Archive for the ‘August 2010’ Category
There are plenty of fishermen who’d like to try their hand at building their own custom fishing rod. A few will and do, but most won’t even try. That’s a real shame.
The manufacturing processes involved in creating most goods these days is pretty involved. As a rule, few of us could expect to easily and successfully build our own top-of-the-line sporting goods equipment. Much, if not most of it, is now made with fairly sophisticated tooling and processes that preclude the average person from duplicating it in their garage or basement. But this isn’t true where fishing rods are concerned.
I know many fishermen who have the idea that fishing rods are made and spit out of elaborate machines. In reality, of course, they’re still made by hand in the same way they were 100 years ago. Outside of the rod blank and some of the component parts, all of which are readily available for sale, the assembly of a fishing rod does not require any special machinery or high-tech knowledge. Building a fishing rod is still a mostly hands-on process and one that nearly anyone with decent manual dexterity can master.
About 3 decades back, Dale Clemens coined a very apt advertising phrase, “You can build a better rod than you can buy.” And he was right! As good as many of the commercially made rods have gotten in the past decade, almost any of them can be bested by anyone that is willing to put in just a little time reading and practicing. I know many rod builders who on their first few attempts, crafted better rods than they could have purchased for any amount of money. And those who find that their first rods still leave a bit to be desired quickly realize that they are already close to if not already even with most of the commercially made rods they’re currently fishing with. It would be extremely rare to build that first rod and not have something that doesn’t perform at least as well as most commercially made rods.
If you’ve ever considered building your own fishing rod, why not get started today! Custom rod building can be as simple or as elaborate as you care to make it. Blanks and components are readily available and come in price ranges to fit any budget. The actual “how-to” isn’t at all hard to come by. Many rod building books and DVDs are available and a great deal of rod building instruction is online, free for the taking. There are plenty of custom rod building forums to help you out in a pinch. Never before have there been so many folks ready and willing to help you build that first custom rod!
It really is true – You can indeed build a better rod than you can buy. And it’s really not all that hard to do.
The following RodMaker Magazine advertisers can help you get started on your first custom rod building project today! They have everything you need to build a quality custom fishing rod.
Sources for Rod Blanks and Components:
Mud Hole Custom Tackle
Online Information on Custom Rod Building:
Recommended Books and DVDs:
How We Do It – Flex Coat (DVD)
Step by Step Rod Building – Flex Coat
Rod Building Guide – Amato Publications
The Complete Book of Tackle Making – C. Boyd Pfeiffer
How many of you are old enough to remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup advertisement? The one where some guy eating a chocolate bar walks around a corner and bumps into a guy who’s finger scooping peanut butter out of a jar. They look up and as they regain their senses, one shouts “You got peanut butter on my chocolate bar!” The other responds with “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” All ends well as they taste the combination and decide that something delicious has just happened.
Back in 2003 I began searching for a good do-it-yourself method for creating flocked grips. For those unaware, flocked grips are made from embedding short nylon fibers onto an underlying base, generally of cork. Such grips had long been available from a couple of commercial sources and were often referred to as “the Cadillac of rod grips.” But there was no simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself method for rod builders to create their own. If you desired a flocked grip, you paid the price – which often exceeded $30 for a single grip!
Borrowing and then modifying a process used by custom furniture makers for lining drawer bottoms, I developed the method I was looking for. I published an article on the technique in the Volume 7 #4 issue of RodMaker.
Shortly thereafter, I decided that there was no need to use expensive cork as the core for flocked grips. I turned to Jason Brunner at St. Croix Rod Company and inquired about the company’s then new urethane-foam reel seat arbors. Being extremely light and extremely rigid, easily shaped and very inexpensive, this material seemed to be ideal for my purpose. I began experimenting with mixing, pouring and shaping my own urethane foam to use as flocking cores. Hold this thought…
Down in Texas Andy Dear had purchased a large quantity of cork grips from the old All Star Rod Company operation. In an attempt to salvage some of the lesser quality cork and create something more novel at the same time, Andy had begun experimenting with glass and carbon sleeving as a covering for the cork. Hold this thought…
In 2006, shortly after researching and publishing an article on Rod Grip Ergonomics (Volume 10 #3) I began toying with the idea of fitting a fly rod with a carbon fiber grip. The increased rigidity it would provide over a standard cork grip was bound to increase control and reduce fatigue. Trouble was, any such grip would be limited in size and shape to the commercially available non-tapered carbon tubes often sold for making Tennessee handles. Or so I thought.
