Rafts and rod tubes

by Kirk Werner on January 6, 2014

This is not a raft.

Most hard drift boats manufactured in the last few years come equipped with integrated rod tubes for protecting fly rods (at least part of the rod, anyway) whilst in transit downstream. This is an invaluable feature as it’s important to have a safe place to stow the sticks when you’re, well, on the sticks. Rafts, conversely, do not have the ability to include said built-in tubes and without such a protective feature one risks damage to, or loss of, the rods. Therefore many folks rig some sort of protective sleeve or tube for this very purpose.  I recently got myself a Stream Tech Salmonfly drift raft and this matter of creating protective rod storage was my first priority. While researching how best to do this I encountered many different solutions, including some pre-fabricated tubes. Here are some sources for ideas that I encountered:

• Raft rod storage ideas

• Fly rod holders for fishing frame

• Rod storage on rafts

What follows is my personal solution.

I opted to start with a 10 foot section of 1-1/2 inch gray PVC conduit. My intention is to stow one single-handed rod per tube. If you want to have a tube to accommodate more than one rod you will obviously select a larger diameter PVC blank. All but two of my single handed rods are 9 foot. I also have a 10 foot 8 weight and a 7 foot 3 weight. The 10 foot tube will accommodate all these rods.

Step 1: Determine the bend. Position the length of PVC where it will be attached to your raft frame. Mark with a pen or pencil the point at which you wish to bend the tube to conform to the contour of your boat. NOTE: Do not leave the PVC conduit in place on the boat when proceeding to Step 2. Heat guns and inflatable boats do not make for good bed fellows. Place the conduit on the ground—a garage floor works nicely for this.

Step 2: Heat the PVC. Commence doing this only after the conduit has been placed a safe distance away from your boat. There are several ways to heat PVC. Electricians use heat blankets and heat boxes for bending conduit, but if you don’t have access to one of these commercial tools a simple a heat gun will suffice nicely. I happen to have a heat gun that I bought for welding loops into fly line. Begin by holding the heat gun approximately 6 inches from the PVC. Grasping the conduit with your other hand, rotate the conduit so that you are applying heat evenly. It doesn’t take long before the PVC begins to soften—be careful not to overheat or burn the PVC by holding your heat gun too close. Once the PVC is pliable, bend the conduit as desired. If it isn’t bending as you had hoped, apply more heat until you get a nice smooth curve to the material. Hold the conduit in the bent position as it cools. After it has cooled, re-position it on your boat to check for fit. If you have bent too much or not enough, remove the conduit from your boat once again and apply more heat. Adjust the bend accordingly. Once you’ve achieve the shape you want, let it cool for a few minutes.

Step 3: Mark the slot to be cut for your fly rod. Position the now-bent tube on your boat once again. Using a straight edge (I used a 3 foot carpenter’s level) mark the cutting lines for the slot. My slot is 1-1/4 inches wide, which accommodates standard cork grip on a fly rod. How long the cutout for your slot will be is entirely up to you. I wanted to be able to stow and retrieve rods from inside the boat so I made the slots 38″ long. If you don’t mind having to get out of the boat in order to access the rod tubes, your slot can be much smaller. Once you have marked the side cuts for the rod slot, mark the end cuts. I opted to leave 2-1/2 inches at the stern end of the conduit to accommodate a rod with a fighting butt.

Custom-shortened jigsaw blade for shallow cutting.

Step 4: Cut your slots.  NOTE: Again, it’s imperative to remove the conduit from your boat before you begin this task, as saw blades and inflatable boats do not mix well. Depending on the tools you have at your disposal you will cut your tubes accordingly. My tool of choice is the old jigsaw. However, a standard jigsaw blade is too long to allow for making a shallow cut into a conduit that is only 1-1/2″ in diameter. My solution was to shorten the blade by snapping it off to a desired length. I used C-clamps to secure the PVC to my work bench so that the conduit would not move while making the cuts. Despite going slow and steady, the cuts are not as precise as if they’d been made on a table saw. However, they’re pretty darn straight. Once the two long cuts were done, I used a hack saw to make the perpendicular cuts at each end of the slot.

Step 5: Sand your cuts.  The sharp edges of your cuts will need to be rounded so as not to slice your hands or damage your fly rods. Using sandpaper you will also be able to remove any PVC burrs and rough spots.

You are now done with the fabrication of your rod tubes. Fasten to your frame as needed. You may elect to use a velcro strap or a small ball & bungee chord to place around the tube near the reel to hold it securely in position.

This project cost me $4.95 for each length of PVC and took less than an hour to complete. Your mileage may vary, but I worked slowly and methodically, measuring twice and cutting once as opposed to the alternative.

For stowing Spey rods I plan to fabricate similar tubes using 2-1/2 inch conduit in 8 foot lengths. The 13+ foot long rods will be broken down in half before being stowed so there will be no need to bend the conduit.