The Rod-breakin’ Blues – By Joe Mahler

These rods have seen better days...

At one time or another in every fly fisher’s life he will find himself quietly looking down at a broken rod. That sinking feeling. Maybe it was a favorite, or maybe it’s the night before a bonefish trip. There are many ways to break a rod and, over the years, I have been guilty of more than my share. Sometimes the fault lies in the rod, but more likely it is operator error.

If you buy a quality rod in today’s market, you can expect that it will come with a “no questions asked” guarantee. The rod maker will repair or replace your rod, but you will be out of commission for a few days or a few weeks and pay a reasonable shipping and handling charge. Here are some of the most common causes of breakage and a few tips for keeping your favorite rods in service.

High Sticking It is estimated that 75% of breaks are not related to fighting fish. Of the remaining 25%, almost all can be attributed to high-sticking. High-sticking occurs when the rod is raised to the vertical when fighting a fish or freeing a snag, placing undue stress on the tip section of the rod. It makes for a striking pose in oil paintings and catalog covers, but a big fish quickly turn your four-piece rod into a five-piece model.

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

Apply side pressure to fight fish instead.

A better choice is to apply side-pressure forming a deep bend in the rod. For freeing a snag try a quick side-to-side motion, or roll-casting toward the snag. If breaking off is necessary, point the rod tip directly at the fly and pull the line steadily.

Another type of high-sticking is gripping the rod above the cork handle when fighting a fish in hopes of gaining leverage. In many cases, this will hinder the action and place too much tension on the weakest part of the rod.

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

Gripping the rod above the cork handle is unnecessary and could snap your rod mid-fight.

Stringing Up
Some rods are broken before the fishing starts. When stringing up your rod, be sure to pull an ample amount of fly line through the tip and pull straight out while cradling the rod in the opposite hand. Pulling against the rod will result in a “U” formation in the top six-to-eight inches of the rod and likely cause breakage.

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

This is so common: Breaking your tip when stringing up a fly rod.

Nicks From Weighted Flies
Heavily weighted flies can be deadly on fish and equally deadly on fly rods. When a passing fly collides with the rod, a nick can occur, weakening the blank. This weak spot is usually discovered when fighting a big fish or making a particularly long cast. To avoid this, open your casting loop or use an elliptical or “Belgian-style” cast. Many top-quality rod blanks have high-tech resin coatings to resist impact. If you regularly fish with weighted flies, the extra money spent will be well worth it.

Improper Seating of Ferrules
Multi-piece rods come equipped with flexible ferules to give the most uniform action. In order for them to perform, they must be securely seated. Loose connections will give a “wobbly” feel when casting and can possibly break from the inside out. To properly seat your rod, push together with guides ¼ turn off and then rotate into position. When taking apart, reverse by turning the rod sections ¼ turn in the opposite direction and then pulling apart.

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

To properly seat your rod, push together with guides ¼ turn off and then rotate into position.

Keep ferrules lubricated by applying paraffin, candle wax, or bar soap. If your rod is hopelessly stuck together, enlist the help of a buddy. Each of you should place one hand on each side of the connection and pull apart. Rods that are left assembled for extended periods tend to be the hardest to free.

Walking With Rod In Hand
To avoid breakage by “feeding” your rod to a tree or bush, simply carry your rod with the tip pointed behind you, leaving the rod strung. Many rod tips have been left behind by catching the top eye on a limb and pulling the rod apart and not having the line to keep it together. Better yet, break your rod down when hiking through heavy brush.

Boating A Big Fish
When a big fish comes to the boat, things can happen fast. It is sometimes necessary to stick the rod deep in the water for a final dash under the boat. A rod under full load that touches the gunwale is likely to explode. Once the line is grabbed by hand immediately allow slack and plenty of it. From this point on, the fish should be hand-lined to submission, but be ready if the fish makes another run.

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

Once the line is grabbed by hand immediately allow slack and plenty of it - and be prepared for a run!

