There's nothing more frustrating for a craftsman than seeing a tool used incorrectly. Rod crafters are no different.
Being a rod crafter and an angler gives me a somewhat different perspective on how much abuse a rod should have to endure. I've never been one to beat on my gear but I have no issues putting it to the test every time it's put to use. There are many ways to break a rod but I want to talk about one that is very preventable and very widespread.
There are many influences that play a part in high sticking. The picture above does a great job of explaining the basic facts of high sticking and how to prevent it. What isn’t mentioned is the overall advancements in lines, reel drag, blank construction, and blank action.
You could poll every guy that comes off the water and every one of them will have a different definition of high sticking. Here's my take on the subject. I’ll do my best to keep things informative without getting so technical you choose to move along by the end of the second paragraph.
What is high sticking?
It’s a common term used when an angler puts too much pressure on the rod at too steep of an angle to the point that the blank fails. Rod angle is the most critical part of high sticking. The illustration above is not a know-all, tell-all graph. Many anglers, including myself hold a rod safely at 12 o’clock (90 degrees from the surface of the water) while the bait is still well away from the boat. As the bait gets closer, the tip should drop in a similar relation to the bait. By the time my jig is vertical beneath the boat, my tip is straight out at 9 o’clock (0 degrees or parallel to the water surface).
Even though my rod tip is at 12 o’clock in the beginning, my bait’s distance in relation to my rod tip cuts the angle down considerably. Even more so if the water depth is shallow. Spending time on the water to familiarize yourself with the rod's action and your chosen fishing technique will tell you what’s the proper angle. In short, use the least amount of angle possible to keep the rod loaded but not enough where you find yourself too steep to reach the into the backbone on a hook set. Something has to give. Stay out of the penalty box!
High sticking is a very intense subject in the rod building community. We put our heart into every build and fully know its limit before it leaves the shop. We load the blank the minute it’s received to make sure it wasn’t damaged in shipping. We find the “spine” and mark it so we know what axis the blank wants to bend. The rod is loaded once again for a static test to ensure proper guide placement and full blank potential is achieved. If the blank had a manufacturer defect, it would be caught before the build is complete.
Variables that contribute to high sticking
With the ever-growing advancements in no stretch fishing line such as braid and fluorocarbon, the rod is left to absorb the shock of a sharp hook set or hard running fish. Because line diameter has decreased tremendously, the average line weight has increased as well. Compounding even more is the fact that there is no standard in line testing. Some lines can withstand as much as 50% more than the label on the box. Choose wisely to get the best performance out of your gear. You are out nothing to go to a lighter line and play the fish out. Besides, it’s much more fun!
Because a realistic line rating has been thrown out the window but we still reference the number on the box; we need to regulate ourselves with the drag. Reels have advanced as fast as fishing line. Carbon discs, upgraded gears, synthetic lubricants, titanium and the list goes on. As we get used to fishing with heavier line, we realize that the drag can be tightened a bit as well. What we forget is that there is a line rating that comes with every blank. If that rating is exceeded and the blank fails; is it the blanks fault? Speaking strictly as a builder, anglers need to remember the line poundage they are using and factor in the disproportionate line rating. Be safe and assume the line rating is possibly 50% over the label. Lighten that drag up!
Today’s blanks are amazing. There are many great manufacturers out there. All of them have a lot of money developing their blanks to be lighter, thinner, stronger than one another. It’s a tricky balance to have a rod that can perform exceptional yet take the abuse. The high modulus blanks made today are in a sense, very fragile. Feeling the crisp tick of a Walleye bite or paper mouth of a Crappie comes at a cost. So much as a tackle box tipping over on them or the accidental smack of a jig against the blank on a poor cast can make a 1-piece rod into 2. A score on the blank can result in failure. It may not be evident immediately but eventually that rod will fail under load. Any rod from a builder as well as a big box store has this potential. As long as you treat your rods as delicate as your electronics, it’s a trade-off worth taking!
The inherent nature of slow or moderate action blank helps to withstand high sticking. Both custom and big box store rods can be made almost indestructible. Rods built with these actions are used mostly for trolling, down rigger, fly, panfish, or live bait rigs. The motion of the boat assists the hook set of a trolling and down rigger rod. Panfish, live bait, and fly fishing typically do not require a forceful hook set. Fishing vertically beneath the boat or the motion of the fish after it has taken the bait helps to drive the hook home.
Typical situations where fast and extra fast actions are fished require more of a quick response from the angler. These are your finesse, drop shot and reactive strike techniques. These actions are the most common failures due to high sticking. They are less forgiving because the tip and uppermost part of the blank are the only parts that give before getting into the backbone of the rod.
How to prevent high sticking
High sticking is really easy to prevent. It all comes down to rod angle. Just be cautious of the pressure you put on your rod in relation to how steep the angle is. Most instances occur very close to the angler. Practice good techniques while landing fish. Never reel a fish in more than the length of your rod. Never "flip" a fish in the boat. Back the drag off when fishing vertical. Get in the habit of netting your fish.