May 11, 2010 2 min read 1 Comment

Junior swears that this post is going to turn up in some weird google searches, but I’m going to press ahead anyway (for those who have arrived here who are not interested in bamboo rods, you can stop reading now!).

Occasionally I get asked about the swelled butt on a rod. All of my rods have this swelled butt design, meaning that the bamboo blank is noticeably larger just above the grip on the rod’s butt section. To the uninitiated, it probably seems a little strange: shouldn’t the taper be more or less consistent down the entire length of the rod? What exactly does one gain by this?

The Swell on a Spring Creek Special Butt Section -- The swell looks a little smaller here thanks to the wraps but the taper increase is still pretty obvious


The main reason for a swell is pretty simple: it stops the rod from flexing down through the grip. This effectively makes the active part of the rod shorter and gives it an action that’s a little crisper. My own feeling is that this also gives the caster better control over the rod, and thus helps with overall casting performance. Most bamboo anglers probably take this for granted, but when you stop and think about it, it’s a pretty smart design move.

I’m not the only one who thinks so, and there is a long tradition of building these swells into the rod. Many of the eastern rodbuilding companies did this for many years, the kind of companies that have heavily influenced much of my approach to rodbuilding. FE Thomas, Payne, and Leonard for example, all cut their rods this way, and they had the advantage of doing these swells on a beveler (as I do), which I think is far easier than handplaning them.

Don’t get me wrong. Swells certainly aren’t universal. Some people out there prefer a rod that flexes down into the grip (I’ve even heard of rods breaking in the grip if you can imagine that) but I think the majority of rodbuilders today use them. What’s more, it’s also important to note that even among those who build swells, there is still some variation in terms of design. One example that springs to mind is T&T, who tends to use fairly large swells on their rods, larger than the the roughly .060″ swell that I use and that is pretty standard for Leonard-style stuff.

So what’s the takeaway here? As with so much in bamboo rodbuilding, I think it largely comes down to individual preference. My own opinion is that it’s a design that makes a lot of sense, and so I continue to use it on all of my rods.

1 Response

George Tinaza
George Tinaza

May 17, 2016

Jut wanted to agree with you, I have over 100 vintage, antique bamboo and greenheart from around the world in my collection—Some have been refinished and or restored as back to normal and some left in the original condition I received them. With the exception of the English 8 Footer, Greenheart in like new condition all my bamboo fly rods have swelled butts to some agree! So yes I believe swelled butt replica blanks should be given its artistic look back—I believe-building new rods and or blanks and selling them as replica as, copies or original builders tapers without swelled butts misrepresents the the original rod builder and their tapers fly rods, also I believe if a rod builder is building straight bamboo blanks, without a swelled butt they are not selling ___a bamboo—which ever taper their building and selling as not an accurate duplicate. I would ate to show off a replica well known fly rod to a friend or anyone as a copied taper and have that person say, it’s not a copied taper, the original ones had swelled butt tapers and you’re does not, you have been taken, the originals had swelled butts on their rods, yours does not, it can’t possibly a copy of such and such S taper! Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on the Swelled butt theory and subject matter! Thanks George

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