This article originally appeared in On The Water Magazine
As we were getting our gear ready to hit the water, I passed a new spiral wrapped rod that I had just built to my fishing partner. He took one look at it and reached up to align the guides, “it is a one piece rod” I told him. He held the rod up and looked at the guides twisting around the rod and said, “why?” Just about everyone who owns a spiral wrapped rod has had this same experience, although this style of wrapping has been around for years, there are still many experienced fishermen who have never seen a spiral wrap and even more who have never fished a spiral wrap.
For those not familiar with spiral wraps, a spiral wrapped rod is a conventional or baitcasting rod where the guides spiral from one side of the rod to the other—the first guide and the tip are wrapped 180 degrees apart. This gives the rod a very odd appearance; it looks like a two piece rod with the top half facing the wrong direction. With a standard conventional rod, all guides are wrapped on the top side of the rod; with a spiral wrap, the first guide is on the top of the rod followed by one or more transition guides that move the line to the side of the rod, and the remaining guides to the tip are on the bottom of the rod, just as they would be on a spinning rod.
Spiral wrapped rods have become increasingly popular in recent years, but they have been around for a very long time. I recall reading an article about spiral wrapped rods in a national fishing publication in the mid 1970s; even then this wrapping style was nothing new. Internet forums have helped spiral wrapping gain popularity in the last ten years or so. These forums have exposed more people to spiral wraps and let users share their experiences with their spiral wrapped rods. Spiral wrapped rods haven’t hit the mainstream, but they are getting close as more anglers make the switch.
The popularity of spiral wrapped rods is due to custom rod builders, there aren’t any major manufacturers that sell a factory wrapped spiral rod. Custom rod builders have long lead the industry in materials and rod design, and many builders now try to convince their customers to spiral wrap all conventional rods. Rod makers depend on repeat business and the biggest selling point of a custom rod is performance, many builders now think that the highest performing conventional rod that they can build is a spiral wrap.
The primary function of a spiral wrapped rod is to reduce the torque that an angler has to fight when the rod is stressed. When a standard conventional rod is flexed by pulling on a fish, the pull of the line in the guides creates a twisting force that tends to turn the rod over. With a spinning rod, there is no comparable effect as the guides are already beneath the rod. With a spiral wrapped conventional rod, these forces are negated; pulling on the rod keeps the rod in the proper position, guides down and reel up. A simple trolling experiment demonstrates this: using a standard rod holder with no gimbal, a conventional rod will flip so the reel and guides are down, but a spiral rod will remain in the reel up position.
Many of us have used conventional rods for such a long time that we no longer notice these forces at work because we have trained ourselves to counteract them. But watch a novice fisherman cranking in even a small fish on a conventional and you will often see the reel wobbling from side to side as the angler struggles to control the rod.
The forces that an angler fights against vary—those forces are weaker when fishing a light rod for largemouth bass and considerably stronger when fishing a trolling rod for tuna. For the tuna fisherman, the forces are strong enough so that the benefits are obvious, but the bass fisherman may not notice a pronounced difference. However, a benefit of spiral wrapping light rods is that the builder can use lighter guides as well as use smaller and fewer guides. With the line moving to the underside of the blank, single foot guides can be used in place of double foot guides and it does not take as many (or as large) guides to keep the line from touching the blank.
There are several methods of aligning the transition guides to move the line from the one side of the blank (thinking of the blank as a cylinder, the reel is at 0 degrees) to the other of the blank (180 degrees). The first method that I saw used was a slow transition that moved the line gradually around the blank. On these rods, the first guide is set at 0 degrees and each subsequent guide is offset 30 to 40 degrees until a guide is placed at 180 degrees. These rods have a clean look, but they may not eliminate torque caused by pulling on a fish because too many guides are on the side of the rod. Transitions using fewer guides are very popular now; two popular builds are a two guide transition and a one guide transition. In the two guide transition the first four guides from the reel are set at about 0 degrees, 60 degrees, 120 degrees, and 180 degrees. A one guide transition puts the first three guides at about 0 degrees, 90 degrees, and 180 degrees. I note that the guide locations on the blank are set at about those positions--experienced rod builders may have systems that puts the guides at slightly different angles and are the most effective for a particular blank or type of guide. Faster transitions using only 1 or 2 guides puts the line on the underside of the blank before the main flex point of the rod, and this is a key to reducing torque when the rod is under stress.
Spiral wrapping does have its critics, not everyone agrees that the spiral design is a better fishing tool, but the funny thing is that most of the critics have never fished a spiral rod. By nature I am a skeptic and I didn’t believe the claims of spiral users—until I tried one. Critics argue that spiral wraps are much ado about nothing, the torque encountered by pulling on a fish is not very strong and that spiral wrapped rods are poor casting tools. After trying spirals, I have to disagree with these points.
