Last year I have received a new, prototype-level test blank from the friends at North Fork Composites (NFC) in Woodland, Washington. For those wondering, North Fork Composites and EDGE Rods are Gary Loomis’ recent enterprises in the high-performance graphite fishing rods industry that he pioneered since the ’80s. He is still set to build the best blanks and rods available and to me, the NFC BB809 is The Lightsaber of big bait rods. Walk this way to find out why!
A month or so ago I took to blank and the components ordered from Rodhouse to my rod builder, Laurentiu „The Emperor” Andronic. During that preliminary meeting I told him the new theme for the build: a rod with silver composite woven handle to contrast with the „raw carbon” finish of the NFC blank. Every NFC blank is hand sanded after the baking process so that its raw sensitivity and performance are kept to their maximum – no gloss finish is applied to the blanks because, as Gary Loomis repeatedly says, „Weight is a deterrent to performance”.
After the first project called The Dark Side, the name for the new one came right away: The Lightsaber, not only because the handle looks like what I had in mind, but as a paradigm and modern dichotomy between the „light” particle in the name and the heavy duty designation of this rod. After all, I wanted it for tossing 4 to 7 oz. (113 – 199 grams) swimbaits all day long or for how long my muscles would resist.
One thing I didn’t pay attention and honestly I didn’t know at the time of the build was that the Texalium tube weighted 55 grams – something I have found out only after the rod was finished. However, the rod turned out very balanced due to its long and heavy handle and the perceived weight is quite reduced from the real one, 8.9 oz. or 255 grams. I wanted a full carbon handle because that I really like that feature in my EDGE rods – but these are very lightweight carbon handles, hand wrapped by North Fork Composites’ staff in their factory and not available as separate parts.
Without further much ado, let’s inspect the characteristics of the NFC blank, the „high energy beam” without whom The Lightsaber would not exist.
Blank model: BB809-1 IM (whereas BB stands for „Big Bait”, I suppose)
Manufacturer: North Fork Composites, Woodland, Washington, USA
Material: Next Generation IM (Intermediate Modulus) graphite blank
Length: 8′ (2.43 meters)
Casting weight: 2 – 8 oz. (57 – 228 grams)
Line weight: 17 – 40 lbs.
Power within its class: Mag-Heavy
Final rod weight: 8.9 oz (255 grams)
Upon wiggling the blank without guides, wraps and epoxy, it felt somewhat reminiscent of the one found in the EDGE SB807-1 IM rod that I reviewed not long ago. That is a big bait rod with a soul – it’s not stiff despite the intrinsic power (casting 6.5 oz. baits like they’re nothing) and it fishes incredibly well both at long distances or in short, right at the boat. The BB809-1 IM tests out similar to the blank used in that rod, and moreover, it seems to bend deeper down into the butt section under heavy loads – it’s not a broomstick but a highly refined tool, made to accomplish a few things: help you cast all sorts of big baits with the minimum effort; help you fish more efficiently with its tricked-out action and inner power; make you a better angler at the end of each day on the water; last but not least, help you have more fun out there.
Together with the rod builder, we compared the EDGE Sb807 rod and the BB809 blank and the later looked a little more powerful in the tip section and in the middle one – and that’s exactly where I need the rod to REALLY help me toss out those big baits, with a powerful mid-section to store and release the energy in the most efficient way. In the video I recorded during the rod casting tests, I never put extra „oomph” in the casting motion, never muscled the rod out because I wanted to see how it performed with the minimum power input. It performed and then some, way beyond my honest expectations.
In brief, I wanted a handle to remind of a lightsaber from the Star Wars universe, not only because of Obi-Wan’s quote from Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope, but also because this is result of Gary Loomis’ expertise, who helped pioneering the graphite rods industry with products worthy of Star Wars in our times.
