Tips for buying a second hand fly rod

26th of August 2022

Not every tackle purchase involves shiny new gear in well-lit stores. There’s a booming market out there for second-hand rods. But why go there? And what precautions should you take?

Ever since TV shows started crusading for the consumer, shopping around has been hard-wired into us.

We don’t just buy the first type of thing we’re after anymore. We check that no one else makes it better and cheaper.

So it goes with fishing and fly rods in particular. The first price tag we see is just a starting point in negotiations. We hit the internet for comparison sites, ask around among other fly fishers and even haggle with the tackle dealer if we have to.

And because the phrase “good as new” excites us almost as much as “half price”, we have no qualms about buying second-hand. Or ‘pre-loved’, to use the phrase with which many sellers now insult our intelligence.

However soothing the label, though, it doesn’t change what lies behind it. For every tale of bargains found in a second-hand wonderland, you’ll hear a story of rip-offs in an unregulated wild west of consumerism.

So why bother buying a second-hand fly rod? And how do you protect yourself when you do?

The lure of a second-hand rod

Consider a 20-year-old Ferrari. Not as ‘pre-loved’ as it might have been, it has a couple of small dents, some scratches, and a three-inch tear in the seat leather.

And yet the owner is asked at least twice every week how much he’d sell it for.

Why? Because it’s a Ferrari.

It still looks the part to anyone 10 yards away and its engine still makes that unmistakable sound. Jaded though it might be, the mystique remains.

You can transfer that emotional pull to any premier brand and fly rods are no exception. To find a top-end fly rod that was wholly beyond your budget when new, now available second-hand at half the price and still fully functional, is bound to quicken the pulse. You can live with a few scuff marks.

Don’t be blinded by brands, though. Improved technology and manufacturing methods have narrowed the gap between premium rods and the rest over the last 20 years. The real coup in second-hand shopping might not be finding a $500 mass-produced rod for $150 but finding a hand-crafted or bespoke rod (especially bamboo) that has had a level of care and attention lavished upon it by its creator that its second-hand valuation doesn’t come close to reflecting. 

Between you and a second-hand rod – a minefield

Every tip that follows stems from the elephant not in the room when you enter the second-hand marketplace.

Consumer protection.

The legalities will vary from country to country, but you should assume the worst. No guarantees, no cooling-off period in which to get your money back, and no legislation keeping the fair-play ball firmly in the seller’s court.

All of this means you need to pay careful attention to the following:

Buying online

Seller’s reputation

As far as you can, confine your search to those marketplace platforms (like eBay) that offer seller ratings or reviews of previous transactions. It gives you a heads-up on whom you’re dealing with.


Study them like a hawk.

For an idea of what you’re looking for, read the list of tips for buying a rod face-to-face that are set out below.

Is the rod’s finish still in decent condition? What state is the cork handle in? Do the inscriptions tally with the written description?

If the images aren’t clear, or they make you wonder if the seller is deliberately keeping part of the rod out of shot, ask for more pictures. If they don’t materialize, walk away. There’s always another bargain out there.

If it’s a premium brand rod, ask for a photo of the serial number.


The ideal is a rod that has barely been used (e.g., because the seller grew infirm or fell in love with another rod instead) but note the description’s tone as well as the details.

Does the writer sound like an angler or someone who doesn’t know the first thing about fishing and is just trying to shift an asset?

It doesn’t always apply, of course, (and not all anglers are saints) but odd, stilted language that uses terms no fly fisher would use could be a warning that you’re being played.

If the description doesn’t mention the type of fishing the rod was used for, ask the seller. Any mention of saltwater fishing and your vigilance needs to go up a notch, especially if the rod was not designed for the ocean. Your scrutiny of the pictures must satisfy you that the rod is not showing signs of corrosion. 

Similarly, a fly rod that has routinely been used in freezing weather may not have aged well.


Any fixes (or customizations) should be mentioned in the description, along with a mention of whom it was carried out the repairs. If it was the seller and not the manufacturer, an alarm bell should sound. If the seller only mentions repairs when you ask about them, you may want to look elsewhere.


Rod warranties don’t usually extend to second-hand sales but you should at least ask about the terms of any warrantyrelating to this rod. It may be an exception, in which case you have some peace of mind.


It’s unlikely the seller will agree to you returning a fly rod if you’re unhappy with it, even if you offer to pay the postage. What’s important, though, is the nature of his refusal – if he gets grouchy like he can’t get this thing off his hands fast enough, it could be another alarm bell.

Buying face-to-face

Where possible, you’ll want to meet the seller and examine the rod before buying. If you have any concerns about your safety or being browbeaten into buying, take a friend with you. You can always say he/she is a more experienced angler and you wanted their opinion. 


Make sure the junction between handle and rod is not loose and that the reel seat holds your reel securely, with the locking nut moving easily along the thread.

Even if the cork looks clean, check it for any dried-out areas, damage, or sponginess. The latter could indicate rot.

Cork isn’t easily fixed, so a poor handle should be a deal-breaker.

Rod blank

Check that the coloring is constant (if not, it could be a sign of a repair that was painted over) and there are no deep scratches. Run your fingers over the surface to check for any bumps or dents caused by the impact of beaded flies during casting, which could have weakened the rod.

If it’s a bamboo rod, make sure there are no deformations visible and the rod looks straight.

Rod tip

The last and thinnest rod section is also the most vulnerable, so check it especially carefully for signs of wear or repairs. 


Look along the rod once it is assembled and make sure the guides align correctly. Check that they are securely attached and that there are no grooves worn in them by excessive casting. 


Look for any cracking where the rod sections meet, as this could quickly become a crisis. Bamboo rods whose ferrules weren’t cleaned properly may show signs of rot around the junctions.

Rod tube

Not a deal-breaker in itself but its condition could give you an idea of how much the rod has been used. And a rod that’s approaching the end of its lifespan is an issue.

Unscrupulous sellers, especially if they aren’t anglers, might try to ‘pretty up’ an aging rod yet not give its packaging a second thought, so always ask to see the tube.     

Try before you buy

Ideally, you want to attach your loaded reel to the rod and try casting with it on a patch of open grass. If you aren’t getting your normal distance-to-effort return, the guides may not be aligned correctly or worn notches in them may be slowing your line.

Have the seller pull on the line so that you can put a bend in the rod. See if it flexes properly and check its profile for signs of weakness.  

Make sure the rod sections don’t come apart too easily when you dismantle them.

In conclusion

The golden rule of gambling – never bet with money you can’t afford to lose – applies here.

If you have the personality (and bank balance) that means you can be philosophical about buying a bum when you were reaching for a bargain, then by all means have fun in the second-hand fly rod market.

If a bad buy would eat away at you for months afterward, though, stick to the brand-new market and dealers you know and trust.

Lastly: if you buy a second hand fly rod always try to buy face-to-face. In the end you have to see a rod to really be able to inspect it, and more importantly you can try a few casts to see if it feels right.

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