Expo Origins

Most rod builders recognize the International Custom Rod Building Exposition as the world’s largest custom rod building event. What many don’t know, is where it got its start.

While attending Barry Serviente’s 2003 Fly Fishing Show in Charlotte, NC, I approached him about the unused space in the Charlotte Convention Center. Turns out he was paying for more than he could use. A deal was struck to take that unused space and turn it into the 2004 National Rod Builder’s Show.

Looking back at that 2004 event, it seems very small by comparison to today’s “Expo.” But at the time it was by far the largest rod building event ever undertaken. At the time, there were no large scale rod building events held anywhere. Most of the rod building events of that time period were seminar based events where perhaps 25 to 100 or so guys met for a weekend of camaraderie and learning. The National Rod Builders Show took that experience and expanded it beyond what anyone thought possible at that time. The entire concept of bringing together exhibitors, vendors, rod builders and seminars into a single event was new. And it was something that few thought could be done.

The original slate of exhibitors in 2004 included American Tackle, Batson Enterprises, Mud Hole Custom Tackle, Custom Tackle Supply, Trondak U-40, RodMaker Magazine, Mickel’s Custom Rods, REC, Renzetti Inc., Carolina Fish Sticks, Lon Blauvelt Rods, Ken’s Custom Rods and Lamar Reel Seats. That number constitutes barely a fifth the number that display at the Expo these days, but it was still the largest gathering of rod building exhibitors up to that time in history.

The show, which many felt was doomed to failure, not only succeeded but laid the groundwork for what is known as the “Expo” these days. It’s spawned a number of other similar events, although none have managed to keep pace with the Expo. The secret to the success? If I had to list one thing that stands out it would be the fact that the Expo supports the craft and industry, instead of the other way around. And that hasn’t and won’t change as long as I’m involved.

Tom Kirkman