One afternoon while conferring with Andy on another matter, we spilled our current projects to each other. In an instant, peanut butter and chocolate collided. A unique idea was borne that day – combining a lightweight, rigid, shaped urethane-foam core with an outer skin of carbon-fiber. Within 72 hours afterwards, the first urethane-core/carbon-fiber skinned fishing rod grip was a reality.
Maybe not exactly delicious, but innovative and important nonetheless, that first grip appeared on the cover of the Volume 10 #5 issue of RodMaker. An article on making your own cores and how to “skin” them followed in the Volume 10 #6 issue. Now you know how they came to be.
Additional Photos of foam-core/carbon-skinned grips. Copy and paste each URL into your browser’s address window.
Yesterday I listed the state by state subscription numbers for RodMaker Magazine. They tell an interesting story, but not the whole story. Differences in geographic size have a great deal to do with how many rod builders you can expect to find in any particular state, not to mention the overall population of each state.
To get a better picture of how rod builders are spread around the Country, let’s combine the states into 6 major geographic areas. Although you could easily rearrange the way I’ve chosen to combine the various states, unless you did so in a very radical fashion the numbers wouldn’t change by much.
As you look over the map, carefully consider the land to water ratio of each area. Are there opportunities for both fresh and saltwater fishing? Do both cold and warmwater fisheries exist in that area? Once you do this you’ll begin to understand why the numbers exist as they do.
*These numbers represent RodMaker subscribers. They do not represent the total number of rod builders in the U.S. However, when viewed in context they provide a representative picture of the distribution of rod builders across the Nation.
Northeast – The density of rod builders is greatest here. And with good reason – this is still the area where most of the U.S. population lives. There are myriad fishing opportunities for both warm and coldwater fish and both fresh and saltwater waterways. More fishermen generally means more rod builders. Only the cold winters stop this area from harboring even more rod builders than it already does.
Southeast – The southeast offers the greatest variety of fishing opportunities anywhere in the Country. Huge expanses of both fresh and saltwater, cold and warmwater fisheries exist. Outside of perhaps the Western NC/Eastern TN High Country, fishing is a year-round activity throughout the region. Note the coastline stretching from Virginia down to and around Florida and then back along the Gulf of Mexico. The North and South Atlantic Bights meet just offshore from Cape Hatteras, NC. This means that nearly any fish that swims, from the Arctic to the Equator, can be caught along the VA/NC coast. More fishing opportunities, equal more fishermen, equals more rod builders.
Upper Midwest – The area’s major lakes and rivers provide tremendous fishing opportunities. Much of the area is densely populated. The Great Lakes account for one of the largest fisheries in North America and certainly is one reason why so many fishermen, and therefore so many rod builders, reside in this general area. More than most probably imagine.
Lower Midwest – Texas is the real story here. The large population of east Texas combined with the Gulf Coast compensates for fewer fishermen and rod builders just to the north. This is also another instance where having both fresh and saltwater fishing opportunities tends to create more fishermen, and therefore more rod builders.
Northwest – The bulk of the builders here are concentrated on the Pacific Shore, or fairly close to it. The combination of both fresh and saltwater makes this a fishing paradise. If it were not for the overall low population density of this region, the area would boast a lot more fishermen and rod builders.
Southwest - This area is land rich and water poor. Almost 2/3rds of the total number of rod builders in this region live in California, and over 1/2 of those live in Southern California. No surprise – California boasts both fresh and saltwater fisheries and has one of the largest populations of the entire 50 States. Although the region is huge, most of the rod builders here are located within a comparatively small area.
When you carefully consider the distribution of rod builders you can begin to get a better idea of where rod building related advertising, events and opportunities are likely to be stronger or weaker. Is it any wonder that the ICRBE is able to draw so well? It’s general location is within a single day’s drive of a greater number of rod builders than any other location.
Consider the type fishing done in each region and you get a picture of the most popular types of rod blanks and components. Think about the time of year and related weather and you get a seasonal picture of where the rod builders are likely to be fishing, and where they’re hunkered down and building rods.
