Testing a Phenix Blank - A Simple Build, Potential for Lore, Phenix's Ultra Swimbait B-USB-C 790H
Total Score: 7.83 -
Stay immersed in this hobby/past time/sport (however you choose to term it) long enough and you begin to tinker. Some do so by upgrading bearings, handles or swapping other parts on their reels, others enjoy modifying their baits or even making their own, and many enter the world of rod building. I've been at this long enough to have tried all of the above with the latter option being the one I find most fulfilling. A confluence of events including the pandemic but extending into global supply chain issues and rising costs have all conspired to find me passing time building new and modifying existing rods. I am far from an expert, nor do I follow any steadfast rules. I just like to tinker, but will occasionally share my creations with close friends who do not mind my imprecise and often eccentric ways.
Phenix's Ultra Swimbait B-USB-C 790H blank has a very nice
strength (lure rating) to weight ratio that intrigued me enough to give building
one a whirl
This past winter, searching for a build project, I was on the hunt for swimbait blanks under eight feet in length to better suit the restrictions of my boat locker (limit ~7'-9"). During this search, I found a blank with a curious power to weight ratio. It was rated from two to eight ounces (2-8oz) in lure weight and had a specified weight of only 3.7 ounces. In my very brief exposure to available blanks, I was under the impression blanks of this lure rating were more in the four and a half ounce (4.5oz) range. Intrigued, I ordered it as fun little build project, and in the process, discovered something truly intriguing. Here's my journey with Phenix Rod's Ultra Swimbait 790H Blank.
Phenix Rods B-USB-C 790H (blank)
||Toray M40J Carbon Material
Impressions: Part of what interested me about this blank, was Phenix's willingness to share the actual material specification. Here at TackleTour, we do our best to specify the material a manufacturer uses with their fishing rods (when that information is available), and have used terms like IM7, IM8, 30ton, 40ton, etc., in an effort to characterize the grade or modulus of graphite being used, but what does any of it really mean? There are in fact, so many different grades of graphite material available, and most blanks are rolled with a blend of many. Absent a consistent standard, the most accurate terms we can really use to describe grades of graphite are the ambiguous adjectives involving modulus: standard, intermediate, and high.
It is made from Toray's M40J carbon fiber - high modulus
Case in point, you can perform an Internet search on the material Phenix is using for this blank, "Toray M40J," and that will take you to a table where you can see just how many varieties of carbon fiber material Toray manufactures in each classification. M40J is in Toray's high modulus table. I found it very curious that a swimbait blank - one that should be strong and durable - is made from high modulus graphite, commonly more brittle and less durable. Realizing this blank is from the more recent Ultra Swimbait series within Phenix and that the company still produces their Ultra Swimbait Classic rods and blanks, my next natural step was to research the material used in the classic series to get a sense of the differences. Of course, Phenix does not specify the material in their Ultra Swimbait Classic series other than to say they use a "Hybrid Technology".
The weight of this blank? Only 3.7 ounces!
What we can compare are the specifications. The 790H blank in both series share the same lure and line ratings, but where they depart is in their weight spec. The more recent, Ultra Swimbait 790H blank is listed as one ounce lighter (3.7oz vs 4.7oz). When you're talking about the core level of a fishing rod, the blank, that difference in weight is a lot.
The search for one Swimbait rod quite often involves a stick
that can handle the biggest, baddest baits
This all served to raise my expectations of the B-USB-C 790H blank. However, once it arrived, my enthusiasm was tempered. In hand, the blank feels more intermediate modulus than high modulus. There's a sound or resonance high modulus blanks usually make when you run your fingers along the surface, tap the tips against a concrete floor, and tap their sides with your fingernails. This blank had none of that, but given the end goal of a finished rod built for big baits where the primary objective is the ability to cast these oversized baits, I wasn't overly concerned.
