Based upon my observations I believe very few flycasters have ever loaded their fly rods with measured weights so that they would know how much torque may be applied to the rod grip without breaking the leader. If you have never had the experience you probably will be shocked by the force (torque) required on the grip to produce five pounds of pull on a fish (or even one pound for that matter). Assuming that a maximum rod arc of 90° is maintained, the mechanical advantage for the fish ranges from about 12:1 down to about 3:1 depending upon the load (which determines the amount of bend) and the position of your hand on the rod relative to the butt.

Although I had practiced lifting up to 5 lbs many times, to get the feel before going on a "big game" trip, I never quantified the force I felt. When I started this article, I decided to measure the torque so that I could properly relate the feeling to the readers.

Three 9 ft medium fast action rods were used, a #6, #9 and #12, so that the effect of rod stiffness would be known. To provide the "weights", a one gallon plastic water jug was used along with a one pint container. Water was added one pint at a time to the one gallon jug, thus increasing the weight in one pound increments. The fly line was connected to the jug by means of a short piece of wire with a hook bent on one end to allow easy connection to the line. An elevated platform was used because the weight must be lifted with out bending the rod in excess of a 90° arc.

You must remember that the tip sections of Graphite rode are designed to propel the line properly and the butt section to handle large loads. When you hear the stories about a rod "blowing up" it is usually because the fish was played on the tip by allowing the rod arc to exceed 90°, thus producing a loading for which it was not designed. So, if you are going to practice "Lifting Weights", you must stand on a platform at least 3 ft high. A ladder can be used to provide the required elevation.

A spring scale was used as a fulcrum at the forward end of the grip to record the torque. The rods were positioned so that a 90° arc resulted for each load. Obviously, the less the arc the closer you come to a straight pull and, although the torque required to hold the fish is reduced, the buffering action of the bent rod for surges is lost.

An unexpected result was that all three of the rods required essentially the same torque for the same load. It was determined that the reason for this was the increase in the length of the grip and the addition of fighting butts on the nine and twelve weight rods such that the grip to butt length increased with each rod.

The torques versus loads were:

  11.5 lbs to lift 1 lb   (11.5:1)

  17 lbs to lift 2 lbs    (8.5 :1)

  27 lbs to lift 4 lbs    (6.75:1)

  33 lbs to lift 5 lbs    (6.6 :1)

As you can see, if you haven't had this experience, you might think you were really hauling on a fish when, in fact, you were only toying with it.

Because the leaders we use test at 20 lbs or less and some allowance must be made for the surges of the fish (a three to one ratio is usually a good practice), we must realize that even big game fish weighing hundreds of pounds must be brought in with an average line pull of about 5 lbs, which translates to a grip torque of about 33 lbs. Now think of the forces that are produced (and the potential for bruises) when a fish surges and creates a pull of 12 lbs - that would correspond to at least 60 lbs at the grip and butt (ouch!). Even on trout, where tippets may break at 2 lbs, a half pound pull requires about 7 lbs of torque.

On big game rods, like the twelve weight I used for the test, there is usually a forward grip available to reduce the fishes advantage. When this grip is used the force required is reduced by about 1/2, making the job of hauling in a "big one" more tolerable.

The stories we hear about "being spooled" are usually told by people who haven't "Lifted Weights". If the line system and allowances for knots exceeds the break strength of the "class section" of the leader there should be no excuse for allowing a fish to "take everything". In the worst case the fish, if it can't be stopped, can simply be broken off - the only loss is fly and leader. Usually, if maximum force is applied, and maintained, immediately after the first run and the fish is kept off balance by steering it left or right of its intended route, the contest can be won without threatening the supply of backing.

Like anything else in this "art form" practice improves performance. "Lifting Weights" will improve your catch and reduce your losses - try it.

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© 1993, Bill Nash