Good stuff and fun to think about. And if you’re in the business, it’s imperative to understand it.
I’m a sucker for numbers and statistics. I like the picture they paint but remain careful to view them in the proper context. After all, it’s perfectly possible to drown in a lake with an average depth of just an inch.
The RodMaker Magazine subscriber database offers good insight into where the bulk of the custom rod builders live. It’s easily large enough to provide a reasonable picture of how custom rod builders are distributed here in the U.S. But just like that lake with the average depth of just an inch, you have to view the numbers in the larger overall picture. For instance, if you were to view the numbers for many of the Northeast states separately, you might think that the density of rod builders in the northeast is pretty low. However, when you take the larger view and overlay a state the size of California or Texas onto a map of the northeast, you suddenly realize that a ton of rod builders do indeed live in the northeast.
Okay, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers…
Alabama – 254
Alaska – 73
Arizona – 170
Arkansas – 109
California – 1464
Colorado – 219
Connecticut – 249
Delaware – 97
Florida – 1279
Georgia – 367
Hawaii – 92
Idaho – 109
Illinois – 369
Indiana – 198
Iowa – 299
Kansas – 161
Kentucky – 132
Louisiana – 201
Maine – 76
Maryland – 245
Massachusetts – 304
Michigan – 489
Military APO – 78
Minnesota – 517
Missouri – 243
Mississippi – 94
Montana – 170
Nebraska – 46
Nevada – 73
New Hampshire – 68
New Jersey – 499
New York – 749
New Mexico – 82
North Carolina – 1232
North Dakota – 46
Ohio – 399
Oklahoma – 136
Oregon – 273
Pennsylvania – 743
Puerto Rico – 9
Rhode Island – 57
South Carolina – 245
South Dakota – 73
Tennessee – 398
Texas – 1157
Utah – 46
Vermont – 10
Virginia – 496
Washington – 452
West Virginia – 72
Wisconsin – 369
Wyoming – 36
There are some interesting observations to be made from looking at the numbers of subscribers in each state. But to truly understand the larger demographic picture, you have to consolidate the numbers into larger and more geographically pertinent sections. We’ll save that for tomorrow.
Tomorrow – What the numbers really mean…
The vast majority of the articles that appear in RodMaker pertain to new methods and techniques. Nuts and bolts “how-to” stuff. Realizing, however, that many builders sell their rods and are thus businessmen as well, we have and will continue to run articles pertaining to the business side of custom rod building.
We’ve done quite a bit with the Federal Sportfishing Excise Tax, business licensing and state and local ordinances. Back in Volume 8, issues 3, 4 and 5, we ran a very comprehensive and in-depth series of articles on Pricing Custom Rods. This included a segment on how to accurately figure the real cost of building a rod (it’s more than just your component parts), what builders across North America are actually charging and getting for their rods, and what cosmetics and custom enhancements fishermen are actually willing to pay for. It remains one of the most popular article series we’ve done in RodMaker thus far.
While pricing inquiries top the list of the business related questions received, questions about business competition and tactics are not far behind. Many relate to the modern use of the internet and what they feel has become a stomping ground for builders wishing to undermine other builders by untruthful comments or outright mudslinging on the myriad number of fishing forums around these days. Sadly, it has become a sign of the times we live in.
The answer, however, doesn’t require an article. It’s short, simple, to the point and guaranteed to work every time. In the event you find yourself on the end of negative, untruthful comments or a viscous mudslinging campaign, do nothing. That’s right – do absolutely nothing. The average consumer is rarely swayed by mudslinging and most will turn away from those doing the slinging. In fact, businesspersons who participate in such unprofessional conduct are committing business suicide – they’re just not savvy enough to realize it until it’s too late. So as hard as it may be, bide your time and keep your mouth shut. All will end well.
Finally, under no circumstances ever berate or criticize a competitor. You wouldn’t do business with anyone that engages in poor or unethical conduct and neither will your customers. Remember, “All the world’s a stage” and your public conduct, good or bad, creates your professional reputation in the eyes of potential customers.
