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Thread: Fly rod survival in Alaska: why rods break, production values, heavy beaded flies...

  1. #1
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Fly rod survival in Alaska: why rods break, production values, heavy beaded flies...

    "Why do you think fly rods break?" [don't answer that]. Ask that question and you'll get many answers -some along the lines of "crappy rod" or "it's the manufacturers fault, they're ripping us off".
    Well, maybe... they could be right. But what would the manufacturers say?

    Four manufacturers have contributed over several years to the small fly rod collection in my garage – used by our family and occasional guests. Recently, I contacted one of the rodmakers, mainly out of curiosity, raising some questions about rod breakage, changing production standards, etc. When I heard back, the response was a nice long letter about my questions – and some insights about rods they see returned from Alaska. I appreciated his response. I don’t know that it’s so important which company it was – there were common truths in his comments. Here’s some of what was included:


    [Quote]: There are two truths in fishing; all rods break and all waders leak.


    Of all of the rods that are broken (including our competitors) 99% of them are caused by angler error. High sticking, lead eyes, car doors and tailgates are the most likely candidates. Breaks caused by lead eyes or high sticking are always subject to scrutiny...slamming the tip in the tailgate is obvious.

    Lead eyes breaks may not be apparent at the moment the collision occurs, but if any of the fibers are damaged, it is only a matter of time before the rod fails. The higher the modulus count (back to hyperbole) the more susceptible a rod is to an impact break as it takes less material to achieve a desired stiffness.

    High sticking breaks are a simple matter of physics. Carbon fiber has a 3 to 1 stretch vs. compression ratio (give or take but 3/1 is close enough), on the contrary, fiberglass (think ugly stick) is almost 1 to 1. When a carbon fiber tube is bent past the materials capabilities the bottom part of the bend collapses into itself...The radical taper on [our best] rods creates a longer stiffer butt section, which shortens the arc in the upper third of the rod. Longer less aggressive tapers are not as susceptible as the rod can be shaped into a longer smoother arc.

    Once a rod/series is approved for production, there are no changes made in the materials and/or our manufacturing process for lifetime of that rod/series...consistency is paramount. We also keep very close tabs on rods returned for warranty work (as do our competitors), less than 1% of our total rods in the market are sent in for repair on the annual basis. I would also venture a guess that's pretty much the industry standard.

    PS: Alaska is very tough on rods...most are high sticking breaks...LOL [End Quote]


    Interesting insights there and I appreciated the response. My comments:

    I've caught myself high sticking. Not often - but enough that when I'm into a good fish - I focus on NOT high sticking. I've seen experienced friends high stick - and one, an excellent fly fisherman, broke his rod tip, also landing the fish.

    I use an elliptical cast to minimize dings on my graphite rods, mainly because I use heavy flies, many of them with lead eyes or bead heads. I never want to my rods to fail on a good fish and the technique prevents many rod collisions, plus tangles and whacks on the back of the head - all quite common especially when we're learning in Alaska.

    Stiffer, high performance rods might be more susceptible to breakage. Might be a non-issue in experienced hands.

    Expensive rods tend to be owned by more experienced fly casters. One reason they might break less is angler technique - PLUS great incentive to not abuse those spendy carbon fibers!

    Just sharing some comments from someone in the business. Still quite a few variables/unknowns when someone describes failure of a piece of gear. When it's friends who praise or criticize gear, fly rods or otherwise, we have some perspective on their comments because we know them and how careful they are about forming conclusions and opinions. It's harder to weigh comments from those we know less well, it seems to me. What does seem reasonable to me is that rods do break. When they do, sorting out why they broke can be tough - good rods have built-in vulnerabilities. High performance rods even moreso. And if it was something I did -well, I might not even recall because I was just trying to work that whole gravel bar stretch before it got too dark to fish!

    (Which is tough to do actually. If you can cast, it turns out fish can see your fly. Steelhead anyway!)

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    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Interesting post Dwight. Thanks for sharing.
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

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    ok I have to ask, what is an elliptical cast? Belgian?

