How to Buy a Used Fly Rod
If you want to know how to buy a used fly rod, you’re in the right place.
When you’re buying a used fly rod, you have three basic options: eBay, Craigslist, and private sellers, none of which are well-suited for buying expensive fly rods.
I experienced first-hand how listings can be wrong, fly rods can be damaged, there are no warranties or returns, and transactions are final.
After buying used fly rods, reels, and other fly-fishing gear for decades, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and finely tuned how to buy used fly rods.
So if I was just setting out to buy a used fly rod, here's what I would want to know.
New Fly Rods vs. Used Fly Rods
If there’s so much risk, why buy a used fly rod? Is it really worth the trouble?There are 5 big differences between buying a new fly rod and buying a used fly rod.
1. Cost: Used fly rods cost less but still aren't cheap.
Fly rods are expensive. You can save money by buying used fly rods instead of new.
But you’ll still spend at least $100 for a used rod and up to several thousand dollars for a vintage collectable bamboo rod.
The closer a used fly rod is to new condition, the more expensive it will be.
A new condition fly rod generally includes a pristine fly rod, rod tube, sleeve, warranty card, and sometimes even the plastic factory wrapper.
The more a fly rod has been used, the less you should pay for it.
Heavily used fly rods will have blemishes, scuffs, paint chips, dents in the tube, dings on the metal components, a dirty cork, and sometimes repaired or replaced parts.
Here's a comparison of 10 fly rods new and used prices from across the internet.
|Temple Fork Outfitters
|Thomas & Thomas
2. Technology: New fly rods usually have better technology.
Manufacturers are constantly testing and producing fly rods with new technology.
The evolution of fly rods from bamboo to fiberglass to graphite illustrates this. And that evolution will never end.
On the other hand, people have been fishing (and catching fish) for thousands of years. So, while new technology is great and can help you cast further or more accurately, you don’t need the latest gear to catch fish.
In our experience, every 3 to 5 years is an appropriate timespan to update your gear.
That doesn’t mean that you have to buy a new fly rod though. You can buy used fly rods a year or two old and still get a significant upgrade in technology.
3. Returns: Used fly rods usually can’t be returned (you can return your rod at Outfishers though).
When you buy a new fly rod, you’re probably buying from a retailer or dealer that accepts returns.
Some new fly rod retailers offer 30-day returns, some 60-days, and some 90-days.
When you buy a used fly rod, you’re probably buying from an individual or at best a small company, many of which offer no returns.
Outfishers offers 30-day returns but is rare in this regard. You can view our admittedly simple but generous return policy here.
4. Warranty: Used fly rods never come with a warranty (except at Outfishers).
Fly rod manufacturer warranties are typically valid only for the original purchaser.
I don’t know of any manufacturers that honor warranties beyond the first owner of a fly rod. So fly rod warranties aren’t transferable.
If you’ve got a broken tip or lost a rod piece, most manufacturers will repair a used fly rod but they will charge you a fee to do so.
Individual sellers of used fly rods and some secondary dealers don’t offer warranties.
Outfishers is the only retailer I'm aware of that sells used fly rods with a warranty.
5. Shysters: Learn to spot shady fly rod deals before you buy.
No matter how many precautions you take, and inspections you do, there are folks out there whose business practices are shady.
Facebook and eBay both have tools to help buyers judge the sellers reputation.
In eBay, check out the sellers profile. I look for two things that might be a warning sign about a seller.
For example, below is Trident's eBay seller profile. Trident is a used fly rod seller with a solid reputation for high quality transactions.
First, if there are too many negative feedbacks I steer clear. You can't please everyone all the time but if the negative feedback is more than 5% of the total feedback, I look elsewhere. In the above example, Trident's negative feedback is about 2% of their total which is common on eBay for large sellers.
Second, I look to see what kind of seller they are. If the seller has a lot of fly rods for sale, they clearly know what makes a good and bad condition rod.
If the seller is just your average fly fisherman trading out rods, I'm a little more careful, not because I think they're more likely to try to scam a buyer, but because they may not inspect the rod as closely as someone thats in it for business purposes.
In Facebook, you can view a sellers commerce profile. This profile will have a rating based on 5-stars, a list of the other items the person is selling, and a few characteristics they do well.
To be honest, I don't put much creedence into the Facebook commerce profile.