Each week I get letters or emails from readers wanting to know how to go about getting one of their custom rods featured in the RodMaker Magazine Photo Gallery. Actually, it’s not hard and I’m always happy to feature nearly any custom rod in the magazine’s color center. There are a few requirements, however, and I’ll cover them here.
First and foremost, the rod or photo cannot have previously appeared anywhere else. For the most part, this means somewhere on the internet. It’s quite common these days for a rod builder who’s just completed a new rod to want to show it off. The first place most turn to is www.rodbuilding.org/photopost – the internet’s largest custom rod building photo collection. However, once a rod appears there, it can’t appear in the magazine. RodMaker readers won’t stand for recycled material – photos or articles. What appears in the magazine must be completely original and previously unpublished.
Granted, many don’t want to wait a month or more to see their rod photos appear in print. But consider this – even though the photo page mentioned above is the most popular on the internet, it still caters to just a couple or three thousand custom rod builders. On the other hand, the magazine reaches over 15,000 builders each and every issue. Thus, if you want your work to be seen by the greatest number of builders possible, RodMaker is the place to do that – and by a wide, wide margin.
Beyond that, the magazine is printed on a very high line screen. Print is a much more demanding medium than the internet. To look their best in print, photos need to be in sharp focus, and supplied in high resolution format. Tiff files are preferred, but I can work with jpeg files provided the images are large enough to be edited and resampled. Your camera’s highest “quality” setting generally provides a large enough image to work with.
Finally, the photo must be attractively staged. What I’ll never do, is present someone’s hard work in a less than favorable setting. Having a beautiful custom rod lying on a ratty housecoat or worn dog bed just won’t cut it. I receive many photos of extremely nice custom rods that I have to turn down for publication for just this very reason. And that’s a shame. If you want your work to be presented in the best manner possible, keep in mind that the setting and background count.
Finally, photo submissions should be made by burning several images to a CD and mailing them to: RodMaker, PO Box 1322, High Point, NC 27261. Please remember to include your name, mailing address and any pertinent information for the photos.
Custom rod builders often look at each other as competitors. Which, of course, they often are. When builders are located in close proximity this can sometimes result in less than friendly relations. It shouldn’t.
I began selling rods to the public in the early 1980’s. Very shortly afterwards I met several other area rod builders who were also selling rods in roughly the same market that I was. And yet for the most part, there was never any animosity between us.
Among the first builders I encountered were those who worked for or hung around at P&M Bait & Tackle in Winston-Salem, NC. Bobby Smith was the resident builder. Bobby was a first class guy and P&M enjoyed a tremendous custom surf rod business. It was there that I also met local builders Jim Reid, David Covington and Mike Bolt. In fact, I installed the grips on the first surf rods that Mike ever built. Mike, along with his dad JC, eventually went on to operate a highly successful rod building and tackle repair business for several years. It was at P&M that I also made the acquaintance of a rod builder who would become a very dear friend – Veque Sprinkle.
In time, I ended up doing all the repair work and most of the custom rod building work for P&M. Had I originally seen them as competitors to be reckoned with, that might never have happened.
Over towards Greensboro I found Buddy Owens, a good friend and outstanding rod builder to this day. Bill Poe had been building rods down in Staley, NC since the mid-1970’s. Perhaps even a little earlier. Bill is one of the nicest builders you’ll ever meet. I ran into Don Hanner, another Greensboro area rod builder, just last week. We’ve always been on good terms even though we sometimes competed for the same customers.
There are other builders that don’t come to mind at the moment. I wish I could remember them all. My point here is that in many cases, we developed friendships that allowed us to call upon each other when in a pinch for a spool of thread, a particular guide or even an idea. While we sometimes competed for the same customers, there was never any animosity nor professional jealousy among any of us. In the long term, our friendly relationships allowed us to do more than any of us could have done separately.
I launched RodMaker in the Spring of 1998 as the first rod building publication available by subscription and outside of an organization. At that time the now defunct RodCrafters Association had the only rod building publication in existence. Rather than compete, I offered to cooperate. One afternoon I called Cam Clark, the editor of the RodCrafters Journal, and told him that I thought we could both do well and even land many of the same members/subscribers. It was my thinking that builders would enjoy having more information, rather than less. I suggested that we keep in touch and try not to duplicate material – which would result in builders not wanting both publications. I even went so far as to publish a complete listing of all the upcoming RodCrafter seminars in my Volume 1 #5 issue.
