I Abrasion and Metallurgy
Since the 1880’s and especially since WWII the accelerating advance of the sport of fly fishing, a sport strongly rooted in tradition, has led to a complete re-make of the equipment. We do not, (bamboo-retros aside), cast with a fly rod that has a single component made of the original materials, cork handle excepted (but not for long?). Fly lines, leaders, and even flies are now constructed with a variety of new technologic components. We are no longer limited to fresh water or fresh-water fish. We cast differently, with the arm-raised double haul and shooting of the line now in center stage. The design of the fly line as well as it’s its chemical properties is different, level to double taper to weight forward design. The fly reel, once “a simple line storage device” has undergone as complete a design and materials evolution as any other component between the fisherman’s hand and the fish’s mouth.
Change has been mediated by a combination of primary advance in technology or design, such as fiberglass as a rod material or weight forward lines, and then a lock step reaction to a new reality throughout the connected components. Weight forward lines and double haul casting and shooting revealed a problem with the earlier standard of guide size, especially the stripping guide, and newer rods offered larger guides from the tip to the stripping guide, now appearing almost spinning-rod-like.
Considered as a whole, the biggest “moving part” of the whole system is the movement of the fly line (and backing) through the guides. As we cast further, shoot more line each cast, use heavier lines and leaders, catch bigger fish that run longer and must be cranked back, the abrasive effects of all that movement and extra pressure put the original, traditional metals constituting line guides under serious attack from the abrasive effects of the taut, moving line.
The original metallic components of traditional fly rods, the ferrule, the reel seat, and originally the guides…were made of “German” (nickel) silver, a shiny, lustrous, corrosion resistant, inexpensive and easily workable alloy of Copper. For all of it’s advantages, nickel silver was and is a relatively heavy and soft metal. As a primary metal for reel and rod components it matched up reasonably well with bamboo rods which themselves were heavy, fragile and high maintenance. In the upkeep of a bamboo rod with silk or cotton winding thread and organic varnishes it was common and necessary to periodically re-wrap and refinish the rod, and, in the process replace worn guides.
The very earliest adjustment of metallic components to accommodate line abrasion was the addition in the 1800’s of an AGATE INSERT to the nickel silver stripping guide. Agate has since been replaced by even harder ceramic inserts but agate, mounted in a nickel silver frame, was an absolute solution at that time and the combination is still available for bamboo rod traditionalists.
See Fig.'s 1,2, and 3 next page
The Metallurgical Evolution of Fly Rods and Reels to Resist Line Abrasion 1870-2012