Road Rage
Car doors, trunk lids and tail gates have all claimed their share of rod casualties, but my latest close call came when I left my rod and reel on top of my car. Luckily, as I drove away, I saw my outfit hit the road out of the corner of my eye. Amazingly, it resulted in only a little “Road Rash” to my reel.

Hazards in the “Great Indoors”
I had always heard of rods falling prey to ceiling fans, but frankly I never really saw the danger. One day I walked into my family room, holding an assembled rod and looking toward the “Breaking News” on the television. News Flash: Ceiling fans do break rods. Sliding-glass doors, spring-loaded doors, narrow hallways, and lanai screens also pose potential hazards around the house. It is always best to disassemble your rod outside. And one last word of caution –

How people break fly rods - Sage Fly Fishing - Joe Mahler

Keep Fido away; he especially likes fish-scented cork.

I hope that you will find these tips useful, and wish you and your rod many days of great fishing.

Sage Ambassador Joe Mahler is the author/illustrator of “Essential knots and rigs for trout”, Essential Knots and Rigs for Salt Water and a contributor to Fly Fishing in Salt Waters Magazine. All Illustrations Copyright 2012 Joe Mahler.

29 Responses to The Rod-breakin’ Blues – By Joe Mahler

  1. mario noche says:

    Great informative article! I have broken many rods but only one while fighting a fish.

    • Muhammad says:

      best all around rod in the makret for the price? What do you mean with that expresion? Zxl is a good rod but is expensive. I have 8,6 #3 and i love it. These are not all around rods, are dry fly rods!!!Thanks for your reviews and keep up the good work!!!

  2. Pingback: How not to break a fly rod - Bish on Fish in New Zealand Blog

  3. david e a jones says:

    A wonderful collection of very sensible if sometimes obvious things not to do with a fishing rod. I too have had rods break on me although I would say that I have not actually broken one per se. I do recall one particularly annoying incident when carrying a 15ft fly rod along a path through a wood. The tip ring caught on a knot of wood on a hand rail and broke the tip ring. I was however grateful that it happened that way rather than me breaking the rod be carrying it pointing forward. If I have to travel any distance along wooded paths, I now sellotape a polythene bag over about 1 foot of the tip section.

  4. iveyfatboy says:

    I once broke my rod threading my line I ask the owner for a replacement which they did gladly I then set up for fishing only for
    My wife to turn up saying her labour had started. I never got to fish but I got my money back and a new top section from airflo plus a baby girl

  5. john gallagher says:

    What do you think, about wrapping your guides to tight,when building a rod.Can this cause a friction spot in the rod plank.And cause the rod to break at that point,when fighting a strong fish.

  6. Wes says:

    Fortunately, i only broke a few, one tip section when the fish took me under the boat, and i tried to hold the fish from wrapping around the motor propeller.
    The other was slammed in a car door.Another tip section was broken while doing a static deflection test to find the spine, blank had a defect new section was replaced no questions asked by the blank manufacture.

  7. Howard Beemer says:

    Dissassemble and place your rod in its case after each use. I left my rod broken down into sections but with the line thru the guides. I put it in a remote corner of the bedroom. My wife and her vacuum ate the line first, followed by the tip section. (There’s an orderly progression to every tragedy). I like the cases that allow the reel to remain attached to the reel seat with all sections safe in the tube.

  8. Pingback: Rod breakages explained by sage..... - Fly Fishing Forums

  9. James says:

    While fishing in Christmas Island a couple of years back my partner was holding a #7 rod ready for bonefish, whilst the guide accompanying her was looking after a #12 ready for any GT encounters. As you can imagine, the guide proceeded to use the #12 as a pointing stick to indicate oncoming bones. At a particularly ‘fishy’ part of the flat the guide stopped and pointed out some small trevally that weren’t sizeable enough to bother casting a fly at. In doing so he dropped the tip of the rod into the water. Seeing the glint of the tip ring, the baby GTs charged directly into the rod and snapped two inches off the top of it!

