How Fly Rods, And Hearts, Break

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Broken fly rods are a fact of life, but there are things you can do to stop it from happening to you.

It happens to all of us. We all know the sinking feeling of holding that treasured favorite fly rod, shattered in our hands. Most of us can’t help but form emotional attachments to our gear. Favorite rods and reels become old friends, with whom we share memories of great days, special fish and life lessons learned. Warrantees are great, but it’s hard to replace an old friend.

I hear a lot of anglers complain about specific rods or rod brands, saying things like, “ I’ll never but another ‘Brand X’ after breaking two in a month.”  It’s a delicate topic to address without hurting someone’s feelings, but the truth is, fly rods don’t break for no reason. While a high performance carbon fiber rod is certainly more fragile than its soulful fiberglass counterpart and a full spectrum between, the truth is that anglers break rods.

With extremely rare exception I have never seen a rod break for no apparent reason, even the ones I’ve broken my self.

If you are stewing over that statement, I ask you to bear with me for a bit and entertain the possibility that I’m right. Building and fishing bamboo rods for decades has taught me a thing or two about breaking rods and shedding tears. I’ve seen a lot of rods break and I even saw one catch fire and burn. (Long story.) In the interest of keeping those great fly rods fishing, I’ll share with you the most common reasons fly rods break and how to avoid them.


6 Reasons fly rods break

Physical Trauma

This covers some very obvious issues as well as some very tricky ones. With no scientific evidence I’ll say that the three most common causes for broken fly rods are ceiling fans, car doors and spurned spouses. If you’ve run afoul of any of these, you know it instantly. The remedy is simple. Be more careful handling your rod and you spouse.

PTs can be pretty sneaky though. A rod can be damaged without you even noticing and may not break for some time. Then one day you hook an unremarkable fish and it shatters dramatically. That was the case with the rod pictured in the header. This beloved Scott S4s was most likely damaged when it slipped out of the rod holder on a rough boat ride.

Some of the ways rods are most commonly physically damaged include being hit by flies during casting, being transported in cars or boots, being dropped and being left in hot rooftop rod lockers or rod tubes left in the sun. The latter is particularly tricky because a rod can begin to delaminate without showing any sign.

Of course, physical traumas can occur in manufacturing and shipping. I have found rods on my doorstep, still in the box, in more pieces than normal but while accidents happen, they are rare and manufacturing flaws are even rarer. I have visited the rod shops of many major brands and I can tell you the folks there take care and pride in their work.

Breaks at the ferrules

It’s pretty common for fly rods to break at the ferrules. The female ferrule can split and often the shaft will snap on the male end, either inside or near the ferrule. Frequently it will be the butt section of the rod that breaks, leaving the angler puzzled how the thickest part of the rod could just snap.

These breaks are not mysterious at all. The ferrule junctions receive more stress than any other part of the rod. They are stiffer, and therefore, more prone to stress. This is why one-piece rods are stronger than multi-piece rods. When a rod breaks at the ferrule, it is almost always because that ferrule has become loose. Either during casting or transporting, it has begun to unseat, causing the stress to be distributed unevenly.

Still photos of anglers casting show that a rod is frequently under more stress during casting than when fighting fish. If this force becomes focused on a specific spot by a loose ferrule, even the heaviest of rods can snap. You will likely not feel any difference in the rod when a ferrule is loose, so check them often, especially after transporting them.

High Sticking

High sticking is the most common reason rods are broken when fighting or landing fish. Not to be confused with the high sticking nymphing technique, high sticking when fighting fish refers to the angler applying an un-natural bend to the rod, over-stressing some part of the blank. This usually happens when landing a fish and results when the rod is lifted up, rather than back. The rod will often break in two places. Once in the tip or tip mid, and a second time farther down the rod as the pressure is unevenly released.

Supporting the rod

_DSF2158-EditAnother very common way for rods to break while fighting fish is when the angler uses a second hand to support the rod during the fight. It seems like a good idea to put a little extra pressure on the fish by supporting the rod farther up the shaft, but it’s a recipe for disaster. By taking the bend out of the butt section of the rod, you are forcing the stress farther up the blank, where it is not as strong.

Keep your hands on the cork during the fight and you’ll be fine. If your rod hand is getting tired or you just need a little extra leverage, try pressing down on the top of the reel seat or fighting butt. You’ll get just as much relief, while keeping your rod properly flexed.

Sudden Shocks

Fly rods are designed to be loaded smoothly. Sudden shocks can cause the delicate tips to shatter. This can easily happen when your fly catches something, like a tree or guide, in your backcast. I’ve also seen anglers do it willfully, trying to snatch a fly out of a tree. Never use your rod to clear a snag. Point the rod at the snag and pull the line.


This is really obvious, but rods break when they get whacked against things. Boats, trees, other fly rods, pretty much anything hard will do it. They are especially sensitive to being poked tip-wise into immovable objects. Be careful walking with your rod pointed forward. These kinds of breaks often happen while anglers are using the tip of the rod to dislodge a snagged fly. The sudden shift of a boat or loss of footing can invite disaster. Always expect the worst. Because these are physical traumas, the rod my not break right away, but later when casting or fighting fish.


