A Quick Rod Design Thought


I want a fly rod that feels like a companion accompanying me on a journey.

I’ve been asked a few times in the last weeks if my rod designs are/will be focused on all-out casting performance. That’s a loaded question. If I say “no,” does that mean they don’t cast as well as they could? If I say “yes,” does that mean that they are designed as “parking lot rods”? The answer (and the question, too) is far more complex in my mind.

Although I am perhaps known as a caster first and foremost, my rod design philosophy is tempered by the entirety of my fly-fishing life, as well as my background in the arts. To me, a fly rod is a companion on a journey comprised of angling moments. Each moment is the culmination of many actions, and I want my fly rod to feel as if it is an extension of those actions, not an anonymous stick wiggling somewhere in the middle of it all. I use my fly rod as tool, yes, but a tool that I want to talk to me, a tool that I want to expresses me, a tool that I want to have beauty and style within a beautiful art-sport.

I don’t mean to anthropomorphize fly rods, but if they don’t make me feel as if they have character and can communicate with me, what’s the point of my bothering with all that is required to make them?

So, my rod designs are/will be meant to provide a broad range of characteristics—characteristics that I hope will give them a place in the moments of your own fly-fishing journey as much as they will in mine.

Drawing Fish 52 (2011) Revisited – Brook Trout

A little look back at what I was doing two years ago this week with the Drawing Fish 52 project (along with Jeff Kennedy). The week’s subject matter was a brook trout and the image below was my take on it in 30 minutes or less. I have included some of the original text from the post, as well.


Drawing Fish 52 Brook Trout. What a favorite of both my childhood and adult angling lives. From swampy Northwoods creeks, to icy alpine lakes, to Hudson Bay rivers, brookies have been there. This fish is one that I caught on Canada’s Sutton River many moons ago. It was one of, if not the biggest, brook trout I’ve had on a dry fly (well, actually a mouse fly). Just shy of two feet and absolutely slab-bodied.

Notes: This is a revisiting of a fish I drew (over many hours) for my father’s old Presentation book project. I’ve been wanting to revisit it for some time and this was a good excuse. Instead of a Rapidograph pen and 10,000 carefully applied dots, I did this in loose pencil and over-the-top watercolor. In some ways I like it better than the achingly precise illustration I did all those years ago. The color structure is meant to look like a topo map from above and to represent all of the types of waters where I have caught brook trout.

Tech Info: Pencil and watercolor on Moleskine watercolour paper (approx. 5″ x 7.5″ with one torn edge).

Random Monday Fishing Shot(s)



My wife Kelley, working a run on Montana’s Gallatin. Liked the juxtaposition of fully-saturated color and a limited (6 tone) gray scale.

SC20 haiku

I find pleasure in reading haiku (both traditional and modern), and will be including 5-7-5 “haiku in English” verses on all J.Borger rods. The SC20 includes the following on the blank, where rod info is usually found:


I will be the first to admit that my haiku for these rods is what one might kindly call “modern, miscellaneous” haiku, but still adhering to the 5-7-5 syllable structure of many English haiku poems. These verses are just what I felt about each rod and how to express those thoughts in the haiku form. I do hope that it still brings some pleasure to those who enjoy short-form structure.

A Little Tenkara Talk at Tenkara Talk


Jason Klass over at Tenkara Talk has posted a short Q&A he did with me concerning tenkara fishing. If you have an interest in the tenkara gear/approach, take a read of Jason’s site (and the others he links to). I grew up fishing a rather large array of gear for a rather large array of fish, so tenkara just fits in as another aspect my own fly fishing approach. An let’s face it, it’s more cool gear (and lovely flies) to play with!


Friday (OK, Monday) Fish Fry – One From My Oldest Haunt


For those who have seen my “Approach & Presentation Strategies for Trout” slideshow, you already know this shot. For those who haven’t here’s a little history:

In addition to being nearly microscopic, this little rainbow was my final trout of the day the last time my father I fished Montana’s Squaw Creek together. Squaw Creek, to the southwest of Bozeman, Montana,  is where I caught my first-ever trout on a fly a few months prior to my third birthday (thus the “oldest haunt” part of this post’s title).

This particular day, my father and I had decided to forgo other angling options and walk the brushy, forested banks of Squaw, trading off a rod and just enjoying a lazy Big Sky afternoon. Not long after we started fishing, we heard the familiar afternoon rumble of thunder. A look to the canyon skyline revealed a thunderhead brewing behind us in the high-mountain rafters. Used to such storms, we simply fished on, keeping an eye on the ridgeline as we worked our way downstream. It turned into a truly memorable afternoon, with no company but the wind and the caddis and the little trout that rose eager to the fly.

