How to Repair Your Fly Rod
Fly Fishing Expert Robert Levin walks through four types of common rod repairs so you can keep your fly rod performing as long as possible.
If you are a seasoned veteran of the fly-fishing club and have never experienced the depressing sound of a rod tip snapping, consider yourself very lucky. This happens more often than you might think and not necessarily from neglect. Whether from an unruly car door when moving to a new spot quickly or a stuck fly in a tree limb above you, it happens to the best of us. For those of us with a rod that has a lifetime warranty, not a major problem. For others, this can be an expensive repair. You can often check online with the serial number at the manufacturer's website. Too often the rod is put away until this can be done and does not see a stream again for years. Lots of rods are doing that. Consider your option of doing a repair to the tip of your rod yourself even if it will be temporary. Often the rod can work fine with a new tip. It may not look good but it will cast and catch fish.
Type of Replacements
Replacing the Tip
Let’s go over a repair of this kind first. If only a short section of the tip broke off, you may be able to put on a larger tip top and use the rod. Tip tops come in graduated sizes, keep an extra one or two in one of your fly boxes or vest pockets. They take up no room or add any noticeable weight to your outfit. Size them six inches down from the tip and a foot down. If you are away from home and don’t have a spare rod with you, this can save the day. Most tip tops are put on with a type of hot glue so they can be changed easily if damaged. A small stick of this is available here. Put the spare tip tops in the little bag this comes in.
Replacing a Guide
Another common repair required is replacing a missing or broken guide. If it is only one guide that got damaged in some way, just remove it before using the rod. You don’t want the guide to snag the line and damage it. Replacing that guide with a new one should be done at home. In the field to remove the guide, don’t scrape the finish off the wraps with a knife or razor blade, you will damage the blank. Carefully cut through the thread on top of the foot at the center of the guide. Expose an end of the thread and wind the thread off with a pair of pliers. It is a simple procedure. If there are two feet mounting the guide repeats the same on the other foot. See the image below. The gathering guide will often have two feet. Don’t worry about the finish residue for now. You will remove that when you replace the guide. The workmanship is not critical here. You can use the rod with the guide missing now.
When you are ready to put on a new guide you will need to remove the finish residue off the blank. Use a hair dryer to soften up the residue then scrape with a plastic tool of some kind. Try the sharp edge of a plastic ballpoint pen cap.
You can use some denatured alcohol to help, but don’t use any paint thinner or paint remover. It will most likely damage the blank. Try not to use any sandpaper, even very fine grit paper like 400. You will remove the blank finish. The epoxy thread finish will come off it may take a bit of work. Find a replacement guide at a rod building supply company (see the Glossary at the end of this article). You should have no problem matching the damaged guide. The thread color will take a bit of testing. You can get close with the variety of colors available in the marketplace.
Replacing the Tip Section
Let's say if a tip section on a 4-weight fly rod of moderate cost has broken, you may want to try and replace the whole section. If the rod is not that old the manufacturer may have a replacement available. If it is, it will include the guides and tip top and you won’t have any wrapping to do. They may have a blank rod section available to for you to put guides on and finish. This should be your second choice. You will need to place new guides and finish them to do a completed repair but the built-in ferule will match and this connection will save you a lot of work. You can also check eBay listings. Someone may have broken or damaged a different part of their same rod. You can often buy that rod with defects for parts or sell them your good rod pieces and replace your rod.
It is assumed that if you are repairing a high-end, quality fly rod you will use only a manufacturer’s exact replacement blank section or complete finished tip section if available. If neither of these things is an option and you are repairing a moderately priced fly rod, you can try to replicate your broken rod tip section.
In order for this approach to be cost-effective, it is in your best interest to check with blank suppliers and see if they have a blemished or chipped blank that has the part you need still in good condition. It should have a similar stiffness.
Take accurate measurements of the broken tip section, the length, diameter at the tip end, and diameter at the butt end. You will need a micrometer or vernier calipers to get an accurate diameter measurement.
