Many of my favorite steelhead rivers in Alaska are no place for a full-sized spey rod or even an eleven-foot switch. I needed something that I could spey cast with either one or two hands. I needed a quick, short rod for these overgrown streams capable of casting large flies with no backcast whatsoever and a very small D-loop. A single-hand spey set-up would do the trick but my elbow injury nagged and nagged, punishing every little forward movement and causing me to pretend that shaking my arm out was helping in some way.
All I needed was a bottom handle. I had thought about it before, adding a bottom handle to this single-hand seven-weight, but had never followed through as I feared I would destroy my favorite small water steelhead rod. The rod was a prototype and could not be replaced, I was warned not to break it but I needed function and am not one for sentimental value. Other than surfcasting or heavy musky rods, I had not seen or heard of a two-handed ten-footer before and I had no idea how it would perform. Out of weekday boredom and necessity comes some interesting inventions.
Remove the handle
To first accomplish this build I needed some spare parts. An old broken spinning rod that had found its way into my shed when I first moved to Alaska would do the trick. I only needed to extend the bottom handle, but to do that I would need to disassemble the handle on my fly rod. A large pot and boiling water would loosen up the epoxy enough to slide the fighting butt off. I repeated the process on the sacrificial spinning rod. After the handles were removed, I carefully melted the epoxy securing the guides and cut the thread. After lightly sanding the spinning rod it was nothing more than a bare stick of graphite.
Measure and Cut
I stuck the skinny end of the butt-section of the spinning rod into the handle end of the fly rod until the blanks fit snugly together and roughly measured out four inches. I carefully cut the blank off with a hacksaw to avoid splintering the blank. Then I took the spinning rod handle that I had removed with steam and slid it onto the protruding blank. I took a rough measurement and then cut the extra cork one inch shorter than the blank to account for the fighting butt that I still wanted to incorporate onto the Frankenstein fly rod. This was not a precise effort, I simply needed function out of the light gray seven-weight.
Glue and Assemble
After fitting each piece, It was time to assemble. I wrapped the spinning rod blank with masking tape to ensure a snug fit before gobbing on 5-minute epoxy and shoving it into the fly rod. I then applied more epoxy to the protruding blank and slid the cut pieces of the cork on. It wasn’t pretty but everything fit decently enough. Now, all that was left to do was press the handle together. Not having any of the correct equipment, I used wood clamps and scrap interior house trim to fashion a one-time-use clamp, I did not intend on doing this to any of my other fly rods. I waited overnight for the glue to dry just to be sure.
I was skeptical. Skeptical of how it looked, skeptical of if it would work, but steelhead season was fast approaching and I could not wait to fish it. It fished great, the bottom handle remained intact and made the rod easy to cast with two hands. The bottom handle even balanced the fly rod better and provided additional support for fighting fish.
During my weeks on the water that fall, I only fished that rod. It had gone from my favorite small-water steelhead rod, to the only small-water steelhead rod in my arsenal. For steelhead in Alaska, my limit is three per day. Three fish on swung flies and never more than one per fly. This is not because I think that swinging a fly is the only ethical way to target wild steelhead but out of respect for the resource and the dwindling numbers of wild steelhead we have access to. Addicted to the process, from getting excited about tying the flies, to modifying and weighing shooting heads, from the casting to the pull of wild steel, they demand respect. This rod was just another tool, something that is mine that can never be exactly duplicated but helps me enjoy the chase, the process, and the love of the sport.