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How Fly Rods are Designed, with Shawn Combs

Description: I get a lot of questions about how fly rods are designed and I think there are a number of misconceptions about where that new rod, like the Helios Blackout series, came from. Where did the idea come from? How is the design created? If you want a 9-foot, five-inch 5-weight rod, do you just add five inches to an existing rod design? I think you’ll be surprised at what goes into a new fly-rod design, and think you’ll enjoy peaking under the hood with a rod designer.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And this week, I have a special guest, Shawn Combs, Orvis rod designer, and I asked Shawn to come on the podcast, number one because he's always a fun person to talk to. And I know, being the chief product developer for hunting and fishing and dogs nests, you people are always interested in what he has to say. Mostly from the fishing end of things. And he's always fun.
And I get the sense from questions that I answer that people are always curious about how fly rods are developed, and how they come into being, and what goes into designing a fly rod. You know, it's the most expensive piece of tackle that we have other than our travel costs or our vehicles. And, you know, it's kind of something that we all get very attached to. So I thought you might enjoy digging into how a fly rod is developed. And there's no better person than Shawn to tell us about it.
But first, the fly box. And if you have a question or a comment or a complaint for the fly box, you can send it to me at Either just type your question in your email, or attach a voice file. I don't answer them all, especially if I just answered one recently, or if your phone call goes over about two and a half minutes, I'm probably not gonna play it on the air. But other than that, I read them all.
So the first question this week is not a question. It's a comment and it's really thoughtful comments from Paul from Texas. From an email. I hear your struggle in talking about spirituality. I think that too often, people get hooked on the religious aspects of spirituality, and maybe are even afraid to talk about spirituality. Though spirituality can be religious, it can also be quite broader.
Christina Puchalski, MD, director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality & Health contends that spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose in the way they experience their connectedness to the moment to self to others to nature, and to the significant or sacred. In the broader context of spirituality, it is a focus on where one finds meaning, how one feels connected, and how one should live.
I have found that as one focuses on meaningful connection with something bigger, such as nature or art, etc., the result often is positive emotions, such as peace or contentment, gratitude, and acceptance. I find that fly fishing helps me live in the moment, and to be aware of my connectedness to the world that surrounds me. This is in some way life-giving. Being on the water seems to wash away my worries and leaves me with an abiding sense of well-being. Being on the river is a place for me to surrender my ego and become grounded and centered once again.
One of the things we all need is community. At the same time, we all need solitude. I need community where walls are broken down and there's a safe place to be broken and hurt. I also need periods of solitude where I can listen to my heart, get in touch with my role in creation, and renew my spirit. Being on the water helps me to keep these two needs in balance. Fly fishing is one place where I can nurture solitude. On the water, I can release all the emotional stuff and live fully in the present in the moment, find my spiritual center.
Thanks for giving a few moments of your time to hear my somewhat random thoughts and my experience. I don't know if they will help you, but maybe they'll point you in a good direction.
Well, thank you, Paul, very much. That's very eloquent. And you've said it much better than I could. And I wanna thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'm sure a lot of us have very similar thoughts about fly fishing, but we're not as adept at explaining it and articulating it as you did. So thank you very much.
Jeff: Hi, Tom. This is Jeff calling from Ontario in Canada. A couple of shows back you were talking about when the welded loop breaks on your byline you can cut it back in and put on a piece of mana loop. What if you cut it back and the core is exposed? So I'm wondering if water gets in there if you need to somehow treat the end of that.
So a related question, then,I have another line. Well, back in the running line, like 60 feet back, the line is split and you can see the core. It's like four inches long. It's way back. It doesn't get wet often, but it has gotten wet. And I'm wondering if that's fatal, if that waters now run through the core, and that line is gonna be wet or rot? Is there a way to fix that? Or what do you think of even kind of get off there and looping to another running line, or just going straight to backing?
So questions around what happens whenever the core is exposed?
Tom: Jeff, that's a that's an interesting question. You know, up front on the fly line, I think once you see a nail knot properly on the front of the fly line, it's probably gonna seal up that core, because it's gonna compress right down to the core of the fly line, and it might be a good idea, I know some people do put a little drop of superglue, or, you know, some waterproof flexible cement on their nail knot, and might be a good idea, I've never had a problem with a nail knot allowing water inside the core of the fly line, but again, you know, it might be a good idea to just put a drop of something to seal it.
Regarding that long crack in the back of your fly line. Fly line core won't rot. It's dacron and it's resistant to rot. But it will absorb water. And, you know, if it's 60 feet back, if the core is the core is exposed, it's kind of a weak spot in the line. And if you have a fish that runs along way, you know, potentially that might hang up in your guides coming back into the rod and it probably will absorb some water if it's a long crack.
So if I were you, I would follow your suggestion or what you thought to do and, you know, cut it back about 60 feet. If you got 60 feet of fly line, you know, as long as your trout or bass fishing, that's plenty of line. I would just cut it back and tie your backing to the line there. You're never gonna miss that extra 30 feet of fly line, at least I wouldn't. I can't cast that far. So I think it'll be fine. You know, it's really difficult to repair a fly line and I wouldn't bother splicing another piece in there because, you know, it's still not gonna go through the guides. Well, you might as well just cut it, but you're backing on there. And again, as long as you're not fishing somewhere where you're trying to make really, really super long cast, you should be just fine. And you know, when you're trout fishing, you'll get into your backing quicker. So I think that's the best plan.
Here's an email from Ryan from Littleton, Colorado.
Hello, Tom. I love the podcast and can't thank you enough for the knowledge and advice you share to help all of us become better anglers. I apologize ahead of time for this long-winded email, but thank you for taking the time to read it. My question is about technical tail waters. I fish a lot at notable tough tail waters here in Colorado, usually on the South Platte. I have successful days and not-so-productive days on these water like any other angler. And I usually fish Nym fish and try to get a dead drift with an indicator, yarn or airlock, unless I see rising trout. I typically use a seven and a half to 9-foot tapered 4X leader with an additional 18 to 24 inches of fluorocarbon tippet usually sized down to 5X or 6X. With 12 to 14 inches between split shot and first fly, and 12 to 14 inches between second and third flies. I will shorten that 8 to 10 inches between weight and flies during the winter months.
Recently, I've been going to a very different technical tailwater near Gunnison, Colorado with not very much success.[I use the same tactics and rigging I use on the South Platte, but I'm nowhere near as successful on this tailwater as I consistently am on the South Platte. I stop at local fly shops and get suggestions for patterns, but it seldom seems to help me at this tailwater. If things aren't working, I add weight or take off weight and move my indicator but it never seems to help me either. Should I change my rigging in some way? Try a different presentation, make pattern changes from the ones suggested by local fly shops? Any thoughts would help immensely.
