So What’s in a Rod?

Author: Pete Tyjas | Article: EAT . SLEEP . FISH Issue 62 (visit website)

Pete Tyjas got the chance to ask Paul Schmierer who is the Sage R&D Design Engineer about what goes into their fly rods.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Paul, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up outside of Portland, Oregon in a family that loved to travel, fish, and spend time in the outdoors. I learned to fly fish at an early age and it has always been a passion of mine. I spend most of my free time fishing and mountain biking, and skiing in the winter when the rivers are blown out. I graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and targeted Sage as my first job out of school. I’m a senior design engineer for both Sage rods and reels and manage the development and delivery of both programs.

What do you most like to fish for?

Swinging for winter steelhead

The people I have spoken to at Sage seem to have been with the team there for a good period of time, are you the same?

 Yes, I’m proud to say I’ve been with Sage for over 11 years.

I recently bought and reviewed the new X rod and would like to know a little more about development. How long is the process of rod design? 

 At a minimum we typically work with a 15-18 month lead time for developing and bringing a new product to market. However, most new products are the culmination of many years of development. We maintain a three year product plan that we review monthly and a five year product plan that we review quarterly.  

Does the work start on a new range start the moment the latest is released?

Yes, but it actually starts much earlier.Most of our products are the result of years of testing not just 18 months of development. In the case of the X rod we first began exploring our new KonneticHD material years prior, in fact some of the very first prototypes, before it had a material name or product name, are still being fished today. After gaining several years of confidence with that material we eventually put the finishing touches on what is now KonneticHD and began working on the action of the X rod. The Sage mantra is Perfecting Performance and the X you could argue, is the result of 35+ years of experience designing and building rods.

Is a rod designed from the ground up or are there tweaks to a taper from a previous range?

From the ground up but that’s not to say we haven’t learned from previous designs and use that experience to inform future product designs.  

whats-in-a-rod-photo1

When it comes to graphite is there a big difference in the quality that you would find compared to a Brand X $200 rod?

 Absolutely, we have a very strong relationship with our fiber suppliers and pre-preg manufacturers that helps ensure we get the highest quality materials. In collaboration with our graphite suppliers we’ve developed resin systems and fiber matrices that are exclusive to Sage. Our relationship with our vendors allow us to benefit from some of the advancements driven by the aerospace and technology industries, and also allows our supplier to receive valuable feedback on the quality and performance of their materials because of our unique and demanding application. Constructing a strong, consistent, very thin walled, small diameter tip section of a fly rod requires a level of quality and precision that other pre-preg customers may not require when building larger and thicker laminate structures; as a result our stamp of approval helps reinforce the quality and precision of our suppliers product and processes.  A win for both parties.

The quality of cork handles is important to some fly anglers. How do you ensure you get the best quality cork handles?

Manufacturers and suppliers seek out relationships with Sage because of our commitment to quality and the highest material standards. In the case of cork that means we have access to the best quality materials in the world.  

deflection-test

Are there time constraints with bringing a new product to market or do you prefer to make sure you get it right and take the appropriate time?

There are definitely time constraints but sometimes getting it right takes a little longer. As a company we prefer to be late and get it right rather than be on time and get it wrong. We feel strongly that we have a commitment to our customers to be on time so we do our best to maintain that without sacrificing the product. I manage a weekly rod tracking meeting which brings together folks from Operations, Marketing, and R&D, in an effort to make sure we are taking care of every last detail required to bring a new rod to market. This involves everything from ordering of raw materials and components with long lead times, the progress of the designs, testing in production, to the smallest of details like what color the text on the tube cap sticker will be. There are lot of details to keep track of and it takes a focused team to accomplish it all correctly and on time.

I have always thought, generally speaking, that the 5wt in your ranges tends to be a little stiffer than a 6wt. When you work on a rod do you have an idea of how each rod would be action-wise relative to other rods in the range or do you work on each one on its own merits and let them stand alone?