In the summer of 1998, rod builder Richard Sacco had submitted “All Purpose Bass Rod – A Different Twist” to both publications. Cam called and said he really wanted to run it in the Journal and would appreciate it if I’d stand down and let him have it. He said he needed time to prepare it and was worried I’d beat him to the punch and run it first. I told him to go ahead and run it in his publication and assured him that I wouldn’t publish it. I kept my word. Cam eventually published the article in the July/August/September 1999 edition of his publication.
Looking back, I have to believe that where cooperation has existed the parties involved have fared better than they might otherwise have done. This has been my personal experience and I suspect that if more rod builders would acquaint themselves with other builders in their area and operate on a friendly basis, they might be surprised at the outcome.
About the only thing worse than arriving late for the party, is to arrive late and yet assume that you know everything that’s gone on prior to your arrival.
Not so very long ago, a novice rod builder called me and attempted to explain why casting reel seats were improperly designed. In his mind, he felt sure that he had the solution to what he assumed was an ongoing problem with such reel seats. Trouble was, the situation he assumed to be so very troubling to thousands of custom builders had been solved some 25 years earlier with the introduction of cushioned hood liners. He hadn’t been around long enough to know that his perceived problem, was actually no problem at all.
Even more recently a new player entered the component distributor field and immediately began enthusiastically sourcing product for which there was really very little, if any, market. In the rush to move to the forefront, the company had failed to do the market research necessary to understand which endeavors were temporary trends by a few, and which were long term staples of the mainstream custom rod building craft. The result has been product that sits on the shelf and gathers dust.
It’s true that most participants in any craft, endeavor, etc., are prone to sitting back and just doing things they way they’ve always been done. It falls on a few to push the envelope and develop the new methods and techniques that take things to new levels. Sometimes it’s the new blood that joins in the middle of the game that helps accomplish this. But often those who come in late waste a lot of time and energy because they underestimated those already involved and failed to take a little time to fully comprehend the history of what’s come before.
Between 1910 and 1912, during the race to be first at the South Pole, Captain Robert Scott and the Royal Navy believed that their superior intellect and advanced technology easily bested that of any native peoples and would thus ensure that Scott’s party arrived at the pole first. Conversely, Norwegian Roald Amundsen had spent enough time with the Greenland Eskimos to deduce that these seemingly primitive people had not only survived, but actually thrived in terribly adverse conditions for centuries. Amundsen made up his mind that these people obviously knew something about how to manage in spite of an extremely harsh environment. He choose to emulate their clothing and transportation methods. History tells the tale – Scott and his party suffered horribly and died. Amundsen and his party sailed into history and according to Amundsen, “We were never cold nor hungry.”
Moral of the story – When you enter into a new endeavor, always do yourself a favor and build on the experience, including the mistakes, of others. Before you decide that you know more than those who have practiced a craft for decades, take a step back and carefully listen to what they’ve got to say. There’s a lot to be said for enthusiasm and book knowledge, but there’s even more to be said for experience. Folks that have been doing something successfully for a long time often know exactly what they’re doing.
Custom rod building is a worldwide craft/hobby. Many builders call or write and ask why RodMaker Magazine isn’t available on the worldwide market. So I’d like to explain why it’s only available in certain markets, primarily the United States.
The first 4 years that RodMaker was in operation, I offered subscriptions Outside the U.S. for $49.95. Quality magazines are heavy and the postage required to get a copy around the world ran as much as $6 per single issue. And that was then – it’s a lot more these days.
By 1999, RodMaker already had over 350 subscribers in foreign locales. And about 50% of the issues mailed to those locales never made it to their intended destination. The end result was a constant re-mailing of issues and a postage bill that simply became unsustainable.
Beyond that was the terrorist attack on the U.S. in 2001. Suddenly anything the size of a magazine required that a customs form be filled out and the item mailed in person from a physical Post Office. The amount of time I spent filling out customs forms and standing in line at the Post Office simply became more than I could afford.
In 2002, I dropped all foreign subscriptions.
