2 Common Mistakes That Break Fly Rods While Fighting Fish

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From the video "Cuba Saltwater Permit Fishing"

From the video “Cuba Saltwater Permit Fishing”

Do you ever talk back to the screen?

I watched a video the other day of a guy fighting a permit down in Cuba. The whole time I kept yelling, “You’re gonna break your F-ing rod!” Sure enough, with the permit at his feet, the rod snapped. The fellow grabbed his leader and landed the fish but the damage was done. It didn’t have to end that way.

So Dude, if you’re reading this, I apologize for calling you out but that fish didn’t break your rod, you did. You made two basic mistakes that I see anglers make all the time, so I’m going to use you as an example. Look at it this way, you’re going to save a lot of fly rods and at least yours didn’t die in vain.

Here are the two most common mistakes that cause rods to break while fighting fish and how to avoid them.

Supporting the butt of the rod.

During a long fight with a big fish you are going to suffer some fatigue. The muscles that apply pressure on the fish will start to burn and you will feel like you need a little help sealing the deal. Too often, the angler’s free hand decides to come to the rescue by supporting the shaft of the rod. This gives you extra leverage, allowing those tired muscles to rest, but it’s tough on your rod.

Fly rods are remarkably strong when used as they are designed to be used. The gradual increase in strength that creates the smooth arc of a bent rod protects the delicate tip and mid. The rod is designed to use the entire nine foot shaft to absorb the shock of violent head shakes and powerful runs. When you support that shaft, you stiffen that taper and, in effect, you are now fighting a fish on a six-foot rod that wasn’t made for the job. Snap!

Luckily, this is one of those rare occasions when you can have your cake and eat it too. You can get the extra leverage you need without putting your rod at risk. Instead of putting that free hand under the shaft of the rod, put it on top of the fighting butt. You will feel instant relief in your rod hand and you are using the rod in the manner it was designed to be used. Problem solved.


Not the good kind of highsticking you do when nymphing for trout. The bad kind that too many anglers do when landing big fish. Especially in saltwater. Saltwater fly rods are designed to cast with their tips and fight fish with their butts. Lifting a heavy fish with the tip of these stiff rods is a sure way to break them.

The remedy is simple. When landing the fish be sure to leave as much fly line as leader outside the tip top. Turn the reel away from you and reach your rod back away from you as you lift. This will allow you to grab the leader without over-stressing your rod. The best approach, which this good fellow in the video passed on, is to stay in the boat and let your guide land the fish. There’s no shame in it. It’s just smart.

You can watch a video of Capt. Bruce Chard demonstrating how to land a fish (HERE).

Enjoy the video of permit fishing in Cuba and next time you’re fighting a big fish, fight smarter, not harder, and take your rod home in four pieces, not five.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “2 Common Mistakes That Break Fly Rods While Fighting Fish

  1. Busted the ferrule for the tip section of a ten weight doing exactly what you described in number 2. What really sucked, is it was the only rod I had on that trip. Won’t be doing that again.

  2. I owned New Zealand’s most well-known tackle shop, Just Fishin’ here in New Zealand for 10 years and saw too many rods broken by “Point Loading”. The closer the line under load gets to parallel to the rod, the greater the chances of the rod breaking – almost invariably in the top third. A rod is designed to bend along it’s length, but the closer the line gets to parallel to the rod the more the force is pushed down the rod. Classics are as described above. Add holding the rod nearly vertical while trying to net a fish near your feet. Add threading the line through the guides then pulling more line out with your hand near the rod – to my shame have done this myself. How can you tell if the rod has broken under point loading – the broken ends of the rod will almost always be splayed outwards.

  3. I catch clients, and fishing buds, trying to grab the rod above the grip all the time. I’ll always reply with, “you’re gonna break your rod”. Most times they’re lucky and manage not to do so. However, I’ve also seen worst case scenario when a friend of mine broke both her rods (within 10 minutes) trying to land big fish with her left hand up on the blank. I’ve never broken a rod but I’ve been guilty of making the same move while fighting fish until I realized I could get way more leverage using the butt of the rod. Like you mentioned, grab the fighting butt! Don’t have a fighting butt? Place the bottom of the rod in the space between your thumb and index finger. It gives you tons of leverage ,and gives your right arm a break, without sacrificing the integrity of your rod!

  4. Speaking of supporting the Butt of the rod. Have you ever noticed where the Fighting Grip is on A tarpon Rod?

    The Rod Should not Break….Period!

    • I don’t know much about rod design but I assume that if there is cork there, the rod is meant to be gripped there. If there’s not, it isn’t.

      • You’ll find fighting fore grips typically on 12 wts and up and yes, they are designed to be grabbed there. But if you use the fore grip and high stick the rod, chances are you can still break it. Keep your line at 90 degrees the rod will handle big loads.

  5. Countless times yelling at novice angler clients, “turn with the fish, turn with the fish and face the fish”!!! Huh?? What?? SNAP!
    I’ve watched several novice fly fishing angler clients break rods while fighting trophy size trout (5lb-12lb). While fighting fish they let the big fish make a run and get behind them and they do not turn around quickly enough, at this point the angler has to turn their body with the fish and face the fish, if not, the angler will snap the spine of the rod everytime. Only 6 rods in one season…all from tired novice angler not turning with the fish.

  6. Grabbing the rod on the blank/shaft is epidemic.

    Plus, I’ve remarked to many an experienced angler that I’ve been fishing with — when we witness another angler doing that — something like “that dude is going to break that rod” and get looks like I’m smoking something.

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  9. There is a very good book on this subject: “FishOn!” By Floyd Franke. It’s all about playing and landing big fish on the fly rod. From boats and when wading. Ed Ward did a Skagit Master video that includes a good lesson in how to land steelhead with a spey rod when wading.

  10. Am thinking about 5 or some yrs ago. I was watching a fishing show I believe was called ford frontiers. And the host was Flip Pallot. An he was in Michigan fishing for lake run King Salmon, I believe it was the Au sable. but could be wrong. But was one side take of the show. Where he mentioned that the guide service he was fishing with suggested 10wt. rods. Well, Flip believed that you didn’t need to go that heavy, till he caught a couple. An found that they were all that. However on the side take, he demonstrated to the guides he was fishing with, How to fight those fish. What I remember most, and have done after that. Was that you point your rod at a hot fish, instead of keeping your rod tip high, because if you do that. Your fighting the fish with the part of the rod that’s used for casting. An that you can break rod doing that. Have looked online trying to find that particular side take of that episode with no luck. Would be a perfect video for this subject.

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