September 11, 2023
Have you ever wondered what it takes to build your own fishing rod? It seems complicated, in theory. But is making a fishing rod that hard? Not really. It takes time, attention to detail and a few rod building supplies but it's not overly difficult by any means. Let's go over the basics of rod building, cover the supplies you'll need and offer step-by-step instructions and tips for successfully making your own DIY fishing rod at home. If you've ever wanted to make your own custom fishing rod, here's what you need to know.
Rod Building: Getting Started
If you are new to rod building, we'd recommend getting started with a rod-building kit. This is going to be the best way to get all the essential supplies without purchasing everything individually. Mud Hole offers a Core Rod Building Start-Up Kit which comes with everything you'll need as a beginner. If building your own fishing rods is something you plan on continuing and want to get creative with, we advise going for the Advanced Rod Building Start-Up Kit or attending a rod-building class.
Mud Hole offers step-by-step online or in-person classes taught by rod building experts which include all the necessary tools of the trade that you will be yours to keep after the course. With full-build courses starting at $199—which is about the same amount you'd pay for the supplies alone—this is going to be the absolute best bang for your buck and make your first build a breeze.
We also recommend finding a rod kit that fits your build unless you have specific components in mind for your new rod. These kits take the guesswork out of the equation and provide you with what you need all in one package.
Fishing Rod Components
*Alternately you can use a combined handle and seat like the ultralight carbon fiber Tsuka 2, which won Best of Show at ICAST 2023. Unfortunately, it's not available as we publish this article but is slated to be on the market soon.
Rod Building Supplies
- Hand Wrapper
- Tape Reamers
- ProPaste Paste Epoxy
- Popsicle Sticks
- 1/4" Masking Tape
- China Marker (White)
- Tape Measure
- Guide Tubing
- Standard File
- Tip-Top Adhesive Stick
- Wrapping Thread
- Razor Blades
- Thread Burnishing Tool
- PROKöte Thread Finish
- Mixing Cups
- Mixing Sticks
- Finishing Brushes
- Alcohol Burner
- Drying Motor with Rod Support
Designing a Custom Rod
Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley visited Mud Hole Custom Tackle headquarters earlier this year to learn how to make a fishing rod with rod-building experts Chris Adams and Terry “Big Show” Scroggins using rod-building supplies from Mud Hole Tackle.
Weakley relayed his general objectives to Chris, with the goal of building a new sight-fishing rod for the shallow flats of the Indian River Lagoon. He wanted a light tip action to effectively throw minimally weighted plastics, such as flukes or shrimp. “Seven feet, 6 inches is what I originally had in mind,” Weakley recalled, “but Chris recommended trying the 7-foot CRB bank, model IS701L. This particular blank is rated for 1/8- to 3/8-ounce lures and lines of 4- to 10-pound test. CRB is short for Custom Rod Builder, one of Mud Hole’s house brands, and it’s surprisingly affordable. We used a Navy blue blank in the CRB Color series.”
To complement the moderate/fast action blank, Adams picked out a set of LZR guides. They feature stainless steel frames and very hard, smooth zirconia inserts.
“We built this rod with a fairly short grip,” Weakley said. “It has an 8-inch rear grip and only a 1 3/4-inch foregrip—that keeps it light, close to the body for manipulating lures, and crucially, it lets that 7-foot blank deliver as much or more energy than any 7-foot, 6-inch off-the-shelf rod I’d expect to find.”
If you are unsure about what components you need or what build is right for you, the Mud Hole team can be reached by email, in-person, through their website or by phone to help guide your decision-making process.
How to Build a Fishing Rod: Step-by-Step Directions
Whether you want to build a baitcaster or spinning outfit, the general assembly of your DIY fishing rod will be similar, with some minor variations. In these fishing rod assembly instructions, we're going to cover how to create a spinning outfit with a full cork grip, but you can see the Mud Hole YouTube page for directions on alternate builds. See the video above for visual references of the directions provided by Mud Hole below.
