Have you ever broken a rod on a fish? If you have, you’re in good company. A lot of anglers have snapped a rod or two. While a few of them were the victims of damaged goods — rods can have weak points caused by manufacturing processes or develop them through rough handling — most broken rods are the result of simply asking the rod to bend in a way that it can’t.
Many of you will remember the old Ugly Stik ads that showed a rod bent around until the tip almost touched the butt. The idea conveyed was that the rods were unbreakable. Guess what? They’re not. No rod is. Even the an Ugly Stik can be broken through poor rod handling, and the best way to break one is called high-sticking.
High-sticking usually happens when the catch is almost landed. The angler gets excited, tries to pull up the fish, and — snap! — there goes the tip of the rod. Most rods broken this way lose the first foot or so of the tip, but the rod can break anywhere between three inches and three feet down.
Why does it happen? Fishing rods are made to be bent. A rod that can’t survive the strain of bending would never make it out of the development stage. But that bending must be done in a way that distributes the load through the whole length of the rod.
Think of the rod as a lever. All levers are meant to pivot around a fulcrum or balance point. On a teeter-totter, the fulcrum is the frame in the middle. On a fishing rod, the fulcrum is you. When you’re pulling on a big fish and you put the butt of the rod into a fighting belt or against your thigh, that point of contact between you and the rod is the fulcrum. No fulcrum, no lever, no pulling in fish with the rod. You might as well fish with a reel that isn’t attached to anything.
Last weekend, a friend of mine broke a rod while fighting a big snook. He was trying to get more leverage on the fish, so he took his rod-holding hand off the butt and grabbed the rod near the bottom guide. Bet you can figure out what happened. The rod cracked in half almost instantly. Why? Because he moved the fulcrum from where it was supposed to be to the midpoint of the rod. All the strain that was being distributed along the rod’s length was suddenly applied to just the tip section. Of course it broke.
High-sticking works the same way, except you don’t have to grab the rod too high to break it. Instead, you change the angle between the rod and the fish. Generally speaking, you want your fish and your rod to be at an angle of 90 to 180 degrees. If the fish is way out away from you, you can point the rod pretty much straight up (that’s 90 degrees, relative to the fish) and fight it. As the fish gets closer, you need to lower the rod angle. Most of the time, we do that pretty much instinctively.
But it breaks down when the fish gets closer — like, right next to the boat close. When the fish is more or less at your feet, your rod needs to be held horizontally. Again, think of a 90-degree angle between the rod and the fish. If you let your excitement get to you, it’s very easy to keep right on fighting that fish like it’s 50 yards out, with the rodtip up high (hence the term “high-sticking”). Even if you’re doing it right, some fish have a tendency to make a last-minute run. It’s easy to overreact when they do.
Not so many years back, when there were still snook tournaments held on the Harbor, some of the more serious competitors would make their own custom snook rods by taking a 7-foot medium-heavy rod, breaking off the top 12 inches or so, and then gluing a new tip-top on the busted end. The result is a rod that is easy to fish but handles a far heavier load than it originally did, since the fragile tip section is gone.
Rods aren’t usually made this way because the tip is also where much of a rod’s sensitivity and castability are. However, if you’ve high-sticked a rod, there’s no reattaching the broken piece. Might as well re-tip it and keep fishing. At least it’s a lot less likely to break again.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.