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New Issue

The Volume 19 #4 issue of RodMaker is in the mail now. Most subscribers will receive it towards the end of this month.



TTW Expo Report

Here’s the latest report on the 2013 Expo by the folks at Tackle Trade World:

Early Exhibitor List

The 2013 International Custom Rod Building Exposition has already signed several exhibitors. And… the booth contracts were only mailed middle of last week!


The first companies to sign on are:


American Tackle

Angler’s Roost

Bingham Enterprises

Mudhole Custom Tackle

United Composites USA

Total booths taken: 17. A pretty good start for the first week!

Expect the list to double, or triple, by late next week. Expect to see 50+ companies on board by late August as we move towards the largest Expo in history.


Tom Kirkman




The “Experiment” Turns Twelve.

On June 7th, 2001, at 11:24 PM, Wendy Woudstra of made a test post on a new type of forum for custom rod builders. There had never been anything like it before, nor since.

At the outset I wanted to provide a public forum for the exchange of custom rod building information that was devoid of the sort of rude, crude, fighting and flaming that was so prevalent on many public internet forums. To that end I installed a set of rules which required users to register with and use their actual first and last names. Folks tend to behave better when other folks know who they are.


The rules also indicated what would be acceptable in terms of overall conduct. Disagreements were expected and would be allowed, provided they were civil. While I saw nothing in the rules that was overbearing, I quickly received numerous emails and phone calls from folks who were very upset at what was required in order to participate. Few thought such a format could thrive, if even survive. And yet, to this day, has been the most successful rod building forum on the internet. The daily traffic, the number of registered users and the support provided by an industry that feels comfortable being a part of a such a forum, has proved the idea can and has worked.


Sure, there have been a few problems. But only on extremely rare occasions does a user get banned, and then only for repeated rules violations. And no one has ever been banned for simple disagreements. In fact, out of over 7,000 registered users, only 16 people have ever been banned from That’s less than 1% of the total user base in 12 years. This tells me that most rod building folks are indeed level headed individuals who just want to build rods, learn from each other builders and have fun while doing so.

Sure, we’ve had a few bad egg sponsors. But very few. has maintained a sponsor list each year of from 50 to 60 companies. The total number of individual companies involved in the past 12 years has run just over 80. Many of our original sponsors are still with us. While some came and went due to the usual ups and downs of the business world, only 3 were ever “given the boot” for defrauding anyone. Another testament to the good business practices that prevail in the rod building craft.


Some of you have likely heard me say that if I had it to do over again I’d have never started an internet forum. Frankly, there are days when I still feel that way – you have to watch such public forums like a hawk, which can get in the way of other things you’d rather be doing. But when I consider the 388,000+ posts (all about rod building) made in the past 12 years, the number of builders that have been helped, the friendships made and ideas shared, I can’t envision the craft without this or similar forums. In other words, I think it’s all been worth it. I hope you feel the same way.


Tom Kirkman




Expo Criteria

Compared to the general fishing population, custom rod builders are few and far between.  This is why an event like the Expo, which must support anywhere from 40 to 50 manufacturers and dealers exhibiting in 85 to 90 booths, will only work in a handful of possible locations here in the U.S.


There just aren’t enough rod builders in any particular region to support an event the size of the Expo. Put the event in the wrong place and you wide up with a regional event which at best will only draw a few hundred builders. This leads to financial losses for the exhibitors and precludes them exhibiting in the future. In other words, the event dies.


The International Custom Rod Building Exposition has enjoyed tremendous success these past 9 years. Luck, however, has had nothing to do with it. You don’t get lucky 9 times in a row!


Others have attempted to emulate the Expo but none have succeeded. Not for lack of trying or sincerity, but for a failure to understand the demographics of the craft and therefore not being able to locate their event in a place which meets all or at least most of the necessary criteria required in order to successfully stage something like the Expo.


The RodMaker Magazine mailing list provides a good general overview of rod building demographics in the U.S.  When you look it over, you see that well over half of all the rod builders live east of the Mississippi River. If you want the event to be within a single day’s drive of the greatest number of rod builders, you’re faced with the fact that the event must be held in the eastern third of the Country.

A nearby international airport is an absolute must – we’re talking about it being within 15 miles or so of the event facility. Amtrak is nice, but not altogether required. Major interstate highways should run within a very few miles of the event facility and lodging.


Weather is your next concern.  Northern winters, along with the similar harsh winters of the Southern Appalachian Highlands, put any such event at huge risk. So, you need to stay south of the Mason-Dixon line for the best weather luck. But not too far south or you’re no longer within that single day’s drive for most of the builders.


