From carbon fibre to bamboo and glass, ultra-lightweight blanks to those with a little more heft, rods designed for travel and one-piece rods that always stay rigged, Ed Herbst has spent years working on the idea of the ultimate small stream fly rod. In a one-piece CTS glass rod built by Derek Smith (that you can bid for), he may just have had his eureka moment. In issue 31 Ed unpacks why this rod rocks.

The south-easterly wind was called the ‘Cape Doctor’ in colonial times because the residents in South Africa’s founding city believed that it swept away the ubiquitous refuse and the maladies associated with this malodorous situation.

“In my beginner’s ignorance I assumed that line weight rather than line speed was the answer”

Fly anglers find Cape Town’s summer gales far from benign, particularly when they blow downstream. And, when I moved to the city and joined the Cape Piscatorial Society 40 years ago, I really struggled.

In my beginner’s ignorance I assumed that line weight rather than line speed was the answer and I acquired a nine foot six weight carbon fibre Orvis rod.

At the time I had started fishing with Tony Biggs, originator of that legendary dry fly, the RAB. Tony fished a six and a half foot, split cane Lee Wulff Midge made by Farlowes, who rated it a five weight. Tony underlined it with a four weight line to speed it up.

As it so happened, when we arrived at the stream on the first occasion that I used my new rod, there was brisk downstream breeze and I knew that I had called it right. I had brought a knife to a knife fight and Biggsy was going to struggle with his toothpick.

Big mistake.

When we broke for a midday sandwich and coffee I admitted defeat and asked Tony if I could try his rod.

I was astonished.

Short rods cast tight loops, the split cane rod loaded well under its own weight and Tony was better-equipped on the day.

I was reminded of this occasion recently when I bought Yuki Bando’s book Mostly Bamboo – Eighteen Bamboo, Fiberglass and Graphite Fly Rod Makers in Japan (Flybito Press 2020).

One of his interviewees is Satoshi Maruyama – nickname So – who makes a radical carbon fibre rod called the Solid Octagon:

‘So believes most of the major rod makers have been too enthusiastic about making fly rods lighter for years. If you use a light fly rod, it is difficult to turn over a fly with a 12-foot leader of 6X in a short distance. It is just because the rod does not have enough weight to bring the fly, tippet, and leader forward.’

Derek Smith has been building fly rods since 1987 and I asked him to incorporate all our previous ideas.

My perception now is that the greater weight of a fiberglass rod would make it load more easily for short-range casts  than carbon fibre and that this, along with its lesser expense and acknowledged durability, explains the substantial growth in the number of rod makers who sell custom, light-line fly rods which are ideal for small streams.

Two articles detail my previous collaboration with fellow Capetonian Stephen Boshoff – renowned for his superb centre axis split cane rods – in the search for the ultimate small stream fly rod.  The first, ‘The One-off One Weight’ (2002) can be found in the Tackle folder on the website of the Cape Piscatorial Society and the second, in 2010, ‘The Search for the Ultimate Small Stream Fly Rod’ can be found on Tom Sutcliffe’s web site.

Derek Smith has been building fly rods since 1987 and I asked him to incorporate all our previous ideas, the ‘Palm Grip’ and Lefty Kreh’s idea of offsetting the guides towards the line hand in a three weight rod built on a CTS blank as a charity rod to be auctioned for the benefit of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Derek Smith outside the Red Cross Children's Hospital Emergency Room with the CTS rod he built for Ed

Derek Smith outside the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Emergency Room with the CTS rod he built for Ed

To enhance performance and feel and lower weight, I specified a single piece blank for those who park their vehicles within walking distance of the streams they fish.

So far, the fly fishing community has raised R575 000 for the hospital

The resulting rod surpassed my expectations when I cast it on the lawn of the retirement home where I live, justifying my belief that CTS is the world leader in fibreglass blank manufacture. They will design and manufacture a blank to your specifications in a huge range of colours.

Ed Herbst busting out casts on the lawn of his retirement home

Ed Herbst busting out casts on the lawn of his retirement home

Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg has donated an iconic small stream reel, the Sage Click and a Sci-Anglers Mastery fly line to the project.

So far, the fly fishing community has raised R575 000 for the hospital and the money raised by the winning bid on this rod, reel and line will help equip the newly-built emergency centre.

To get photographs to illustrate this article, the editor fished it on a local trout stream. He confirms my belief that Derek Smith’s execution of the brief’s design parameters, combined with the technological excellence of the CTS blank, has produced an affordable, rugged and attractive rod which will enhance the experience of those who love what Ernest Schweibert called ‘The Song of the Little Stream’.

WANT TO OWN THIS ROD?
Ed’s small stream glass rod, the Sage reel, Scientific Anglers fly line and a 4-night stay at Highland Lodge (one of South Africa’s premier stillwaters)could be yours via silent auction. Simply email your bid to info@themissionflymag.com with your full name, telephone number and delivery address in case you turn out to be the lucky bidder. We’ll announce the winning bid at the end of April. Reserve price is R15 000.

For more on the rod, plus the editor’s take after giving it the ‘Taylor Swift Test,’ check out issue 31 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.