Perhaps ninety minutes in, the thunder changed its tone. Sharper and more urgent. A cool wind sifted the willows and the sky grew heavy and dark. As we watched, the clouds above us swirled and roiled, tying, it seemed, to shove their way over the ridge by brute force. We decided to make a few last casts and head back to the truck. Even as I drifted a caddis down Squaw’s little flow, the storm seemed to gather itself and bellowed out a warning. In response, the sky shrank back, revealing only black and gray and purple. The thunderhead was making itself known as no ordinary mountain storm. A chilling wind began to slither its way along the valley floor and a few cold drops pattered the leaves.


A little rainbow, seemingly in defiance of the worsening situation, charged up and slashed my fly from the surface. I set and quickly stripped the fish to hand. With one eye on the fish and one on the surging darkness spilling over us, we took a couple of quick photos. It had become so dark that the camera fired its flash. And then, we were hustled for the safety of the Suburban. As we trotted along, flashes of another kind reminded us that we were more exposed than we should have been. We pushed our way through the trees and tossed our gear into the back of the truck.

Figuring we were in for a serious pour, we waited and watched to see what the storm was going to bring. Despite all of the bluster, it wasted no time in shifting its path toward the northeast, leaving us mostly dry and cold, and with only faint rumbles as a reminder. As the core of the cell left us, we could see the spectacular mammatus clouds under the anvil. It looked like a Great Plains thunderstorm—one of those monsters that spawns twisters and hail big enough to punch out windshields.

As it was, it was getting late, and not wanting to fish through the cooling backside winds, we headed toward Bozeman for dinner. As we worked our way up the valley toward Four Corners, we could still see the monster storm towering in the sky. It was moving fast off the peaks and toward its final, unknown destination.

As we neared town, something seemed different. The road-side trickles were now filled with rushing, dirty water, and the fields looked strange, too: hail was covering everything. The closer we got to Bozeman, the worse things got. With a rainbow etched against the dark purple backside of the storm, we soon realized that the city had been slammed. The cell had torn through town, twisting and snapping branches, dumping big hail in piles and flooding the streets. Our tires crunched and popped over ice and broken limbs as we worked our way through side-streets. Despite the previous violence, the early evening sun was already gleaming from wetness everywhere.

It turned out the storm was one for the record books. A savage reminder of the forces that shape land and water. The mysteries of mountain weather, however, had kept us from being the center of the storm’s fury, and at the end of the day I had one final trout to show from my oldest angling haunt.


The J.BFF Weekend Update

A few notes on J.BFF projects that are in the works:


The early arrival of my little daughter, Brooke, put a multi-month slow-down on my upcoming Single-Handed Fly Casting book, but I’m finally getting back to filling in the blank areas once again. Also trying to get a good handle on shipping costs, using my old Nature of Fly Casting book as a basis. I’m guessing that SHFC will ship for less than $5 in the States (via Media Mail, at least double that if you want it fast), probably in the $12-13 range to Canada and $20-24 everywhere else ) Buying a ride on a jet, even as one little box in the cargo hold, isn’t cheap these days). Understand that those numbers are a *guess* not final.



The SC20 rod project is charging ahead, seemingly dragging me along with it! Blanks are going into production this coming week and parts are being cut and lasered now, as well. Rods 01, 02, 04, 07, and 15 (of 20 total) are spoken for, with a couple of others undecided on numbers at this point. A few people have asked about a demo rod to try, and yes, there will be one. It will be meant as a way to judge action and rod feel only, not as a cosmetic sample. I hope to have it the next week or two and should be able to send it out to those interested in trying the key aspect of the rod before committing to a purchase. As for final cosmetics, once rod 01 is fully built I will have a collection of photos to post on that subject (the reel seat and rod tube cap pictured above are final).


Since the recent article in “Trout” magazine was published (looking back at the 20 years since my days working on A River Runs Through It), I have had numerous requests for available prints and/or paintings. At this point in time, I totally sold out of my “in-stock” painting work Until I can get the time to replenish some non-commissioned pieces, I am only taking commissions for originals. Sizes start at 4×6 inches (paper size) and prices begin at $50, so getting a commissioned original doesn’t have to mean a big outlay of money or space. One suggestion that I have for those interested is to talk with me about a portrait of a favored fish or fly (see the image above as an example). This is a good way to get an image that is personal. If you like some of the work I have done in the Drawing Fish & Flies 52 projects (2010, 2011, 2012), we can talk about revised versions of some of those, too.

