What We Learned By Testing Seven Spinning Rods

Just how hard, I have often wondered, could I pull on any particular fishing rod without hearing an awful crack and finding myself holding a splintered stick of garbage? Trouble is, learning the answer would mean snapping a rod, so the question always took a backseat to keeping my fishing tools intact. That is, until now.

I recently bought seven major-brand spinning rods for the express purpose of breaking them, just to see what would happen. The results were (ahem) smashing. The tests, along with what I've observed over the years when I've accidentally destroyed some rods, help show how you can avoid breaking your light tackle--including fly rods--in actual fishing situations.

THE RODS

So no fishing rod manufacturer would have a chance to surreptitiously soup up a test version, I picked out my "victims" from retail outlets, paying between $28 and $80 for the kinds of midpriced models most people use most of the time. All were 6 or 6½ feet long and one piece, so I didn't have to deal with ferrule-strength issues. To make the group comparable according to factory specs, I chose medium- to heavy-power rods, the kind commonly used in largemouth bass fishing, rated for lines testing to as much as 17 or 20 pounds.

THE RESULTS

The breaking points of supposedly comparable rods varied widely, from a low of 22.4 pounds to a high of 44.6 pounds. The one rod that I was unable to send to a premature death--a Shakespeare Ugly Stik--carried an incredible 55-pound load without snapping (I ran out of weights at that point and gave up). Notably, strength was not related to suggested retail price; the Ugly Stik was the least expensive fishing rod I tested.

Varied test results aside, these are (or were) all perfectly good fishing rods. For one thing, any monofilament line commonly used with any of them would break long before the rod did, and it's even more likely that the hooks would either straighten out or pull free from a big fish. And strength isn't the only consideration when you're choosing a rod; other attributes such as overall weight and action are important, too (a broomstick would likely have been stronger than any rod I tested). Mostly, I was surprised by the loads all of these rods could carry. I had expected much less. But I now know the type of stress I can put to bear in certain angling situations, such as fighting a trophy gamefish or hauling back hard to get free of a snag.

WHAT BREAKS A ROD

1. High Sticking Rods are designed so that the lower, larger-diameter section can support severe stresses. If a rod under strain is held too close to vertical, the butt can't bend properly and the force is consequently applied near the middle, which is not as tough. Many rods meet their ends this way, especially high-end fly rods that have thin-walled blanks. When you're pulling hard, always keep the rod at less than 60 degrees above horizontal.

2. Split Shotting Though they seem tough, graphite rods are in some ways very fragile. Accidentally whacking the rod against a boat gunwale or allowing split shot to hit the tip while you're casting can create small fractures in the graphite. Hours or weeks later, when you're hauling in a monster, the rod will likely snap at that old impact point.

3. Superline Spooling Sometimes, fine-diameter superlines (gel-spun polyethylene) are stronger than the rods they're paired with. Fifty-pound-test superbraid on a medium-heavy spinning rod is one example. Unless your reel's drag is set to slip slightly on a hard strike--thereby providing a protective cushion--there's a fair chance your rod will wind up in pieces.

4. High-Handing Sliding your hand up the rod to gain more leverage in a fish fight allows you to exert more force, but you're also preventing the butt from bending the way it's supposed to. Chances are the rod will snap in the middle in this situation.

CABELA'S FISH EAGLE II

SHAKESPEARE UGLY STIK

BROWNING MEDALLION GT

BASS PRO BIONIC BLADE

SHIMANO CLARUS

FALCON

BERKLEY LIGHTNING ROD PROLITE

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

|||||||| |---|---|---|---|---|---|---| | ROD TESTED| MODEL| PRICE| LENGTH (ft.)| LURE RATING (oz.)| LINE RATING (lb.-test)| BREAK STRENGTH (lb. deadlifted)| | Shakespeare Ugly Stik| SPL1100| $28| 6| ¼ - ¾| 8 - 20| 55 (unbroken)| | Shimano Clarus| CSS66MH| $60| 6½| ¼ - ¾| 8 - 17| 44.6| | Browning Medallion GT| MD66MHS| $50| 6½| ¼ - 5/8| 6 - 17| 39.5| | Bass Pro Bionic Blade| BNC60MHS| $60| 6| ¼ - 5/8| 6 - 17| 31.7| | Cabela's Fish Eagle II| GS665| $80| 6½| 3/8 - 1| 8 - 20| 30.6| | Berkley Lightning Rod ProLite| LPLS601MH| $50| 6| ¼ - 1| 8 - 17| 23.1| | Falcon| FS-5-166| $70| 6½| ¼ - 5/8| 10 - 17| 22.4| THE TEST: WHAT IT TAKES TO SNAP A ROD

I built a fixture to clamp the rod grips rigidly at a 45-degree angle above horizontal. This is about the same angle at which I'd hold a rod to fight a big fish. I strung each rod with parachute cord, tying one end off at the reel seat, and the other to a bucket a few inches from the rod tip.

By my side I had a pile of assorted lead ingots (for molding sinkers and jigs), and I dropped them in the bucket, one at a time, putting a bend in the rod that grew deeper with every step. Adding each weight was like tickling a dragon's tail, and I found myself wincing until, finally, KA-POW!--the butt would snap. This was great fun. It was also dangerous, so don't try it at home. Then I weighed the bucket and its contents to determine what weight caused the rod to break. --JOHN MERWIN

• FOR NOTES ON THE SEVEN RODS TESTED, GO TO FIELDANDSTREAM.COM/RODBREAK