    I'm sending back a couple of baitcasters...have to send one for refitting, (a friend broke tip off), both rods had stripping guides pop their inserts, both identical rods. for a new tip and 2 re wrapped guides 60 bucks aint to bad. 40 for the new tip, 20 for shipping, stripping guides are free supposidly. It'll be the first time I've used a warrenty (stripping guides). will post back.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TradBow View Post
    ok I have to ask, what is an elliptical cast? Belgian?
    Yep. Belgian cast (http://www.sexyloops.com/flycasting/tbelgian.shtml) is right, a better term. Thanks, TradBow.
    I don't use dropper loops, and vary the pickup/back cast (left, right, overhead) at times - haven't noticed a problem with line twist, but do spend far less time whacking the rod with beadhead, or lead-eye leeches (or the back of my head), or tangles.

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    I have done a bit of fishing in my life, but what are you referring to with "high sticking"? I am sure I have done it and seen it done, but the nomenclature may be different.

    Also very interesting on the breakage part. I have noticed in my research into my next rod purchase some brands coming up with more breakage issues--maybe more of these rods out there in peoples hands? Or in less experienced hands, leading to more breaks? Any thoughts on that?

  6. #6

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    About 80 percent of the high modulus rods I've seen broken did so while landing fish. Guys reach up above the grip, then pull the rod back behind them and pull. If your rod butt gets in front of the tip, you'll break the rod the next time the fish flips.

    Snagged humpies have broken more rods this way than any other single source I've seen. Guys get frustrated and drag them partway onshore, then the fish takes off as they step forward to unhook them. Yup, the butt gets in front of the tip as they step forward, and it's replacement time.

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    Broke a 7 wt rod on a Humpy doing almost this exact thing. The fish wasn't snagged, though. I set the rod butt down on the bank and reached down to pick up the humpy and high sticked it. The fish flopped and the tip just couldn't take it.


    All of the rods I have broken, but one was due to high sticking. I fished in the lower 48 all my life and have never broken a rod fishing and as you know we high stick the he!! out of our rods when using spinning or casting rods fishing for bass. I chalk it up to inexperience. I used conventional gear the first year I fished in AK, but wanted to switch to fly gear and found out the hard way I couldn't set the hook the same way and couldn't fight the fish the same way. I didn't have a fly fishing mentor and had to find out for myself that you don't raise a fly rod over 45 degrees since all the power is in the butt of the rod. Oh well. At least I had rods with a warranty.

    Only other rod I broke, was on a red. It jumped and spit the hook out. I had on a rubber core lead sinker and it came flying back and hit the rod tip and broke it clean off. Hook wizzed by my ear. Reinforced the need for good glasses on the river for me.
    Quote Originally Posted by BrownBear View Post
    About 80 percent of the high modulus rods I've seen broken did so while landing fish. Guys reach up above the grip, then pull the rod back behind them and pull. If your rod butt gets in front of the tip, you'll break the rod the next time the fish flips.

    Snagged humpies have broken more rods this way than any other single source I've seen. Guys get frustrated and drag them partway onshore, then the fish takes off as they step forward to unhook them. Yup, the butt gets in front of the tip as they step forward, and it's replacement time.

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    I think in many cases people dont bring enough rod with them. When fishing Reds on the Kenai it takes a tough rod to take the ABUSE. I had a guy laugh at me for using an Ugly Stik Fly rod. I got a laugh when his 780.00 8wt rod broke on a fish that took off for Adak like a rocket. We had netted each other fish and were having a great time. I gave him my spare Ugly to use as i felt so bad for him. i knew he was running short of funds and did not want to go buy a new rod. He was from the lower 48 and a great guy just not used to what a Red can do to a rod. i told him i was going to take a break for a bit and for him to keep fishing. I got to the lot and took off my waders and loaded up and left. I know he had 5 more days to fish and i had 20.00 in the rod. You cant underestimate the difference between fishing calm water, ie the ocean and lake and swift current with a fish on that is prepared to swim up miles of rapids. You also have sinkers hitting the rod when you loose a fish and who knows what else. Bring enough rod to the fight. There is not much finesse to fishing Water like the Kenai for salmon.

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    They don't call them "Ugly" by accident. I had one. I tripped on my way up a bank and walked all over it. I must have stomped on it 4-5 times. Any other high dollar rod would have broken in multiple pieces. The "Big Ugly" took it and is still catching fish. I gave it to a friend so he could get started in fly fishing. Hate to say it, but I miss that rod. It's heavy and not as nice as my other rods, but it is definitely built for fishing in AK.

