A step-by-step quick fix for a minor rod guide issue to get you back fishing ASAP!
There are certain things that each and every fisherman will experience if they spend enough time on the water. They can be good things like landing that new personal best or experiencing a breath-taking sunrise, but they also include negatives like getting a hook so buried in your hand that it requires medical attention and damaging a rod guide in the middle of a big blitz. While I can’t offer my services to drive you to the emergency room, I can assist in swapping out that broken guide and ensuring you miss no more than a tide in the process.
Over the years I have probably built more than 100 rods from freshwater trout sticks to heavy surf rods, and when a new build is in order I have a Clemens lathe with motor, 12-plus feet of bed, rolling uprights, thread carriage and more. The lathe gets set up each fall as it goes on my main fishing workbench, so in-season it is put into storage to free up work space. When a small repair such as a guide replacement is needed I do not set up the powered lathe; instead I reach for my Flex Coat hand wrapper as it can be set up just about anywhere I can find a flat surface. All of the repairs outlined here can be completed on this wrapper, and I have even wrapped full rods on it when my old rod building room was converted to a baby’s room. Going back to when I first got started rod building some 30 years ago I made uprights out of heavy cardboard and used a book for thread tensioner. When epoxy was applied to the guide wraps I would make a ½-turn every few minutes for the full six hours it took for the epoxy to set. This would still work today if you’re really desperate, but I’d suggest the small investment of a hand wrapper and rod dryer if you think you might do more than one or two guides in your lifetime!
First up, before we go any further, I want to dispel the misconception that a guide insert/ring itself can be replaced if broken. I see this request a lot of non-rod builders, but it cannot—so far as I am aware—be done. Instead the entire guide must be removed and a new one secured in its place.
While most rod builders use slow-cure, rod building-specific epoxies for the protective coating over thread wraps, in a pinch quick-set epoxy like the 5-minute stuff you find at most hardware stores will suffice. In fact, I have done a few quick, in-season repairs with this stuff with the intent to remove and “wrap correctly” come the winter, never to put the rod in question back on the lathe. Some of those rods have seen many years of solid service after the repair. The benefit of the quick-set epoxy is the fact that you can fish it about one half a day later. However, unlike slow-cure epoxy made for rod building it will likely yellow over time and is far more brittle. With true rod building epoxy, due to its slow curing time, I recommend at least 48 hours before a rod is fished but suggest at least a week or more if possible.
Using the correct guide or tip-top to replace a broken one is important, but if you’re just trying to get back in the game then it’s actually far less important than you might think. By this I mean that if you want the rod to look right and perform 100% as intended and originally built, then yes, you need to make sure you do an even swap. But if your goal is to simply fix the broken guide and get back to fishing, with as little down time as possible, then just about any guide will do—within reason. For the tip-top it’s far more important to match the tube size (blank diameter at the tip) than it is the ring size. While an off-sized ring may look odd and perhaps reduce casting distance a touch if you go smaller than the original, it will still function just fine. Similarly, a running guide can be replaced with almost anything you happen to have available, but if you go too large then you will likely change the action and performance of the rod—but hey, if it gets you back on the bite then so be it!
Swap A Rod Tip
Swapping out a broken rod tip is about as easy as it gets when talking rod repairs. Even if the rod blank itself is broken, a rod tip can be swapped out in a matter of minutes. Spare tips and glue can be kept in your boat console or fishing vehicle, and a true emergency rod tip repair can be completed in the field.
Begin by removing the broken tip by applying heat to the rod tube. A lighter or heat gun works well here, just be very careful not to overheat the rod blank as it can literally cause it to crumble (don’t ask me how I know this…) Clean the blank where the guide tube covered it, rubbing away any old glue that remains. Melt the tip of a rod tip glue stick with a lighter and rub the melted glue onto the blank. Lightly heat up the tube of the new tip top, hit the glue on the rod one more time to make sure it’s melted and slide the tip onto the blank, spinning the guide around the blank once or twice to make sure the glue is well distributed. Line the tip top ring up with the other guides and hold the tip top in place until the glue sets and all parts cool. In a pinch you could fish the rod as-is, but for a more secure and finished-looking job, read on.