Thank you for taking the time and wishing you tight lines.
Well, Ryan, you know, one of my first suggestions would be if you can afford to hire a guide for that particular river and see what they do because they're gonna know a lot more about the river than me, and you're gonna watch very carefully how they rig, and then you'll get an idea for what they're using there. I assume you're seeing other people being successful. So there's a lot of fish around.
The one thing that I think you might change, the first thing I would try, you know, I would think the same flies that work in the South Platte would probably work on the Gunnison tailwater or similar files, anyways, they may have some local favorites. But, you know, you said you're going to the local fly shop, you're getting the local flies. I think that your tippet is too short. You know, you've only got, at the most, 2 feet of 5X or 6X tippet. And when you need to get deeper, you're probably putting your indicator way up on the leader above the 4X section somewhere. But the rest of that leader is thick and is nylon, and it probably isn't going to sink that well. I suspect that maybe the water you're fishing is deeper than where you fish on the South Platte. And the fish might be a little spookier.
And here's what I would do. That place that you end your leader, where the 4X tippet is, I would tie a tippet ring on there. And then I would use, again, 5, probably 6X... On those Colorado tailwaters, you know, you often need to go to a very fine leader. So I would go with 6X fluorocarbon. And I would make your tippet much longer. I would make that tippet 4 or 5 feet long. You know, especially if the water you're fishing is a little deeper. And then I would put your indicator just above that tippet ring. That way, the part that is sinking is all gonna be 6X tippet. And it's gonna get down quicker.
And you know, you're fishing with relatively small flies there, doing this, you may be able to get away with not putting any shot on your leader just using weighted flies. But that long tippet dropping directly below that 4X piece of tppet material where you got the tippet ring is gonna sink very quickly, it's gonna have less drag. And by putting that indicator right above that tippet ring, I think you're gonna find it easier to mend. It's a little clunkier to cast, but that's what I have been doing lately and it's kind of something that I learned both from Euro nymphing people and from the what's called the California Right Angle Riig where you drop your tippet right below your indicator so that your flies are drifting almost at a right angle to indicate that they're gonna drop straight down. And I've had really good luck with that recently. So I think trying that longer tippet and the tippet ring is the first way I'd go. And I try not to use any shot if you can help it. You know, the fish in that river you're fishing might be spookier, split shot does spook fish sometimes, and it does kind of drag on the flies.
So I would try that. See what happens. And if that doesn't work, I try different flies, and maybe hire a guide. But try those things. And hopefully, that'll help.
Here's an email from Roberto. And Roberto sent an email to the fly box a year or so ago, saying that his parents didn't understand fly fishing and they wouldn't let them go fly fishing, and we kind of had a discussion here in the fly box and people reached out to Roberto and helped him out. And it was a really heartwarming situation. Roberto's parents now understand that he loves fly fishing and he kind of examined the reasons they didn't want him to go fly fishing. They were really afraid of him being out there on his own. But I thought I'd read this update from Roberto and a question.
This is Roberto, and I emailed before about my parents not wanting me to fly fish. Quick update on that. I fish more than ever now and they're happy to see me get out so often. That's great to hear.
Now back to my question. I live in the Pacific Northwest and there is a small stream stack with cutthroat trout that I hit pretty hard. This time last year, the fishing was phenomenal. This year, not so much. I was wondering if you'd give me a guess as to why that is. We have had a bit colder temperatures and quite a bit of rain. But it's almost like the fish just completely disappeared. There's quite a bit of bug activity, but no signs of fish activity. Maybe too cold water. Any guesses are appreciated.
As well. I just wanted to let the creators of "If I Tell Them" know that the film was truly moving and brought me to tears. I'm glad to see the support for people who struggle with mental health orders because I know that while fly fishing is not only fun, it can save lives.
Lastly, I was wondering if you think it's okay for me to cut my fly line back. I have the Orvis PRO Smooth Line in a 5-way. And while it was phenomenal at first, it is now starting to sink quite a bit. It has some cracking towards the head, but the middle of the line in the back end is fine. Should I cut it back? Or should I replace it? Thanks for any recommendations and for helping out the community See you later.
So, Roberto, first of all, small streams can be tricky. And I experience the same issues with my small streams here. You know, the trout sometimes move around in them. But I think what you're experiencing is you got colder water and you got high water and the fish aren't gonna come to the surface as much until that water drops and warms up a little bit. You know, I see that here on my own brook trout and brown trout small streams in the mountains. So if the water is a little colder and is a little higher, yeah, you're not gonna see as many fish.
You know, in a situation like that I would suggest that you fish dry dropper. You didn't say what kind of rigging you're fishing with. But I would try to dry dropper, but the fish, you know, they're gonna be close to the bottom, it's got to be tougher to get to those fish when the water is lower. The fish see your flies all the time because they're always looking up when the water is thinner. When it's a little higher and quicker they're not so quick to dart out into the fast current and they may not see your fly. So I would try to fish the slower areas with a dry dropper with a Beadhead nymph or something on the hung off your dry fly. And then I think you'll find that as the water drops, those fish will get concentrated more into the deeper areas and you'll be able to find them easier. So I wouldn't lose heart. It's still early in the season. And you're probably just experiencing a different kind of condition this year.
Regarding your comment on "If I Tell Them," thank you very much. James is truly an amazing human being, and that's a beautiful film. And for those of you who are who haven't seen the film, if I tell them, it's on the Orvis YouTube channel, and it's about a fishing guide who has struggled all his life with bipolar disorder. And it's really beautiful. And a great heartwarming film to see so I'd urge you all to see it.
And regarding cutting your fly line back, you can cut your fly line back a little bit. You can cut your fly line back a foot, maybe two, Roberto. You know, you said your fly line is cracked. So the one thing you might try is to clean the line. Even with those small cracks, sometimes a dirty line will make it sink. So I would try cleaning the line. If that doesn't work, you can cut it back a foot or two. But if you have to cut it back any farther than that you're gonna have a pretty abrupt front taper on that line and it'll be okay for some things, for fishing streamers and indicators and stuff, but you know, if you're fishing dry flies and things that are a little more delicate, it's probably not gonna be a good idea to cut back too much further. Unfortunately, when fly lines really start to crack, you know, with a lot of hard use, we have to replace them.
The other thing is keep the insect repellent and the sunscreen and any fly sprays away from your fly line because they have solvents in them and that may be why the end of your fly line has been cracking.
