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Amazing Glass!

An Homage to the Garcia Lee Wulff Fly Rod

by Joseph D. Cornwall


“When I was fourteen I bought my first new fly rod with money I’d saved collecting eggs and shoveling chicken manure. I purchased a Garcia 7 foot Four Star 6-weight glass rod [that had a] yellow blank and metal spigot ferrules. [It was] the one with the square handle.” So begins a story that has ended with a most unique fly rod. The rod in question is the result of five months of research and fevered work to recreate a product discontinued more than three decades ago and encompassing a technology that many would say has been an outdated curiosity for well over twenty years.

Andrew Manchester, Jr. is the proprietor of Old Yankee Rod Smithing. Andy specializes in repairs and restoration of classic cane rods, though by his own admission he also does a lot of work on glass and graphite rods. Still, that first Garcia rod stood out in his memory as something special. “I loved that rod and fished it to the point that it was pretty well shot as well. I have always wanted one of these Lee Wulff Rods.”

In February of 2006 Andy’s wish became reality. “I recently purchased a Lee Wulff Garcia 6' Conolon 1 piece rod, model 2070,” he posted on the Fiberglass Flyrodders web forum. The 1.7 ounce wisp of a rod carried serial # 25352 and was, by all appearances, unfished. While a 7-weight line is the suggested load, Andy found a 5-weight to be a better match. Andy found one more thing. He found that he was driven to find a way to let other people enjoy this bit of antiquated tackle, this classic tool. “I asked the question why can't these rods be made today and I also asked if anyone knew where I could get some help to recreate the wheel. Well in fact since then I have spent a lot of time trying to make this happen. I have let several of my fishing buddies and my customers cast the little Garcia and they all want one! I have been a rod builder for many years and I decided to give it a shot.”

The 1960’s were a golden age of manufacturing, as new ideas about marketing and a consumer-driven industry began to widen angler’s options. The Conolon Company was purchased by Garcia at the beginning of the decade. By the end of the decade the two biggest names in fly fishing were involved in product development; Lee Wulff and Charles Ritz. It’s hard to imagine that only two decades would stand between this zenith of achievement and the slide of American rod building down the slippery slope of high-volume overseas production. Just two decades and the same pioneers of modern sport fishing would fall aside, to be replaced by new talent that had never known a day without the spinning reel. By the early 1970’s some of the best thinking in fishing tackle development was completed. All that remained was refinement.

Diminutive fly rods are nothing new to the industry. Phillipson, Shakespeare, Orvis, Fenwick, St. Croix and most others had been manufacturing shorter five, six and seven-weight rods since the post WWII period. Lee Wulff was, perhaps, the most vocal of all proponents of the technology, however. Lee founded the notorious 20/20 club where-in membership was based on landing a 20lb fish on a size 20 hook. The target was invariably Salmo salar, the Atlantic Salmon. Wulff went farther than most, though. He accomplished his task with the small hook, light leader and a short, versatile rod again and again and again. Accused of “stunt” fishing by some, the inimitable Wulff was raised to cult hero status by the majority of the fishing public – along with the likes of R. Vernon (Gaddabout) Gaddis, Curt Gowdy, Ted Williams and a slew of others. The early 1970’s were not just the golden age of fiberglass fly rod development, but also the beginning of angling’s “cult of personality” era.

Today there are still some valid arguments for short rods. Unfortunately, it seems the option for small has been lost in the rush towards the fast nine-foot five-weight now all the rage in the industry. Short rods offer strong advantages under specific circumstances. My own experiences bear this out. I’ve been experimenting with shorter glass rods for about two years. It was that experimentation which brought me to this story in the first place.

Short rods excel in tight spaces, of course. The classic argument for a fly rod of seven feet or less is the tangled, intimate waters of a brook trout stream. Another tight space, not often considered as such, is the cockpit of a canoe or kayak. I’ve found a six to seven foot rod is much easier to string up, easier to control, and easier to stow – especially when there are two people in the boat. Finally, I find that a six to seven foot rod increases my accuracy substantially. Even when I have plenty of room for a nine foot rod, a seven-and-one-half is sometimes a better choice. When I have to hit dinner-plate sized holes in a lily pad field from my canoe forty feet away, the shorter rod is the more accurate choice!