Instead I use PayPal to pay for the product and select the option that it's a good or a service in PayPal. This provides some coverage in case the transaction takes a turn for the worse.
In my experience, most people selling used fly-fishing gear are honest, transparent, and trustworthy. They’re just cleaning out their closet or want to trade up for a better rod.
But buyer beware: there are deceptive, fraudulent, and unscrupulous people out there selling used fly rods.
If you’re at all hesitant about the person you’re dealing with, simply don’t buy from them.
There are plenty of other used fly rods out there from people that you should feel comfortable buying from.
Where You Can Buy Used Fly Rods Online
Ok, I'm biased. But I genuinely believe Outfishers has the best offering for used fly rods.
No other seller offers Certified Pre-Owned fly rods, 30-day returns, a buyback guarantee, and a lifetime warranty.
Our Certified Pre-Owned fly rods have gone through a 100+ point inspection, cleaning, a functional stress-testing and are given a rating by component and an overall rating.
eBay is the wild west of used fly rods. There’s no doubt that the number of sellers and inventory on eBay can’t be beat.
You can get a great price on your dream rod if you’re patient. But you can also get taken for a ride.
Lots of eBay sellers are experienced. They know how to hide flaws from photographs of the fly rod.
I once bought a fly rod that looked impeccable only to find 'Captain Andy' painted on the only side of one piece not shown in the listing photos.
They know exactly how to wordsmith the fly rod listing description so you can’t come back to them claiming they misrepresented a product.
They don’t offer returns and you’re not going to get a warranty from the seller.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself if you’re buying a used fly rod on eBay is to check the seller rating, carefully inspect the photographs, and read every detail about the rod and the sellers policies.
Ask the seller the following questions:
- What’s the serial number? Ask for a photograph of the serial number. Fly rod serial numbers are often (but not always) on the rod handle piece. Some are under the epoxy coat in a nearly invisible paint while others (like R.L. Winston rods) are painted very clearly on each piece.
- How was the fly rod used? Was it fished regularly or lawn casted only? Was it used in freezing temps? Rain and freezing temps can be harsh on fly rods and particuliarly guides.
- Is the tip piece original?
- Has the fly rod been repaired?
- Has the rod been registered for warranty with the manufacturer? If not, does the blank warranty card come with the rod? Even if the seller states the warranty has not been registered, you need to double check. Often times second-hand buyers and sellers don't know the complete history of the fly rod.
- Do they accept returns?
- Have there been any customizations done to the rod? Some rod owners sign their rods with various paints and then epoxy over it. Others put custom reel seats on.
Facebook Marketplace is a relative newcomer to online private listings but in our opinion, it’s one of the better options.
Facebook marketplace lets you filter for location, item condition, price, and a few other useful conditions.
Facebook uses your account profile, which are presumably backed by real human beings, as your listing seller identification which provides some degree of accountability above eBay because eBay sellers can be companies or anonymous usernames.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Facebook profiles are honest, trustworthy sellers but Facebook does a good job policing accounts for unscrupulous activity.
In addition to Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Groups are one of our favorite places to find fly rods.
There are Facebook Groups solely dedicated to buying and selling used fly fishing gear.
Here are my three favorite Facebooks Groups for buying and selling used fly fishing rods, reels, and other gear.
- Fly Fishing Buy/Sell/Trade (22k members)
- Fly Fishing Gear Buy, Sell or Trade (78k members)
- Fly Fishing Online Garage Sale (19k members)
Craigslist can be a great place to find fly rods from individual sellers. Craigslist buyers and sellers are generally listing and searching locally.
It can be cumbersome to sort through Craiglist sites and find what you’re looking for.
One way to solve that problem and find your dream rod is to use a search aggregator that searches all the local Craigslist sites.
Search aggregators let you search hundreds of local markets at one time.
Most Craigslist sellers aren’t’ expecting to ship their items but may be willing to do so if you ask and offer to pay for shipping.
Here are my three favorite Craigslist search aggregators. You should give them a try, I'm always amazed at what I can find here.
5. Niche Fly Fishing Sites
There are a handful of websites, like Outfishers, that sell used fly rods as a matter of practice. Aside from Outfishers, the following sites are worth checking out for used fly rods.
Trident has a large selection of used fly rods, but the buying experience is somewhat limited compared to Outfishers. Trident does have a trade-in program, but their used rods don’t come with a warranty and they don’t publish serial numbers.
