Trouts Journal

Keepin’ It Glassy- Featuring Cameron Mortenson

Ivan Orsic / Sep 18, 2014

It's undeniable that fiberglass fly rods have made a very noticeable resurgence lately. More and more rod companies seem to be either popping up and/or expanding their glass offerings- and for good reason. The fiberglass rods being produced today are not the clunky, heavy, noodly rods that dominated the scene up until graphite stole the fly rod show in the 80's. Rather, they are performance fly rods in every aspect of the word, many featuring more progressive tapers and actions than found in previous incarnations. In my opinion, it would be impossible for the majority of fly anglers out there to put one of these newer fiberglass sticks in their hand, give it a little wiggle, and not want to immediately take it to the river.

If you've been in the shop lately, you may have noticed our fiberglass rod selection has increased. We are currently offering glass rods from Orvis, Swift, Redington and Scott. Whether you're looking for a short, full flexing rod for small stream dry flies, or a longer, faster action rod for your big game pursuits, we have what you need to get the job done.

So with that in mind, we decided to reach out to the man who is arguably the biggest fiberglass afficianodo on the planet. Cameron Mortenson runs the website The Fiberglass Manifesto- a site devoted to fly fishing with fiberglass rods (as well as one of the best fly fishing websites out there in general). His face and fiberglass expertise has been featured in countless magazine articles and advertisements. He's a literal walking encyclopedia for fishing glass rods. If you haven't checked out his website, add it to your list. I've been reading it for years, well before I ever hit the water with a glass rod in my hand. Having TFM appeal to all fly anglers was a goal of Cameron's, and he's definitely accomplished that task. So without further delay, please enjoy!

Trouts: Let’s start off with a question I know you’ve been asked countless times. If you had to sum it up in a few sentences, why fiberglass?

CM: There are a lot of compelling reasons in my mind to fish with glass but when you bring it all down to a single reason I'd say it's for the fun of it. The first time that you feel a large fish head shake all the way down the rod and into the cork you'll get it. It's one of those "HELL YEAH" kind of experiences.

On the technical side, there are three reasons that stand out on why to fish glass with that they load easily in close which makes them perfect for roll casting and making short casts with sometimes as little as the leader out past the rod guides. They are also excellent with protecting light tippets since you are using a fly rod that with the full flexing action becomes quite a shock absorber when a large fish makes a run. I find that it's rare to break off fish on 6X and even 7X tippet when using a glass rod unless my knot is bad or the tippet has been nicked. The last reason really comes into play on large fish but a glass rod is perfect for leveraging and turning a heavy fish since you are fighting it across the entire plane of the rod. Don't doubt that your glass fly rod isn't working when it's bent over double on a brutish fish. You can turn it and you'll worry much less about breaking it off as well.

A glass rod can also be a great tool for learning to fly cast since you can feel the fly rod load and unload typically much easier than when using a graphite fly rod. It's not surprising that casting instructors and guides are using fiberglass fly rods now for clients since they can be a perfect tool for teaching.

Trouts: There’s no doubt your website The Fiberglass Manifesto has gained considerable following over the past several years. The list of companies supporting your site is quite impressive as well. What was the motivation behind starting TFM? Has the growth surprised you in any way or has it grown the way you had hoped? Any big plans for the future?

CM: I've been writing The Fiberglass Manifesto for over six years now and I really started it not knowing what the hell I was doing. In the beginning I really thought I would run out of things to say and would only update TFM every few days. Then things started really cooking with new glass offerings and I went from posting something every couple days to every day to now I usually put up a couple posts before I leave for work each morning.

The motivation from the start was to talk about and highlight the various fly rod companies and small shop builders that offer fiberglass fly rods. Along the way the focus has certainly broadened to not only cover the latest in fiberglass fly rods but also highlight really whatever I think is cool within the fly fishing and outdoor industry. The fly fishing industry is surprisingly small and it's been both surprising and enjoyable to be a part of it for the past few years. I try to mix the content up so that even if you don't get glass rods you can pull something from it.

I would certainly say that I've been blown away by the growth of the industry as a whole in the push to bring back or start from scratch with fiberglass fly rods. What had been the game with just few fly rod companies and a couple small shop blank makers has somewhat quickly turned into wealth of choices in glass rods. It's been a lot of fun to watch happen.

