June 25th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Put the Butt to 'Em

By Brian Larson, Caseville WI

I am not sure exactly where this line comes from. I heard it in the 60s. It refers to putting a lot of pressure on a fish. Back then, with the solid fiberglass or steel rods, this meant to point the butt of the rod at the fish (to bend it double). Not exactly the best advise for an angler of any ilk with a graphite rod.

For those who still wonder why, I will explain. When a tubular rod is bent, the tube distorts. But the rod gets its strength from being circular. As the rod cross section becomes more oval, the amount of stress the rod structure will take before failure goes down. At the same time you are putting more stress on the rod. Result - FAILURE! Sort of makes you wonder why some of the rod manufacturers show their rods being bent double in their ads. Especially since they guarantee their rods for life. Some of the supposed experts on TV aren't any better. Ever break two rods in ten minutes like one of them did?

So how do you "put the butt to "em" and not break your rod? Simply by going the other direction. Point the rod more at the fish. Let's look at this. Where do you get maximum force to the line? When you have the rod pointed straight at the fish. Not good for the tippet, but it is the position from which you can apply the maximum pressure. So where do you get the least force? Obviously in the Orvis position (rod straight up). (Note: This is not meant as a slam against Orvis. It is just a popular description.) Actually, the minimum is with the rod butt at 90 degrees to the fish. The Orvis position is more like 110 or 120 degrees to the fish. So why do so many TV programs show the rod up in the air? Because they typically have someone with little fly fishing experience as their guest and because there is less pressure this way and therefore the fish is less likely to break off. We can't make a show with all the fish breaking off, can we? Obviously there has to be some trade off. You won't catch many fish if you always have the rod pointed at them and you are going to stress out too many fish if you let them swim around with little pressure until they get exhausted.

The compromise is obviously half way. When you want to apply pressure, take in line and drop the tip so that the butt of the rod is about 45 degrees to the fish and pull back. I've caught 20 plus inch fish with a one weight and a 3x tippet just that way. I held on and let out no line, knowing the fish would be into heavy grass if I gave an inch. So "putting the butt to 'em" is now getting the bend down into the butt. The degree you may want to do this is going to be based on how fast your rod is. A fast rod is not going to have much shock absorption way down in the butt, so you will have to adjust.

I know some of you don't believe what I am saying. Maybe experience is your only teacher. So I'll tell you how to learn more about this on your own. Get a one-pound bag of beans or pasta or rice or whatever. Tie on a 6x tippet and attach it to the bag. Now try to drag the bag around without breaking the tippet. Jerk on it and see what happens. Try to lift it. REMEMBER - DON'T LET THE ROD BUTT GET MORE THAN 90 DEGREES TO THE BAG. (I do not want to be responsible for you breaking your favorite rod.) You may have to try to lift it from a second-story balcony or a ladder. See how little pressure you can apply? Try it with a fast rod and a slow rod. See the difference? How many of you have tried this?

If you take the time to try this, I would really like to hear your response, please post your comments on the Bulletin Board, there is a listing for "Put the Butt to 'Em" on the top Bulletin Board topic. ~ Brian F Larson

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