Another interesting twist on the theme is line weight. While six to seven foot rods that carry lines of 4-weight and under are easy to find, short rods for lines 5, 6 and 7 – or more – are nearly gone from the industry. I believe this is due to the unsuitability of graphite for such an application. Graphite is just too fast, and too brittle, for loading a short rod at a close range. I’m unaware of any rod shorter than my seven-foot-nine-inch Orvis Far & Fine that handles a 5-weight line or above. Aaron (“Goldenstair” on the forum) wrote “My favorite rod ever is a 6' 5-weight fiberglass that I made based on advice I saw from LouDog99. It is the single most versatile, user friendly and precise rod I've ever used. I understand why Lee Wulff loved this size and weight rod.”

There are dissenting opinions, of course. Tom (Jgestar on the forum) had this to say; “Drag and line control are critical in fly fishing. A long rod makes mending, reach casts, curve casts, and line control more effective. A long rod is excellent for controlling a hooked fish. A good long rod is a joy to fish. Short fly rods are fun to fish. A short rod can also mend and control line, make reach casts and curve casts, and control fish, but these are more challenging. In tight quarters, a short rod is the best rod. Andy's project sounds like a fly rod for fly fishing. And it will be the ONLY new, fishable, 6 foot, 6-weight available!”

Something new is something to think about. How is it possible that a sector of product, a category of rods so popular for nearly half a century, has simply vanished from the market? Clearly performance and fish-catching ability isn’t the crux of the matter! Elsewhere I’ve written about fiberglass’ ability to create a rod with deep flex and reserves of power. Glass can initially feel ‘floppy’ or soft, but one soon discovers it comes alive with the mass of the line. In the hand, a 6-weight glass rod feels like it should take a 4-weight line. It doesn’t and it won’t.

The quest for a reproduction of the Garcia Lee Wulff rod's action was effective, but it didn’t go without stumbling a couple times. Andy recalls “I purchased some 6' 1pc fiberglass blanks from different sources and they were not all fly rod blanks per se. Lots of tape and glue up jobs!!! I have built several prototypes and after a lot of trial and error, I have a blank that fits the bill. I have a rod that is very close.”

“These rods are not exact copies and in some ways I do not wish them to be! I have made some improvements. They are, however, inspired by the Wulff Garcia rods only. After I have built 50 that’s all I am going to build. I plan to stop building them .Then I will pass all the information on so that anyone can purchase the materials and know all my secrets and build their own if they wish.”

Shortly after this announcement, another more ominous one was posted. “I have put the project on hold,” Andy wrote. He continued with the good news that inevitably follows the bad, “I have found a slightly better blank that resembles the original’s action and specifications 100%. I have put the orders for the first rods on hold as well. I am offering to replace the first few rods that have already been delivered. The only problem is the owners don't want to give them up!”

When I asked Andy about the blanks he was a bit coy.  Is there any wonder?  These are new-old stock and they're not making any more of them.  "I stumbled on the blanks looking for Garcia components to build my replica rods," sand Andy.  "I am getting 3 different fly rod blanks; the 6' 2070, the 7' 2071, and the 8' 2073.  The 7.5' 2072 looks as though it was made from the 2073 cut down." Andy is building a total of 50 of the 2070 replicas and 50 of the 2071 replicas. 


Just to add a bit of challenge to the project, the blanks are not marked!  This is a real detective story and Andy has to uncover the identity of the blank using the barest of clues.  "The only way to ID the blanks is to measure them and compare them to a known rod model, build a prototype and see if they have the same characteristics. Also, some of the components are with the blanks and that helps with clues" Andy confessed.  "They have no Identification on them other than the Celaniese/Conlon box they are packed in and were stored in since the late 70s.  The blank specifications are exactly the same as my original Lee Wulff Rod.  The action is the same as the original .The Wulff handles were in storage with them so I can say they are the real McCoy with confidence."


When I commented about the color difference of the blanks (the original Garcia rods were green with green hardware) Andy told me the blanks were painted by Garcia.  "When you hold my original up to the sunlight you can see the tobacco brown under the paint..."  Since Andy is not building these rods as reproductions, but replicas, the rods are built on the natural brown blank rather than being painted. 


My 2070 replica is serial number #045006, number 4 of 50 if I read the serial number right, arrived in a sturdy PVC pipe.  It was packed in a foam liner and protected in a full six foot cloth rod sack.  It only took me a few minutes to find a reel that balanced the rod almost ideally; the Johnson Magnetic No. 3.  It took a bit longer to find the right line.  This little rod feels very slow and deliberate, but it's packed with power.  The bend is continuous and the casting speed is so relaxed it's almost hypnotic.  An hour of lawn casting pointed me in the direction of a pocket water taper 6-weight.  I finally settled on an Orvis Clearwater as the best match in the group of lines I cast, which included a Scientific Anglers 444 double taper in 5, 6 and 7-wieghts, an Orvis Wonderline 6-weight trout taper and 6-weight bass taper. 