I have spent most of my fishing career with a conventional rod and I have never found it difficult to overcome rod torque while pulling on a fish. Most of the time I fish with light and medium rods and in this class the torque is weak and easy to overcome. In heavier rods I did notice the torque, but never thought that I needed to work to minimize it. After trying a spiral wrapped rod, I realized that I had been working harder than I thought to keep the reel upright. I was so used to the feel, that I didn’t realize how much extra effort I was applying.
I was very skeptical about the casting ability of spiral wraps because of the angles as the line moves through the guides. I was surprised when I cast my first spiral wrapped rod; there isn’t a noticeable difference in casting distance. My favorite kayak jig rod has a 2 guide transition and I can’t tell the difference between it and a conventionally wrapped rod. I built a light baitcaster with a one guide transition. I thought that the light rod with sharper line angles would impact casting, but it hasn’t. In fact, I built the rod so light because I did it spiral and I actually increased the casting distance, but more on that later in the article.
It isn’t hard to think of applications for spiral wrapped rods in New England. Just about every type of fishing provides an opportunity to improve rod performance with a spiral wrap.
The most obvious use for a spiral wrap is a heavy stand up tuna stick. A 50, 80, or unlimited class rod and a large conventional reel require significant effort on the part of the angler just to keep the reel pointed the right direction during the heat of the battle. Fighting a fish standup is hard work and the torque forces can be reduced with a gimbal or a harness, but a spiral wrap will give the angler an additional advantage. There are even special roller guides made for spiral wrapping heavy trolling rods, the All American Roller Guide Company has designed special rollers for spiral wrapping that are appropriate for any heavy class rod.
Most of us don’t spend much time fishing stand up tackle and the best use that I have found for spiral wraps is for building lighter rods. By lighter rods, I don’t mean lighter action, I mean lighter weight. Light weight rods bring out the true performance of the blank and keep the rod feel closer to the feel of the original blank. Sensitivity is a function of stiffness and weight, so reducing weight on a rod will increase its sensitivity. Spiral wraps allow builders to use smaller guides because the line goes under the blank so a higher frame is not required to keep the line from touching the blank. A guide set can be made significantly lighter by changing from double foot to single foot guides, even on 20 and 30 pound class rods. I also use one fewer guide on a spiral rod than I would on a conventionally wrapped rod. Removing weight from the tip section of a fast action graphite rod can have a tremendous impact on sensitivity and performance.
The light build with a spiral wrapped rod can be used to create rods for many of our local fishing opportunities. I spend most of my time in the salt throwing big plastics on fast taper graphite rods like the Graphite USA 85 XF or a Loomis Hot Shot rod. These extra fast rods have lighter tips that are enhanced by using smaller and fewer guides. For these rods, the performance enhancement isn’t so much the reduction of torque; it is the reduction in weight of the guide set, especially at the tip.
Earlier I mentioned that I increased the casting distance of a rod by spiral wrapping it. I recently built a Lamiglas LMB844 as a freshwater and schoolie rod. I started the guides with standard double foot Fuji titanium SIC guides and after the transition, I switched to small single foot Fuji titanium SIC fly guides. This kept the weight down and retained the light and sensitive feel of the blank. The rod is much more responsive than if I had wrapped with standard double foot guides and it casts better!
The light build can be modified using heavier components to make a great cod stick. Whether jigging or bait, many anglers get tired as they reel up and have to rest the rod on the rail and reel. In part they are doing this to counter act the torque of the rod and keep their reel up as they crank up from the depths. This is a perfect application to build a spiral rod with lighter guides. Reducing the weight of the guides will increase sensitivity, make the rod more comfortable to hold, and make it easier to bring the line back from the depths.
For the trolling crowd, spiral rods are nice to have in the rod holders. Without a gimbal, the pull on the line will cause conventional rods to flip around and face the wrong direction. Wrapping trolling rods spiral style will keep the reels facing up and the pull of the line will hold the rod in the correct position.
By now you are probably wondering why you don’t see spiral rods in every tackle shop—there is only one reason, they look odd! Spiral wrapped rods don’t look like other rods and most anglers don’t understand the benefits. As I mentioned earlier, there are no production spiral rods available. One local company, Local Hooker Rods, does make spiral wrapped rods though.
Your best options for a spiral wrapped rod are to build it yourself or to consult a local rod builder. Not all rod builders do spiral wraps and it is beneficial to find one that specializes in spiral rods. An experienced spiral builder will work closely with you to pick the right components for your needs. Rod builders who make spiral rods are among the most knowledgeable in the business and can select the highest performing components.
For those of you who are skeptical about spiral rods, try one. I was a skeptic until I made one myself, now this year’s winter projects involve taking apart several older rods and rebuilding them as spirals