Only a few locations then become apparent. Atlanta is one of the top convention towns in America. It has almost every single thing going for it in terms of being a great place to host an event like the Expo. There’s just one catch – the bulk of the rod building industry is made up of mom-and-pop type companies. Only a handful could afford the cost to exhibit in a place like Atlanta.  So, regretfully, scratch Atlanta. While it would be great for ICast or AFFTA, it’s just a tad bit out of the ICRBE’s reach.


Further south than Atlanta takes you out of that single day’s drive of most of the rod builders. So now you turn and look north of Atlanta, but not too far north – remember that the chance of a bad winter storm increases the further north you go.


So now you come to Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville or Charlotte. All have a lot going for them.  But the high altitudes of Knoxville, and particularly Asheville, put you back in danger of major winter storms. The other two are still very much viable.


Raleigh just built a new convention center in its downtown. It’s one of a few cities that could make an outstanding location for the Expo all the way around. It certainly meets just about all the necessary criteria involved. I like Roanoke and Richmond too, but they miss on at least a few of the criteria needed.


And of course, High Point isn’t the home of the world’s largest trade show for no reason – the International Home Furnishings Market has been here since 1911 and neither Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco nor Atlanta have been successful in their many attempts to lure it away.  Imagine that.


Sister city Greensboro isn’t half bad but presents a few logistics problems for out of towners – it has convention facilities galore, but most are single hotel/convention complexes. Nice as they are, they can present logistics problems when your crowd prefers more than one hotel.  The city’s large coliseum complex, is nowhere near walking distance of any hotel.


The bottom line is that everyone would like to have the Expo in their backyard. The reality is that such a thing just isn’t possible – not if you want something the size of the Expo to succeed. There are only a handful of places where this particular event is possible and tomorrow I’ll give you a great hint/riddle as to which one I’ve chosen.


Tom Kirkman




The RodMaker Reception


What you can’t see in this panorama, are the folks sitting in the chairs lining the back wall from one side of the hall to the other, nor the people seated at the tables set at the back right and far left hand side of the room. One other thing you can’t see is the look of relief on my face as I realized that once again, we wouldn’t exceed the 450 person carrying capacity of the room.  But it was close, very close.


I never know beforehand just how many folks are going to show up – there is no registration required. So there’s always a bit of apprehension as subscribers start pouring into the hall. I never relax until I can see the end of the line and can then do a quick mental check to make sure that those remaining outside, will all fit, inside.


The RodMaker Reception has become a staple of the International Custom Rod Building Exposition. Held every year since since the 2nd Expo, it offers an opportunity for the magazine subscribers who are in town for the Expo to relax, meet and talk with other rod builders. They eat, drink, and have fun while hoping to win one of about 100 free door prizes. The door prizes for 2012 included a large assortment of high end rod lathes/wrappers, blanks, components, tools, etc. The odds of winning something are about 1 in 4. Not bad at all, and there is no cost to enter. Everybody gets a chance, the same chance, to win. About 100 people did just that.


There are no speeches nor presentations. Just a few quick words concerning the Expo’s opening time and perhaps a few mentions of other pertinent items. That’s it – food, fun, fellowship and lots of free stuff. RodMaker is the only entity in custom rod building that does this for it’s customers. I hope to be able to continue doing it, for a long, long while.


Tom Kirkman



Eight Weeks and Counting…

While I was preparing the photos from last year’s Expo for inclusion in RodMaker, I kept running into a common theme in nearly all of them. No, not custom rod building, although that’s surely the overall reason for the event. Rather, in every single photograph I opened, I was confronted by wide grins and smiles on the faces of those who attended and displayed.


People come to the Expo for a lot of reasons. Some are here for the big savings on blanks and components that companies only offer during this once a year event. Others come to attend the Expo seminars and increase their rod building knowledge by leaps and bounds.

Some builders say the camaradarie with other builders is why they travel here, often from very long distances. Others say it’s the chance to talk to the actual people who own and operate the companies that make all these fine products for us. After all, who knows a product better than the people who actually design and make it? And there’s more of those people here than at any other rod building event in the world.

Of course we get some media folks too. They’re here to shoot photos for their publications. And we get some general tackle industry people here as well. They’re here to find out what the upcoming trends in fishing rods are going to be.

Yet while these comprise the reasons most state when asked, I think there is an even greater reason they come to the Expo each year. Look at their faces – they’re here to have fun.


Tom Kirkman




Got a note from Greg Stotesbury at AFTCO Mfg. last week asking me why AFTCO wasn’t on the list of exhibitors for the upcoming 2012 International Custom Rod Building Exposition. After all, AFTCO was among the very first to purchase booth space for the event. The reason was that I simply made a mistake and omitted them – something I’ll now correct below with my sincere apology  for the omission:


Exhibitors for the 2012 International Custom Rod Building Exposition


 As of October 15th, 2011




American Tackle


Angler’s Envy


Angler’s Resource (Fuji)


Angler’s Roost




Bingham Enterprises


Decal Connection




Hydra Fishing, LLC


Jim Upton Weaving


Ken and Lana Preston Rods


Lamiglas, Inc.