If you don’t have access to one of these, visit any local machine shop. The resident machinist will have one within arm’s length or closer and make the reading for you especially if he or she is a fisher person. If not, just say please. In the worst-case scenario, you can buy a caliper for under $5.
Once you have the measurements, now comes the hard part. There are blanks out there of every type and length. Many are offered in multiple colors. You are going to look for as close a match as you can to your broken section. This means you might buy a full blank and just use the portion that matches the dimensions you need with a similar blank construction but not necessarily graphite construction. Attaching that cut-off portion of a new blank to your good three sections below may require you to use brass ferrules which is the way rods were put together for years.
It’s not the perfect solution but you should be able to use the rod again even if you put a fiberglass tip from a fiberglass rod on a graphite rod it should flex properly.
Replacing the Reel Seat
The most difficult repair to make is replacing the reel seat. Fly rods that are not Spey Rods typically will have either of two kinds of reel seat/grip arrangements. Rods up to about line size seven or eight will have a cigar shape, Half Well, or Full Well grip handle, and a down locking reel seat on the end. There will be a butt cap of some sort on the very bottom. On some rods but not many, if you unscrew the butt cap the reel seat will slide off. There will be an alignment pin at the front that engages so the reel seat does not rotate on the rod blank. A reel seat like this can be replaced without too much difficulty. A common arrangement is like the one illustrated in the photo below. The wood insert is hollow and slides onto and is glued to the rod blank with a strong adhesive. It has a groove milled into the wood that aligns the reel foot with the guides on the rod. The threaded-up locking reel clamp is then cemented onto the wood insert. The opening in the clamp is aligned with the groove and the metal butt cap is cemented on.
For rods with this type of reel seat, it is probably not worth the effort to try to replace the whole reel seat unless you have metalworking tools like a lathe. If you have and can find the same type of seat you should be able to replace the threaded locking reel clamp by heating it with a hairdryer till the glue softens. Sometimes the threads are damaged and you can no longer clamp the reel tightly. This would necessitate a repair. Do not attempt reel seat repairs just for cosmetic reasons. This is why they sell reel bag coverings. Larger line size rods eight or nine and above are typically offered with a Fighting Butt. This is an extension of the butt below the reel seat for added leverage when engaged in battle with a big fish (what we all dream of). It adds to the durability because these are on heavier rods with more substantial components, so there are far fewer incidents of reel seat damage.
Taking Care of Your Rod
Obviously, the best practice is to try your best to avoid having to do a repair. Keep your sectional rods in a cloth bag inside a rigid case especially when traveling. During travel time rods take the most abuse. If you are going to transport assembled rods from place to place to save time, consider a roof rack with snap-in holders that support the entire rod. You may find these in local sports shops.
It is assumed that if we are talking about high-end graphite fly rods, you will not attempt any of the DIY repairs discussed above. Of course, this includes bamboo rods. If you want to maintain the value of the rod, repair of the rod should be done by fine craftsmen. If you are a qualified repairman and have the repair skill, by all means, you can take care of your repair needs.
If not, you need to pack up your rod and send it to the manufacturers of these rods repair department. You can also consider someone who makes excellent custom rods. Secure a cardboard box for the shipment. Wrap each section of the rod in thin bubble-wrap rather than just using the cloth bag the rod came in. Use packaging paper around the bubble wrap if the shipping box requires it. You may be able to get an online repair form with the cost of the repair estimate. It should be a reasonable fee. Put a note in the box that you are the original owner. If parts for your rod are unavailable, they may offer you a substitute rod. Take the offer unless sentimentality overrules. There may have been improvements to the original design. Make sure the whole label is showing on the box and not covered by shipping tape. If you are using FedEx in the United States make sure the FedEx label is showing clearly and the entire barcode is showing. This will ensure your rod has a nice trip.
Rod Building Supplies
For supplies, check out sites like Mud Hole, Get Bit Outdoors, Angler’s Workshop, Proof Fly Fishing, The Rod Room, Jann’s Netcraft, Barlow’s Tackle, and Rod Geeks. They should have what you’re looking for. If you still have more questions or need to replace your whole rod, chat with a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated. We’ll be able to get you all ready to fish!