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September 21, 2007

The Custom Rod Craze

If you're really into tackle,as I am, chances are that some day you'll own a custom rod.

f you're really into tackle, as I am, chances are that some day you'll own a custom rod designed to match your fishing style and the species you pursue. There's a certain satisfaction that a made-to-order rod produces. In your hand it becomes a fine-tuned instrument, a perfectly crafted tool to help you achieve your fishing goals. Action, material and components aside, choosing a rod color or design that matches the existing outfits in your collection can also be important for some anglers. Even as a teenager, a lot of my fishing money went toward developing an original custom rod collection. (Okay, so I was a little different than most kids.) My arsenal of Uslan custom rods included models ranging from an ultra-light spinning stick to an 80-pound-class "Swordfish Special," a relic of the recreational South Florida swordfishing boom of the late '70s. The all-white blanks were accented with blue, yellow and black wraps and diamonds, pretty traditional cosmetics by modern standards. Today, a growing number of mostly big-game anglers are becoming less content with traditional custom rod finishes, and have been challenging rod builders to create special one-off designs. Not only do these fishermen want the best-performing rods money can buy, they want their tackle to attract attention on and off the water. These cosmetic undertakings often involve painting a customer's rods the same color as his boat's hull, with the thread colors used in the guide wraps and any design weaves matching those in the boot stripes and transom lettering. Even components like reel seats, guides and gimbals can be special-ordered in various colors to further the unique appearance. To give you some idea of what's going on in the world of custom tackle, we visited with three leading custom rod builders. Here's what they had to report: Splatter This! Probably the wildest looking rods out there are the "splatter-painted" designs developed and patented by Drew Thompson, president of Rods by "Dru." This North Palm Beach, Florida, custom rod maker has been building high-end products for 22 years. Although Rods by "Dru" builds everything from fly rods on up, the company's specialty is its big-game line. In fact, Dru's rods have helped take the four-pound, six-pound, eight-pound, and 12-pound-class men's Atlantic blue marlin world records, as well as the men's 80-pound-class world-record swordfish of 657 pounds. As an option to his "traditional" rod finishes, Drew designed a bolder look that would appeal to a younger generation of anglers, hence the Splatter Rods. "We kind of came up with a younger crowd in the big-boat industry," Drew explains. "There are a lot of 35- to 40-year-olds who now own big sport fishing boats, and they want to be different and loud. They want their boats and tackle to be seen at the dock. So we introduced the Splatter Rods, and they loved them. We've been selling a ton of them." According to Drew, it took him a year to perfect the Splatter process. Basically, once the base color of the rod is chosen and the blank painted, the secondary colors are hand-thrown on in half-moon shapes-one color at a time-with a device resembling an ice pick as the rod rotates on a machine. When the splatter painting is complete, the rod is finished off with multiple clear coats. "The paint has to go on just right," says Drew. "It can't be thick, and you have to throw it on lightly to keep the paint from separating. The paint isn't brushed on. Done correctly, the colors sort of melt together in a very smooth, uniform fashion. It took my associate six months to get it down! Even though the color scheme may be the same for a series of rods, each one is unique because of the splatter painting. As simple as it seems, it's pretty difficult to master." With custom splatter-painted rods, the colors usually match the customer's boat. That is, if the boat's hull is blue, the bottom black and the boot stripe white, the primary rod color will be blue, while the splatter paint will be black and white. "After we mastered the Splatter Rods, we wanted to get wilder," says Drew. "So we now have flames, wood tones, and camouflage finishes. And, of course, we still specialize in more traditional finishes. Basically, whatever the customer wants, we'll create." Match the Boat Albert Castro, president of Leeward Rod Company in Miami, maintains an impressive clientele of big-game anglers worldwide, and also builds many of the custom rods exclusive to a few major tackle centers. His business echoes the trend in rods that match an owner's boat. "We build custom rods for many of the big pro boats, such as the Marlin Monroe, Sharkey's Revenge, Marlinizer, H.T. Hook and Invader, and all their rods have to match their boats, right down to the smallest details," says Albert. "Take the Marlin Monroe, for example. The hull is sea-foam green, so we picked a color that matched the hull and painted the rod blanks. To accent the rods, the underwraps were done in black and the overwraps in blue. We used gold, black and white checks, and all those colors, including blue, were woven into a diamond pattern. The boat name appears in gold leaf, and looks the same way as on the transom. "I've had orders where I had to experiment and mix paints to precisely match the color of an owner's boat. Then it's often the color of the boot stripe, name and even interior that determines the wraps, checks and any chevrons or diamonds. Almost all these rods bear the boat's name, and we can come very close to matching the way it appears on the transom." Albert also explained that metallic thread is becoming more popular as a wrap accent. "We've been using metallics for a while now," says Albert. "But more and more people are using these brighter colors to make their rods, reels and guides tie in uniformly. We use the metallics mostly as an underwrap, as well as for checks, chevrons and diamonds. We use nylon thread as an overwrap because it's stronger." Albert also mentions that reel-seat components (rod stem, hood and nuts), as well as gimbals, now come in a variety of anodized colors, including red, green, ice-blue, cobalt-blue, purple, gold, black and silver. This gives the customer more options when it comes to color-coordinating a rod over the traditional silver, black, and black- and-gold reel seats and gimbals. Fish Weaves "People are really getting into their rods these days," says John Giannini, who along with Lee Selman and Bryan Bennett head up J&M Tackle in Orange Beach, Alabama. One of the largest tackle centers in the southeast, J&M's custom-built rods are in high demand among offshore and inshore fishermen worldwide. "Years ago, people wanted rods with lots of color and flash," says John. "Now they want sleeker-looking rods, like those with black blanks and gold highlights, for example." Known for building rods that are as cosmetically appealing as they are functional, J&M's artistic touches range from painting the blank to match a customer's boat, to using metallic threads for a more striking appearance, to custom weaves. These custom weaves include intricately detailed wraps, such as a diamond or chevron, the vessel's name, and even specific game fish. J&M's fish weaves, incidentally, were designed by Bryan Bennett and have become extremely popular alternatives to chevron and diamond wraps on boat rods. In fact, they grace roughly 60 percent of J&M's custom big-game rods. "Our fish weaves are quite popular on our stand-up rods," says John. "There is no room for a butt wrap, so we encourage putting a fish weave between the first and second guide. It makes for a classy-looking rod. Our most popular fish weave is a blue marlin chasing a dolphin. Next, it's a dolphin, followed by a sailfish, tuna and wahoo. Our most popular fish weave in the Northeast is the tuna. "We have an extensive inventory of weaves to choose from, or we can work with a customer to create one. It's the same when we build a custom rod. We can recommend certain colors and weaves, or match what the customer wants." It's often best to order a custom rod at the rod-builder's shop, where there are sample blanks and inventories of wraps and weaves to review. However, because of J&M's broad geographic clientele, and that of other custom rod builders, phone orders are a big part of the business. When taking an order, J&M consults with the customer to get a feel for the kind of rod he or she is looking for. Once that's established, the focus centers on color and decorative trim options, including the guides and components. J&M will build and send guide-wrap samples for special one-off designs, or a selection from those in stock. By doing this, adjustments in the wraps can be made to make sure a rod is exactly what the customer is looking for. "We get it nailed down damn perfect," says John. Considering the amount of money a big-game angler invests in his boat and tackle, going one step further to personalize his custom rods isn't a big deal. In fact, any cost increase is likely to be marginal. Thanks to the artistic talents of the many custom rod builders out there, a fisherman and his crew can look really sharp and professional. It's just too bad the fish don't care