1. Find the Spine
Finding the spine of the rod makes for a better-performing fishing rod overall. It’s very easy to do and only requires a china marker. Place the butt of the rod blank on a firm surface while supporting the rod tip with your other hand. Put a nice firm flex in the blank, without overdoing it. Twist the rod blank until you feel it roll and snap into place. It will be difficult to roll the blank out of the spine. Take your china marker and make a 3- to 4-inch mark on the rod blank.* This will help you later when you’re aligning your reel seat and mounting your guides.
*Note: For spinning and fly rods, you want to make that mark on the inside of your curve. For casting or conventional rods, you want to make it on the outside of the curve.
2. Mark & Prep the Grips
Lay your handle components next to your blank where they should be in the final build. With the china marker, mark the dividing points on your rod blank where each component ends.
Next, you'll need to see how much material needs to be removed from the grips.* To do this, slide each grip down on the rod blank as far as they can comfortably go. Don't force it! The cork may crack or split if forced. Use the reamer to slowly remove internal layers of material until each fits snugly just before the properly marked point. Don't over-ream. Double-check the fit often and tap out the dust each time to ensure a good seal when you apply the epoxy.
*Note: If you purchase a rod kit through Mud Hole, the grips will already be reamed and prepped to fit your blank.
3. Install the Grip
To adhere the grips, we recommend using ProPaste Two-Part Epoxy which is specifically designed for the construction of rod handles. Mix equal parts resin and hardener on a paper plate or in a mixing cup.* The measurements don't need to be perfect for this step. "Eyeballing" it should be sufficient. Mix thoroughly.
Start applying the epoxy at the line marked for the top of the rear grip.** In an even layer, spread the epoxy down close to the bottom mark of the rear grip. Slide the rear grip onto the blank. Once you get to the paste, start slowly turning the grip to fully coat and seal the grip to the blank. Continue all the way until the grip is flush with the end of the blank. Add a bit more epoxy to the inside of the butt cap, making sure to coat the inside walls as well, and pop it on the end of the rod. Remove any remaining glue with isopropyl alcohol.
*Note: It may be obvious to some, but make sure you use different sticks when scooping out your two-part epoxy so as to not ruin your epoxy or hardener.
**Reminder: This is the assembly for cork grips. If you're using EVA or split grips, see this instructional video here.
4. Install the Reel Seat & Fore Grip
Reel seats are hollow on the inside and require tape arbors to keep them flush on the blank. Using the mark that signals the top of the reel seat, you are going to space out 3 separate tape arbors on the blank. The first will be about a quarter of an inch from the top mark, the next one a quarter inch away from the edge of your rear grip and one directly in the center. Now it's time to build up the diameter to match the inside diameter of your reel seat. Once the seat has the perfect fit, apply a few wraps of tape to the threads on the front of the reel seat to keep them glue-free.
Take your pre-mixed ProPaste and apply a liberal amount on top of all the tape arbors. You want to make sure that you get a large amount of epoxy filling all the voids in so that it makes constant contact with the reel seat and the rod blank. Any overflow will spill out at the back and you can clean it up later. Slide your reel seat onto the blank, twisting the seat once you reach the arbors. This will distribute the epoxy into all the open spaces. Remove any excess paper towels and isopropyl alcohol.
Once your reel seat is in place you are now ready to install your foregrip. Add a little bit more epoxy in front of the reel seat and begin to rotate the grip as you slide down the base. Before you peel out the piece of tape covering the reel seat threads, take a paper towel with alcohol, clean up the excess and remove the tape. Before we set this aside to let this cure, double-check that the reel seat aligns with that spine mark you made earlier. Let cure overnight.
5. Guide Prep & Spacing
To ensure your guide has a steady slope when wrapping, you'll want to start by prepping your guides. Where the foot will meet the rod blank, take a standard nail file, and while supporting the foot of the guide, make a few passes to smooth the transition point. Keep doing that until you're happy with the gradient. This process may create a burr underneath so take a few passes there with the nail file and keep checking both sides until they are flawless.
