Rod Flash & Other Matters

Rod Flash & Other Matters

Paul Arden | Monday, 6 April 2020

A question came up on the Board about glossy/matte rods and so I thought I should write about this for a while. Then I’m going to tell you about two new Hot Torpedos and finally I’m going to explain how to “dial in a rod”. But first let’s talk about lipstick...
Lipstick is something that women paint on their lips. It is supposed represent the lips of the vagina which can turn slightly red when sexually aroused. And so to make themselves more seductive to us fly fishing chaps, they paint their lips red too.

The same can be said for glossy rods. Some rod manufacturers - most in fact - add a gloss finish to their rods. This is so that when we are in a tackle shop looking for some tippet material or some hooks for fly tying, and suddenly see this ‘bling’, we think “wow I must have this rod and take it home!”  And then we take our shiny rod out fishing and catch less fish. Why? Because wild fish don’t like the company of anglers and if we are waving a shiny rod around, particularly in the sun, they will spook.

“How do you know this, Paul?”

Good question! I first started applying matte varnish to my fly rods as a teenager - I can’t remember why, one do the books I had read probably - maybe “The Trout and the Fly”. I used thin modelling varnish from Humbrol. And I did this for decades until I learned that you get a similar matte effect far more simply by scrubbing your rods with steel wool.

Back in the days when Internet advertising wasn’t all crappy Facebook, Sage used to advertise with Sexyloops and in addition would give me a couple of rods every year. One year, after having received a couple of TCRs, I accidentally jumped on one while nimbly falling over a fence in NZ. Soon after,  I received replacement sections that Sage had sent over in the emergency.

It had been raining for several days and I hadn’t had a chance to matte down the new sections. Then, one day the rain stopped and I still was fishing lipstick. Ronan, Chris and I were on the Oreti River and had spotted a nice 6lb brown trout in a backwater side-stream, that was avidly feeding. I was “On Strike”. I sneaked around and with one false cast the fish spooked. Much to my surprise because I really expected to catch this fish since everything was perfect.

I said “Ronan, go down there and wave my rod around while I stand where the fish was!”  With each Casting Stroke it appeared as if a lightning bolt descended from the heavens, with the rod mirroring the sun perfectly. There as me wearing camouflage, nimbly and silently hovering my way through the rocks and yet holding a lightning bolt in my hands! Needless to say the Brillo pads came out that night!

Does it really matter? That depends on how seriously you take your fishing. It certainly does to me. That was a six pound trout that I didn’t catch and would (undoubtedly!) have otherwise. I wonder how many other fish over the years I wouldn’t have caught had I been fishing glossy rods?

Many years back I broke a Bruce and Walker Hexagraph rod. Remember those? It wasn’t my fault, in my opinion, I had hardly fished the damned thing. I must have been about 15 or 16. I sent it back and it was either Bruce or Walker - I can’t remember which - who rang me and said, “you painted our rod!  That’s why it broke!”  I argued the case and said that he was talking bollocks. I can’t remember the exact outcome but I think we agreed to share the repair costs.

Which brings up an important point. When I talked to Sage about using steel wool to remove the lipstick, I was told that this would invalidate the warranty. So you may have to check with your manufacturer before you start scratching away. In the case of the Hot Torpedo they are already matte finished , as they should be. You’d expect nothing less from us, right?


The question also came up about fly line colour. There are in fact two considerations here 1) flylines on the water and 2) flylines in the air. Let’s deal with on the water first...

Any fish that is lined by a flyline will spook. I don’t know about stocked ponds; I’m talking wild fish here. Chase Jablonski, who was on the Board for years, drifted different coloured fly lines over NZ trout in rivers - and they all spooked no matter what colour. Numerous times I’ve watched fish swim up a floating line on lakes - they never swim down the line and eat the fly, they always swim up the line, look at me - and spook.

Flylines that are in the “mirror” - not that the “mirror” truly happens very often, at least not in the way that text books draw it, only in Mill Pond conditions - appear to be less important. Ditto in waves/ripple. In fact, if you have a long enough leader, then flyline colour I would argue matters not a jot... Even in NZ, where it is often claimed that bright coloured flylines spook fish. I have not seen it. I fished bright orange lines there for several seasons. So I think that’s a myth.

Line flash in the air however is most certainly not a myth. Some friends of mine did an experiment to determine which coloured flylines flash less, but I can’t remember the outcome - sorry! That said, I prefer to fish a white floating line, because I find it better to see for take detection. Incidentally one thing I do know is that clear “stealth” lines flash the most while casting - I’m sure you’ve all seen this. So if you are tying to be stealthy then these are absolutely not the lines to fish!

Here in the jungle, for Snakehead, it’s [probably] not line flash that spooks the fish, rather it’s the line and flies coming in while the fish is looking up. If the fish is in the process of surfacing and you make the shot and the flies or line enters the fish’s window on his (or her - don’t want to be fish sexist!) ascent, then SPOOK!! You must wait for the fish to turn down before the shot goes in.

Leader flash is another cause of fish spooking, both when it’s floating on, or in, the surface film - which it should never do - and as it’s travelling through the air. Mostly I will degrease with a Fullers Earth / washing up liquid / glycerine mix. This both sinks the leader and removes shine.