I should also mention that I’m planning on offering some of the original illustrations that I did for my father’s 1991 book, Designing Trout Flies. I just dug the image sheets out of storage and figured that a few readers might be interested in having an original illustration to match a copy of their book. I’ll have a listing of what’s available soon.


For those of you who subscribe to the F&W E-List, the latest mailing went out last week. I had a total of 26 bounces, which is fancy-talk for “they didn’t get delivered.” Usually, bounces result from old email addresses still in the system, or mailboxes that have gone unattended for a long time. If you are on the list and haven’t gotten your January 2013 mailing, check to be sure that your email address is up-to-date (use the “update your profile” link at the bottom of a previous E-List mailing), or check your spam filter to be sure the mailing actually got through.

My Madison – Now on iTunes

20 years ago, my father (GB) teamed up with his long-time fishing friend and musician, John Beth, to create a CD entitled, “My Madison.” The disc was focused on Montana’s Madison River and what it meant to the angling lives of both my father and John. Genre-wise, the CD was a mix of spoken word and eclectic mood music (death metal or angling rap, not so much). It was sold for a few years and then fell mostly silent. Today’s ease of getting one’s music published digitally, however, has given life to the project once again.

The entire CD is available on iTunes as an album-length download or as individual tracks (other delivery platforms are supposed to be following shortly from what I understand). Rather than re-write what GB has already posted on his own blog, I’ll just do a copy-paste here.


From the first time I stepped into the Madison River in 1962, it has held a special fascination for me. Not only because it holds big fish, but because it is a river of many faces. Most anglers know its middle stretch, which rushes north from Earthquake Lake to Ennis Lake, but there are the headwaters of the Firehole and Gibbon, the meadows in Yellowstone Park, the waters of Hebgen, Earthquake, and Ennis Lakes, the roaring waters of Beartrap Canyon, and the lower Madison that cuts a path through prairie country on its way to forming the mighty Missouri with the Gallatin and Jefferson at Three Forks.

My good friend, John Beth, is also under the spell of the Madison, and in 1993 we pooled our love of the river to produce “My Madison,” a celebration of the river in words and music. John’s seven inspiring and lovely compositions honor this timeless river with an equally timeless quality, and I wrote voice-over prose on my impressions of each of the Madison’s seven sections. Side One is the music with my voice over. Side Two is music only.

The “My Madison” CD received First Place from the Outdoor Writers Association of America for a Natural History Broadcast.

“My Madison” has just been released in the electronic media stores in celebration of its 20th Anniversary. You can listen to selections and buy the album or singles at iTunes, and [soon] other electronic stores.

SC20. Now Taking Reservations


The J.Borger Fly Fishing SC20: Limited to 20 total. 108 inches long. $727.*

A rod designed for trout fishing. A rod based on my memories of casting a shadow under a Montana big sky. A rod that can become an integral part of your own fly-fshing story.

Rolled and built by friends just down the road—artisan-level work by people who love what they do. A sense of the shop itself can be gathered from the slide show below.

The SC20 is 9 feet long, is a 4 piece, and is designed around 5 and 6-weight lines. It has a deeper overall action with a tip that delivers up close. Consider it a modern re-interpretation of subtle “old-school” sensations.

Expect a black-onyx blank, chromed guides and keeper, black-onyx wraps with bright silver accents, a custom-made reverse half-Wells handle, and a laser-engraved nickel-silver reel seat with stabilized burl insert. A matching, laser-engraved and numbered rod tube with cloth sack is also part of the package. More images of all aspects of the SC20 will be posted as rod 01 moves through production.


You can reserve your number with a 50-percent deposit (01, 02, 04, 07, 11, 15, 19  are already taken). Delivery beginning in mid/late February. Use the “Contact JB” link in the blog’s header or leave a comment to get things going via private email. If you happen to be on the E-List, watch your inbox for the latest mailing (later today) which has a special offer related to the SC20.

Update: Pre-order by February 20, 2013 and get free shipping. Just mention this post.

*State/country taxes, duties, etc. are the responsibility of the purchaser.

The shop where the SC20 is made and finished:


Mandrels—steel that shapes the internal dimensions of a blank.

Prep solution for the mandrels.

Cutting table for shaping the carbon "cloth" flags that make the rod.

Rolling table to get flags and mandrel together.

Taping station for wrapping blank pre-bake.

Custom oven—for baking carbon tubes.

Mandrel/blank separation.