Mar Ktruz LDA Cork


Mickels Custom Rods


Mud Hole Custom Tackle


NERBS – Northeast Rod Builders


North Fork Composites


Renzetti, Inc.




RodMaker Magazine


Schlesinger Wood Turning


Seeker Rod Company


Skin Shop USA


St. Croix Rods


Sticks ‘N Bones




Talon Graphite


Tiage USA


Trondak U-40


Woodworkers Shop


More TBA by October 20th, 2011



A Shameless Plug…

Custom rod builders who rely on the internet for the bulk of their rod building information and education will always lag behind those who subscribe to RodMaker.

When did you first hear of Micro Guides, Carbon Skinned Grips, The Common Cents System, Marbling, Free Form or Beaded Wraps?  When you attend a rod building seminar and watch a demonstration on how to flock your own grips, inlay snake skin, create a true “threadless” guide wrap, or spin your own metal components, did you stop to wonder where the presenter learned the technique? When you saw your first Birch Bark Grip or Off-Angle Inlay, did you wonder where these were first unveiled? The answer to all of the above is, of course, RodMaker Magazine. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

RodMaker is first with most of the new ideas and methods that make the modern rod building craft what it is.  The hundreds of completely new, innovative and ground breaking techniques that have appeared in RodMaker over the past 15 years have only trickled down to the internet months, and in some cases, years later.

While RodMaker has long been known for the high quality rod building information it presents, it’s also a very attractive publication. While the appearance of a magazine is secondary to the information it presents, being able to present that information in a pleasing, easy on the eyes format is an added benefit to the reader.

RodMaker is printed on heavy, bright white, glossy stock. Of course, this costs more to print and mail than a publication done on lesser stock, and although not absolutely necessary, it goes a long way in providing the reader with a sturdy and substantial magazine that is suitable for long term reference.  Many, if not most RodMaker subscribers, save their RodMaker copies for years on end.

So how much does such a high quality publication, with the newest rod building techniques and methods cost? Not much, really.  Six full issues, mailed to your doorstep, is just $27.95. That comes out to just $4.66 per issue. Last time I checked, a Big Mac Value Meal was considerably more than that, and while tasty, won’t teach you a thing about building better custom fishing rods.


Tom Kirkman






A Tough Decision

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have no desire to host another International Custom Rod Building Exposition. I didn’t intend to stay with it after the record setting 2010 event, but relented and did host the event again in 2011. And then that one proceeded to set new attendance and sales records. Seemed like a great time to go out – on top!


In fact every single Expo has surpassed the previous one. And even the very first one held back in 2004, small by recent standards, was larger and more successful than any other rod building event in history. So with so much success, why not continue?


The thing is, hosting an event on this scale, for what amounts to a relatively small craft and industry, and yet needing to pull in attendees from all over the world, entails a tremendous financial risk. To this day I’m the only person that has been willing to assume that sort of risk to do something on this scale for the craft and industry. Frankly, I have never and will never make dime on the Expo. My bottom line would be the same with or without it, and with it there is always the possibility of something happening that resulted in a loss of tens of thousands of dollars on my end. The safest bet for me is not to do it.


To that end, I waited a long time before making a decision this year.  I kept hoping that somebody, anybody, would step up to the plate with some event, any event, that would benefit the larger mainstream craft and industry. That way, I could slip out without feeling too bad about not hosting another Expo. It didn’t happen.


Last week I was talking with a dealer who mentioned that the Expo accounts for almost 30% of their yearly business. That followed with two more dealers who said roughly the same thing.  This past weekend I got a note from a well known builder who wanted to know if I had any idea how much fun the builders have at the Expo and how much it means to them to have something like this. I guess those things sort of escaped me while I was busy counting beans.


The bottom line is that nobody else is willing to do it. If I don’t do it, nobody else will. And as much as I really didn’t want to do it again, I feel almost compelled to do it in support of the craft and industry. Without it, custom rod building will most likely never again have an event on the same scale and quality as what the woodworkers, turners, knife makers, etc., do. So… okay, I’ll do it.  We’ll have a 2012 Expo. Details are on the official event website at


Tom Kirkman


P.S. Those that know me are fully aware that I don’t do anything halfway.  If I’m going to do another Expo, I’ll make it the best in our history. Thus, the 2012 International Custom Rod Building Exposition will be even bigger and better than the 2011 event. Count on it.