„Your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age.”— Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope
Laurentiu took the brief seriously and he began working on the rod. He cut the rear handle to the length I wanted, 15.15″ (38.5 cm), used a black woven carbon tube for the exposed part of the Fuji ACS reel seat, made the butt cap to fit, and he set the spiral wrapped guides to the offset angles I provided him with. Steve Pitcock from North Fork Composites helped me out with the same „coordinates” they are using on EDGE rods. The guides are Fuji Titanium K frames with Torzite ceramic inserts, the lightest ever produced by the Japanese company. The whole set weighs around 3 grams (less than 1/8 oz.) and helps out to keep the extra mass to a minimum on the active part of the blank. The Emperor put out a great custom build as always. He knows how to build a custom rod and he worked wonders with my first project, The Dark Side.
The result – first tests
One Saturday I took my finished rod from The Emperor, the very next Sunday I was on Varlaam Lake, among at least 12 other anglers fishing from the bank. My objectives were to test cast the rod with baits from 2 to 7 oz., so catching any other fish would have been an added bonus. Since pike was still spawning and still is as I’m writing this, I didn’t count on medium to large fish to take a bite out of my offerings, but just in case I took the EDGE SB805-1 HM with me, my newly all-around rod for pike with almost any type of lures, soft swimbaits included. And I got just one on that rod, on a Sawamura One’Up shad of 6″ (15 cm).
Back to the tests: I paired The Lightsaber with my Daiwa Lexa 300HL, loaded with monofilament Sunline Machinegun Cast of 30 lbs. strength (0.43 mm). The first bait I tied was the Deps SlideSwimmer 250 slow sinking, a swimbait that brought me some really nice fish during my last trip to New Egreta private waters. That bait weighs in at 185 grams, about 6.5 oz. The EDGE SB807-1 IM had cast that lure for three days without breaking a sweat, mine or „hers”. Our assessment before building the rod was that the blank seemed more powerful than the EDGE SB807’s „core”.
I made the first semi-overhead cast without overloading the rod or putting too much force into the motion. The bait fired up into the air, on a slightly ascending trajectory, only to fall into the water with the „Big Bang” splash that I’m so used to (unlike the anglers around me, who were looking at those splashes and then at me like at some nuts job but I was on a mission). I can’t cast the SlideSwimmer 250 on dry land because the bait would shatter itself. But from the bank looked like I was consistently hit 25 to 30 meters mark on all the casts that followed. Again, without forcing the rod or applying any extra push. The BB809-1 IM blank cast the bait effortlessly, which to me translates into a less exhausting day out on the water, in actual fishing.
Here is the video that I made during the first casting tests.
It’s my supposition that the NFC blank achieves that kind of performance thanks to its somewhat flexible nature for the power ratings. The tip is not stiff, which is paramount for working those big gliding baits the right way, yet the middle section has all the power one needs to cast effortlessly and to set the hook with authority even at long distance.
The first day I subsequently tested The Lightsaber with a few baits: Deps SlideSwimmer 250 O.G. (original model, 185 grams or 6.5 oz.), D.R.T. Klash Low-Float (weighing 4 oz. or 113 grams) and the lightest of the bunch, a SlideSwimmer 175 (2.8 oz or 80 grams). The Lightsaber „sliced” through all of them with smooth power and I’m sure it could cast 1 oz. baits just as well – will test that, too, next time. I’ll have to get some 30 cm big baits that usually weigh around 10 to 11 oz. (300 grams range) and test this baby out some more. Can’t wait for the first trip to New Egreta in the search of big pike, but Sudan comes first this spring.
Star Wars theme and Comic-Con playing aside, if there’s anything that shines brighter than any blade of light, that’s the North Fork Composite BB809-1 IM blank. It packs incredible power and it delivers it all in a smooth performance curve that means it will make an extremely „fishable” blank.
NFC BB809 stands for effortless casting of the biggest and baddest baits in my box, I can’t believe how smooth it’s throwing them out there. It also brings the benefits of a flexible blank in the ecuation of Big Game Fishing and that means more positive hookups and less fish lost during the fight – a sine qua non feature when fishing baits with treble hooks. At the same time, the Moderate-Fast action and the powerful mid-section make for a perfectly balanced blank when fishing soft swimbaits with either offset or exposed single hooks. The power is there to drive the hook home even with soft baits and get it done time and time again.
NFC BB809-1 IM makes my new custom build a true Lightsaber of big bait rods.