A good friend and longtime reader of our blog got in touch this week with a question. We’re paraphrasing, but it was basically…
“I keep reading on your blog that you should keep your rod tip low when you fight fish. I’ve always been told to keep my rod tip high when I fight fish. What’s the deal?”
We’ll do our best to answer today!
Rod Tip Height
First, let’s be clear about what we mean by the height of the rod tip. Imagine that there’s a fish directly in front of you. If you’re holding your rod perfectly vertical, that’s the highest your rod tip could be. If you now point the rod directly at the fish, that’s the lowest your rod tip could be. Today all we’re talking about is different positions of the rod along that plane. We’re not talking at all about the side pressure that can be created by lowering your rod to the left or right – side pressure is a topic for another day.
High Rod Tip
When your rod tip is high, pressure on the fish tends to bend the tip section of the rod – the tip is softer so it’s going to bend first. This absorbs a lot of the shock of the fight – if the fish pulls or shakes its head, the tip bends quickly and easily, smoothing things out.
This is exactly what you want when you’re fishing smaller flies and/or lighter tippets. The shock absorption of the tip can keep your tippet from breaking (hence the statement that rods with softer tips can ‘protect light tippets’). Smoothing out the pull can also help prevent smaller hooks from bending and/or pulling out of the fish. With lighter tippets and smaller hooks, a high rod tip helps the tip absorb the shock of the fight.
Low Rod Tip
When you’re fighting bigger and/or stronger fish with bigger flies and heavier tippets, a high rod tip will also help absorb the shock of the fight – but now this can be a bad thing! With bigger fish you need to pull harder on them to land them, and if your rod tip is high a bunch of the work that you’re doing to pull on the fish is absorbed by the tip of the rod.
As you lower your rod tip towards the fish, the rod bends further down towards the butt – that’s just how the geometry of the situation plays out. The butt section is much stronger, so much more of the force that you’re exerting on the rod gets transferred to the fish. Again in this situation we’re talking bigger fish, bigger flies and heaver tippets – we want to pull harder on the fish, and the problem of pulling the hook or breaking the tippet just isn’t as much of an issue.
Prove It To Yourself
Here’s an eye-opening little exercise you can do with a buddy to show the impact of your rod angle on the pressure exerted on the fish. We’ve explained a similar idea in a past post on how to set the hook on a bonefish.
- String up a rod with a line and a leader but no fly.
- Grab onto the end of the leader and wrap it around your hand if you like.
- Have a buddy grab the rod, keeping the handle vertical, and walk away from you until the tip starts to bend. Feel the pressure on the line – it’ll be light and smooth.
- Now have your buddy lower the rod tip towards you, maintaining the same pressure on the rod, but taking a few steps back to maintain to tension on the line.
What you’ll find is that with the rod tip low, even when your buddy swears she’s not pulling any harder, you’ll feel much more pressure on the line. That’s because the strong butt section of the rod is now loaded. This is bad if you’re trying not to break 7x tippet, but good if you’re trying to land a king salmon.
There you have it! Thanks for the great question, Ric. And for all our readers out there, if we can answer any questions for you please don’t hesitate to comment on this post – questions like this one make excellent ‘blog fodder’.