Once fully cooled and set, wrap thread about ½-inch down the blank form the end of the tip-top tube. When you are about 10 wraps from where you want the thread to end, place a doubled-over piece of braided fishing line with the loop end sticking out from the wraps. Continue wrapping over the braid, trim your thread leaving a 3-inch tag and insert it into the loop. Pull the loop back under the thread wraps, trim with a razor blade and quickly touch with the flame of a lighter to melt any frayed ends.
You are now ready for epoxy.
Replace A Running Guide
Slightly more involved than replacing a tip-top, replacing a broken running guide is very manageable and will save a lot of downtime. One item to consider is that depending how the guide was broken the rod blank itself may have been damaged. I always carefully inspect the blank once a guide is removed to ensure no catastrophic damage was inflicted. Nothing is worse than going through all the work to repair a guide only to have the rod blow on the first cast!
Begin by carefully heating the epoxy over the guide feet. This can be done with a lighter or heat gun, but like with the rod tip, be very careful not to overheat the blank! Once the epoxy is soft, take a razor blade and carefully shave the thread and epoxy from about ½ of the guide foot. Before the epoxy fully cools, find the end of the thread at the cut and unwrap the thread. (I find this to be the safest way to remove the thread and epoxy even if it takes a bit longer than removing it all with a razor blade as one wrong cut can damage the blank.)
If the guide has two feet, repeat the same process on the other guide foot. If a little bit of epoxy remains on the blank you can remove by again very carefully heating it up and picking it off with your thumbnail; the cleaner you get the blank now, the cleaner the final product will look. If your replacement guide has a sharp edges on the feet, file them down for a smooth transition from the blank. I coat the filed-down guide ramp with black Sharpie and apply a light coat of clear nail polish to prevent the raw metal from showing through the thread.
With 1/8-inch wide masking tape, secure the guide to the blank making sure not to cover the guide feet. Begin wrapping thread onto the guide feet, beginning from the blank and working towards the middle. When you are about 6-8 wraps from where you want the thread to end, place a doubled-over piece of braided fishing line with the loop end sticking out from the wraps towards the guide ring. Continue wrapping over the braid, trim your thread leaving a 3-inch tag and insert it into the loop. Pull the loop back under the thread wraps, trim with a razor blade and quickly touch with the flame of a lighter to melt any frayed ends. If your thread wraps are not tight enough, gently rub a burnishing tool back and forth against the thread and they should “magically” even out.
You are now ready for epoxy.
Epoxy The Threads
After following the steps outlined above, the guide is now wrapped in thread and must be epoxied in place. Begin by setting up the rod dryer in a warm room (cold air slows epoxy curing time and makes it difficult to work with), mix the required amount of epoxy per the manufacturer’s instructions, start the rod spinning and apply a thin coat of epoxy with a small paint brush making sure to cover all thread wraps and corners where the guide feet meet the blank. If a running guide has double feet then you may need to turn the motor off while you apply epoxy under the ring and between the feet; it can be done while the rod is spinning but takes a quick hand and often results in poor coverage. Less is more here as it’s easier to add than it is to remove epoxy, and the end product will look far better without giant globs of epoxy covering the blank.
If bubbles appear you can remove them by lightly exhaling on the epoxy or applying heat with a heat gun set to low; the latter works best if you have a lot of bubbles but be sure to go slowly as too much heat can make the epoxy run right off the blank!
Once the thread is fully covered in epoxy, clean up the edges where thread ends and the open blank begins by holding an alcohol swab against the turning blank. Set the rod spinning for at least eight hours, but I shoot for a full 12 hours or more before removing the rod to finish curing. I check the status of the epoxy every 15 minutes or so for the first two hours, and then leave it alone from there until the epoxy is set.