Dan: Hi Tom, this is Dan in Oregon. I wanted to call in response to a sound file you played on the fly box recently. A caller was disagreeing with Orvis's policy and Orvis's campaign to include women and people of color and all different diversities in the sport. And I got to say I couldn't disagree any more strongly with that caller. That's not the way to keep the rivers clear of overcrowding. Rivers need friends. And the sport desperately needs diversity and women in it. I love women and being around women. And I have to tell you, including my wife in my fly fishing addiction was one of the best choices I ever made. It brings me so much joy to be out on the river with my best friend and my wife. She's good at it. I learn things just from her different perspective. And it brings us closer together. And I love seeing women out on the river here in Oregon. So, anyways, I know you agree with me and I so appreciate Orvis's stance on that. Thank you for everything, Tom.
Tom: So, Dan, thanks for your comment. I've got a lot of emails and a few calls similar to yours. And I think we're gonna leave that subject now and try to talk more about just fishing. And people complained about me getting political. It's definitely not a political thing. I don't get political on this podcast. It's a human being thing. But thank you for your comment. I really appreciate it. And yeah, I really appreciate it.
Here is an email from Luke from the West Coast of Norway. I'd like to ask about approaching new waters. This week, I was fishing in a section of a local river I've never fished before. When I found some fish, they weren't feeding on the surface and weren't clearly nymphing on anything. What would you suggest as what to throw first as a test? I ended up butchering my first cast and spooking the whole lot of them, Any help would be appreciated. Love the podcast, listen to it every day on my walk to work.
Luke, you're lucky to be able to walk to work.
You know, Luke, I think that maybe those fish that you saw were spooked before you even made your first cast. You know, if you see a bunch of fish in the water that are not feeding and just kind of sitting there, there's kind of two degrees of spooking. When you first approach fish, sometimes they'll just freeze, and they'll stop feeding, but they won't run away or swim away, fish don't run. And then when you really spook them, then they take off and bolt for cover. So those fish may have already been, sort of, spooked, kind of half spooked. At least they were on the alert and not feeding. But you know, if you do find fish like that, and it sounds like you're fishing in clearwater where you can spot the fish, and they're not rising, my first inclination would be to go to a small nymph on a long leader and a light tippet with no indicator.
If you can see the fish, you're gonna have to sneak up on them really carefully. You know, if they're not feeding, it's gonna be tough. If you don't see them nymphing it's gonna be tough, but the only thing I think you can try is to toss a small, lightly weighted nymph above the fish with a long leader, so long leader tippet so that you're not throwing your fly line over and just let it drift down to the fish and watch the reaction of the fish. And when one of them moves off to the side or looks like it's moved for something, do a general strike. And, you know, don't lift your fly out of the water, but just a gentle lift of the rod tip. Sometimes the movement of that, if the fish weren't going for your fly will actually make them go for it. But you know, it's one of the best ways if you got fishing in clear water, and I imagine it was pretty shallow. That's one of the best ways to do it. But again, I suspect that maybe those fish wouldn't have taken anything, but give site fishing a nymph with no indicator a try first.
Here's an email from Nick from Worcester, Mass. This year, I'm taking to heart the advice of finding and fishing in my home water. Although Massachusetts is home to some good trout streams, all but the crowded tailwaters are unfishable by midsummer due to high temperatures. I've been driving less and fishing more by chasing carp and largemouth bass in my city, and it's been a blast. I have two questions about chasing these fish. First, the carp ponds I fish generally have low clarity, about 1 to 2 feet. So it's hard to see the fish's mouth when they're feeding. I've snagged more fish than I'd like trying to set the hook when I think they're eating but they're not. Do you have any advice for detecting carp strikes in cloudy water?
Second, I have a hard time finding and tying subsurface flies for largemouth that are truly fishable in weeds. I'm looking for a pattern that sinks slowly and avoid snags like a rubber warm. Do you have a go-to fly with these characteristics? As always, I'm so grateful for the work that you and Orvis have done to increase access to this pastime and support essential conservation efforts. Thank you.
All right, Nick. So first of all, carp. If you got 1 to 2 feet of clarity, that's not bad. My first suggestion would be to try to fish these places early in the morning. Early in the morning, a fish may be in 1 to 2 feet of water and really shallow water. And you'll see them tailing and mudding and, you know, going through the shallows looking for crayfish and damselfly nymphs and things like that. So try really early in the morning when, you know, you might be able to get really get close to the fish and get them in shallow water.
The other thing is that usually when carp go for a fly, their body language changes. And if you can see the fish at all, you'll often seethem kind of tip their head down and quiver a little bit when they inhale your fly. And you really have to read their body language. But I think that if you watch the fish, and then just gently strip strike, so if you gently strip strike, what you're gonna do is you're gonna set the hook, but you're probably not gonna fall hook a fish if you gently strip-strike. You probably, you know, won't hook them unless they're hooked in the mouth. And then once you feel the weight of the carp on there, then give it another little jab. But yeah, it's very tough. And sometimes you have to guess.
The other things that I've done. And I've done this for mudding carp, where you see a cloud of mud and you see a carp in there, but you really can't see their mouth, is so dirty, but I've thrown a squirmy worm which a carp will hold on to a little bit longer, throw in a squirmy worm into the area where you see the carp or the mud and just draw it very slowly along the bottom. And then you can actually feel the strike. Instead of seeing a strike you can actually feel them take it but you know, draw it very, very slowly. Don't strip it, don't make the worm jump and dive in the water. Just make it kind of slide along the bottom. So, those are a couple of things to try. But you know try to find them in shallow water if you can.
Regarding subsurface flies for largemouth, you know, nothing that I know of is gonna slide through weeds as well as a rubber worm because, with a rubber worm, you got the hook buried in the body of the lure. So, you know, weedless flies are more weed-resistant, and they'll still get hung up on certain types of weeds. And you can try various things. You can try, you know, two pieces of monofilament that stick down toward the point, you can try a loop of monofilament, you could try a couple of pieces of wire that are bent at an angle, but I don't think you're gonna find anything that's gonna be truly as weedless as a rubber worm. You know, the old keel flies where there was a bent hook and it was covered with deer air, but I've never had that much luck with those. I would avoid anything with bead eyes or lead eyes or solid metal eyes. I'd avoid anything with eyes at all because those are likely to get snagged. I would, you know, try flies that are a little bit slimmer, you know, a good old unweighted woolly bugger tied weedless with a weed guard is a pretty good way to go in that situation, but I don't know of anything that's gonna be that truly weedless in In a bass pond.
Here's an email from Carl. Echoing what many others say on the fly box, thank you for all the knowledge you've shared through the podcast and videos. It has been extremely helpful in my fly fishing journey. Now to my questions.
