Spare Parts

by Scott Sadil

It is, in no way, a novel idea.

Cars, for example, are built from parts.  Damage or wear out any one of them, and you or your mechanic can quickly go to the manufacturer and find the exact same widget, sitting somewhere on a shelf, and replace the original and you’re back on the road, on byway or interstate to your favorite fishing hole.

No problem.  But in a small industry such as the manufacture of fly rods, a piece of sporting equipment notorious for its inability to withstand the errors of inattention to which anglers, if not all of us, are so easily prone, each rod was traditionally thought of as a unique unit—and if any portion of it was damaged, it was often just as easy to replace the entire rod than attempt to fix or fabricate a replacement for the damaged part. 

Still, the practice of handing out new rods every time a car door or boot heel or tree limb—or lead-headed Zonker—crossed paths with our precision casting instruments is a fairly extravagant one.  Manufacturers that offered such a guarantee had to make up the cost somehow—and I have to believe, without any documented proof, that these generous “free-replacement-no-questions-asked” guarantees played a large in why we were suddenly paying, in my lifetime at least, twice or even three times as much for high-end rods as we paid the last time we went shopping.

There was something wasteful, as well, about tossing aside broken rods. It didn’t always sit well with those of us who chafed now and then against the notion that when a part breaks, you throw away a tool and get a new one—even if you don’t, in theory, have to pay for it.  It felt, kind of, like the same thing we were experiencing with modern technology:  Oh, you’re computer is that old?  


Which isn’t to cast blame.  Built in the old manner, a fly rod was made from a single blank that was then chopped into sections that were joined back together with close-fitting ferrules.  Those sections—two, three and, eventually, nearly always four—comprised a distinct unit meant to stay together for its lifetime.  You might have a pair of different rod tips (the top section of the rod) that had slightly different actions, but you never swapped out sections from another rod, even the same model rod built by the same manufacturer—not if you hoped to maintain the integrity of the alleged overall “feel” of such a sophisticated and dynamic tool.