Future plans involve continuing to write this silly website every day as long as it doesn't feel like work and I still get a kick out of it. It's been a creative release for me and I am beyond stoked that a few people follow along each day. I am also very thankful for the generous support of the various companies that sponsor contests, giveaways, and even puts a few pennies in the piggy bank for the next adventure with a banner ad.

Trouts:When it comes to graphite fly rods, it seems the first characteristic people want to discuss is action of the rod- is it slow, medium, or fast? When it comes to fiberglass rods however, everything is going to fall into that slower, or full flex, category. If an angler is interested in getting into their first fiberglass fly rod, what are some considerations/specifics he or she should look for?

CM: Graphite may overall be faster but there is actually quite a bit of difference in the various tapers of glass fly rods especially when you compare a Scott F2 to a Swift Fly Fishing Epic fly rod. The F2 is more on the full flex side of things and perfect for that day of picking off cutthroat on dry flies while the Epic fly rod, with it's more progressive taper, would be suited to do a little bit of everything from dry flies to nymph rigs to streamers.

I get quite a few emails each week asking for suggestions on what their next glass rod should be and there are five questions that I ask back...

1. What line weight and length they are looking for?
2. What taper are you looking for?
3. What's is your budget?
4. Factory or custom build?
5. When they need it?

If I can get those five questions answered then there is a good chance I can point that person to several, and up to a half dozen choices, of fly rods that they are going to like. There are just so many choices now across the spectrum of price and taper that it makes it quite a bit of fun to match someone up with the perfect fly rod. It is also helpful to have a library of fly rods as part of the TFM Fly Rod Loan Program which allows someone who is interested in a certain fly rod to try before they buy.

Trouts: There are two main types of fiberglass primarily used in rod making- S-Glass and E-Glass. What are a few of the main differences between the two? Does one type of glass lend itself to certain fishing situations over another?

CM: The difference between S-Glass and E-Glass is all about modulus and weight of the fabric. Both can be a very fine material for building fiberglass fly rods from but typically less modulus and the weight of E-Glass makes for a slower, fuller flexing fly rod while fly rods from S-Glass are lighter in weight and are more progressive in taper. The shorter full flexing and more parabolic fiberglass fly rods are typically being made with E-Glass and the longer and quicker in taper glass rods are usually made from S-Glass. The use of S-Glass is really exciting as it's allowing rod designers to develop longer rods and some interesting creations as well like switch and spey rods.

No matter if we're talking E-Glass or S-Glass, I really think that we're seeing some of the finest fiberglass fly rods there have ever been being made now.

Trouts: It’s tough to imagine fiberglass rods could ever become as “mainstream” as graphite rods, however the resurgence seen in modern fiberglass rods is undeniable. Where do you see this trend heading in the future?

CM: You know, glass is way more "mainstream" than I would have ever expected it to be a few years ago and from what I know is in the works from several of the larger rod companies, along with a few small shop builders, there are still some very interesting fly rods to be released in the coming year or so.

Glass is always going to be a niche within the fly rod segment of this industry but anglers are much more apt to pick up a glass rod today than they would have been just a couple years ago and I think that has a lot to do with there being so many more choices across the range of price points.

And really what's the worse thing that could happen? The larger fly rod companies pull back and stick with offering graphite fly rods, which I really don't think will happen, and this is all left to the small shop builders like it was a few years ago. I'm fine with that too.

Trouts: It’s no questions that more and more rod companies have been increasing their fiberglass rod offerings. Additionally, many companies are pushing the “traditional” boundaries of glass- i.e. 6’-8’ 3-5wt rods- Swift rod company is now even offering a 9’ 9wt. Have you had the opportunity to fish some of these heavier weight options? What are your thoughts on these? Will we be seeing two-handed switch/spey rods make a glass appearance?

CM: The pool of "trout weight" glass rods has been full to nearly overflowing for a couple years now and as someone that fishes glass exclusively, it's the outliers in glass fly rods that really catch my interest. Fly rods in this category are the ones that smash through the "glass ceiling" of what people think fiberglass fly rods can do good and is really showing anglers that there are some interesting benefits to this rod material for casting and fighting fish.