Now, you’re ready to space out your guides. If you are using the Mud Hole CRB guide system, for example, they already have the different rod lengths and the spacing charts right on the packaging. If you are using other rod guides, you can refer to the vendor’s website for guide spacing, or contact us at Mud Hole for assistance. In either case, remember guide spacing is always going to be measured from the tip of the rod blank down to the butt end.
Grab your china marker and a tape measure. Make a mark at each of the designated measurement points. What’s important to remember about these points is that this is going to represent where the ring of the guide is going to line up, not the guide foot.
Once you've got all your marks in place, you're ready to secure the guides to the blank. There are a few ways you can accomplish this. You can use some 1/4-inch rod-building masking tape, guide tubing or foot adhesive. For the tape method, you can take an inch or two of masking tape and press it about halfway up each guide foot. When you’re ready to place it on the rod, line your ring up with the marks and press the tape down, connecting the two sticky ends together on the opposite side to create a tag.* This will make it easier to remove later.
The other way to adhere the rod guides to the blank is to use the CRB guide tubing or foot adhesive. Tape works great but lower profile guides tend to be more difficult to work with as far as taping it to the rod blank. To use the CRB guide foot adhesive, just melt the tip over an alcohol burner, run your guide foot over it, place it on the blank and there you go.
Note: It's very important that you don't forget to align your guides with the spine!
6. Tip Top Install
The final step in laying out a rod before wrapping is going to be installing the tip top. To do this, you are going to use a hot melt tip adhesive. Cut a sliver from the tip top glue stick that's small enough to fit inside the tube of the tip top guide. Place the sliver into the tip top guide tube and cut off any excess. Using a pair of needle nose pliers, gently grab the arm of the tip and hold it over the alcohol burner to melt the glue inside.
Once it’s ready, align the tip, place the top, and rotate it around to make sure of good glue bond before lining it up with the spine mark and reel seat.
7. Guide Wrapping
First, you'll need to set up your hand wrapper and route your thread. Make sure your straight-edge razor blade and burnishing tool are close by. When you are getting into the wrapping process, there are a few key points that you need to focus on. First and foremost is tension. Tension is one of the most important things for keeping your thread secure around the rod guides, and looking good on the rod itself. What you can use to measure this tension is our tension rod, which you'll want to point directly at your chest to ensure the proper application.
Once you’re ready to wrap, take your thread and wrap it around the blank two times. Holding pressure with your finger, you are going to take the thread coming off the spool and jump over the top of those rotations, securing the thread in place. Maintaining pressure with your finger, you are going to rotate the rod, two or three times, making sure that everything is held tightly together. We can then continue to release and continue our wrap. After you have laid down six to eight rotations, you can take your razor and cut the tag end. You can then proceed to finish wrapping down the blank. When you get to the transition from the blank onto the guide foot, that’s where our process earlier of prepping the guide foot and grinding it down will come into play. By making a nice smooth transition, the thread should just roll from the blank onto the top of the guide without any effort. Once you have wrapped up to the masking tape or guide tubing, carefully remove the tape or use your razor to slice the tube.
If there are any gaps in your thread, take your burnishing tool and rub it around on the thread, which should eliminate any gaps. Once you get about an eighth of an inch away from the fork on the guide foot, you want to put a “pull-through” in between the wraps to secure the thread in place. To do this you are going to make a loop out of a small piece of thread, preferably with a different color so it is easier to see, and put it directly underneath the thread you are currently wrapping. The key point to remember is the loop goes in the direction that you are wrapping the guide. Wrap over the pull-through at least six to eight rotations around the rod blank. Now, holding pressure with your finger, you are going to release some pressure from the hand wrapper spool, and with your razor cut the thread.
Next, take the thread end and drop that piece through the loop. Once through the pull-through loop, you can release the pressure with your finger. Holding pressure with your other hand, grab the two loose ends and pull the thread back underneath the thread wrap. You can now go ahead and take your straight-edge razor blade, laying it flat against the back of the wrap, pull the thread into the blade, cutting it cleanly from the guide wrap.
