of the USA without success. So here was Orvis, Leonard, and Payne relying on Sewell Dunton for their bamboo. Most people don't realize that Sewell was the source of bamboo rodmaking during those times. It would have been disastrous if he hadn't had the foresight to believe that bamboo wasn't going to totally disappear. So Tom and I decided to go up and have a look. So we go up to Greenfield to take a look at his shop even though we really didn't have any money (laughter). We were struggling. We looked at it and realized that the expense of taking all this stuff and putting it on a truck and moving it to Pennsylvania....well, we'd have to buy a building and we'd need some capital or this wasn't going to work! We realized that we couldn't afford to take it to Pennsylvania and set up shop there. So, here it was all plugged in and ready to go. Sewell even had a rod mounter and a wrapper. Well, we weren't interested in the mounter because he was used to this mass production stuff and this was a different game we were playing, so we didn't need him. But the wrapper, Loretta, was a wonderful woman and she had wrapped bamboo rods for years and we realized that if we were going to make more rods, then we were going to have to get out from under that and get some help. So we said, "Okay, since we can't afford to move the business to us, we'll just move to the business." This was something we could afford to do. So we bought the equipment and all that wonderful pre-embargo bamboo. So, in 1969, we became Thomas & Thomas Rodmakers. That was the year of Woodstock....the year we landed on the moon.....1969 was an interesting year (laughter)! So, Tom and I are making rods and struggling and at that time, we were selling some rods to a guy named Len Codella. We realized that Len could sell every darned bamboo rod we could make. So, one day, Len offers to form a three-way partnership with us.

"I can handle the front-end sales and pay the bills. You guys won't be disturbed and can stay in the back room and make rods and be productive," he said. Not only that, Len had a substantial mailing list. He sold feathers, he sold waders, rods, reels, lines. It was a full fly shop, even down to blended furs. He says, "We can put this together and instead of just being a rod company, we can do all these other things." It seemed to make sense, so we formed a new partnership with Len. He moved from Linden, New Jersey, and we located a building in Turners Falls that was more adaptable for what we wanted to do. We worked together for a few years. That was about '72, I think. Maxwell then left in 1975; he wasn't with the company very long. Len Codella and I bought him out and Maxwell then went down to manage the Leonard Rod Company. Len and I ran the company together for some 16 years before the present owner came into play. That's pretty much the history of Thomas & Thomas. Sorry it was so long winded, but we got started, and I figured I'd stick with it for a minute (laughter)!

AD: No, that's great! At what point did you guys introduce fiberglass and later on carbon fiber?

TD: We never made fiberglass blanks. Maxwell and I used to buy glass blank to tapers that I prescribed from an outfit out in Denver. Phillipson was the company.

AD: Yeah, Bill Phillipson.

TD: Then, when Len became a partner, the world had discovered graphite, so that was the end of our interest in glass anyway. At that point, I then started to play around with graphite tapers and originally had various people make them for us.

AD: When you say you "played" with graphite designs, were you actually carving out cloth patterns and designing mandrels?

TD: No, I would look at existing rod blanks and chop them up and measure and determine inside tapers and wall thickness and all that. You know, much of rod design is diagnostic anyway. Its like tasting food or wine and then deciding whether the wine should have been in the barrel another three months or whether the food needs more garlic or whether the garlic should be toasted before you add it. As you can see, I love cooking and I'm an amateur wine maker! (laughter) In fact, my wine making hobby almost ran away, just like the bamboo rod making did! Anyway, I would convey information to people. For example, Gary Loomis made blanks for me. In fact, people may not realize it, but Gary made blanks for a lot of people. So, Loomis and also Kennedy Fisher made blanks for me, but I was never happy with what I could get. I would get stuff from them that, at first seemed pretty good, but then when I began to place orders, suddenly it would change. It wasn't what my prototype was all about. I was really frustrated with that sort of thing, so we decided to buy equipment and produce our own blanks. That happened when Maxwell left in '75, so somewhere in the late 70's, Len and I bought the fire station next door to the main building. That gave us a place to put equipment in. That's when we bought graphite rolling tables. At first, we bought used stuff...stuff that was previously owned by Heddon and which I reconditioned. In fact, I reconditioned all of those Montague milling machines as well. The original oven we used, I built from scratch. So then, I began to have fun...now I could really create everything from scratch. I could design and taper mandrels and play with patterns and wall thickness. That was a real joy to me because I've always liked designing rods and I love bamboo rods, but graphite is really very different. It was a new arena because it was a different kind of design. You have wall thickness and you have something hollow, so it was like having a new toy. I had learned so much from bamboo taper that it was fun to look at the similarities and the dissimiliarities and the relationships between the material and between the solid construction versus hollow type. So from that point on, we made our own graphite blanks.

