Mac is exceptionally hard on gear. And breaking rods is his specialty. Sometimes it stems from packing too many rods into one large case. Graphite is prone to catastrophic failure when nicked, and when half a dozen rods bang against one another in a Bazooka rod case, then the snapping of one or more is a foregone conclusion. It’s a Catch-22, as Mac the rod-breaker requires several backups, and therefore he needs a honking big case to tote around the wands.
Sometimes it stems from fighting too many fish with too much exuberance. When the sockeye are running up the Kenai and the fish numbers escalate, you can find Mac deep in a sockeye frenzy, a trancelike state symptomatic of roll casts, short drifts, tight lines and hard-fought battles with red salmon. Many times the fish will change directions at such speed as to bend a rod into an uncompromising U-shape, which rapidly leads to a loud crack. Sometimes in the heat of the battle and with thoughts of such a delicious prize just a few feet from landed, Mac’s been known to horse a fish, which usually ends up with a rod in two pieces. If the fish is still attached, he’ll often continue to fight the fish and turn the rod into three pieces. To add insult to injury, the fish always escapes.
And then there are the times when Mac has broken other people’s rods—a hallmark of the truly gifted rod-breaker. Like the POW island trip where Mac tried to stuff Wally’s prized 11-foot rod into a 9-foot space. Or the hard hook-set on a Southeast charter that resulted in shards of graphite. Or the loaner rod destined for Kodiak Chinook that survived 10 casts and one bruiser fish before becoming carbon splinters. He’s fished with many anglers over the years and none come even remotely close to displaying the same sort of rod-breaking expertise as Mac.
Maybe it’s the insatiable need to catch fish that drives him to push the rods to their limits. On one outing to the Saltery River on the eastern side of Kodiak Island, Mac planned to land 100 Dolly Varden in a day. He came equipped with a counting device, boxes of flies and an arsenal of sticks. As if preordained, on about the 20th Dolly of the morning, the rod exploded. Mac marched back to camp, grabbed a replacement and got back to reefing out char. By evening 100 had been landed, and amazingly, without any more rod casualties.
Of course, rod companies have gotten used to receiving returns from Mac. And now it’s not just Mac breaking the rods, since they are now easily broken by other people, as if their integrity has been compromised once they become part of Mac’s collection. While hosting a group of anglers on the Talkeetna River, Mac gave one of them a 3-weight fly rod to target the ample grayling and char that filled the run in front of them. Mac instructed the angler that the rod was delicate and if he were to hook a salmon, that he’d need to point the rod tip at the fish, pull parallel to the water and break the tippet. No sooner had the sound of his words dissipated than the angler hooked a chum. Mac tried to halt the inevitable destruction, but the angler was deaf to instruction, snapped the rod as if it were a twig, then grabbed the top half and snapped it again. Moral of the story: don’t lend featherweight rods to new anglers when there are salmon in the river.
Of his personal collection, Mac’s proud of a particular Lamiglas 9-weight fly rod that had become his go-to stick for subduing sockeye. Equipped with a lifetime replacement warranty, Mac had broken this lucky rod three times. On the fourth break, the rod series was no longer in production and the entire rod was replaced with the newest model. It will probably be shattered next season.
However, don’t let any of this cast shadow on the durability or quality of the rods Mac uses on the water. They’re fine sticks, built by outstanding companies. You should definitely buy one; just don’t be surprised to read in the fine print of future lifetime warranties that they apply to all except Mac Lightfoot.