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First published August 6th 2005 - More than 10 years ago
10 easy ways to break a rod
...or how to avoid it
By Roland Henrion
Claude used to be a hunter as well as a fly fisherman. He owned a fine dog, a pointer called Cartouche (cartridge). Like all dogs do, as soon as his master got out the Wellingtons, he jumped in the car, its tail wagging with anticipation. When Claude gave up shooting, Cartouche thought waders were the same thing as boots and that's how invariably he accompanied Claude to the river.
On a fine day in May, Claude fished the river Tarn and as usual, Cartouche was minding his own business and inspected the opposite bank. He saw his master standing waist deep in the water doing funny things with a long wiggly twig.
"But wait a minute!" Cartouche thought. "What's that splashing in front of my master? And just look how excited he gets! Better check it out".
He jumped in the river and quickly swam across to where Claude was landing a hefty brown trout. More fish were rising in the pool and fearing his dog would spoil the spot, Claude started yelling at him: "go away, bad dog! You're scaring all the fish!"
This true story is an original way of breaking a rod of course, but no need to worry, there are many easier ways too as described below.
1. Slam a car door shut with the rod stuck in it
Oops, forgot a guide ring there, calm down, start again.
Lean the rod against the car.
Pull on the waders.
Hey, it seems the breeze picks u...
Slam! (the car door)
Crack! (the rod)
Score: Car, one point. Rod, zero points.
Unless the angler took along a spare rod, he can drive straight back home, without even getting his waders wet.
The ONLY safe way to lean a rod against a car is with CLOSED front doors, the rod resting in the nook of the side mirror. The rear door is out of harm's way and the mirror prevents the rod from sliding on the ground. You can also buy a handy little magnetized rod holder to stick on the car's bodywork.
The car roof is also a safe place to put a rod, although rooftops are another curse, especially AFTER fishing. Reels, glasses, phones, permits, purses... we all have at least once in our fishing career driven off leaving something on the roof. My grandfather lost a rod that way and found it again... twelve years later, in the hands of another fly fisher. As the rod was custom made, grandpa recognized it immediately. Complimenting him about his fine rod, the man replied: "isn't she a beauty ? And can you imagine I found it here by the car park many years ago ? I never managed to trace the owner."
My grandfather being a real gentleman never told him the truth. He explained to me: "I could see the guy treated it well and it was obvious the rod was happy with him!"
Laying a rod flat on the ground is just asking for trouble. Some stupid, half-blind idiot will surely step on it and if there is none around, you will find a way of achieving this yourself.
NEVER lay a rod flat on the ground. Period. Lean it against a tree, a bush, a bridge, a fence -- no, not an electrified one, because carbon is a good conductor. If there is nothing but grass around you, put the rod on your tackle bag. Even it doesn't stand up vertically, you would still have to lift a leg high up to step on the rod... and this is something you would never do, I'm sure.
3. Poke the rod tip in the ground while walking
How should you carry a rod ? Hold it horizontal but backwards. If you walk through an area with other people (parking lot or camping site) keep the rod up, but always check for wires or trees. Holding up a rod indoors is even more dangerous... especially in tropical areas where vicious ceiling fans patiently wait for a crispy rod to come into range and chomp it into pieces. "Have you seen my new 17-piece fly rod?"
Ever seen Davy Crocket holding his long barrelled rifle? That's also a comfortable way to carry your rod in open terrain: lay the reel in the palm of your hand and let the rod rest in the elbow joint. Handy tip: carry your rod with your non-casting hand to give the other a rest.
4. Hit the rod tip against a bridge piling or another hard obstacle
With the extra power put in, the rod swung further and hit the stone. Now carbon fibre is extremely strong and flexible, but hit it the wrong way, and it snaps like glass. Cold weather makes it even worse. If you fish in cramped areas, check the immediate surroundings well before casting.
Oops, caught the mangrove root there, my cast was just a few inches too long. Before going on, let's draw a parallel with golf here: when putting, if you don't accept to occasionally overrun the hole, you will always hit short. Same thing with fly-fishing. If you are afraid of hooking the trees, you'll never get the fly close enough to the bank. (Note: no, I don't play golf. I just heard it on TV and I thought it made a lot of sense).
So your last cast was just a touch too long and sent the fly spinning a dozen times around the mangrove root. You know you shouldn't pull with the rod, but you don't want to spoil this hot spot and you're a little nervous. It starts with a little tug, then a better one, quickly followed by a mighty haul and bang: the fly is still there, but the rod is no more.
If a few moderate tugs don't dislodge the fly, forget about the fish and get over there to unhook the fly. Or never mind the fly (you have a couple of thousands anyway) and break the tippet.
6. Choose a tippet too heavy for your rod
You would be surprised to see how much power you can apply with an 8 weight rod and a 12 pound tippet. Experiment it yourself: hook the fly onto to a tree or fence and step back 60 or 70 feet. Now try to break the tippet holding the rod as if you were fighting a fish. Chances are you will stop pulling, afraid to break the rod. Note: if you do break your rod, I shall accept no blame!
Saltwater fish are powerful and fast. They force us to use the strongest possible rigs. Don't overdo it: remember a fly line has a breaking strain of roughly 30 lbs and so has your backing probably too. Using a 30 lbs tippet with an 8 , 9 or 10 weight rod is very risky business! If you really have to horse fish away from obstacles, go for a heavier rod.