You have to understand that at that point, we still did not have a large body of dealers buying these from us. We were pretty much direct sales with an order form in the catalog. Lenny and I ran the business that way for quite a while until we ran into someone who was interested in purchasing the company, which ended up being the P.J. Carroll Company. Well, a few years later, they decided to sell off all the American companies they had. When they did, that's how Lon Deckard, the present owner, came into play. When Lon purchased the company, he decided that we should cease selling direct and take on sales reps and sell to dealers only. Lon believed the way for this company to grow was to sell through fly shops rather than sell direct. It grew the business substantially. In turn, this meant that I had to take graphite rod design a lot more seriously because we now needed a full line-up of rods. So that gave me another arena in which I could have fun. I have really had the good fortune to really be able to dig in deep with both bamboo and graphite and its been really rewarding for me.

AD: Did you ever correspond with any other makers as you were learning to make graphite rods?

TD: No, not really. I met Don Green (Sage) years later when I used to see him at the trade shows. He's a wonderful man, and I would always stop by and see him and we would talk rods. We have always had a high mutual respect for one another. I still have a good relationship with them (Sage). As a matter of fact, the new owner, Jay Green, called me last year and wanted me to cast some of their new stuff. I have always had a good relationship with them and I think they have a great respect for me as far as being a graphite designer. Its a mutual respect and its always been like that. Even in the bamboo days, I never really had any tutelage. First of all, I love discovering things on my own. I haven't read the Garrison book... I think I got a few pages into it and I just couldn't deal with it.

The mathematical calculations of tapers and so on, that can get you into a zone where you're not 100 miles off target when you're trying to make an 8 weight rod. But after that, I really believe that rod design is more like violin making, wine making, or even like the culinary arts. If you put something together you have to cast it...its like tasting the soup. You have to be able to diagnose and ask yourself where you think its out of proportion. Then you change it and try another one. So its an empirical growing process, especially when you consider that the mathematical stuff tells you things about how to deal with the bending and flexing of a rod in relation to a certain amount of weight. If you hang a piece of weight on a rod shaft, you will get some reading, but that's not necessarily the dynamic you're after. We're not looking at a gravitational effect, we're looking at an inertial effect. And its not just the weight of the line either, its the amount of force with which you come forward or backwards. So there is the anatomical aspect. You know, a strong arm guy who has a very strong casting style is going to prefer a more... oh, I hate to use these terms because they get so misused, but lets say a stiffer or faster action. Someone who relies more on technique and timing might actually be a better caster with a rod that is a little more yielding. You'll see a similarity between that and golf shafts. Professional golfers, they drive the ball relatively equally far, but one has a stiffer shaft than the other because of his technique.

AD: I don't know if you recall the first conversation you and I had, but we discussed a lot of the misinformation that gets transmitted, especially through the internet, from folks who want to use mathematical and engineering formulas to dissect the intricacies of rod design and performance.

TD: Yeah, I do remember, and engineers are the worst because they presume that they know it all! It's not that they are bad people (laughter) , but they think that all information is available within the arena of engineering mathematics. And since they have been educated in that area, its a natural leap for them to make that presumption, that they are obviously going to know more than someone else. The problem is that those formulas and such ignore all those other features of fly rods that have to do first of all with individual taste, casting style, and anatomy. And I really believe that part of the joy of fly fishing, is fly casting.

AD: Absolutely.

TD: When you're casting, you want a rod that will give you joy during the process of casting. Any good caster can pick up a poor rod and make it work. They'll make it work, they'll compensate for the rod somehow, but they'll make it happen and get the line out there.

AD: Well, it's no different with musical instruments. You gotta be able to pick up any instrument of any quality and make it sing.

TD: Yeaaahhh! A bad instrument! What makes a fine instrument is one that has balance and even everywhere. Its hard to find, but that's what we're after. It isn't that it plays louder, it's that it plays more beautifully and that it is fun to play because it's in balance and you don't have to trick it!

