The Mainstream Rod Building Craft

Where is the average custom rod builder? I’m talking less about geography and more along the lines of where you’d be most likely to run into the bulk of those who practice this craft.  Where does the mainstream craft reside? Because I deal with two vastly different mediums, the internet ( and the print industry (RodMaker Magazine), I have a good idea where the mainstream craft actually resides.

Many folks these days think the mainstream custom rod building craft, and those who participate in it, are centered around the internet. But that’s a very inaccurate assessment when you take a hard look at the number of builders active on the various rod building forums combined, versus the total number of builders known to practice the craft.

If you take every rod builder who’s actively participated on an internet forum by making a post of some sort in the past year, you’re only talking a few hundred. Of course, there are more lurkers than posters, but even still, add up every single registered user on every single rod building website and you’re still only talking about a few hundred people.

RodMaker Magazine has over 15,000 rod builders on its current mailing list – that’s several times over the total number of builders active on all the internet forums and chat rooms combined. And yet, even those 15,000 represent but a single digit percentage of all the custom rod builders out there.

Per the registration cards from the International Custom Rod Building Exposition, less than 1 in 10 of the roughly 2000 builders who attend each year learned about the Expo from the internet. The overwhelming number report that they heard about the Expo from the direct mail postcards sent out prior to each year’s event. Most say they’ve never visited any internet rod building website.

According to a study performed by the ASA about a decade ago, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 people who will build their own fishing rod in any given year. Granted, not all continue in the craft for very long but as some fall away others take their place. That number would seem to remain fairly constant. So where are they?

Big, successful companies don’t get that way by doing stupid things. Cabelas continues to print and mail hundreds of thousands of their specialty TackleCraft catalogs each year (and millions of their general product catalogs). Mud Hole Custom Tackle and Jann’s Netcraft are two of the few that continue to print and mail thousands upon thousands of component supply catalogs each year. They certainly wouldn’t take such a huge expense if they could simply reach the majority of the craft via the internet. But they can’t and they’re smart enough to realize it. In fact, the most successful rod building component supply houses are the ones that continue to publish and mail print catalogs.

The fact is, the smart money knows that what you see and read on the various rod building websites, forums and chat rooms compromises but a tiny segment of the overall, far larger, mainstream custom rod building craft. If you’re involved in the rod building industry and have lately focused most of your marketing resources on the internet, you’re missing at least 90% of the business. For now, the bulk of the mainstream rod building craft isn’t to be found on the internet. In fact, 90% of the craft, or better, will never read this precisely because it’s appearing on the internet. Ironic, huh?

Tom Kirkman



  1. Lou Auret on January 19, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    So how do those folks stay up todate if they do not subscribe to Rodmaker and also do not frequent forums? How do they learn their craft or new techniques? Are they lone wolves that have exotic techniques or do they build very ordinary copies of what’s out in the shops?

  2. Tom on January 20, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Most builders never expand their rod building knowledge very far, nor do they ever build more than a small handful of rods. Perhaps one for themselves, a couple for relatives, etc. Then they move on to a different hobby or pastime. The rod building craft is in a constant state of flux, with the majority of those who build a rod this year, leaving the craft as other newcomers then move in to start the process all over again. The number of rod builders who stay abreast of the latest methods and techniques is very small against the overall number of folks who build rods.

    As far as the internet, it doesn’t create information – it only receives and trickles down information after it’s been created elsewhere. Nor does it reach that many rod builders Consider all the rod building events which have utilized the internet as their main means of advertising. Overall, those events have been poorly attended. Now either they were all poor events (I doubt that) or the internet just doesn’t reach that many rod builders. I know I would never rely upon it for the bulk of my Expo advertising.

  3. Lou Auret on January 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Tom,Ok, i get that its a transient thing for many. Rod Kits are often for that market: i always think of them as a sort of ‘paint by numbers’ for the rod builder who will only ever do one or two.
    For me,and i am a serious rod building addict, when i wanted to learn how to apply snakeskin (I got the idea from Rodmaker and from the pictures in the forum) i went to a YouTube video of how to do it. Mudhole have them out there.
    Not as good as one on one instruction from a master. Not even as good as the lectures at the expo(they are great BTW).
    But it worked well enough for me. Even a well written article with pictures like you had in rodmaker is just not the same as the video of how to do it.
    I get ideas from the picture gallery here, some from Rodmaker, then my research tool for technique is the internet. Books are great as a reference tool for some things that have numbers or steps but the techniques i need to see either in person or a video of it. The internet provides that video to me. My public library has little on rodbuilding that is of value.Local Barnes and Noble even less and i live in a fair sized city(Memphis).
    Fair Disclosure: I have worked as a computer professional for 38 years so i have a bias!This is obviously all personal anecdote.
    I also do not need to keep a magazine profitable and growing in bad times!

  4. Tom on January 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    It’s a transient thing for most. Only a very small number of people who pick up the craft ever stick with it over the long haul. This is probably true of most hobbies or crafts.

    I’m sure the youtube video on snake skins was great, but the RodMaker article predated it by several years. That’s my point – the internet doesn’t create information. It takes information created elsewhere, earlier, and dispenses it from there. If you want to stay on the cutting edge (sounds like you do) you’ll have a hard time doing that on the internet. Thus far, anyway.

  5. DMC tips on February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I could not agree more to this. Just brilliant!