    Quote Originally Posted by kgpcr View Post
    I think in many cases people dont bring enough rod with them. When fishing Reds on the Kenai it takes a tough rod to take the ABUSE. I had a guy laugh at me for using an Ugly Stik Fly rod. I got a laugh when his 780.00 8wt rod broke on a fish that took off for Adak like a rocket. We had netted each other fish and were having a great time. I gave him my spare Ugly to use as i felt so bad for him. i knew he was running short of funds and did not want to go buy a new rod. He was from the lower 48 and a great guy just not used to what a Red can do to a rod. i told him i was going to take a break for a bit and for him to keep fishing. I got to the lot and took off my waders and loaded up and left. I know he had 5 more days to fish and i had 20.00 in the rod. You cant underestimate the difference between fishing calm water, ie the ocean and lake and swift current with a fish on that is prepared to swim up miles of rapids. You also have sinkers hitting the rod when you loose a fish and who knows what else. Bring enough rod to the fight. There is not much finesse to fishing Water like the Kenai for salmon.

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    I have broken 3 flyrods in my life (my wife 1, but shes new), 2 of the rods that I broke poped on the first heavy backcast when I hauled the line (no fish and no beadheads or splitshot). Both instances were just that the rods had defects and the third instance was highsticking, oops. I have had no issues with my higher dollar rods, I think a lot of that has to do with better materials and quality control. Interesting perspective though.
    Fish when you can, work when you have to.

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    Quote Originally Posted by toby.davis1 View Post
    I have done a bit of fishing in my life, but what are you referring to with "high sticking"? I am sure I have done it and seen it done, but the nomenclature may be different.

    Also very interesting on the breakage part. I have noticed in my research into my next rod purchase some brands coming up with more breakage issues--maybe more of these rods out there in peoples hands? Or in less experienced hands, leading to more breaks? Any thoughts on that?
    Your questions make sense to me. In fact, I have the same trouble knowing what to make when someone tells me a rod broke (or gun doesn't shoot well, etc) if I haven't fished with them. It's alarming to hear that certain rods are failing, but hard to know if the failures are a high or low percentage of rods sold. It also occurred to me that maybe those $700 Sage rods don't break often because: A). Those buyers usually have a LOT of experience and B). Fishing a $700 rod would likely sharpen my focus somewhat. I suppose in any purchase there's some risk.

    And "high sticking": from Field & Stream.com http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/...high-sticking:

    Despite all that, I’d say most rods get broken by what’s called “high- sticking.” I think you’ve all seen people yarning back on a rod as they fight a fish so the rod is near vertical and there’s a deep bow in the tip and midsection. Rod butt sections can handle a tremendous amount of lifting force. Tips and mids can’t. If a rod is held too near vertical and with a heavy load, it’s apt to snap somewhere in the upper half of its length--often near the uppermost ferrule in the case of a 4-piece fly rod. Hold the rod low during a battle--not more then about 60 degrees above horizontal--and fight the fish with the rod butt.

    Good luck in your research and gettin out there this Fall, Toby.
    Think Trout.

  12. #12

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    For me, breakage/failure is definitely rod-quality related:


    The high end $700 Sage (and other top model) rods can usually depended on not to snap like a toothpick when somewhat overloaded, have cork fall apart or come loose, guides come apart, and if it does - it is at a much lower frequency than the cheapos. The same can't be said for the cheapos. In fact, I can say that I've never sent in a topend rod for warranty repair due to a fishing-related failure (other than strike damage from a wted fly, and that was once in a lifetime, and the rod still fished). I find myself sending in cheapos annually - and it would be more if I used them more often. I have quite alot of confidence in the durability of good rods - and not much for the others. At all.

    And then, there's the performance of the rod itself. And the weight. The cork, the guides of top rods are better than the cheapos.

    You pay more, you get more. Doesn't mean a $149 TFO or other economy rod won't fish, or is necessarily delicate. It fishes fine and usually lasts a season or two - and then something can go funky. Whether it's worth paying 4X as much is a personal decision.

    It isn't just the blank finish.

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