AD: Yep, or work against it!

TD: Yeah! Well, you're a guitar player, you understand that!

AD: I'd like to switch gears a bit. Thomas and Thomas has a real reputation for aesthetic quality and strictness to a set of really high standards to all the things that go into making a rod. What do you look for specifically with a critical rod builder's eye...when you walk into a fly shop and pick up a rod?

TD: Yes, Tom Maxwell and I were very much into aesthetics. Its pretty easy to see that Payne is my role model. He had a very nice finish. He had beautiful metal work and reel seats and ferrules and all. I came off of musical instrument making and Tom was a very good craftsman. He always wrote all of the inscriptions on our rods. He was a good fly tier and a good wrapper. I can wrap well, but it doesn't turn me on to sit there and do it, but I love playing with tapers. We both had a sense for aesthetics because we both had a sense for everything we had seen around us. We had looked at all these Paynes and Dickersons, great stuff. You know, Payne died not long after Tom and I got started. So I think people were looking for quality. In fact, I got a letter from a client one time that was just rejoicing in the fact that as Payne is on his death bed, along comes these other two guys that are going to carry the torch...and we really did think we were carrying the torch. I mean, that's how we felt about it, frankly! But, having big egos, as a musician, you want it to sound good, if you're a painter, you want to just dazzle someone, if you're going to make a fly rod, just make it be a killer rod. Not only in casting, but make it look good as well. On the other hand, if the rod is not a good casting instrument, don't waste the varnish.

I do believe strongly that form follows function. You don't bother making a violin that sounds terrible, look good...well, at least, I wouldn't. But, a fine sounding violin deserves to be made elegantly, so you put the purfling in. The purfling is not going to make it sound better, but why waste your time if the sound is second rate unless you're trying to dupe somebody by dazzling them with purfling and sequins, and that happens a lot. There are some contemporary rod makers right now, individuals who are selling based totally on aesthetics. Whose actions are totally mediocre, and I just think its gotta be a fly rod first. On the other hand, once it is, let's make it pretty. It is an expression of our own desire and I think that's probably true of instrument makers. Even if they weren't making them, they still would be the customer who had an eye for that beauty. There is something inside of you that dictates the kind of guitar you'd love to own is the kind of guitar you'd make. It's the same with rods.

We got into applying varnish in a different way and dipping techniques; things that weren't going on in the industry at the time. Nor was the use of formaldehyde, much less melamine based glues. Leonard was still using animal glue! Orvis was using resorcinol and they had to because they were making an impregnated rod. There just wasn't anything else available at that time, at least not that anyone knew about until I began using melamine. When Maxwell went down to Leonard, he changed them right over. They began to use an adhesive called melurac. Maxwell immediately taught them how to varnish and I think some of the best-looking Leonard rods ever made were the ones made when Maxwell was there. He taught them how to do that!

But anyway, I felt about rods like I felt about instruments. So when I began to make graphite rods after Maxwell left, it was natural for me to make graphite rods that were good looking as well. Now with any rod, the material is the material. With bamboo, it has a fairly low modulus, its inefficient, so the taper is all you have to deal with. And its extremely important that you carefully address the distribution of mass, because a little more material here or there can make a very significant difference. So with graphite, you try for the same thing, but you have an advantage in that its a lighter material to begin with. People misunderstand why lightness is an attribute. You don't try to make a lighter rod just because it weighs less or because its less tiring or because it feels lighter in your hand. It isn't about the weight of the rod on the scale. As a matter of fact, it's not about the weight of the rod, because the rod also has a reel seat, which if its nickel silver, is heavier than aluminum, etc. But with the rod shaft, the reason we're concerned about less weight in the shaft, is not caster fatigue, at least not directly. Indirectly, a bad taper in a rod may tire you out to cast it because you spend your time just accomodating it. The weight of the shaft...inertial weight, is what its all about. If you could talk to Gary Loomis or Don Green or any of these guys, I'm quite sure they'd agree that the ideal rod would have zero weight.

