Ladyfisher
Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

October 13, 1997

Spare The Rod!
(or, Have a Spare Rod?)



Can you imagine being on wonderful water, fish everywhere, you hook into a dandy and bang ... your rod just broke? If you aren't fishing next to a fly shop you are probably out of business. Some fishers carry at spare rod. You really shouldn't need to.

What do you think is the number one reason a rod breaks? Nope, it isn't smashing it in a car door, or the trunk either. And it is not because the manufacturer screwed up. The answer is, either you stepped on it, or the rod sections were put together incorrectly. Here is how to avoid this biggie; with the rod grip in your hand, see where the guides on the butt section are. Join the next section by misaligning it.

With a 3-piece rod, assemble the tip to the middle section first, then join that to the butt section, using the following instructions. With a 2-piece rod, align the guides of the tip 90 degrees from the guides of the butt section. A firm pull and twist will properly assemble the rod. Do not jam or force the sections together. If you are doing a lot of casting, check the rod occasionally to make sure the sections still are firmly joined.

Trying to break rod?

An old wives tale on assembling rods was to wipe the male ferrules across the side of your nose. This was supposed to impart a little oil on the ferrule and make it easier to put together - or take apart. Unfortunately the salt from your body in that oil encouraged corrosion. Today's rods are usually graphite, or a graphite composition, and preferred method is to rub a little wax (from a candle) on the male sections of the rod.

You can get in trouble taking a rod apart if you get dirt or sand into the fittings, or if you leave a rod in the really hot sun and the epoxy softens. A half-hour visit to your freezer might help on those two; maybe.

Next, most rods broken in fishing are not in the butt section, but the tip. Two things are suspect in these instances. If you hit the tip section of your rod with your fly, the hook will damage the rod. Once is probably not enough to weaken the tip, but if this is a common occurrence with you, you might check into a casting class and fix the problem. Or figure the manufacturer owes you a new tip, because you abused the rod? Wrong. By the way, manufacturers see everything possible in rod breakage. They know exactly what you did.

Here is the really big one, and why. Most folks getting into fly fishing come from some other form of fishing. It's rare that people who have never fished for anything decide they would like to try fly fishing. Those who have cast bait or spinning rods have used rods that are very flexible. At one time I think someone tried to tie an Ugly Stik into a knot. Those rods, and other rods that are fiberglass, have a thicker rod wall. And they are made to really bend.

Fly rods will bend ... some. Depending on the stiffness of the rod, they still will not bend anything like a spinning rod. They are not designed to bend like mad - they are designed to cast a line. The stiffer the rod, the "faster" the rod recovers. "Recover" means the rod goes back to its normal round shape after being compressed to an oval when it bends (or loads) to make the cast. Take a drinking straw and bend it as if it were a fly rod and see what happens for yourself.

When you cast you are primarily using the tip of your rod. On really long casts you will use more of the rod. The designers of rods figure the tip section as the work horse of casting, and the remaining 2/3's of the rod for playing and landing the fish. The problem shows up when fisherman try to play or land the fish with the tip of the rod. Crunch!

Boat Fishing

How do you play a fish with the lower or butt section? Think of the rod as a lever - which it is, and instead of keeping the tip up, apply pressure to the butt section by keeping the tip down. (There is always an exception to everything, and on small fish keeping the tip up is all right.) The further up the grip - (or worse yet on the shaft of the rod itself,) your hand is - the more you engage the TIP.

Yes, I know some rods had an extra grip above the normal grip for fighting big fish, (called a fighting grip,) but, and this is a big but, those grips were originally designed for big fiberglass rods. Not for graphite. If you have a graphite or graphite composite rod with a fighting grip, take the rod to your favorite fly shop and ask them to remove the additional grip.

Some better rods have a "fighting butt" which is a small extension that screws into the butt section, allowing the use of two hands for fighting a big fish. If you again think of the rod as a lever, the fighting butt will make more use of the proper place to be fighting the fish - the butt section.

One more thing, the angle of the rod should never be beyond 70 degrees from horizontal. Again, keep your rod low, apply pressure in the opposite direction the fish is headed. When the fish is finally at the point of being landed, keep the rod tip low, not with a big bend in the tip. If someone is helping you land the fish, take a backward step instead of flexing the rod more.

A final piece of insurance, if you use a rod tube to store or transport your rods, the last thing you should see before you close the case is the grip of the butt section and the tip-top. The grip helps protect the tip top rather than letting it rattle and bounce off the bottom of the case. If a cloth bag is part of your ritual, dry your rod before inserting it into the bag. Nothing more disheartening than opening up a rod case and recognizing the smell of mildew. Not only does the bag rot, the cork can mildew too. Yuck! It wouldn't hurt to wash the whole works once in a while either.

The payoff for a little attention on your part is preserving your rod, which will serve you many years without the frustration of having to buy a new one - or replace one that may no longer be available. ~ The LadyFisher

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