Rod actions and curves

What is ACTION?

You´ve certainly heard definitions like "medium action", "Payne action", "dry fly action" and so on ...
What do they mean ?
Well, to the fisherman who uses them they certainly mean exactly what he wishes to express - but to everybody else?! What is "fast action", "nymph action"???
You will find such definitions varying among fishermen. Giving a definition like that is to state a personal view only, these expressions being subjective, no more. We certainly lack a working terminology here.
Until we get one, an action could only be described by how the rod bends, leaving it to be explained by graphs and figures. (By logic, there is no "set of actions" to choose from; the sincere rod maker should be skillful and experienced enough to calculate the formula for that very rod from scratch.)



rodcurves small

This is how actions normally be presented in articles

While planning a rod together with a customer on what action to be used some confusion may arise, since no rod maker could expect the client to be acquainted with actions and tapers described this way. 
Therefore, the discussions are so important, enabling the maker to get some idea of what the fisherman needs and what he will be pleased with. Sometimes I have felt inclined to say the key to successful Custom Rod Making is "knowledge of the human nature" - well, at least an ability to estimate people ...

To me this, sometimes long, process before You go to work is fascinating. In fact it keeps me going; 
making split bamboo rods becomes routine after a while, working close to people like I do never does! 
Truly, it is rewarding to create something that is unique, "one of a kind" which a True Custom Rod always is!


In his book “Om Fluefiskeri“ (Skandinavisk Bogforlag – Ejnar Munksgaard , 1958 ) Svend Saabye , famous author , artist and fly fisherman , wrote :

”From France emanates a construction theory for a fly rod called the Parabolic Action concept.

As the name indicates such rods always bend to form an arch of a parabola, which seems to provide utmost utilization of a cane fly rod; unsurpassed durability over time, greatest resistance against various impacts, maximal casting ability in relation to rod length and weight.

FlyrodTheir success over the World can be explained by the fact that they are as useful to the wet fly man as to the dry fly man .In my experience such rods are very comfortable  and less tiring to use“.

As time goes on I have more or less been associated with the Parabolic Action, and it is true. I have devoted much time to it, in theory and in practice.

I also favor this action for my personal rods and have done so for many years. And there are many qualities that speak in favor for it, regardless you like the feel of such rods or not. It should be appropriate to comment this action further.

You will recognize a parabolic at the first glance; its butt section will be much slimmer than the average rod and you will easily wiggle it well down to the grip.

The word “parabolic” itself derives from the fact that the bending curve is reversed in comparison to standard action rods. That is, most of the bending is forwarded to the butt instead of gradually increasing the bending from the tip, like in a “progressive” rod for instance. This bending allows for interesting features:

The rod will respond quickly to the slightest movement and offer a maximum of leverage. So, you are able to start up casting with little effort and still get enough thrust on the line.

As the rod “kicks back“ from a very low point and transfer it to the tip via a stiff center it will exert an impact on the line  well after the caster has made his push.
You get the feeling of an almost dynamic effect, which compared to common tapers seems to accelerate (of course it doesn’t).
This thrust over a longer time is a great benefit;it helps to push the line through the wind and permits an easy line lift as well as smoothen out bad timing.
False casting is reduced to just a few strokes as the rod works on the line  next to continuously.

As a parabolic responds so easily it isn’t finicky about line weights (three or more line weights can be used) and consequently it will respond to a short line as well as to a long one. It will cast with authority over all practical distances and be gentle on tippets at that.

Diagram Parabolic vs. Progressive

The graph illustrates the differences in taper between two otherwise identical rods. The red line shows a semi-parabolic rod, the blue one an ordinary progressive rod.

Maybe all this gets you think a parabolic must be slow. Well,you can throw a very slow line and let the line hover over the water but also speed up the line for a fast delivery.

You can reach maximum distances in  three strokes.If you wish to dig deeper into this I recommend “A Fly Fisher´s Life” by Charles Ritz (ISBN 0370013964) where the author (recognized to have “invented“ the parabolic rod) explains his “High Speed/High Line “casting system"..

For the fly fisherman You could as well read it : “ Any Speed / High Line “ as the high back cast is essential for a successful ,effortless cast regardless of casting speed .

All parabolic rods have one feature in common, the low butt power zone and the stiff center .But they don´t need to be all alike.
Changing flieFlugbyte
The Parabolic Concept allows for modifications up and down from slow , long rods like  Pezon “ Michel´s “The Sawyer Nymph Rod “ to rather fast interpretations like Paul Young´s “Parabolic 15“ and they can be modified to very delicate creations too.