Think about it, you take a rod and you wiggle it and with bamboo, the weight of the shaft is loading itself even without a fly line on it yet. Even if you didn't have any guides on it, the weight makes it load. With graphite, they tend to feel stiffer than they really are because the shaft doesn't load through its own inertial effect. So you tend to feel more loading with the line later on than you do with just the shaft itself. If you had a zero weight rod shaft, assuming the guides you put on it are also zero weight, then when you wiggle it, it wouldn't bend at all! It would be absolutely stiff. Then you put a line on it and you got yourself a 2 weight! That would be ideal because when the rod bends on the back cast and you begin to come forward, the rod is loaded, the line goes forward, and the shaft wants to continue to do something. You see poorly tapered bamboo rods, and to some degree, any bamboo rod, the loop is going to have a little notch in the bottom where the tip came forward and continued down. But if you had a rod with zero weight, it wouldn't do that and you would get the tightest loop imaginable.

AD: And probably more of a V-shaped loop as opposed to a U-shaped loop.

TD: Yes! But not only that, you would have more energy because the weight of the rod shaft actually steals something. Just as when you put current through an electric wire, you begin to increase amperage, and at some point, you have a toaster oven. Similarly, in a rod if the material is heavy, part of what is the taper has to be a consideration about carrying its own weight. Just like a cantilever beam. If it's not going to droop through its own weight, it has to be tapered somehow. So that illustrates that what goes on in the rod shaft is about the weight of the rod shaft itself. So, if you have zero weight, things become a lot cleaner. Unfortunately, we don't have zero weight in graphite; however, that just expresses one end of the continuum. What it does tell you though, is that weight is the only reason people use higher modular graphite. With a high modulus graphite, you attain a given stiffness by using less material. Now, if that's the case, what else causes extra weight? If I have guides on the rod and I goop up the wraps with a very thick epoxy. Rod makers may know it, but many consumers won't stop to think because they haven't had the chance to test how much inertial weight just the weight of the epoxy soaked into the guide wraps affects everything. It's substantial! If you take a rod shaft with no guides on it and wiggle it, then put a finish on it and wiggle it again, a rod maker is going to be able to feel the difference. Just like a bamboo rod, they ferrule it up, wiggle it, then varnish it up and wiggle it, it's not going to feel the same. Gary Loomis prefers not to put a finish on his shafts exactly for that reason. Most rod makers who are really into high performance, including T&T, who do put a finish on their rods, put on a very light, thin finish. Our finish is a 1 mil finish. You don't want finish to add weight, you don't want guides to add weight, if you goop up a lot of finish on your guides, its going to be a disturbance. So we have always done with our graphite rods what we have done over the years with our bamboo rods, which is to apply a very flat finish with more coats of thin material to get the job done. As opposed to some of these high build kinds of finish that you can put on your guides for a one coat application. Sometimes they are so viscous, that it builds up thick in the middle and looks like a....

AD: Football?

TD: Yeah! That will ruin a rod action by adding all that inertial weight. Also, aesthetically, I think it stinks. So, thank God I began with bamboo rods, and have this inclination and sensitivity to keep away from that! But to answer your original question about guide wraps, I know that was a long- winded answer, but that's how I feel about it. Aesthetically, it shouldn't be too much, and also from an engineer's point of view, there shouldn't be too much disturbing weight.

AD: Do you still have a big hand in the design of the full line of Thomas and Thomas Rods?

TD: Oh yes, I design all the rods and I always have.

AD: Do you have a preference for the type of material or modulus that you like to work with?

TD: Well, there are two things: First of all, not all rods work best or are designed best out of the same modulus or material to start. If you used the same modulus on a 7' 2 weight rod as you did on a 9'6" 10 weight rod, you're forcing yourself to work materials and mandrels such that you're pushing rod diameters down beyond a point that they can actually exist. If you're looking for a bendy rod and especially if it's short, the shorter the rod, the more difficult it is. You'd have to have inside diameters and mandrels so small that it would be hard to achieve. Even as it stands, we have some mandrels that terminate at .020 at the tip top end. I don't know of anyone who has found a way to get any smaller than that, so what's the point? On the other hand, with a larger rod, weight is more apparent, so you're progressively more motivated as the rod gains in length and line weight, to use higher modulus materials to avoid the apparent weight, not only with rod line definition, but with the added length. That parallels what I was just saying about the weight that is the furthest from your hand is the weight that has the most impact and is more evident. So with rod length, you have challenges, not in mandrel size, or in how thin you can get, but how you can avoid using too much material. Beyond that, modulus and the conversations about it are some of the most misunderstood concepts I can think of in rod design, in general, at least in conversations among lay people. In fact, it may not be misunderstand, but certainly ignored by people within the industry. Consider that most all the talk that I'm aware of concerning graphite modulus ratings is about the graphite fiber itself. If someone talks about 50 million modulus fiber, they are talking about a measurement done on a given sample of fiber. Well, with graphite, we talk about how stiff the material is in relation to a given amount of it. So , if you took that fiber, mixed in the resin, and laminated it into say a 1x1x6 piece of laminate, then stressed it for stiffness and stretch, etc., and then determine a modulus rating, then you would be talking about the modulus rating of the laminate, not the fiber. And I'll tell you this, there is a term in the industry called resin translation. A 50 million modulus fiber that has had resin mixed with it and is turned into a solid form is going to have dropped to another number altogether regarding its modulus designation.