I have quite a few modern heavier weight glass rods that I've used for everything from steelhead to carp to redfish to musky. I like heavy line weight glass for a few reasons when pursuing these fish since a fuller flexing fly rod does quite a bit of the work when casting heavy lines and big flies. The other added benefit is tippet protection and really being able to leverage big fish since you are fighting the fish across the entire plane of the fly rod.

I spent a few days late last summer in and around Hayward, Wisconsin with Brad Bohen and my go to fly rods for the week were the Epic 990 and a Steffen 8' 8/9 weight. On these fly rods I was using an intermediate sniper and 400 grain sinking lines and casting flies 12-15 inches long. Casting flies such as this all day long is undoubtedly going to wear you out but I was really impressed by how much work the fly rod was doing when I let it load properly and didn't try to force things by muscling it. A forty inch musky in the river was relatively easily tamed by the Epic 990.

As far as what's coming in the future? I believe we'll see new offerings in the "trout weights" but there is a lot of excitement over the Swift Fly Fishing DH (double hand) blank and ECHO's early 2015 release of their fiberglass switch and spey rods. I am betting we'll see those rods as a spark for other rod companies to develop two handers made of glass. I could also see a few new six weight to twelve weight fly rods for pursing big fish coming down the line as well.

Trouts: Fiberglass rods seem to have as much price variation than their graphite cousins. Eagle Claw for instance offers their $25 Featherlight series. Additionally, you can spend over $600 on a Scott or Swift Epic. What extra performance/features/benefits come with some of these higher priced offerings?

CM: First off, let's not knock the Featherlight fly rod too hard. My first fly rod was one of those gaudy yellow sticks and they are a hell of a value. I still say they are the perfect way to experience fiberglass for the first time and not half bad to learn to fly cast on as well. That said, premium glass fly rods are always going to have advantages of better materials, components, and typically tapers that are more refined and complete.

Fly rods that are made in the U.S.A. cost more to build than those made in Asia and I think that anglers are constantly searching out the best fly rod purchase for their budget. One of the really great things about modern glass is that there are exceptional fly rods being offered at all price points and it's typically not hard for someone to find a glass rod that they really connect with. The tough part is that one usually leads to quite a few more...

Trouts: What is the craziest/most memorable/challenging fish you’ve ever caught on a fiberglass fly rod?

CM: About the time I started writing TFM, I spent a few days in the Star Valley area of Wyoming and hiked into some water with a friend looking for Bonneville Cutthroat. We ended having kind of tough day but mine was made when a 20 inch cutthroat slow sipped a size 14 Yellow Wulff and doubled over the Japanese four weight glass rod that I was using. That fish kinda blew my mind and it's image has been on the header photo of TFM ever since.

Trouts: What is your favorite fish to target?

CM: I've been on a real bender the last several years with sight fishing experiences which has involved carp, redfish, and smallmouth on the flats. There is just something really special about being able to see a feeding fish, presenting a fly, and then watch how that fish reacts to the fly or not. It can either make you or break you depending on what happens next.

Living in South Carolina I also end up doing quite a bit of warmwater fly fishing which I enjoy a lot but it's tough to beat trips out west or up north to Michigan, where I am from originally, to pursue trout of all sorts.

Trouts: What is the top fish on your bucket list to catch on glass?

CM: I really would like to do quite a bit more in saltwater and hopefully over the next couple years can plan trips for bonefish, tarpon, permit, and a few bluewater experiences as well. GT's on glass would likely ruin me forever.

Trouts: Okay, last question, non-fiberglass related- what else do you do for fun besides fly fish?

CM: My wife and I have to two young children and we try to spend as much time outside as possible in the kayaks, camping, and traveling together. We are very fortunate to have children who enjoy going and experiencing new things as much as their parents do.

We have also had a good time this summer gardening and raising a couple dozen chickens for eggs.

I enjoy photography and learning the art of grilling and barbecue. It's not surprisingly though how quickly life circles back to fly fishing. It's almost always on my mind.

So there you have it folks! We would like to extend a big THANK YOU to Cameron for sharing some of his time and expertise on fishing with fiberglass fly rods. If you're in the market for a fiberglass rod, stop by the shop and check out our selection, or even give a few some test casts in our parking lot. When it comes to shopping for your first (or next) fiberglass fly rod, you need look no further than go check out The Fiberglass Manifesto!

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