The first thing I noticed about the rod was its tiny grip.  It looks small, almost comically so.  I don't have large hands, but the entire grip is covered by my palm.  The unusual design and short, delicate taper prompted me to cast with a forefinger along the blank.  On a longer rod this can cause a loss of power, but for a short, precision instrument designed for close work there was no penalty.  The grip was very comfortable in use, the fingertip contact with the rod blank allowing for outstanding casting "feel".  The grip is also squared, which takes a bit longer to become accustomed to.  "The grips lie smoothly in the hand, with just the slightest quadrate shape to give direction to the grip," it says in the original advertising.  Evidently this bit of rod personality didn't catch on.  I think that might be a shame, keeping a straight track in casting was much easier with the slight feel of the flats in the hand.  I was able to put my little bass bugs pretty close to where I wanted them in several hours of fishing under some breezy conditions.


The replica 2070 is a competent performer both close and far, though in my hands it definitely preferred to be fished under 50 feet. On a trip to the Ohio River I used the little six footer to catch a couple skipjacks.  The fish were a blast, jumping repeatedly and putting a bend in the rod all the way to the cork grip.  But the big river was clearly an environment outside the intended application of this little gem.  Perhaps Lee Wulff can cast a six-foot rod 80 feet and control the line, but I can't!


On the duckweed covered small ponds of the Indian Creek Wildlife Area the Wulff design was able to strut its stuff. Wading around the rim of these delightful puddles I was easily able to present cork-bodied bugs up to size six to obliging largemouth bass and bluegills.  When the fish were a bit more demanding in the clear water past the weed line, I suspended a size eight wooly bugger on a foot or so of tippet off the bend of the popper.  The dual-fly setup presented no problems, the mass of the line and acceptable line speed generated by the little rod easily propelled the flies where they needed to go.  I had no problems with roll casts to 30 feet and overhead casts to 50 feet.  7-inch bluegill gave a great accounting of themselves, and 12-inch bass were gamey and brash.  In short, the rod is a blast to fish!


There are some nits I can pick with this rod.  Andy is selling his Yankee 2070 for $125 plus $20 shipping.  For the $145 total (delivered) you'll get a very useful and high-quality fishing tool.  What you won't get is a presentation quality rod.  I ordered mine with the stock, non-descript black up-locking reel seat.  The twin knurled rings look out of balance with the rest of the rod.  Andy says he can provide a quality wood insert reel seat for an additional $20.  There is also a cork and sliding band reel seat.  Contact Andy directly for pricing and information about this option.  I'd definitely request the wood or cork seat if I were ordering this rod again.  The basic black reel seat is more than functional, so this is an issue of aesthetics more than anything else.  And while I really like the over-sized guides on my Yankee 2070, the gold plating is a bit flashy for my tastes.  Thread wraps were good, but don't expect delicate contrasting tipping and a flawless finish.  Again, this is an aesthetic quibble that doesn't affect performance.  The Yankee 2070 is a well-built fly rod that is worth every penny of its modest asking price!     


One thing you won't have to ask for is magic.  Andy compares the Yankee 2070 to an Orvis Far and Fine graphite, an apt comparison.  I also own the Orvis, and I agree that the two rods possess a smooth yet controlled and insistent personality.  "The old timers used to talk about punch.  I know what punch is and I bet you do to... the rod has punch," says Andy.  "Wulff knew what punch was, so did Bill Phillipson and others...Punch is what makes them special - the fine balance between power and presentation - the best of both.  These rods have it because it was the key design factor."


I love this rod.  I can appreciate the shorter length in a canoe or kayak and I don't feel compromised at all.  There is a strong argument for a shorter rod when conditions are favorable, which is far more often than most magazines and manufacturers will admit.  The action is nearly perfect for close-in bass and bluegill bugging.  As a trout rod, I think this might be a perfect spring stick for Hendrickson hatches on the Mad and other intimate waters.   While it has the tough ability of glass to muscle a big fish, in the hand this rod is a smooth, easy-casting magic wand.  The Yankee 2070 is only available directly from Yankee Rod Smithing.  Andy say's he's making 50 and then that's it.  I can tell you for certain there are, at most, only 49 left.  This one is mine!


For more information or to get your own Yankee 2070 or 2071 fiberglass fly rod, contact Andy Manchester by emailing him at andymanyankee@yahoo.com or call 203-435-7948 9am-9pm EST.


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