Think of a piece of concrete with rebar going through it, with the concrete being the resin, and the rebar being the graphite fiber. Well, if you have more resin and less fiber, you have one cross sectional density. If you have more fibers and less resin, you have another cross sectional density, you've got a lot more fiber in the same area. When you buy graphite in this industry, you specify something; say 120, which means a square meter of that fiber weighs 120 grams. Well, if you have more resin and less graphite, the laminate is going to be entirely different than if you're lean on the resin and you're packed on the graphite. So its kind of misleading to talk about modulus of a fiber. If the industry were to talk about the laminate modulus, then we could talk about 1" x 1" solid cross sectional, or maybe a hollow tubular structure standard. Then we could determine who has a higher modulus material and there would be some sense to it because we'd be talking about the whole laminate and not just the fiber. It used to be so tempting for the industry to boast modulus numbers, but they've ceased doing that.

There was a time I used to call the era of "macho" rods. How stiff are they? How far can you cast it? Disregarding how many fish you've put down in the meantime that were 5 feet from you and disregarding the fact that it doesn't cast well up close. Tournament rods you want to cast far and that's all you care about. Fishing rods you want to be progressive, close or far. They need to do it all and the balance has to be there. So even if you could talk about the entire composition of the laminate, there would still be the question of why would we even want to have these discussions about modulus because its not the only attribute to the rod anyway. You can take a high modulus material and make it into a poorly tapered rod, or take a low modulus material with a wonderful taper and it will be a higher performance, better balanced rod. So rod taper is so essential, I don't feel there is any point in wasting a lot of time addressing the material if the tapers aren't what they need to be.

AD: Now for my last question...what do you feel like your contribution to the industry has been?

TD: (long pause)....As far as T & T goes, I think having raised the bar aesthetically on bamboo rods. I think most people would admit that T & T set a new standard in bamboo rod making. Payne made beautiful stuff, but we got on that one, and just really went with it. As for me personally, well I get compliments on rod design since I am the designer on bamboo, as well as graphite. I guess I take credit for that, but one thing that people don't talk about much, is the limited edition rods I've done over the years. Stuff like the nodeless rods with 28 pieces in every strip. I wouldn't want to do that again, but I wanted to do that because no one had at the time and I wanted to. I was flaunting it! Or the "Jus Swell" Limited Edition, for example, with a swelled butt that continues up to full grip diameter, no cork at all...just bamboo in the handle....extremely difficult to do. I'm sure that it made an impact. I guess I feel like maybe I've inspired a lot of rod makers to do things, by having done them first. A lot of them ask me about the techniques and I'll help them out. Now you have home rod makers making nodeless rods all the time. So I guess I've been an inspiration. In fact, in about 1972, there was an article in Fly Fisherman Magazine called the Bamboo Renaissance about Tom Maxwell and myself, and they credited us with having created the renaissance. There weren't many individual makers back then. You had your Leonards and your Paynes....it was almost like, if your name is not Stradivarius, how on earth do you think you could make a violin that anyone would buy? But we broke through that by having beautiful varnish and fittings which just dazzled the heck out of people. We had to be good because we didn't have an established name. Well, now we do; but back then, it was like "who the heck is Thomas & Thomas?" Payne had been around 100 years, Leonard was a 150 year old company, Orvis, 100 years of tradition, and who the heck do we think we are? So, it had to be good.

AD: Well Tom, I really appreciate your taking time out of your morning to do this.

TD: You're welcome. To tell you the truth, it doesn't seem like we've been speaking 2 hours. I guess when I get on a roll, I'm out of control! (laughter)

 

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