If you think "nanotech" sounds like geek-speak for processes that will become reality only in the distant future, think again. The prefix "nano" comes from the Greek word for "dwarf," and nanotechnology refers to precisely manipulating the structure of matter at the molecular level. Recent developments in this field show that to whip big fish, you need to think small - as in submicroscopic.
The engineers at 3M ignored the expression "out of sight, out of mind" while working on ways to strengthen graphite-composite laminates - the very materials used to make fishing rods. An interdepartmental effort involving three of the company's divisions (specialty materials, nanotechnology and particle-dispersion processing) resulted in an innovative product called 3M Matrix Resin. Used for joining layers of graphite material, this resin contains miniscule spheres of silica measuring 20 nanometers in diameter. For perspective: One nm equals a millionth of a millimeter; a typical germ measures one micron, or 1,000 nm.
The basic steps in making rod blanks include wrapping clothlike graphite material and scrim around a mold (called a mandrel), applying resin and baking the ingredients to fuse them together. Using different types and amounts of carbon fibers (graphite) and scrim along its length determines a blank's taper and action. After cooling and hardening, the blank receives components (handle, reel seat, guides) and a cosmetic finish.
3M Matrix Resin behaves much like other resins. It has a similar viscosity and curing temperature, so manufacturers can employ it without making any major adjustments to existing production processes.
What makes the new resin so special? 3M not only adds nanoparticles of silica - chosen for its nonabrasive properties - but figured out how to keep them evenly distributed throughout the liquid. As the resin permeates graphite fabric, silica spheres occupy the space between carbon fibers to provide additional support and strength.
Tests conducted by 3M conclude that materials containing Matrix Resin demonstrate higher modulus (a measure of strength versus weight) and a significant increase in compression strength. Matrix Resin also improves the bond between carbon fibers, which increases the rod's flex strength and internal shear strength; that is, the layers of graphite fibers and scrim, which form the rod blank, adhere to each other more securely.
When approached by 3M, St. Croix Rod (www.stcroixrods.com) accepted the challenge of designing rods that incorporate the new technology. After extensive laboratory and on-the-water testing, the advantages became obvious.
"Fishing rods break when overflexed," says Jeff Schluter, vice president of sales and marketing for St. Croix Rod. "Anglers can overflex rods when battling fish with a lockeddown drag, with poor technique such as high-sticking or by using a rod that's too light for the size of fish on the line. Sometimes it's a situation beyond angler control, for example, when a fish runs under the boat and creates a bad angle."