"What?" your friend asks in disbelieve, "a tarpon broke your 12 weight rod? It must have been a monster!"
A fish lost in battle always feels big. One that brakes the tippet is huge. But what to think of the fish that breaks a rod ? Man, that must have been really something... or was it?
Let's face the cold truth: if a rod breaks in battle, it's 90.4% the angler's fault, 8.6% bad luck or 1% due to a fault in the rod (source: personal experience and a bit of guessing).
What about the fish, then? The fish is never wrong, buddy, he fights for his life!
No matter how you hold the rod, upwards or sideways or even with the tip lower than butt (known as fighting low and dirty), the one and only rule is to keep an angle of roughly 90 to 110 degrees between the butt section of the rod and the line. Close the angle and all the pressure comes on the rod tip. This is why rods often break while landing a fish. Or when the fish sounds close the boat while the angler keeps his rod high.
On the other hand, open the angle too much and all the pressure is concentrated on the lower part of the rod... exactly where the first ferrule is located. Need a picture?
Always make the rod perform completely, from tip to butt. When the fish is far from you, hold the rod up. As it gets closer, lower the rod to keep the same line/rod angle.
To bring a fish to the net without putting the rod tip at risk, stretch you arm backwards, instead of pointing the rod back. On a boat, step away from the gunwale to bring the fish in reach of the gaffer/netter. By moving back, you keep a safe rod angle and you also provide space for the mate. Last tip: to prevent the rod from hitting the gunwale hard when the fish makes a final dive, reduce the drag setting and clamp the reel instead, ready to let go if needed.
8. Assemble the rod without fitting the ferrules tightly
But wait a minute, the guide rings are not aligned, something is very wrong here. Gilberto's sailfish would never be a record of some sort*, so I tell him to hold the rod flat, pointing straight at the fish. This releases the pressure on the blank enabling me to re-align the rings and push the ferrules snug.
Gilberto could resume the fight and land his sailfish. Luckily I noticed the problem in time, because one of the loose ferrules would surely have broken.
Ferrules have to be tight, otherwise rod breakage may occur, even when casting. So check them frequently. Also don't do what my friend Eric did once: we were standing by the lake rigging up our rods. Eric had just bought a new Sage XP and he was very pleased with it. He "shadow cast" while bragging about the terrific action of his rod: "man, just look at this..." What I saw was the front section sailing into the water. Eric was demonstrating without fly line and forgot to tighten the top ferrule. Luckily, the tip didn't fly too far and floated just long enough for us to retrieve it...
*According to IGFA rules, nobody but the angler is allowed to touch rod, line or angler himself.
On Desroches island (Amirantes Group, Seychelles), standing almost waist-deep in the water, I try to get my Clouser minnow with heavy dumbbell eyes to the trevally chasing baitfish in the crashing surf.
Normally I can cast 90 feet without a problem, but today I'm struggling with a stiff sea breeze. All of a sudden, whack! The weighty fly hits my Sage RPLXi on the back cast. Judging by the sharpness of the sound, I fear the worst. I get out of the water and inspect the blank. Nothing to see, not a scratch, not a chip, nothing. "Wow, I was lucky", I thought and went back to the water to resume fishing. Exactly four casts later, the rod broke. I will never know for sure, but I can bet whatever you want that the breakage occurred precisely where the fly hit the blank.
How to avoid such painful experience? With heavy flies, don't try to cast an extremely narrow loop, but open it up a little. Let the back cast stretch out completely before making the forward cast. Hold your fire during wind gusts and take advantage of momentarely slacks. Go to the nearest bar and have a couple drinks, tomorrow will be a better day... No, just kidding, but be very careful with a wind coming over your casting shoulder. Use the backhand cast or turn away from the target and deliver on the back cast. Auch! Perhaps you should wear a helmet too?
The mate steers the dinghy alongside the 40 feet Sportfisher. You stand up and hop from the dinghy onto the rear platform...
At least you tried to, but you forgot you're not 25 anymore. Unfortunately you had two rods in one hand and a tackle bag in the other. All went flying as you desperately grabbed the gunwale and found your balance. The bag is fine, but one of the rods fell hard and broke. Thank God you brought two with you!
Boats and cars have this in common: they are rod breakers. Everybody knows (or should know) one must never board a vessel without being invited to by a crew member. Some might know the second rule: "always have one hand for yourself and one for the boat".
Far fewer have heard of this one (I might have invented it myself, by the way): NEVER get in or out of a boat holding a rod. Boats have a vicious tendency to move just as you are taking your step... and never the way you think.
So here's the way to do it: before stepping into the tender, give your rod to the person already in the boat or to the one who will board after you. If you are by yourself, lay the rods in the boat first and then climb in. Keep rods vertically to avoid painful encounters with jetties or boat hulls.
I can't resist to finish off with a true story which happened to my friends Serge and Serge (that's right, same first name).
They decided to fish the gorgeous gorges of the river Tarn, in the south of France. After a two hour drive, they parked the car, donned their waders and carefully descended the steep goat path down the gorges. 45 minutes later, soaking wet (damn waders) and out of breath, they reached the emerald waters of the majestic river.
What happened to Serge's rod ? As usual, he grabbed it in his study and without looking, loaded it in the car. Later he found out the cleaning lady had broken it and she did not have the courage to tell him.
So the 11th way to brake a rod, and by far the easiest, is to have it done by someone else!