Revolutionary Free-Flex rod draws a blank so far with experts

Pressure of space meant that we couldn’t run this in the latest issue of the magazine, so it falls upon the TF blog to host some initial feedback to the latest thing in flyrod design from Norwegian company ArcticSilver. As reported on the TF news page last month, the Free-Flex rod aims to release power in the blank during casting by freeing up the butt section – instead of the latter being encased within a straitjacket of the conventional cork handle, it sits in a ‘tunnel’ formed by the handle, with a gap between the latter and the blank, whose only point of attachment is to the reel seat. ArcticSilver explain their thinking on the firm’s website:

“The blanks on a fly rod is designed to bend and is charged with energy during casting. On traditional rods the handle is glued to the blanks precisely where the power potential is greatest. It goes without saying that a handle that is glued with hardening adhesive to the bottom portion of the blanks inhibits tensioning. This simple fact was the starting point for ArcticSilver’s product development. We wanted to create a rod where the blank’s entire power potential could be exploited.

“On ArcticSilver’s Free Flex rods the handle is not glued to the blanks. The result is a blanks that is charged easier, a rod that bends freely down the reel seat and gives you more punch and feeling with less use of force. All of the talented fly casters who have tried our rods, have given us the same, positive feedback: Free Flex rods are working right down into the palm of the hand, they have a deeper action, providing increased range and greater feeling.”

We ran ArcticSilver’s thinking past three men who are no stranger to the form and function of fly rods: rod-builders David Norwich and Chris Ward and casting instructor Mike Marshall. ‘Underwhelmed’ would be a fair summary of their initial reaction.

“The mechanics and physics don’t add up to any valid improvement in fly rod design,” said Norwich. “Other than an unusual (ugly?) design for the handle, it doesn’t say much about the rod blank construction or overall performance. Changing the handle configuration is going to do nothing if the basic blank is poorly designed. They talk in very insubstantial ways about the blanks, as though all fly rod blanks will benefit from using their system. I just don’t see how.

“You would get the same performance gain – if there was any to be gained, which is doubtful – by doing away with the normal handle in front of the reel seat and fitting a short handle below the reel seat, thus allowing the blank to flex freely from that point as they are claiming the system allows. To what performance gain though?”

Chris Ward felt ArcticSilver’s sales blurb raised several questions that needed answering before the benefits of their design could be properly assessed:

“They do not state how or where the blank is held into the new ‘grip system’. Consider how a blank can rotate/twist/turn during a cast.  On this new system is the blank a push fit in the grip? Or is it glued into the grip to stop it twisting?  Answer that and you will know how much of a benefit the idea has.  Clearly, on their video, the grips are longitudinal segments from the reel seat to an end point, and clearly the hand holds these segments ‘closed’ on to the blank during the ‘grip’.  What cannot be ascertained from a video alone, however, is the question of how durable the grip material is, whether the blank moving around in the upper elements of the segments will wear the grip from the inside out, or whether there is a risk of pieces of hand/skin/finger getting caught between the segments as your hand grips them.

“Logically, what they are saying has some truth in it: anything fixed or glued to any blank with impede the action of that blank.  More than once they talk about ‘hard setting glues’.  From my limited knowledge of resins, however, there are many different animals out there, each with specific properties.  Some set like concrete and are hard and brittle, while others set ‘hard’ but retain a degree of flexibility.  For example, I use a specific two-part resin which retains flexibility when set under reel seats so the blank can flex, probably not as much as it would naturally but positively more than if glued with other products.”

Speaking for the ‘end-user’, meanwhile, Mike Marshall wonders if the design will actually work against its stated goals:

“You never want the rod to wobble or have too much freedom at its butt end; that, if anything, dissipates the rod’s power rather than enhancing it. The progressive stiffness of the blank from tip to butt is the key factor, not its mobility. I can also see this design aggravating tendonitis rather than avoiding it.”

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