The question I’m asked most often is why are folks in foreign countries able to obtain other U.S. produced magazines by mail? There’s more than meets the eye in this regard. It’s common for large publishing houses to print issues in several locations – those intended for foreign distribution are often published in those locations and mailed from there. RodMaker, on the other hand, is published here in a single location here in the U.S. Please keep in mind that while RodMaker is huge compared to any other rod building periodical, it’s comparatively small, even tiny, when viewed against publications such as Sports Illustrated, National Geographic or Time. It just hasn’t been feasible to continue offering RodMaker subscriptions to foreign locations.
The good news, however, is that a handful of private businessmen in foreign locations do purchase quantities of RodMaker and resell them to builders in their own locales. Ian Miller in Australia, Timo Keil in Germany and Ian Scott in Canada. If you’re nearby one of them, you can probably obtain RodMaker. Do be aware that any such subscriptions do not come from me, but from these independent businesses. Therefore you must deal directly with them.
I continue to try and source some type of international bulk mailing service that can get the job done efficiently and at a reasonable cost. So far, no luck. But I’ll continue my search until something turns up. In the meantime, please understand that I’m not overlooking those custom builders in countries other than the U.S. – I just haven’t arrived at a feasible way to supply them, yet.
Foreign RodMaker Magazine subscriptions are available through these independent business persons:
Australia - Ian@millerods.com
Canada - Ian@pairowoodies.com
Germany - firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s no doubt that there are more folks selling more rod building blanks and components than at any time in history. This isn’t necessarily good for the health of the rod building industry, but it’s also not the subject of today’s blog entry. I mention it only because I’m reminded that there was a time when far fewer component supply dealers existed and with the aging of so many long time rod builders, many of those firms are in danger of being forgotten.
My rod building career began in the mid-1970’s as I was preparing to graduate high school. I had been building my own inline spinners, spinnerbaits and plugs for a few years and had seen rod building blanks and components in a few of the lure making catalogs. E. Hille and NetCraft seemed to carry some rod building stuff, as did Limit Manufacturing (now Barlow’s Tackle in TX). Of course, Cabelas had some stuff.
As I became more active in rod building I sought out more dealers. Keep in mind that in those days, a catalog was indeed a “wishbook,” particularly to a kid who had more imagination than money. All the dealers published yearly catalogs. At the back of each catalog was an order form. You filled it out, attached a check or money order, mailed it and then waited for the treasure to arrive. That was how business was done in those days.
By the late 1970’s there were quite a few companies dealing in rod building supplies. The books by C. Boyd Pfeiffer and Dale Clemens had done a lot to expand interest in rod building and new suppliers had sprung up quickly to answer the growing demand.
Boyd and Dale both had their own companies – Tackle Crafters and Clemens Custom Tackle respectively. Lloyd Simmons and Lloyd Bingham were a bit more obscure but each had their own loyal following. There was a company in Miami, FL named “Rodmakers Supply.” I never bought from them and still don’t know much about them. Of course J. Lee Cuddy was also located in Florida and they were one of the big names in the business at that time. Biscayne Rod Company was there too and has long offered blanks and supplies to custom builders. They produced their own rod line and were highly respected among serious anglers.
Of course around that same time Gene Bullard was making a name for himself in Texas. I bought much of my early materials from Bullard International. Later, as we turned the corner into the 1980s, I found Mac Kelly at Heads or Tails in Louisiana. “HoT” was my main supplier for many years. Somewhere in the mid-1980’s I stumbled onto Ray Carey at Rays’ Custom Rods up in Arlington, OH.
Bob McKamey and Karen Hapka had purchased Simmons and Bingham mid-way through the 1980’s. Merrick Tackle was already a staple by then and I think they go back a long, long ways. Angler’s Workshop up in Washington has been around a good while and I think they were active in the 70’s as well.
I remember seeing advertisements for Corens Rod & Reel in Chicago and a place called Tackle Chandlers in Virginia, but I have no idea if either is still around. No doubt there were others. Some I can’t recall at the moment and others that I simply never knew about. I think it would be fantastic if any of you reading this blog entry would take a moment and mention any dealer or supplier that I might have left out. I’d particularly like to hear about any dealers that were around in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. There’s not too many rod builders left from that era and it’d be interesting to know where they bought their supplies and what type of stuff was available during those earlier times.