Fish & Rod Stories | Birth of a Custom Rod Builder

MPL with King

Birth is a well chosen word; you need to have the right set of skills. To build rods takes a tremendous amount of patience, but for me I find it relaxing instead of what others may observe as tedious and time consuming. It helps that I have an eye toward attention to detail and a curiosity about how things work. And finally, it helps to be a perfectionist, or in my case a frustrated and striving perfectionist, to take up this hobby or profession. For me the inclination was always there, waiting for a trigger to spring me into action.

How I Got Into Restoration

It all began with an antique bamboo fly fishing rod, which was given to me as a gift in exchange for work I did for an Uncle. The rod had an unusual logo, “NFT” with snowcapped Mt Fuji above. Two problems with the rod were that it was so beautiful I would not use it and the rod was coveted by my friends and family; so I solved the problem by giving it away to my best friend.

For the next few years, I set out to find a similar rod for myself, searching the internet for hours to find a replacement. I wanted to find another rod just like it and learned that the rod I gave away was a Japanese rod made after WW II primarily for American servicemen by Nippon Fishing Tackle Mfg Co. After some time I ended up with an entirely different and unusual bamboo rod that I found on eBay. It was one I could afford and badly needed a lot of TLC. I bought a Montague Stone Harbor ‘Tonkin Cane’ boat rod; my first rod restoration project. I used my wood working skills; cleaning, sanding and refinished that rod as best I could.

I took it to a local specialty fishing shop in Birmingham, MI just to see what they thought of it. To my surprise, the proprietor took immediate interest. He gingerly took the rod from me and carefully walked to a set of lounge chairs, sat with me and told me everything he knew about the rod; a heavy duty boat rod, with a stir up tip top, reversible top section to offset the set in the bamboo and the history of that rod as he knew it. All of which, I knew nothing. Then another surprise, he foisted both praise and criticism of my first rod restoration, along with invaluable tips and advice for improvement I could make on my next restoration. For a final surprise, he went into his back room and brought out another Stone Harbor rod in much worse shape than the one I started with and gave me an assignment. I completed my second restoration, returned and again, listened to hear more good praise and thankfully somewhat less criticism. I was hooked.

For the next few years, I researched the history of antique bamboo fly rods, while I purchased and restored more and more bamboo rods. Each restoration was better than the last.

MPL with Pike

Custom Rod Building

Although I had refurbished, restored and or repaired a dozen bamboo rods I was still left with a dilemma, the rods remained relative ‘things of beauty’ and are rarely used by their new owners. I wanted rods to use. After refurbishing and repairing a dozen or so vintage glass rods, I thought why not build new hi-tech graphite fishing rods.

Little did I know, I was now at the bottom of a new learning curve. The main construction ingredient two-part Epoxy is difficult and messy to work with. Mix exact equal amounts of resin and hardener, use care in mixing, release the air bubbles, level each application, sand, apply another coat, and watch out for epoxy getting where it does not belong. Sounds easy right? After building a dozen custom rods, I am still working on my technique.

Custom rods, however, are where I can express my creativity by designing rods for specific purposes, (fly, spin-casting, trolling, kayak fishing, or center-pin/float rods), along with my expressions in color, contrast and unusual thread wrapping.

A word about creativity is appropriate here, since the techniques and thread wrapping styles have all been used before; construction and assembly is the same for everyone. But alas, there is still room to make my work sparkle, and attention to details can make it perform better than a typical off the shelf fishing rod.

In the end all I can hope for is that my custom rods will help the fisherman say their favorite words “Fish On”.