  10. Pingback: Them's the Breaks: Flyrod Disaster Stories

  11. Auke de Ruiter says:

    Thanks for the good advice, luckily I have not broken any rod yet, well, no Sage rod, that is.

    I did however wonder about the seating of the rod sections, however. I was once told not to rotate sections when seating the ferrules or when taking a rod apart, as you could damage the carbon fibre in that way. Is that correct?

    • flyfishsage says:


      When seating the sections, press down firmly then give a 1/4 twist to align the guides. This is best practice and will not damage the graphite.


  12. Hideki Ikarashi says:

    I begin it and am Hideki Ikarashi
    A 2nd part of rod 6126-3P of your company which I used carefully has been broken.
    May you obtain a blank of 2nd?
    Please teach a price and the postage and a method of the business if I seem to be able to purchase it

  13. Hideki Ikarashi says:

    In the e-mail address that I wrote in, may not I accept an answer?

  14. Hideki Ikarashi says:

    Thank you. I wait for communication

  15. rye-flyrodder says:

    Well written article…after years of being out of the game its best to revisit what I used to take for granted. In the mid 90’s it was a fad to use 1 piece 12wts in the Keys…cast great but you needed to used the buddy system in and out of boats and hotel rooms.
    Sorta like trucking tons of equipment thru Airports these guy to the little fishermans room, one guy baby sits the gear.


  16. Nancy Vidervol says:

    I’m into my 12th year and second breakage fly fishing w/a Sage. Both breaks (ahem) operator caused.The broken tip was no biggie–i had intuited that sticking it into fast water to dislodge a snag would do it. The 2nd incident was more dramatic. I’ll make a painfully short story shorter, I slipped on the boat ramp and instantly turned my husband’s 4-piece Sage into a 5-piece by falling on it. Was I alone, silently mortified? NO WAY. Six guides, 12 clients, 4 children and 20-some Labrador retrievers all observed the moment. The guides were chuckling softly, the clients were aghast. I turned my face from my rescuers: PLEASE let no one recognize me tomorrow. If more women would hit the stream, individuals wouldn’t be so recognizable. Finally, after being so long-winded, I’ll tell you I’m 61-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease. NO EXCUSES.

  17. manfroi dario says:

    I use to clean my rod at the end of the flyfishing. Sometimes a section fall from the table to the floor (marmle) I was worried abut a possible damage but I verify is seams ok. Do you think that a rod section can be damaged by its weight? Best regards Dario

    • flyfishsage says:

      No, it is very unlikely that a fall from the table would do any significant damage to a rod section, save for maybe a scratch or two. Most rods are broken by pulling on them with an improper rod angle and moreover by taking a hard hit by the fly while casting. //kw

  18. Charles Johnson says:

    Thank you SAGE!! I had a broken snake guide on my z-axis 586-2 rod. I finally got around to sending it and within 1 1/2 weeks including shipping both ways I got my rod back today. I have 2 z-axis rods and a sage one rod. My z-axis 586-2 rod is my favorite of the three. It won’t break down very compact compared to my 4 piece rods but I love its action.
    Once again thanks for your prompt service.

    Chuck Johnson Illinois

  19. Zach G says:

    Thanks for the information on fly fishing I am about to start this weekend and looking forward to it.

  20. Informative article! My first anniversary gift to my wife was a fly rod which she ran over before the second anniversary. We just celebrated our 40th. To my question…my Sage XP 590-4 has a few nicks in the finish from years of use. A couple are in the butt section but there are a couple of other nicks further up the rod. I don’t know whether any of the nicks are deep enough to potentially result in a break. Is there a prophylactic treatment of nicks that may help avoid a break?

  21. steve fiore says:

    I broke a friends sage rod that belonged to his DAD and has sentimental value. He does not want the rod replaced with a similar modern rod…. I would like to have it repaired…. cost is not a factor…. I want to make it as close to original as possible.. any help would be appreciated .. Thanks Steve

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