I use three different formulas, one which is very close to the original definition, one somewhat faster for general use, and finally a fast action formula, close to the limits of a parabolic rod “pàr definition“.

All three are calculated to develop maximum efficiency and delicacy. I simply call them “Parabolic”, “Semi-Parabolic” and “Parabolic Extreme “.

When I started experimenting with parabolics I wondered how far I could go and still have a useful rod .For instance I feared the butt would be too weak in a short rod. This proved to be otherwise

In fact, calculating a short light rod of an ordinary action is much more critical than calculating a parabolic.If you make an error of, say, 1/10 mm, you will end up with too stiff or too weak a rod.

.In parabolics the limits are more generous.This also applies for line weights. I have successfully made Parabolics from 6 ft, # 2 lines and all up.
I remember one rod particularly, an 8 ft for heavy line meant for dry fly salmon fishing. We tested it with a # 9 WF-line. It was able to throw out 30 yards in two or three strokes.

Ed Engle, author of “Splitting Cane“, once asked me what rod I would choose if I had to pick just one.
I said that would be an 8 ft parabolic for # 5-6 lines. He admitted such a rod was a splendid “all-rounder” and that he had often wondered why such rods hadn’t caught on in the US except for among Paul Young devotees.
Neither have I an answer to this, but it´s a pity since there is so much that speaks for them.

Parabolic bending curve

Approximate bending curve for a Parabolic rod while under the impact of casting. Please note the stiff center,which directs the force from casting down to the bottom of the rod. 

Carl in Norway 2014Today many fishermen tend to look at split bamboos as an alternative to fast graphite rods. Often they want something contrary to the fast synthetic sticks.

Is there a too big difference to overcome if you choose a bamboo parabolic? Frankly, I don´t know. What I do know is that a committed caster can adapt to a new action within 30 minutes or so.

That goes for parabolics as well. Let me give you some advice:

    • Keep the back cast higher than usual.
    • Relax! The timing isn´t that critical as you might used to.
    • Raise your elbow somewhat in the back stroke. That makes for a higher back cast.
    • Use a gentle forward stroke haul to achieve greater shooting ability.



You see this label on many a rod these days; it has become some sort of a quality mark. In theory, given one certain rod length and one certain line weight, a progressive taper could be just one, definite calculation. Rod people use the term more widely, though. But it is not an "action"; it only says the rod is meant to bend evenly and gradually more up the rod.

As a matter of fact any GOOD rod of any action (with the exception of some "parabolic" tapers, etc, which can´t be classified this way) is engineered to bend progressively, though more or less radical; when the line forces the tip to bend it must deliver this impact down the rod.

Carl i Norge has to, otherwise the tip should take all the punch from the cast and, if this is too heavy, be broken. This transition of energy should go down the rod evenly, GRADUALLY loading the rod more and more until it is stopped, preferably in front of the rod grip (the caster´s hand) or under the grip itself. 
Under this pressure the rod fights back the stress in order to regain its straightness, so contributing its part to the cast.

It has to, otherwise the tip should take all the punch from the cast and, if this is too heavy, be broken. This transition of energy should go down the rod evenly, GRADUALLY loading the rod more and more until it is stopped, preferably in front of the rod grip (the caster´s hand) or under the grip itself. 

Under this pressure the rod fights back the stress in order to regain its straightness, so contributing its part to the cast.  The "feel" of the rod bending is commonly called its action, but as I said before, subjectively so.

If a rod bends progressively it uses ALL its length (the "feel" being rapid or slow, according to what action the rod is given).This is a great advantage.
It allows the rod to cast more line weights than a non progressive rod and it will respond better to different casting lengths also;
You have a more resilient rod

If a rod has a weak spot, say in front of the ferrule, You don´t cast a progressive rod. You cast something else but definitely not a progressive rod, a "weak spot" disrupting the EVENLY transported impact.
A rod having a weak portion can be very sweet if You cast the RIGHT line to the RIGHT distance the RIGHT (read "calm" ) day, but be kind of awful if the conditions are altered.
Try another line weight, try to cast at all practical distances on a windy day and You´ll see...

The reasons are obvious, the rod being unable to direct the impact progressively down the rod. The
more pressure the fisherman puts on the rod the weaker this spot reveals to be.
The caster "hits through" the action since the rod cannot respond; it can take an EXACT force only, no more no less.


American Action Rod

FaLang translation system by Faboba