Tight Lines has a small inventory of used fly rods but has a good reputation for being a fair dealer.
Calling Amazon a niche sight is a stretch but hear me out.
I’ve heard people say they've found good used fly rods available for sale on Amazon but I have yet to see one.
The screenshot below shows the results of a search for ‘used fly rods’ on Amazon.
The results look more like miscategorized new entry-level rods than purposefully-placed high-quality used rods.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon increase their presence in the secondary markets for sporting goods but right now, it’s not a strength of the online superstore.
Buying Used Fly Rods Offline
If you choose to buy your fly rod offline, you’ll enjoy a bargain hunt through local stores and word-of-mouth queries.
The biggest advantage to buying a used fly rod in person is you can inspect and test it before you buy it.
1. Local Fly Shops
Local fly shops are going to see more used fly rods than any other type of store but they don’t always carry any used fly rods in their shop.
Fly shops typically carry new rods and the hassle associated with negotiating a purchase price or trade-in value is not something many fly shop owners are interested in.
If you're lucky, you can make friends with the owner. Let the owner know what you’re looking for in a used fly rod (brand, length, line weight, and of course price) and if they come across one they can give you a call.
2. Garage Sales, Antique Stores, and Thrift Shops
Second hand sellers is another way you can successfully buy a used fly rod but it’ll take some work.
Expect to spend a few weekends rummaging through your local Goodwill, pawn shops, or scouring garage sales.
But I know quite a few fly fishers that have scored great deals working their way through these stores.
3. Friends and Family
Last but definitely not least, use your own personal network.
Send out an email to a wide audience of friends and family to see if anyone has a used fly rod they would like to sell.
Co-workers, association members, and all kinds of networks are great for sourcing unexpected deals on used fly rods.
Inspecting Used Fly Rods
Outfishers has more than one-hundred inspection points we put a used fly rod through before we sell it.
While 100+ points is our standard for selling a rod under our name, you don’t need to perform this formal of an inspection to buy a good used fly rod.
You should inspect the following 10 components of any used fly rod you’re looking at purchasing.
This list is organized by the same components Outfishers rates our used fly rods.
In every one of the 10 components, there are two things to watch out for in any used fly rod.
1. Places where repairs have been made.
2. Components that where customizations have been made.
To be clear, repairs and customizations aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
A well-performed repair or carefully constructed custom rod can be a great used fly rod. But either a repair or a customization warrants a closer inspection.
Feel along the pieces of the rod for any irregular spots. What you’re looking for are any bumps or dips in the body of the rod. This may indicate a repair has been completed or there is a defect in the rod.
Be aware though that some rod blanks are sanded during production and others aren’t. So depending on the bump or dip, there may or may not be something wrong.
If it's simply an unsanded fly rod, there's nothing wrong with that. If it's a manufacturing flaw on the other hand, look for another rod.
Color is another way to tell if a used fly rod has any areas of concern. If there are any areas where the fly rod color or paint is inconsistent, this may be a sign a repair has been made.
Ferrules are the parts of a rod blank that connect to the next rod piece. A 4-piece fly rod will have 3 pairs of ferrules.
Each ferrule pair has one male end and one female end.
Ferrules can crack easily from too much pressure when you’re pushing two fly rod pieces together. If there’s a crack in the ferrule, the fly rod may break when put under the stress of catching a fish.
3. Cork Grip
The cork grip on a fly rod is where your hand holds the rod.
The cork grip is typically epoxied to the rod blank.
Test to make sure the cork is holding absolutely rock solid to the rod with no movement whatsoever by trying to twist the cork off the rod blank.
Cork grips get dirty easily from the oils in the skin on your hand. Dirt is easily removed with either 1) a Magic Eraser or 2) 1000+ grit sandpaper (which is basically what a Magic Eraser is anyways).
Check to make sure the cork isn’t missing any large chunks of wood, or cracked, or dried out.
Corks are not easily repaired, if they can be at all. Corks can be patched with filler but it's not a great solution.
So if you’re at all concerned about the condition of the cork grip, pass on the purchase.
4. Stripping Guides
Stripping guides are the larger guides closest to the rod handle. There are typically at least two and as many as four stripping guides on a fly rod, depending on the fly rod length.
The inside of a stripping guide can be any number of materials. Modern rods typically have ceramic stripping guides.
In the photo above, the interior black ring is ceramic held in place by the exterior metal ring.