8. Get Creative! Add Additional Wraps, Accents or Decals
Now that your rod is assembled, here's where you can get creative. You can add additional wraps near the foregrip or within the split grip. You can keep accents simple with trim bands or get adventurous with decorative weaves and inlays made of abalone or snake skin between your split grip. You can also add logos and stickers as well as fish or text decals. The rod is your canvas. Let's go over how to install a basic text decal.
Prep the part of the blank you want the decal to go with a paper towel and some isopropyl alcohol. Take the decal and use scissors to snip as close to the text as you can. Now place a piece of scotch tape over the length of the decal on the top. Apply the second piece of tape to the back and peel it off.
Once you take the backing off, you don’t want to have any fingerprints on it because once it’s transferred to the blank, those fingerprints will last a lifetime. So, make sure you hold on to the tape handles.
Once you have the decal on the blank, you want to leave the tape on top because you are going to take the burnishing tool and slowly roll over the decal getting out the air pockets. You'll apply epoxy to this area later which will cover any sticker edges.
9. Apply Epoxy
Ensure you are in a well-ventilated area before proceeding. Mount your rod in your rod drier and make one final check to ensure that your guides are perfectly aligned. After that, go through and remove any remaining marks left from the china marker with alcohol or by rubbing a piece of thread on them.
It is now time to mix and apply the epoxy to the guide wraps and any decals. For this, you will need to pour an exact 50/50 mix of PROKöte Thread Finish resin and hardener into your mixing cup and use a mixing stick to stir with slow even rotations. After two to three minutes, the mix should be clear with minimal bubbles.
Once the epoxy is ready, it's time to start applying. The epoxy finish is a relatively easy process while the rod is rotating in an RDS rod drier. This is going to spin the rod at a constant 9 rpm that will allow the finish to self-level during the curing process. The is essential to coat the guide and the thread completely. You always want to start off by making a nice clean edge with your epoxy along the edge of your threads, and while you do this, do not force the brush flat against the guide wrap. Just use your brush to push the bead of epoxy around making sure that it thoroughly coats everything.
Once you have your edge started, you can go ahead and paint up the guide wrap. Once near the end, hold the brush steady and allow the bead of epoxy to create another nice finished edge at the back side of your guide wrap. TIP: One thing to note is that the thread will create two channels on either side of our guide foot. You want to take extra care and take a little bit of the finish and fill in those gaps to prevent any water intrusion later when we are using the rod. Make sure to get a thorough coating, without overloading it. Too much epoxy will cause sagging and a balloon-looking finish, you just want the right amount.
Once you are all set and done with the finishing process, you’ll introduce some heat with your alcohol burner to level out the epoxy, remove bubbles and melt off any excess. Use the burner to lightly flame the epoxy with careful flashes of heat. If you see some of the excess epoxy beading up underneath, you can use your brush to gently remove it.
If you took the time to apply a custom decal to the rod, you want to protect that with the 2-part epoxy finish as well with the same process.
10. Let it Dry & Test it Out!
Be sure to let your rod sit in the spinning dryer for a minimum of 8 hours to completely cure before removing and testing it out.
“It was fun building the rod,” said Weakley, “and we had Terry Scroggins, a famous Florida professional bass fisherman and avid rodbuilder join us for the process.
“Between Chris and Terry, I had plenty of good advice, and the equipment provided by Mud Hole was top-quality. They sell wrapping and drying devices at consumer prices, and there’s really nothing you could need as a rod-builder that you can’t find through their headquarters and catalogs.”
Weakley mounted a 300-series Lew’s Custom Inshore reel on his new rod and spooled up with 15-pound-test Strike King Contra braided line in high-viz yellow.
“I really enjoyed fishing this combo on Mosquito Lagoon the next day,” he said. “I went with Capt. Taylor Belinger of Backcast Guide Company. Using some of Taylor’s custom jigs, I caught a good redfish and a black drum, plus a seatrout. The trout was maybe a little on the small side to claim a slam, but it was a memorable way to christen my new Mud Hole rod.”
Now it's your turn. Happy building!