Know your rod

While I do not know of any fly rod on the market, which I would say is poorly designed or manufactured making it more likely to break, certain types of rods are inherently stronger than others. Fiberglass rods, for example, are much stronger than graphite rods. Most graphite rods have some fiberglass in them to make them stronger. This strength, however, comes at a price.

Fiberglass is a heavier material than graphite. The more fiberglass in a rod blank, the slower the action will be. Many of today’s high performance, fast action rods have little to no fiberglass in their construction. This does not mean these rods are weak, but they are more prone to breaking when mishandled.

If you have been fishing the same fly rod for ten years and decided to upgrade to a new hot stick, you may have experienced this. A good friend of mine went through the same thing. He replaced an old Orvis rod with a brand new Helios-2, 7’ 9” 5wt. He broke two of them in short order. Is the Helios-2 a bad rod?

Hell no! It’s one of my favorites. I have four of them ranging from 4wt-11wt, and I fish them hard with no problems. I have learned from years of saltwater fly fishing for species like tarpon, how to use a fly rod under the most stressful circumstances. My buddy, who I love dearly and I’m sure is reading this, has a bad habit of high sticking fish, and he catches a lot of big fish. These days he’s much happier fishing a Superfine Glass rod. It’s the perfect tool for the way he fishes.

I hope this helps you keep your favorite fly rod in service for many years to come. When the worst happens, don’t cry. There’s a new love for you, right around the corner.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “How Fly Rods, And Hearts, Break

  1. Sure, it’s the anglers fault 99.999% of the time. No argument there. I think people’s disappointment comes from spending a lot of money on something that seems to not be designed in such a way that it can’t handle what it’s meant for. If I walk into a golf shop and ask for the best driver around for hitting the long ball, they’ll sell me some expensive club, I will use it, and 99% of the time it won’t break. If I walk into a fly shop and say I’m throwing heavy ass streamers (or nymphs) and want the best rod, you will probably be sold a Sage X, Winston B3 something, etc, which i would say is pretty likely to break at some point using it for that type of fishing unless your a laser focused Jedi who never fatigues casting that stuff.. I guess one would expect a $900 piece of equipment “designed” for a task to not break using it for said task.

    • Like Louis said, I bet 99.9% of fly rods aren’t ‘likely’ to break if you handle them correctly. Most of the guys breaking their expensive rods do so because they treat them the same as their expensive golf clubs. Most of them would be better served with lower-priced equipment as well and probably wouldn’t notice the difference…

      • I guess this is exactly what I’m saying. Unless you sit in a boat all day, throwing unweighted flies, your rod will probably break at some point. The industry loves to sell everyone on bushwhacking adventures and monster weighted streamers, but thin graphite walls (i.e. Expensive rods) can’t handle that, so people get pissed. It seems ridiculous to drop $1,000 on something that can’t handle a good chunk of what it may be used for.

  2. Also why you should get a rod that you can send in to have fixed rather inexpensively. I was pretty bummed to learn Orvis now charges $60 for replacing a rod. It used to be $35. Still a lot less than buying a new one.

  3. Ha, interesting blog. Just today I took advantage of the Loomis Expedite rod program. I had a late 80’s vintage Loomis IM6 8wt, a favorite rod that has been with me on many wonderful trips to the river for steelhead and salmon. I caught my share of large fish in strong currents and rod strength was never an issue. And, as a result of my sloppy casting, I know that there were several collisions with the rod tip and heavy lead weights. Any way, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the ferule was split so that the rod would not transfer the energy to the line. I am sure this was the result of me not getting the rod together firmly. Anyway, Loomis sent me my new 4 piece rod in a returnable tube, which I needed to use to return my 2 piece. So I called and asked “do I need to find a larger tube”. I was told that since my rod was already broken to break my rod so that it would fit into the shorter tube. I have never set out to intentionally break a rod and it took a lot of stress across my knee to shatter the rod. Even on the tip section. All of this to say, it is hard to break a rod even when you intend to do so. I am convinced more than ever, that rod breakage while fighting fish is an issue that was created by damage before the hook up. They get dinged, they get stepped on, they are used to spear trees and boat bulkheads. As tough as they are, they need to be treated carefully.

  4. I dont target really large fish on a fly rod so my broken rods are not in that category. Mine are almost always broken in transit so I built some inexpensive rod cases out of pvc, end caps and soft foam inserts at each end so the rods fit snugly in the case. I place one piece of foam (both are the outside diameter of the pipe) in one end of the pipe, then glue a rounded pipe cap on permanently. For the other side I glue on the receiver part (female) of a screw on cap, put the rod in, add the other foam protector and then screw in the cap. When I shake the case with the rod in it I cannot feel the rod move around at all. I have more than a dozen of these cases, some are of 4 inch pvc which hold a group of rods elastic banded together for storage.
    As far as the wife breaking my rods, when I built our house I made one good size room for her hobbies and one for mine where my fly tying setup is and where I store all me fishing and camping supplies. So far so good.

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