The only time I don’t do this is when fishing for Snakehead using Poppers and the Snakehead Shot - in this case I grease up the entire leader (with Loon Payette Paste) because it’s far quicker to lift the leader off the water surface than from underneath. If I could find some matte grease then I would be happier - maybe I’ll make some.


We have two new rods for 2020 (so far). The first is a 9’ 7WT HT which is available both in fishing (stealth matte) and Instructor (gloss white lipstick) variations.

The white version was brought out by request for some of those taking the IFF Casting Instructor’s exams. If you are an HT owner looking to sit either CCI or MCI exams, then feel free to get in touch with me and I will go through the instructor theory with you. That applies equally to existing as well as future owners.

The way I do this is via email, five tasks at a time. I want to hear what it is, why we do it and how it works. I also want to know how you teach it, what are the common faults and what you think the examiners will be looking for with regards each task. It’s pretty thorough and takes about three months - although it is done at your pace, allowing of course for poor internet coverage while I’m in the jungle/cupboard.

The other rod we have is a 7’6 3-4WT. This is a cracking little rod. More on this soon. I haven’t put either in the shop yet but we have plenty of stock now of both the new rods as well as the complete existing line-up.


This is also something that came up in the past week and I really want to talk about it. I’m going to use a car driving analogy: most fly fishermen cast in third gear. You see this all the time at game fairs/ fly fishing fairs when anglers are testing rods. They cast with their ‘longish’ comfortable carry - usually about 45 feet of line. This is third gear.

Of course there is a problem quite often, in that many casters only know third gear, even when carrying much less line. Or attempting more for that matter.

To dial in a rod you need to first cast it in first gear. First gear is the leader and a couple of feet of flyline outside the rod tip. Use “minimum power” and cast the tightest loops possible, and then increase speed trying to keep the loops tight and then slow down again. As you speed up you will need to vary the size of your casting arc. Only once you are happy with this can you then switch to second gear.

Second gear is about 20ft of line outside the tip. Now truth of the matter is that there are not a fixed number of gears, there are in fact an infinite number, and if you were following Wild Bill Gammel’s one foot at a time drill, then it would have taken you 18 gear changes to get from 2ft to 20ft! Indeed you should not simply go from 2 to 20 anyway because the small incremental changes are important, both for your technique and learning the rod. So get there gradually. And if you lose control at any point then start again from the beginning.

This is not only how to dial in a rod; it’s also a very good way to test drive it. Also this leads to a very important point: If you are fishing in third gear then you are almost certainly committing the greatest sin in fly fishing, which is fishing too far.

Stillwater dry fly on the drift, is a very good example of somewhere that I almost always cover/search water in first gear, ie right next to the boat. Sitting down, being stealthy, fishing the sides of the inverted-V flat-water that extends downwind of the boat, or at an angle away from the boat to cover more water with three flies and a longish leader - but still only with no more than a couple of feet of flyline outside the rod tip. Sure, I’ll move to second gear if I want to cover fish...

There are a important reasons for this: 1) I can really see the flies and how the fish eat/ miss them. 2) I’m not lining fish I can’t see. 3) I’m not disturbing the water when I have to pickup and reposition the flies when they boat yaws on the drift - as it surely will. 5a) I can pick up and drop the flies quickly and effectively - fish like flies ‘landing’ and it’s an effective way to catch more of them. 6b) short-lining lends itself very well to “dibbling” - something you won’t be able to do if the boat has yawed with a lot of line out 7) it’s much easier to pick up and cover fish further away than it is to pick up and cover fish closer to you. 8) it’s cooler.

[If you want to understand all of this and more then check out our Stillwater section - originally written in 1996!!! Remember I was 25yrs old when I wrote it - it was originally a hand-out for the beginners’ courses I was giving at Ardleigh Reservoir at the time, but I have to say not much has changed in the past 25 years, if anything I would add a little bit about stillwater currents - very important in fact - and obviously sight fishing, kayak flyfishing and float tubing - none of those are in there.]

This technique is called “short-lining” by the way. Very few people know how, or have the confidence, to do it properly. If you have a boat partner who lacks the confidence to short-line then unfortunately it will cramp your effectiveness because he or she will be putting down your fish. So push him overboard.

It’s also important on rivers... Gear One or possibly Gear Two. Gear Three puts the line across multiple currents and makes drag free drifts really difficult or impossible. Better to be stealthy, keep low and get in close when you can. Most beginners on rivers fish far too far away.

It makes you think, when you watch people testing rods in Gear Three - where are they fishing? Gear Four is a good one, but that’s another story.

I made a video on rod testing several years back - it also helps teach you how to dial into different rods. Sorry I can’t give the direct link at the moment because I have no Internet access at the time of writing, but it’s called “Rod Testing With Paul Arden” or something like that.

Speaking of which - a huge thank you to Viking Lars for helping me keep the FP running and also Ashly for putting it on Facebook (speaking of which - you're welcome, of course - and I found the video and linked it/Lars).

Cheers, Paul