Trim saw.

Handle boring.

Finishing station.

jbff-shop2-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop3-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop4-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop5-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop6-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop7-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop8-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop9-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop10-018113 thumbnail
jbff-shop11-018113 thumbnail

DF52 (2011) Pumpkinseed Revisited

A little look back to 2011 and the Drawing Fish 52 project. This was the fish from the second week of January. I’ve posted the text as well as the image. In the time since, this image went to a reader who had a passion for panfish. Growing up in Wisconsin, I fished not only for trout, salmon and steelhead, but also for warmwater species. I have some really fond memories of casting Hare’s Ear nymphs to the brushy shorelines of Northwoods lakes and feeling that immediate connection with pint-sized fury.


Drawing Fish 52 Pumpkinseed. Almost blew it on this one! I had practiced the general head structure a few times casually before sitting down to paint, and I’m glad that I did. This fish is quite different from trout and salmon in shape (and I’m not exactly known as a painter of panfish, so…). That said, I really do enjoy catching panfish, and when they look like this, it’s hard not to keep casting!

Notes: Went with my Moleskine Watercolour Notebook again. I just really like the paper in it (I’m going to buy one with a bigger sheet size this weekend). As with last week’s rainbow trout, I set up two water trays, opened my paints, and grabbed my favorite mechanical pencil. I got the sketch down OK, although I had to do some adjustments to get away from a too-stretched (read: too trouty) form. That sucked up a few minutes I didn’t really have. I got 20+ minutes in with the paint, and realized I was fussing with unnecessary details way too much and not really getting anywhere solid. So, I just took a breath and went in with a fatter brush and slabs of color straight off the palette. The quick sweeps of orange, the dabbed blues, and the “brushy” greens got me out of trouble. I was able to spend a couple of minutes adjusting contrast with some careful black and white. As with last week, I used all 30 minutes right to the buzzer. I may have to be more minimal or go towards the abstract to get much under 30 mins per fish in this project, I think.

Tech info: Mechanical pencil and watercolor on Moleskin Watercolour Notebook.

Last of the SS#1 Tees


The Steelhead Study #1 tees are mostly sold through their print run. I have a few left in all sizes except for 3XL. Once these are gone, I’ll be retiring this design. If you are interested, you can order directly here. SOLD OUT.

Drawing Fish & Flies 52 – 51_Christmas Spey

A little look back at a holiday fly from another time. “Christmas Spey” from the 2010 DF52 project.

A Merry Christmas…


Drawing Fish & Flies 52 – 50_Popsicle


Click the image for a better look.

Drawing Fish & Flies 52 Popsicle. One of the quintessential flies of Alaskan fishing (a modern-day classic from George Cook). My choice from last week (I am behind a week, obviously). Like the Royal Wulff from week 49, this is a great fly to draw or paint.

Notes: This fly has so much melded color that it can feel overwhelming, especially in 30 minutes or less as the DF&F52 project rules dictate. I thought about the approach, then decided that I would follow Jeff’s lead and paint a similar piece to his. I felt that it might be interesting to see two different watercolors that took a similar wash-based approach. So, that’s what I did—for 25 minutes.


Just as I was about to finish up (and feeling quite pleased with the result), I did something stupid. I broke rule #1 of painting/drawing/sculpting/anything: “Know when to stop.” I added one more wash to what was already over-saturated paper and BAM! Instant mud. I then tried to save it by blotting and BAM! No mud—and almost no underlying color, either. In a matter of seconds I went from “lookin’ good” to “look what I just killed.”

There was no way I was posting that mess, but the DF&F52 rules say “30 minutes.” So, I did the only thing that I felt I could do and channeled my inner Marc Chagall (his drawings, specifically). I first hit the paper with a few pale washes to get things juicy in the middle, but since I had no time to paint bold black lines, I just went with my trusty Derwent dark charcoal. Over that I slopped on color with a foam painter’s brush that I had in my brush container. There was enough time to hit the paper with a few key hues (and some on-paper mingling) and that was that.

Well, Chagall it ain’t, but I actually like the end result. Minimal, but I think not lacking in visual presence. So here you go, four minutes from paper to Popsicle!

Process: Charcoal (dark) and watercolor (applied with foam brush) on Canson watercolor paper.

Available: No. Brooke has claimed this one for herself, so keep it I shall.

JK’s Image: Jeff’s Popsicle here. Another piece that deeply appeals to me. I think that Jeff is ending the year with some seriously nice work.

FWIW, the two tools used for today’s panic-painting here at FF&W: