The Broken Fly Rod Blues...and How to Fix Them
Broken fly rods are a fact of life, and sooner or later, everyone gets to enjoy the experience of having one of their prized possessions journey to the other side. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for the rod, either. Over 30 years of fly fishing, I’ve owned and used a number of fly rods, everything from St. Croix to Quarrow to G. Loomis to Orvis to TFO (Temple Fork Outfitters), and I can tell you that no brand is invincible, no model immune.
This year, on consecutive outings, I broke my two favorite fly rods, an Orvis Clearwater and a TFO Drift Rod. The Orvis may have been my fault. I’d caught a dozen or so trout before snagging a twig on the stream bottom, and instead of freeing the snag by pulling on the line, I decided to try and hoist the small branch up out of the water and onto the bank. Bad idea. A clean break about two-thirds of the way down the top section. Fortunately, I had my TFO in the truck that evening, and caught another 25 or so trout before dark, which helped ease the pain of the broken rod.
A couple days later, I met a buddy on a nearby Class A stream. With my TFO in hand, I felt confident we were in for a good day. Well, ten minutes into the outing, I walked up on a pool, unhitched my fly from the guide and pulled on it to clear the leader from the rod tip, something I’d done literally thousands of times in the past. This time, there was that knuckle cracking sound again, and the broken tip of the TFO slid down the length of the leader all the way to my hand.
On this trip, I had no spare rod in the truck, so I was relegated to observer, which I really didn’t mind. We had a good day and my friend caught several very nice trout, including a 17-inch wild brown.
Repairs and Replacements
Nowadays, it feels like broken rods are no big deal. Companies have made it easier than ever to get back on the water in a reasonable amount of time. Standardization of parts has made a huge difference. Whereas you used to have to send in the whole rod for repair, many companies now have replacement sections in stock and will send just what you need. That’s a huge convenience and time saver, not to mention it’s usually cheaper than shipping the rod.
Fortunately, Orvis and TFO are both companies that offer replacement parts. I was able to order the tip sections for both rods from their respective companies for $60.00 each.
I’ve always been a fan of Orvis’s customer service, and their 5-day guarantee is the perfect example why. Basically, their goal is to get you back on the water within 5 days of ordering the replacement section. Sure enough, I ordered the replacement on Sunday, March 26th and had it in hand and was fishing with the Clearwater again the evening of Thursday, March 30th.
While I’ll never knock TFO for the quality of their products, their service was slower. I ordered the replacements section for the Drift Rod within minutes of placing the order with Orvis on the 26th, and the section did not arrive until two weeks later, on April 8th. Granted, this is still much better than the 4-6 week turnaround time of the past, when you had to send in the whole rod for repair.
(Photo: The replacement tip from Orvis had me back on the water in no time!)
How Rods Break
When I got home after breaking the TFO, I laid the broken tips of both rods on my desk. Each of them had snapped in approximately the same spot, two-thirds of the way down from the tip. The Orvis showed some slight splintering whereas the TFO was a crisp break. When I called Orvis and spoke to one of their service guys, he said that was a common location for the rod to break because the fly, split shot, or even the strike indicator can nick the graphite during the false cast, and many people don’t even realize they caused any damage until hours or days or weeks later when the rod simply snaps.
I also asked him if fishing in extreme cold might somehow made the graphite brittle. The Clearwater as well as the TFO broke in temperatures in the 20s. The service technician said extreme cold should not have an impact on the graphite.
Of course, it occurred to me that the common denominator in both broken rods was me! And in all fairness, I beat up my gear more than most fishermen. They’re always in my truck, in or out of their protective cases, in extreme cold and extreme heat.
Sometimes, it amazes me that I don’t break rods more often. However, I do feel like my habits make me a good test monkey for products. If they can withstand my negligence, I’m pretty sure they will last a lifetime with someone else.
Do Warranties Matter?
I often read articles about the warranties of certain rod manufacturers. Companies are all over the map of what they’ll cover or not cover, and you’re always subject to their discretion of whether they deem the damage a product of user error or manufacturer defect. I’d like to see them get away from the “blame game” and adopt the no-questions-asked policies that Orvis and TFO have. Also, I'm not a fan of the non-transferrable clause stating that the warranty is only available to the original owner of the rod. This reduces the resale value of the rod, if ever you should choose to part ways with it. The warranty should follow the rod even if it changes hands, or have a time limit such as Orvis's 25-year guarantee.
If you’d like to read a company-by-company breakdown of rod warranties, here’s a pretty good article I found on sippingmayflies.com. It was posted in 2021 and several companies listed have since changed policies, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect if your favorite rod should ever bite the dust, so to speak.
Personally, I don’t make my rod-buying decisions based on manufacturer warranty, mainly because once you get above a certain price point (usually a couple hundred dollars), the warranties are pretty similar from one company to another. You can purchase replacement sections or get a rod repaired for a fraction of the purchase price of a new rod, and that’s good enough for me.
Three final thoughts concerning broken rods and repairs. First, it’s a reminder to invest in quality. When you buy quality products from quality companies, you can rest assured that you’ll be back on the water with limited hassle in a reasonable amount of time.
Second, broken rods happen, and no matter how much it costs, no brand or model is invincible.
And third, you can never have enough fly rods! Having a spare fly rod in the vehicle at all times will ensure that a broken tip won’t ruin your day. But more than that, it’s important to have a back up for your back up. And a back up for the back up of your back up, and…
Well, you get the picture.
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