Stripping guides have two common problems.
First, stripping guides can get worn in. Look for groves in the stripping guides formed by thousands of casts and strips.
Second, stripping guides often get cracked, broken or otherwise damaged if the rod was fished in cold, rain or snow where ice formed on the stripping guide.
5. Running Guides
Running guides are the smaller metal guides the rest of the way down the rod. There are usually at least eight and up to sixteen running guides depending on the rod length.
The most common problem with running guides is they either get bent, broken, or the epoxy that’s holding them to the rod blank is failing.
Look down the line of the fly rod and across the fly rod to see that the guides are in alignment and perpendicular to the fly rod itself.
Give each running guide a very gentle push and twist to make sure each guide is still firmly attached to the fly rod.
You need to pay close attention to the feet of the guides where the epoxy holds each guide down. Looks for cracks or weaknesses in the epoxy.
6. Reel Seat
The fly reel seat is the wood or composite component near the very end of the handle of a fly rod. The reel seat is where the fly reel gets seated to run the line through the guides.
The reel seat can be bent or cracked if the rod was set down, stepped on, or otherwise bent.
The fixed hood, sliding hood, and threaded rings that lock the reel in place should all move freely and be rust free.
The tip top of a fly rod is the very metal top of a fly rod. These are often the most frequently damaged part of a fly rod. You need to very carefully inspect the area around the tip-top for any spots where it looks like a repair has been made.
Make sure the tip top is not bent or scratched. If it’s scratched it can indicate that the rod was dragged on the ground or other surface.
The rod tube is the protecting case a fly rod comes in. Rod tubes are typically metal, graphite, or plastic.
Rod tubes are not a functional part of the fly rod but they're important to protecting the rod during travel.
The rod tube can be a good indicator for how much the fly rod has been used and how it was treated while being used.
In my experience, if the rod tube is beat up, has stickers all over it, is dented, scratched, or unoriginal there’s a good chance the fly rod has seen a lot of wear and tear.
The rod sleeve is the piece of cloth that protects your fly rod.
In the same regard as the rod tube, the rod sleeve is not a component of the fly rod, but it is important to protecting the fly rod.
If the rod sleeve is sold with the fly rod, that’s all you need. The condition of the sleeve is not important. As long as the cloth holds and protects the fly rod, it will serve it's purpose.
If the sleeve isn’t present with the fly rod, there are several places to buy one. But you should have a fly rod sleeve to protect your fly rod.
If everything looks fine, you still need to actually test the rod. Before we list used fly rods on Outfishers, we put them through a variety of tests using customized equipment.
But you can come close to simulating these tests. Here’s what you should do.
1. Assemble the fly rod pieces.
Fit the ferrules together and once the rod is fully assembled, hold the rod with each hand on a different section. Trying to tug them apart with a moderate amount of force. If the fly rod pieces come apart easily, it can be a sign that the ferrules are worn, damaged, or weren’t manufactured correctly to begin with.
2. Mount a reel to the reel seat.
The reel should fit easily into the fixed hood. The sliding hood should move freely. The threaded rings that lock the reel in place should move freely along the threads and firmly hold the reel in place.
3. Feed your fly line through the stripping and running guides.
Cast the line to various distances to check that the rod allows the line to accurately be casted. You don’t need a fly on the end or even a leader. If the guides aren’t aligned or the guides have worn groves, the line will take more effort to cast than it should and won’t travel well.
4. Lastly, simulate setting the hook by pulling hard on the end of the fly line.
The rod arc should flex to 90 degrees easily and to 135 degrees with moderate power. Most fly rods will flex far beyond the angles.
There are a lot of guides on the internet to walk you through buying a fly rod, but very few guides about buying a used fly rod specifically.
I’m sure this seems like a lot to cover just to buy something as simple as a used fly rod. After all, you can catch a fish with just a stick and a piece of string.
But think of it this way. You’re going to be spending hundreds of dollars on a fly rod that is not new and out of the box. You need to make sure you spend your money wisely.
Many of the challenges described here, we’ve solved through Outfishers. We give you 30-day returns, lifetime warranties, and a rating system that gives you all of the information you need to assess the rods condition.
But if you don’t find what you want on Outfishers, use this information as a guide to buying your used fly rod.
So, did I miss anything? In your experience, what other aspects of buying a used fly rod do you think are important?