A good set of calipers is essential for rod building so you
can make sure inside and outside diameters of components match up where you
need. Trouble is, both dimensions are not always available before ordering
The Continuing Debate: When I'm testing finished rod products from different manufacturers, I do so with an open mind regarding the builds. Meaning I relate my on the water experience with how those builds worked for me fishing rather than carry any preconceptions into the experience. The debate of overall weight of a rod versus perfect balance is perpetual. I see and understand both sides of the argument. However, when I'm building a fishing rod for myself, I can share that my first priority is weight. Unless a build is going to be terribly unbalanced, I'm not going to add weight at the butt or end of the handle to counteract this characteristic. This was not always the case. I used to be more in the balance camp, but have now come to realize that any added weight simply serves to hamper performance of the blank.
Counterweights are an option to help one achieve perfect
balance on a build, but I've come to dislike the extra weight on the rod
When building for myself, one way I like to tip the scales in my favor with regards to balance, is to layout my builds with a longer than normal handle. This helps to achieve better balance naturally because you're moving the fulcrum closer to the blank's natural balancing point. Of course, this is standard procedure with a swimbait rod where I prefer a handle length of at least fourteen to fifteen inches (behind the reel seat). On my conventional rod builds, I typically go with twelve inches. By comparison, these days, most of the standard, mass produced casting rods built for conventional applications have anywhere from eight to ten inches of handle behind the reel seat.
Stock conventional rods (middle two) come with relatively
short handles these days. I prefer something around 12" for better balance
and leverage casting with two hands
The Handle: With all of that out of the way, perhaps the most arduous task for me when building a rod is deciding upon the handle design. It all begins with that feel of where to place the reel seat. For this, I usually pull a rod from my collection that is similar in length and purpose and use that as a rough draft. I place my hand in comparable position along the blank to where the reel seat would go and get a feel for the blank. Once position of the reel seat is decided upon, plus or minus an inch or two, I start thinking about handle options.
Here's of my more eccentric builds. This is a no trigger
casting rod with no grip. The goal was to make it feel like I was fishing a
For me, that means split versus full versus no grip. Yes, I have some casting rod builds with no grip behind the reel seat, just the blank. I did mention my builds are eccentric, right? There's also a similar decision process with the reel seat - split versus full and trigger or no trigger. No trigger requires the guides be wrapped in spiral configuration so there is no twisting force on the blank when fighting a fish. Spiral wrapping the guides is pretty much my standard mode anyway. But more on that later, for now, the decision with this B-USB-C 790H build was a split seat with Fuji's SKTS casting seat. I chose this seat for the minimal trigger but also for the true contact with the blank.
Fuji's latest reel seat designs feature a carbon hood (top)
replacing the outdated look of the hood on the reel seat at the bottom of
Reel Seat: I chose Fuji's SKTS casting seat because I like the hood design and true contact with the blank. I'm not sure at which point the manufacturer switched to a full graphite hood, but the former (and still available) hood with the frosted or shiny metal sleeve just feels dated. Fuji also makes a split seat that allows you to use a decorative sleeve over the hood for a different look, the KSKTS. The decorative sleeve can be anything from carbon to the same material you're using as a rear grip. (in case you want the appearance of a foregrip). Of course, this hidden hood option is also an option in Fuji's array of full real seats.
Fuji's PMTS and PTS reel seats are very comfortable but,
depending on the diameter of your blank, require the use of a carbon sleeve
About those "exposed blank" seats, did you know that in some cases you're not really touching the blank? Instead, you're touching a carbon insert. Older seats like Fuji's ECS and ACS are offered with several different internal diameter sizes to more closely match the diameter of your blank. But some of the newer
seats, like Fuji's PTS and PMTS seats (pictured here) are only made in a couple of standard sizes and are actually intended to be used with a carbon sleeve. This opens up the opportunity to add some decorative elements to your build, but is not a true blank contact design. Of course, if your blank is thick enough, like on some of my swimbait rod builds, you can
forego this sleeve, and actually for me, I've not noticed a difference in sensitivity either way. I've fished plenty of full seat rods with no cut away at all that were still very sensitive.
However, if your blank is thick enough (somewhere around
15.5mm) at the point where you want to install that seat, with that cut away
on both the top and bottom of the seat, it can make for a really nice
exposed blank look
Next Section: Handle and Reel Seats