Question one. I live in South Charleston, South Carolina, and I picked up fly fishing for redfish, some days, significantly, more successful than others. Last time my buddy and I went out we ran across some Bonnethead sharks in an oyster basin 6 to 12 inches of water. I threw at them a fair amount of time and finally got one to follow a gurgler on the surface and lift its head out of the water stopping just short of taking the fly. Are there any flies or techniques you would recommend for these sharks? Do you have any experience fishing for these smaller sharks on the fly? I'm assuming something that would push water since I'm thinking sharks are more sensitive to that but wanted to get your opinion.
Question two. I do trout fishing in the North Carolina mountains and I have been trying to start fishing more wild streams. In doing so, it often required hopping from small pool to small pool and oftentimes I will find myself standing in the stream, fishing in a pool that is shoulder height to eye-level with me. In these scenarios, I'm finding that I'm losing fish when I get bites. I will set the hook and then a second or two later, I will lose the fish. Is this because I'm low in comparison to the pool? Should I be changing my hook set?
All right, Carl. So question one. Yeah, I have caught bonnethead sharks and they're a lot of fun on the fly rod. Bonnethead sharks typically eat things like crabs and shrimp. And so I'm surprised that it went after a gurgler. But that's kind of cool. Generally, I've had best luck with just standard Bonefish flies, or permit flies because they do eat crabs and trip and they seem to have fairly good eyesight as sharks go. So I wouldn't worry about that. You know, you have to cast it pretty close to them, ut if you cast a crab or a shrimp fly, you know, right on its head or just ahead of the fish, I've had good luck, with, you know, standard bonefishing and permit flies, not surface flies. I never caught one on a surface fly. So I think that the gurgler is probably not gonna be a high percentage fly for bonnetheads, but I would try, you know, crab or shrimp or even a really small bait fish fly might work for bonnetheads.
Regarding your hook setting, you know, this is a case where you probably want to do what you don't wanna do in saltwater, and that's to do a really high trout set. You know, just raise that rod way over your head when you set the hook because you are so low in the water. The other thing is that, you know, small stream trout in mountain pools like this are really adept at getting off the hook and short striking and not getting the fly in their mouth. So I would not assume that there's anything wrong with your hook set until you go for days and days and days, you know, with poor hooking percentages. So try to raise your rod higher. I think that's about the only thing you can do. And you know, it's a great way to approach those streams though, if you're coming up to those pools and the next pool up is shoulder height or eye level, that's a great way to sneak up on those fish. So it's a good way of doing it. Just try to raise the rod tip a little bit higher when you set the hook.
Here's an email from Chris in Indiana. Tom, I will be interested in hearing your feedback on a shortcut I have sometimes used for adding a dropper fly or egg when salmon or steelhead fishing. As you know, tying on a dropper with freezing cold fingers can be a challenge. A number of years ago, I adopted a shortcut of tying the dropper fly to a length of tippet with a perfection loop on the far end. I put these rigs on index cards with the hooks through the card, the tippet wrapped around in the card in the terminal end, taped down with a little piece of scotch tape. I can get maybe 8 to 10 rigs on a single index card. Then, when I wanna quickly add a dropper, all I have to do is make a loop-to-loop connection around the bend of the hook. The loop stays in place pretty well even with barbless hooks, and I've landed some sizable fish caught on these dropper flies. I never see anyone else doing this and I've begun to wonder if this kind of connection might be inherently weak or question-question your thoughts. Thanks for all you do.
Chris, I think that's a really cool idea and something I never thought of doing. I would be a little bit careful in that the fraction loop is, you know, if you're using anything smaller than say, Oh, I don't know, 2 or 3X, and you're probably not, you're probably using, you know, 10-pound or 12-pound tippet. I don't think a perfection loop is particularly strong in the really fine stuff. But in that sense, that size trippet that you're using for salmon and steelhead should be fine. And I think that's a great idea. I'm gonna try it myself. You know, it's a quick way of doing it. You don't have to tie any knots when your hands are cold. And you may be onto something there. So I'm gonna experiment with it myself and see how well it works. So thanks for the tip.
Roger: Hello, Tom. This is Roger Batt [SP] down here in Texas. I wanna thank you for the wonderful podcast last week on the importance of beavers and the roles that they play in aquatic ecosystems. It seems like every day, we are relearning that every creature plays a critical part in the circle of life and in their communities. Now, onto a question.
There are many fine national organizations such as Trout Unlimited, that are involved with conservation efforts concerning aquatic ecosystems. Are there any other organizations you would like to recommend? I feel in this time of climate change, anything and everything we can do to help our environment is a good thing. Arma and I always look forward to your podcasts, Fly Time Mondays, and all the other wonderful things that you do for us fly fishers out here. We appreciate it. And thank you very much.
Tom: Well, Roger, thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the beaver podcast. I thought that one was really fun and interesting and indifferent. So I'm really glad that you enjoyed it. And I got a number of other emails from people that said they liked it. So I appreciate that.
Regarding organizations, you know, there's a lot of them out there. And, you know, in my view, you kind of have to decide what's most important to your values, and what do you want to protect. And I can give you a few organizations that I am a member of that I recommend. There's lots of them out there. And I'm sure I'm gonna leave some out that are important. And I'm sure that I'm gonna leave somebody's favorite organization out. But this is my list. And by the way, you can find all these with a quick web search, so. And a lot of these are also, I think all of these are listed on the Orvis website under conservation partners.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. They're a great organization that's dedicated themselves to protecting public access and public lands. So, you know, if you're most concerned about public access, then that's the one to join.
American Rivers is a great organization that works on protecting rivers and removing dams. And, you know, they have done some wonderful work. And Roger, I'm not gonna mention Trout Unlimited because I know you're a very dedicated member of Trout Unlimited. And that's a very important one.
Western Rivers Conservancy is a great organization. I've done a podcast with them. You know, they buy rivers to keep them in public access and protect them. And they do some really good focused work in the western United States.
Conservation Hawks is an organization that I have worked with on some films and other things. Conservation Hawks is an organization that is dedicated to bringing awareness of climate change to the hook and bullet crowd. And it's based in Montana, run by my friend Todd Tanner, and that's a great organization to support.
And then, you know, in the saltwater area, the Everglades Foundation. Captains for Clean Water is a terrific grassroots organization and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. All these are science-based organizations and they're doing some great work, particularly in Florida, but in the case of Bonefish & Tarpon Trus all over the world. So they're great.
And then finally, it's not a conservation organization, but one that I work with and support is the American Museum of Fly Fishing. If you care about the traditions around fly fishing, not everybody cares about the history and the traditions, but it's important to many people. And the American Museum of Fly Fishing is really the repository for a lot of our artifacts and for exploring the past and exploring what people have done before us.
So those are a few. I know I left some out, and I know I left out some people's favorites, but those are the ones that came to me off the top of my head.
All right, that is the fly box for this week. Let's go talk to Shawn Combs about how a fly rod is developed.
So my guest today is the amazing Shawn Comb. Shawn is is the head of fishing and hunting, and dog product development for Orvis. Old friend, good fishing buddy.
And Shawn, you're really the lead on rod development. And you have a great team of people that you work with. But I would say a lot of the ideas and the initiation of ideas comes from you. Is that a correct statement?
Shawn: You know, Tom, that's a good question. You know, I think really, it comes down to I am the person who sometimes often gets all the credit. But I mean, you know, the beauty of having a rod shop about eight miles from the office and six miles from my house is that the team of individuals there, you know, Frank Hoard, Beaner [SP] are lead in rod design, Sam Orvis, Don Swanson. I mean, the list goes on. I usually get to come up with the creative problems to try to solve for, and the team comes together for the solutions. And then from the execution standpoint, I give all of the credit to the rod shop.
Tom: Okay, cool. So I figured you'd say. But, you know, there's a lot of misconceptions about how fly rods are designed. And I know this because I answer a lot of questions on the podcast about rod design. And I don't think a lot of people understand exactly what goes into designing a new rod. For instance, like the new 9'5" 5-weight blackout rod, right? I got the question before. Did you guys just add five inches to the 9'5" 5-weight rod? And, you know, why can't you make this? And why can't you make that? All you got to do is add a few inches and you have a longer rod. But you know, explain and maybe use the 9' 5" 5 blackout rod as an example of where the idea comes from, how it gets executed, how it's designed, and then how it comes to market.
Shawn: Yeah, so that's a great example, actually, because I wish it was so easy just to add 5 inches to the rod or cut 5 inches off...
Tom: Yeah, we'd have more fishing time if all you had to do is add...
Shawn: We would definitely have more fishing time. But no, the blackout is awesome. So it's a great example because that was a mid-series release, the series of three rods. And I think that those rods really are great examples of what happens whenever you really never stop tinkering and designing and asking questions of the rods. And then when you really get down to it and you listen to the end-user, whether that's, you know, yourself on the water and go on, "Jeez, I wish I had a rod that had the reach and line control of a 10-footer but had the swing weight and the all-day castability and accuracy of a 9-footer." And you know, and you think, "Oh, well that's easy. Just make one that's in the middle of nine and a half or 9 foot, 5 inches.
But what we really wanted to do was take the foundation of Helios 3. And you know, Helios had been launched in the market for a couple of years. And we were really thinking about how do we solve problems that are scenario-specific? And that was really the genesis of the blackout. So in the case of the 9'5" 5-weight, it was really about could we make a rod that is as an accurate and light, both in swing weight and physical weight as the 905 D, but has the reach for arrow mending and line control on the water, mending, and stuff like that. And then when you start throwing these scenarios at it and it's like a great boat rod to run a dry dropper or an indicator rig. But also, you could step out or park on, you know, pot of fish, and throw on like tippet and a small dry fly, and still have it be able to work in that scenario.
So, you know, we were kind of taking what a typical rod would do. And we didn't wanna make an all-rounder rod. We wanted to make a rod that gave us more benefit and the benefit column of line control and castability and swing way, but then also, you know, at the same time, not have, you know, something that was clunky when you wanted to do fine, like tippet, you know, super-accurate work and draw fly fish with it. And that was the problem statement for that rod. Add more reach, add more line control, don't sacrifice swing way, don't sacrifice accuracy.
And we had a great platform with, you know, Helios 3 design techniques, but we're gonna jump right in, like get way, kind of deep in the weeds, and then we'll kind of hover back out. We started thinking about a taper strategy. And so taper strategy is from the butt section to the tip section, or vice versa, how much does the diameter change based on the internal diameter of the mandrel you use. How much...
Tom: Oh, wait. Hey, before you go any further, I think a good thing to do would be to explain to people the difference between flex and load before you even go there. Because that's an important distinction.
Shawn: Yeah. Think about it this way. Flex is where does it bend? And load is how stiff is it?
Tom: Okay.
Shawn: Is that helpful?
Tom: Yeah.
Shawn: I usually use analogies. This can be analogy number one. Everybody has been on a diving board, right? You could have a diving board that's soft all the way to the base end of it, right? And as you start to walk out, it just jumps right off. You could have one that you could walk out halfway, and then it starts to soften up and spring. Or you can have one where you walk out almost to the very end and just the tip is soft. That's flex. And then load is really a description of how stiff the diving board is. So if you're 200 pounds, and you walk out on it, it deflects a certain amount versus say a 100-pound or a 40-pound kid.
And so, when we talk about tip flex, that's being able to walk all the way out on the diving board. It doesn't really deflect much until you get towards the end, and then it gets soft. You know, and then the old terms of mid-flux and fast-action, you know, and throw action in there too. And that's another one that tends to confuse people quite a bit. And, you know, I actually, as a user and a designer, I think that taking the overly prescriptive descriptions out of the vernacular and throwing in things like F and D, you know, finesse, or distance, and then you can start thinking of... It doesn't matter how it flexes, or how stiff it is, is this rod made to cast accurately at farther distances? Or is it made to have a lot of finesse and lower line speeds to really pinpoint fish, you know, 50 feet and in?
You know, often, when you pick up a tip flex rod that's super stiff and you put a standard line weight on it, say 180-grain, 5-way line, you can't feel it until you get 30 or 40 feet out, and you know, you're already too close to your fish if you're drop line fishing, or even if you have a streamer rig up, you know you kind of have to false cast 3 before you can fill the rod load and get confident with making your next longer cast.
And so those scenarios I mean, you know, typically you see our D show up on boat rods up to saltwater rods, where you're gonna be, you know, fight and win and making, you know, 50, 60-foot casts. And a lot of people think of a 60 or 50-foot cast as being short. It really is a lot longer than you think, when you're really thinking about accuracy. You know, throwing cast or feeding fish beyond that, unless you're just got a pot of redfish or something like that, you know, you take your ability to control the feed out of it. And so I always tell people, you know, yeah, think about what's your scenario, how you're fishing, where you think, you know, distance are, and then go at a, do I want a finesse rod that's gonna protect lighter tippet, that's going make more accurate casts with more line control with less line out? And especially if you're running longer leaders and stuff like that, better turnover with more control and lower line speeds is an advantage there. If I'm running an indicator rig, or if I'm throwing streamers, you know, I'll probably pick a D for that.
So, in summary, flex, you know, load, action, and profile, those are all terms that we use, on say, this side of the design law. But when you get out on the water, it's just more about what fly am I using, what line is gonna deliver that fly most appropriately, what rod is gonna, you know, match that scenario? And go from there. And that's kind of one of the cool things about, to get back to the 9' 5" 5 is, we thought we would just be making a boat rod and we were surprised with how nice that rod was, from an accuracy standpoint, doing some of that delicate work in closer. Which, you know, in complex currents, Tom, you know, I mean, you know, this is where you need that after the cast mending and things like that, you know, whether you're running an indicator rig down a seam, and you're always, you know, maintenancing your line or mending, or you're, you know, set up for a shot on a sipper and you've got complex currents to work through.
So it's been super cool kind of being surprised every now and then. You know, you set off to make a rod that's gonna do something and then you realize how much more versatile it is. And I mean, I think that the customers have responded and the feedback on that rod, specifically, has been awesome just because I think we really achieved that make a longer rod without sacrificing some of the attributes that make shorter rods great. You know, accuracy, swing weight, you know, and things of that nature.
Tom: Having fished that rod a lot I would agree with those.
Now, without divulging any trade secrets, talk about, if you can, how you went about developing the rod because obviously, it wasn't just adding 5 inches to the 905.
Shawn: So, we have to step back a little bit. Historically, when we've designed 10-footers, you know, I don't wanna say they're not good rods, they're great rods, but they've always been like, kind of, a thorn in our side of you know, the swing weights go up, 5 weights feel like 7 weights, not like 4 weights, you know. And our 9-footers, you know, it was one of those things where we said there's a real opportunity here to think about the mass distribution along the blank and how we treat taper.
And this goes all the way back to the taper strategy exploration that we did. We sat down and said, you know, "Well, what if we had a faster taper? What does that really mean?" That's saying that we're gonna build diameter at a higher rate as you go from the tip to the butt section. And you know, it still will have a finer tip section. So you get those short casts, but it'll build into a larger diameter, which is something that we had started to poke on, but we were like, "Let's take that knob and crank it up and see what happens there?" And that was really kind of before the rod was even a thing, we were playing around with 10-footers and trying to improve those by exploring some of these taper strategies.
And we got to where we were making prototype 10-footers that felt really good and you could tell, like, you know, Wow, this is nice. And then that's when I sort of turned and I'm like, "I know we don't really have a skew for it, but we should make a 9 foot 5 inch off of this taper strategy and see where it lands.
And you know, we took the same construction technique of H 3s, we took profile strategy of the D series, and a load strategy that was just to touch stiffer to compensate for the extra length and made a first proto that we went through field testing. And it was really good. You know it had a reduced swing way. And I'd say it was a B-plus rod. And then the tilde notes came back and it was like, all right, we probably went a little too high on twisting that knob on taper strategy. So we've mellowed out the butt section taper a little bit and then got where we are today.
And I guess this really highlights and emphasizes that rod design is part engineering, it's part math, it's part historical perspective. You know, in a165 years , we've probably made them every which way. And then there's a part of it that's really empirical and like taking the rod out and casting it, fishing with different rigs. And that's the art part of it, that makes, I think, Orvis rods unique in the sense that, you know, they have their own soul, their own feel. You know, a lot of times you look at a rod and it can feel dead, it can have hinges in it. You know, there's a lot of ways to make bad rods, and there's only a few ways to make good ones. And, you know, they really start talking to you when you're making good ones. And this was the case for the 9' 5" 5 because it really did kind of come alive through that iteration once we started field testing it and getting feedback.
Tom: Yeah. You know, I was thinking the other day, that there's never been more technology applied to Orvis rods, the vibration-reduction testing we do which is proprietary and very precise, and all the work you do with the differentgraphites and scrims. And so it's never been more science and engineering in Orvis rods, but I think the rods have never had as much soul, as you said, as they do now. They really do sing to you.
Shawn: I think that's really that last bit of refinement on the water use. I mean, we have an awesome group of field testers, you know, and, I mean, I could list them off and, you know, in a gushy way, but, you know, they're critical to that feedback loop of getting that last little bit together. And I think the soul thing, or you know, the voice of the rod, if you will, in some ways, the way it talks back to you when you're using it, I think that's something that's apparent when you first get to know a rod. And then what I think is really awesome is the rod, sort of, disappears. And I said this before, but you know, when you have a product that you're interfacing with, it's doing something that has some mechanical advantage that's helping you achieve something, and then it goes away... You know, if you read about race car drivers, when the car disappears and you're not fighting it, but it's working for you, and the same thing with skiers and mountain bikers and all that, it's just having it where it gets so dialed in it just becomes an extension of your arm, and you know, you almost don't even think about the rod. Because you're not trying to adapt to it, it's adapting to you.
And that's been one of the probably most pronounced differences with the H 3s is, I think you called it autocorrect. You know, like whatever your backcast looks like. If you're a caster that's in line with a tip path, or if you swing out and then pick a target and then line up and go, there's that kind of funneling that happens where the rod loads. And the tracking is so remarkable, it just sort of doesn't mess around, you know, bouncing left and right, it just sucks everything in and transfers the energy on target straightforward. And that's probably part of that secret sauce on the front-end of the rod design, you know, using, whether it's the tools and techniques that we use to measure tracking and recovery to really dial-in rod design strategy, or it's, you know, our... I mean, we have a awesome material package in Helios. And you know, and we have, equally, for the price point, a great package in recon and clearwater, but You know, in Helios itself, I mean, we're working with great materials, and they're so awesome when you start, kind of, uncovering their secrets and, you know, squeezing the best performance out of them. It's pretty cool to see.
Tom: And, you know, a lot of people think that it's always new material that makes a new fly rod series, but it's often not, right? It's often the same material used in a different way.
Shawn: Yeah. If you were to go through a historical perspective and say, H 1, Helios 1, first-gen, was all about making the lightest rod. H 2 was about taking that rod and making it smoother. So really focusing on are there any dead spots in the way the rod loads and unloads and transfers energy and then making it stronger. Really kind of put the critical eye of looking at durability around the ferrules.
H3 probably didn't get enough attention. Not to say that we didn't market it. But there was really taking the philosophies from H 2 and then making rods that were blueprint bill that had you know, very accurate high tolerance ferrule engagements, had taper strategies that we're far superior to anything that we had messed with before. You know, and really focusing and honing in on accuracy. And then once we defined accuracy, you know, it's one of those things where you scratch your head as a designer and you're like, "Well, what makes a rod accurate?" You know. And if you take the human out of it, and you put it in a machine, what would you want the rod to do? And then it's you know, to make that line go straight and, you know, not bounce around and have sine waves going left and right or up or down? And then that's when we started really honing in on, Okay, well tracking and damping. How do we make a rod that tracks better? We need a rod that's going to hold its shape and have no energy loss or negligible energy losses in that flex full to loading to unloading. And then it needs to recover fast.
And so at the end of your cast, there was something that I probably never had appreciation for, but an average 50-foot cast, from the time that you stop your hand to the time the fly hits the water, it's about 4 seconds. It's like three and a half to four seconds depending on the rod. And believe it or not, a lot can go wrong in four seconds if the rod's tip is like waving everywhere and the energy is, you know, sort of naturally, harmonically bouncing the rod around just, you know, dissipating energy.
So that was probably the biggest, I'd say, design or performance improvement was tracking. And we got that with the hoop string, which, you know, it's not a secret now. I mean, we kind of said in a proud way, like we really focused on hoop strength, did a lot of studies, and made rods that track better and recover faster. But ultimately... You go ahead.
Tom: But it wasn't a dramatic new material, right? It wasn't some new breakthrough in material?
Shawn: No. I don't think you get extra credit points for discovering new materials in the case of this. You know, it's taking the materials that you have, and then honing your craft and being ever curious about, you know, this complex spring that we use to go out and bass fish with. That was really what it came down to. So no, you know, the cat is out of the bag now. If you hadn't heard of it before, we didn't change material sets, we changed construction techniques, we changed layups, we changed, you know, the way the fibers were aligned, all to maximize hoop strength, so that we would have rods that track better. And then we measured it. You know, we built the device with a former colleague of mine that, you know, I still to this day, probably would say he's the smartest human being I've ever met.
You know, I went to him and said, "Hey, we've got this complex problem. And what do you think?" And he said, "Oh, well, yeah, if you do this, this, this, and that, you can start to measure that." You know, and it sounds so easy, right? But "If you do this, this, and that, you can start measuring that. And then when you start measuring that now you can start turning those design knobs and seeing how many degrees of freedom you can change in the equation to really maximize that performance."
And I think that's been, I guess, one of our superpowers is just really not giving up on the science side of it and staying ever curious. And I wouldn't say tinkering because often that kind of is, Oh, little off a little here. What does that look like? These are intentional moves that we made based on the science, but it's been really fun watching the rod series mature over the now, what? Almost 14,15 years, since Helios 1 came out.
Tom: And you know, another superpower that we don't talk about much. And you touched on it briefly is that really precise ferrule engagement. A lot of people don't realize that prior to Helios 3, and now Recon, if you broke a tip section on a rod, you had to send the whole rod back because those ferrules were hand-fitted, there was a little variation of each ferrule, we couldn't guarantee the ferrule fit. But now, your ferrule fit is so precise, and so repeatable, that when someone breaks a section on a rod, we can just send them a new section, knowing that it's gonna fit perfectly.
And Shawn, I don't think there's any other rod manufacturer that can do that. Am I correct?
Shawn: Yeah, there are companies that stock parts and send them... You know, those, those companies are typically companies that work in import rods, and then they just have a bank of rods, and you know, in some cases, they'll send you a section, in some cases, you know, they'll guarantee a fit. You know, but when you get that, and you [inaudible 01:06:54] cast and, you know, you're casting your tip off because there's not a good ferrule fit, you know, that's sort of what you come to expect there. But you know, this goes back full credit to the rod shop. You know, when Don started at the rod shop, he was like, "We are making one-off rods as an industry, one at a time, everyone's different." And he felt like there was a real opportunity of standardizing that. We ended up spending, you know, millions of dollars in new equipment that we could, you know, control or blank-build to a much higher level.
And you know, what that's really allowed us... I mean, the part interchangeability has been part of that. We've got that now all the way through. Even the new super fun glass rods that are gonna come out in August, have part interchangeability and ferrule fits. So that whole thing was really, let's do this, because we wanna control every rod and make them all the same so that you know... I mean, originally, it was all about having that ability to really design precise tools instead of, you know, crafting, you know, things that are close to one another. But I mean, I'm fully confident at this point that when you pick up four of our five wades,] you can switch the tips around, the tip mids and the button heads around, and have the same rod. That wasn't always the case for us, and still not the case for a lot of our competitors.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. That's an important point. I mean, it saves people time, money, when they break a tip or a butt section or wherever because those things happen, it's not gonna be such a long time period before they get a new section and they're back on the water again.
Shawn: Yeah, not to mention, I mean, also, it's a sustainability play too. You know, less chipped and broken rods around, having them sit with us for a period of weeks, you know, while you wanna fish, you know, it's, you call one of our outfitters, you know, at the service center, get you set up on a repair and off you go, we send you a new section. So, yeah.
Tom: So, I'm gonna put you on the spot here, old buddy, because people ask me this question all the time. Helios 3 rods are so good. How can you improve them? What's next? What are we gonna work on next?
Shawn: Well, so the 9'5" 5, the 11' 3, and 8'5" 8 are great examples in the blackout series. It wasn't too long after we launched Helios 3 that we asked the question, "Well, what's next?" And you know, I'll say that, yeah, appeared so tough. Right? It is so tough. You know, what I really admire about Orvis is we don't come out with a new rod series every year and say we reinvented fly fishing. You know, we're pretty honest with our product and we let our product speak for itself. And when we have something, you know, we're always really designing and iterating behind the scenes, and when we have something that we're like, Yeah, this is a 12-way that, you know, feels like a 10-way, and is accurate as, you know, a 5-way with a tarp and fly, and it's stronger. I mean, you know, you start thinking about the challenges that we put up. And in front of us is goals and it's designing rods that are stronger, designing rods that are lighter, so, you know, you can fish them longer throughout the day. And in some cases, like the 8'5" 8-way, we just wanna have fun.
You know, we looked at that rod and I was like, you know, I think we should make a rod that is all about a no-compromise, tight spots, big fish, mangroves, you know, undercut banks for small, either like in log jams where you need to drive a fly, whether it's a frog or, you know, some sort of clouds or into a spot that, you know, you couldn't make that quick shot with a 9-footer. And then, you know, it was just like, it puts a smile on your face when you make something that you're like, "Oh, yeah, this does drive like that." And it does do that. It kind of gives you that feel-good moment.
And so, I would say that those are individual expressions of these movements. And I joke with people, you know, everybody tells me, "Oh, man, the 9'5" 5-weight, that's a super killer rod. And it's so accurate. And this, that, and the other. And I kind of like laugh a little bit. And I'm like, "Wait until you see what's like with 9 foot." You know what I'm saying?
Tom: Yeah. Yeah.
Shawn: So I can't give away too much. I mean, you know, and I know that you're always gonna try to pump me for information of what's next, but I think Tom, honestly, it's just knowing that we're never really taking a break. You know, there's not a lot of like, you know, sitting around and having pizza parties. You know, as soon as we launch a new rod family, we're thinking about, Okay, you know, not so much what were the shortcomings, but what are the opportunities? You know, we're all about opportunities seeking. And, you know, the opportunities are always the same, right? You know, make a faster car, make a stronger, you know, set of whatever equipment. And I think that's what keeps it pretty spicy and exciting.
I will say that, yeah, I mean, you know, if you and I went fishing this afternoon, I'd probably put a new rod in your hand because I'm always, you know, fortunate enough to have the candy shop right up here in Manchester and be thinking about, you know, what if we did this or you know, let's try to do this one, I call it advanced concepts, but they're kind of studies or projects where we try to achieve something. We set out a goal, you know, make a rod that has letter swing way, no sacrificing durability, and see how it runs.
So those are always fun. [inaudible 01:14:09]
Tom: That's the only reason I fish with you is because you have all the new toys.
Shawn: I know. I know. Notice why I haven't given you your prototype boots back either.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. You know, I'm gonna get those tonight.
Shawn: You'll leave me bootless, you know, leave me walking around in my waiter socks, yeah. Yeah, for sure.
I'm gonna ask you. I'm gonna go an interviewer. How could we make a better Helios rod?
Tom: Well, you know that I have this thing about snake guides. You know, we've used snake guides for well over 100 years, and they've changed very little Other than a different wire, you know, a bendable wire. But snake guides haven't changed. And it's a crude system. And I have no idea what you would replace them with. But I think eventually, somebody is going to develop a improved guide. And you're the engineer, you're the one who's gonna come up with it.
The other thing, I think, and this is what I tell people is that I think we can still go thinner on rods. I mean, a rod is air-resistant, right? It's got a certain diameter. And the thinner you can make that rod, pyre the line speed, and, hopefully, the better it'll track because it's not being pushed through the air. So I think, new guides and thinner.
Shawn: I'm writing things down right now.
Tom: You and I have had this discussion I don't know how many times in cars, driving to your fishing spots. This is nothing new to you. You're just getting me to tell people.
Shawn: No. Well, I mean, I think that's one of the cool things about the new glass series... And to just touch on that for a second because you're taking the old material set, I wouldn't say old, it's a modern version of glass. But it's an S2 glass that was developed in the late '60s, early-'70s, for structural composites, not electrical-rated composites. And you know, we were able to apply some of the construction techniques and taper strategies from Helios to the glass series. And in part, we were able to reduce the blank diameters tremendously. Which is super cool. And we learned a lot, you know, and even working, you know, if you think about glass might be playdough, you know, and shaping with that, versus, you know, carbon composites. You know, we're still learning a lot. And I think that's the exciting part is, I mean, if we had all the answers, you know, we would have already made Helios 8 or whatever, you know. And it's nice, kind of, waking up and it's a new puzzle every day.
Tom: Well, I admire your passion. And I know I can tell people, absolutely for sure, that Shawn doesn't just talk a good game. He's one of the best anglers I know. And although we definitely don't agree with how to present a dry fly to a rising fish, we have totally different philosophies, which we argue over all day long, on the river...
Shawn: Should we break that down?
Tom: No.
Shawn: I mean, notice the last trip we went on, I was drilling 8 inches in front of the sippers, just for you. I even set the boat up for you a couple of times parallel or perpendicular to the fish....
Tom:Yeah. Thank you for that.
Shawn: ...however you wanted to do it. Yeah. You know, as they say, there's multiple ways to skin a cat.
Tom: There sure are. And that's why it's fun fishing with people that have different techniques.
All right, Shawn. Well, I wanna thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope that people have gotten a little bit better idea of you know, what goes into designing a rod. It's not just, you know, we need a new rod series because we need something new. We're gonna slap a new color of paint on it and put a new reel seat on it. So, you know, when new rods come out, at least from Orvis, I can't vouch for anyone else, It has to be a functional improvement in the rod. Like Helios 1 lasted for like, what? Only two years because Helios 2 was so much better. And then, right, wasn't it? It was...
Shawn: No. Helios 1 was 5 years. Yeah, yeah. You know, when you've been doing this for 45 years, Tom, they all seem like small buckets of chicken now at this point, but I think Helios 1 was 2008-2012. Okay, and then '12 to '18. Fall of '18, we launched H 3. And Helios 3 has been with us for the last three and a half, this is its fourth year. And so that may give you some, when is the next coming? We're kind of in a rhythm there five to six years.
Tom: Yeah, it takes five to six years to improve a rod that much.
Shawn: Yeah, I mean, we didn't really talk about but the design schedule is about 28 months from, "Let's go, let's start," and then to the first customer that gets one delivered to him or picks one up at a retailer.
Tom: Yeah. And people don't realize that just because you've got, let's say, for instance, you have a Helios 4, 9'5" 5-weight, you still got to design 2-weight, 3-weight, 4-weight, 5-weight, 6-weight, 7-weight, 8-weight, 9-weight, 10-weight, 11-weight, 12-weight, and maybe a 14. So.
Shawn: Yeah, I think there's somewhere just over 30 different models. And that's where you have to take the luck out of it. And you have to be really strategic about the way you approach the design. Because if you got lucky on one, I mean, you know, you hear that all the time, like, "Oh, that old series. I really liked the 9 plus 6. It was such a sweetheart." You know, you don't just look into making 29 to 33 great rods. You know, it takes a lot of effort. And I mean, that's again, where the rod shop and the team there, they do great work and just sort of not even making just the models, but every time they make a rod, it's with a lot of passion and care and consideration to making the best rods. So, I can't give them enough credit.
Tom: Well, that's great. They're an amazing team. We're so lucky to have them right here in Vermont.
Shawn: Yep.
Tom:So we have been talking to Shawn Combs, and what the hell is your official title? I don't even know what your title is.
Shawn: I'm not sure either. But I think if I look at my business card, it says that I'm the director of product design and development for the fishing, hunting, and dog category.
Tom:Okay. All right.
Shawn: So, on any given day, I'm also the lead designer for rods and reels. And we have a remarkable product design and development team that reaches if your dog sleeps on it or walks with it, if you use it, you know, in pursuit of a game in the field, or if you're out fishing with it, if it says Orvis on it it probably went through our office, or I know it did.
Tom: Yeah, it's a lot of stuff to keep track of. And you do an awesome job. So thank you, Shawn.
Shawn: Thank you.
Tom: All right. So we're meeting on the river in 35 minutes, right?
Shawn: I'm gonna be on the river ain 22 minutes, and I will see you there. I'll have your boots on. You'll know how to find me out.
Tom: Save me a spot.
Shawn: I will.
Tom: Okay, thank you, Shawn.
Shawn: Thanks, Tom.
Tom:Okay, bye-bye.
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