We work very hard to design a family of rods that have a very consistent feel and action throughout the entire range but each model has to also be designed specifically for that line weight and application. An 890-4 is likely going to be fished differently with different lines and flies than an 8100-4 but they both need to feel like an 8wt; it’s more complicated than just making one rod longer or shorter. Everyone has their own opinion, method, and skill level for evaluating rods so creating a family of rods that appeals to every angler, application, casting style, and skill level is definitely a challenge. Even though a 5wt is used very differently than a 10wt rod our goal is to have an action within a family that feels or provides a very similar casting/fishing experience even though the demands of each rod are quite different. We also strive to build very repeatable rods in manufacturing so that every time you pick up any rod of the same model it feels the same. Precision materials, processes, and attention to detail in manufacturing are what make that possible. 

whats-in-a-rod-photo3Could you explain to readers what modulus is when it comes to rod design?

Modulus is the stiffness of a material, or how much it will deflect under a given load. In other words high modulus materials will deflect less than a low modulus material under the same load.   

High Modulus materials are very stiff and are typically used in the lower sections of the rod. They’re great for creating a lot of power in the blank with a limited amount of material. High Modulus fibers are usually associated with very fast action rods but that is not true in all cases. These stiff powerful fibers can also be used to design moderate or slower action rods depending on how much is used, the fiber angle, diameter, and taper of the blank.

Low Modulus materials are less stiff, therefore more flexible, and typically used in higher sections of the rod where the blank is required to go through much larger deflections and tighter bends.  

One common misbelief is that you cannot build a slow action rod with high modulus materials and vice versa. There are reasons you might not want to do that but there are also some advantages if done correctly. Modulus is just one of the many variables in blank design and construction. Material types, diameter, taper, wall thickness, and the components used in building the rod all can have a significant effect on the feel and action of a rod.

How much testing is done on a new range of rods?

A lot! We spend countless hours in our R&D lab testing and qualifying new materials and construction methods. We have a number of different types of tests that a new material must pass in order to make it into a rod design. We do all of this lab testing in house with our Instron material test machine, and you would be surprised by the number of perfectly good fly rod parts we intentionally break in the pursuit of designing the next Sage rod. We have standardized tests for qualifying new components like reel seats and guides and we go through some pretty exhaustive testing for things like the manufacturability and durability of blank coatings. Of course there is the more fun side of testing in the field which we do ourselves in and on the water or by utilizing other skilled anglers in house. We also work very closely with some key people throughout the industry who have the luxury of being on the water every day testing and abusing our products. There’s never a shortage of willing testers!

The new X range has your latest Konnetic HD technology. Can you tell us a little about it?

KonneticHD is our new proprietary graphite/resin composite we developed through our exclusive partnerships. KonneticHD is an evolution of our Konnetic technology which further optimizes our graphite-to-resin ratio resulting in increased strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios. HD stands for High Density fiber positioning and combined with optimized manufacturing techniques it increases our composite modulus while maintaining durability. It’s the highest energy transferring material we’ve ever created which has allowed us to think about blank design in a whole new way.

How many hours does it take to build a rod?

Each rod takes over 40 hours of process time. That time includes several cure cycles, quality control checks, and detailed hands on labor.

paul-desk

How many people are involved in the process of building one rod?

From the start of the process of laying up material to cut for the blank to placing the rod in the tube it will touch at least 23 individual sets of hands on our production floor.

Are all rods made on Bainbridge Island?

Every single Sage Rod and blank is constructed in our factory on Bainbridge Island. 

Is there more of a change of direction rods away from super stiff rods and if so what has driven this change do you think?

Yes and no. Yes, because I think there is an understanding that most fishing happens at distances closer than people want to admit and also because part of being successful is casting and accurately delivering the fly at a range of distances, and that’s easier to do when you can feel the line and can control what you’re doing. No, because the number of different types/weights of lines and sizes/styles of flies has increased to encompass a greater range of usable combinations for a given line weight. Designing a rod to accommodate and perform in all of these situations in some ways requires a more powerful rod. The challenge is creating a tool that works effectively with this wider range of lines but still has feel, accuracy, loop control, line speed, and is intuitive to cast and fish. 

Is there something you would love to be able to do with fly rod design?

 I would love to attract more people into the sport.  The more people we have fly fishing the more people we have that understand the importance of protecting and preserving our water, fish, and land.

Visit the Sage Website for more details on their products HERE

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