Spare the Rod

By Nick Curcione

If you spend a good deal of time on the water, especially the marine variety, plying your craft with fly-tackle, it’s highly likely that one day, the fishing gods will look kindly upon you and favor you with one of those memorable outings where your quarry goes on a feeding frenzy striking at almost anything that falls within their field of vision. Offshore, members of the tuna family like yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin have become justly famous for what superficially appears as wild abandon but is often part of a well-coordinated attack typically on terrified pods of baitfish fleeing for their lives. The same kind of scenario can also be experienced inshore with species like bonito, bluefish, and striped bass.

While many of us yearn for these memorable encounters, unfortunately, on those occasions when they do materialize, too often, the outcome is not what we expected. Instead, fish are often lost prematurely and unnecessarily, and the primary culprit is angler error. At times, this can result from plain old overexcitement. Your emotional circuits are on overload, and you react by doing something you shouldn’t have, like grabbing the rod in its midsection to pull the fish and leader within reach of your hands. Of course, some mishaps are unavoidable and must be chalked up to an inevitable part of the game. For example, even under relatively normal conditions, flies and leaders may be expected to enjoy only short-term longevity. Economists would say that items like these are not intended for long-term utility. Fly lines are normally considered far less expendable, but if the action gets frantic, these lines can also be prematurely relegated to the trash bin. Many years ago, on a memorable trip to Midway Island, I lost six shooting heads in one day when a giant trevally and 100 lb. plus amberjack made line blistering runs past sections of a coral reef. I was left with heads that looked like they had been shredded in a blender.

The two items in our tackle repertoire that are designed for long-term utility are our fly rods and reels. By their very nature, of course, reels tend to be far more durable than rods. My dad, who was a mechanic, was often fond of reminding me that if it’s made by man, it can fail. That certainly applies to any mechanical device, but if they aren’t misused and given a modicum of maintenance, high-quality reels are not very likely to fail.

On the other hand, due to the very nature of their construction, fly rods are less durable than fly reels and are far more likely to suffer breakage caused both by accidents and angler error. Having consulted with several rod manufacturers over the years, I can report that the major cause of fly rod breakage has nothing to do with poor design or manufacturing defects. Instead, it can be attributed to two sets of circumstances.

One is the simple result of accidents. Car windows, doors, and overhead fans account for most of the damage. I recall many trips to the tropics where friends had the tip sections of their fly rods broken only minutes after unpacking them because they assembled the rod in the room and inadvertently stuck the tip in an overhead fan. For that reason alone, I made it a practice to always pack an extra rod or two in anticipation of the inevitable mishaps that would occur. Rods are also frequently damaged while being transported, and traveling in a boat can cause problems if the rod gets banged around as you traverse rough water. Most fishing craft today are designed to carry rods as safely as possible in specially designed rod holders. But care should be taken to ensure the rod is properly secured. A friend of mine took the extra precaution of installing rubber pads under the gunwale of his boat where the rod tips were subject to strong vibration, causing them to strike against the sides. Inattention to something like this can easily result in unexpected rod breakage.

A second source of rod failure is the product of angler error that occurs primarily in the fish fighting and landing stages of the contest. Even when a rod breaks for seemingly no apparent reason, the failure usually has its source in some prior mishap. For example, as mentioned above, the rod may have been repeatedly struck because it wasn’t properly stowed away, and then it suddenly breaks when you’re pulling on a fish. The thought probably wouldn’t occur to most fly fishers, but poor casting technique can take its toll on rods. One not uncommon occurrence among those who cast weighted patterns like a Clouser, is striking the rod with the fly during the forward cast. This can cause a minute crack or fissure that may not be readily visible but can lead to breakage when the rod is subject to pressure, making a cast, or pulling on a fish. Another common source of angler-induced breakage is improper rod handling when fighting and landing fish.

Simply put, fly rods are not designed to bend like a horseshoe. Bending a rod like this creates tremendous strain and is grossly inefficient as a fish-fighting technique. When a bend in the rod begins to climb above a 45-degree angle, the rod’s pulling power is greatly diminished. You can easily demonstrate this for yourself by holding the end of a leader while someone else bends the rod at increasingly higher angles. You will feel the least amount of resistance when the rod is bent in a nearly vertical position. This magnitude of curvature is also most likely to cause the rod to fracture and break. So, the rule of thumb when fighting a fish is to avoid lifting the rod much beyond a 45-degree angle.

A related problem is high sticking the rod. In hockey, this maneuver constitutes a foul. In fly- fishing it can cost you your rod. When you position your hand far above the rod grip, you alter the rod’s fulcrum point. Instead of bending down from the butt, which is the strongest part of the rod, the bend starts to form in the upper portion of the rod closer to the tip, which is the weaker section. Therefore, this is a practice you want to try and avoid.

Compared to a fly rod, a conventional tackle boat rod is a much simpler piece of equipment. It’s designed for one primary purpose: fighting fish. However, a fly rod not only has to help subdue fish, but it also must deliver the offering in a way that is quite different from its conventional and spinning tackle counterparts. Instead of the weight of the offering being confined to a compact mass like a lure or bait, in fly casting, you are throwing a weighted line that can be at least 20 or more feet in length. It’s the weight of the line that carries the fly. That is a very different dynamic from bait casting and spinning applications and the efficiency with which that is accomplished, particularly with the exacting design and construction standards of a T&T rod; it’s no exaggeration to claim that you have an engineering marvel in your hands.

I cast fast sinking lines in my home waters out on the West Coast for most of my saltwater fly fishing. Inshore and offshore, if you want to get in the game, in most circumstances, you have to get the fly down. I found these same lines to be very effective when I targeted blues, striped bass, and false albacore back east.
The T&T series I find ideally suited for this fishery is their lineup of Exocett SS rods. Their 8-foot 8-inch length, with their powerful tip sections, greatly facilitates executing the water haul technique for sinking lines. The grain weight designation, ranging from 160 to 450 grains, affords a wide choice spectrum so you can confidently match a rod to your particular needs.

No, the rods are not indestructible. If they were, you couldn’t fish them. However, following these few simple precautions will give you a lifetime of fun times on the water. Few products out there provide such long-term enjoyment.


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