Are You Good With Your Hands?

TSF Mag Staff
Are You Good With Your Hands?
Christianna Clingerman demonstrating cross-wrapping skills at the age of 11 during FTU Rod Builder's Expo. Photo by Terry Jones.

Deep within the soul of dedicated outdoorsmen and women lurks a creative spirit seeking expression. And while we all dream of a life afield or on the water every single day, the reality of managing a career and perhaps raising a family dictates otherwise. But we can dream and we can live vicariously. This is the portal through which our creativity creeps and leads us into gratifying hobbies that fill gaps and fuel interest between outdoor adventures.

Some take up wildlife and nature photography. Fly anglers get into creating their own flies. Hunters get drawn into crafting their own ammo, and some delve as deeply as custom gunmaking. Pluggers become involved in customizing fishing lures and sometimes turn original ideas into amazingly effective fish catchers. Is there a better example than Paul Brown's Original Corky?

Now there are myriad reasons for "rolling your own" taking up hobbies and crafts related to outdoor pastimes wherein we actually make things we can use. But to explore only a few, consider that there are situations where nothing on the market fills the niche we perceive, or at least none that works as well as we think it should. And let's face it, even if we only set out to replicate a readily available product in quality and performance, it is always gratifying to admire one's own handiwork. So if catching a fish on your own fly or a set of trophy antlers taken with hand-crafted ammo heightens your enjoyment of outdoor sport have you ever considered building your own fishing rods?

Rod building can be as simple and easy or complicated and artful as you care to make it. Terry Jones, accomplished rodbuilder and manager of the rodbuilding department at Fishing Tackle Unlimited's store at 12800 Gulf Freeway in Houston, puts it like this:

"My first rodmaking goal was simply to build a few rods as good as those by CastAway at the time. But, it soon led to more, much more..."

Danny Meyer, partner and brother of Joe Meyer (who founded FTU to become the largest independent tackle retailer in the country) built his first rod at the tender age of eight, some sixty years ago. So how difficult can it be?

Danny has been building rods all his life but says he has slowed down in the last few years. "There was a time," he recalls, "when this store was on Telephone Road, I was putting out more than three hundred rods a year. Before the rod companies that supply us today. Custom big game tournament rods were a big thing, and surf rods, tuna rods, kingfish and popping rods, fly rods, you name it. Custom one-of-a-kind with fancy wrappings and also common stuff we sold off the racks. I was building all day at the store and had a shop in my house where I worked at night. Eighteen to twenty hours a dayI rarely got a day off during busy season.

Our discussion turned to what aspect of rodbuilding initially attracts the most hobby builders. Terry started by saying that just building something, putting something together with your own hands, that you could use in everyday fishing, probably draws as many or more than anything else. "Anybody who is good with their hands can do it," he said.

"You have always been able to build better rods than you could buy," Danny added. "Especially when an angler wants something rather unique or to suit a specific fishing application. Even with all the offerings from the top-name brands today, and those guys are all turning out great products; more styles, actions and lengths than ever. Custom rods are like tailor-made suits and handmade boots; you can build exactly what you want. That's what attracts people to it.

FTU is home to the largest retail inventory of rodmaking components and supplies available in the southwest and southcentral U.S., with rodbuilding departments in each of their three locations Gulf Freeway, Katy Freeway, and the newest on Southwest Freeway at Sugar Lakes. The Gulf Freeway store alone maintains an inventory greater than four thousand assorted rod blanks. Reel seats, handle materials, guides of every style and size, wrapping thread and glues products to suit everyday casting and spinning all the way to the fanciest works of art that might never go fishing.

So, how to learn more and maybe get started? Rodbuilding classes ranging from beginner through intermediate and advanced are also a large part of FTU's involvement in rodbuilding. "We started holding classes here at Gulf Freeway," Terry said, "but before long we had more interest than we could accommodate and decided to move it to the Katy store."

Kenny Murph heads up the rodbuilding classes at FTU-Katy Freeway. The 2016 schedule for Kenny's Rodbuilding Classes included eight events that began back in April and continue through December. Remaining on the schedule are an Advanced class on October 29 and an Intro/Intermediate session slated for December 3. Admission is free but space is limited. Early-signup is definitely advised. Phone 713-827-7762 or email warren@fishingtackleunlimited for details and reservations.

Another great attraction for the rodbuilding curious, as well as those actively building from across Texas, has been the FTU Rod Builder's Expo. This two-day event, held in mid-April the weekend following their famous Salesman's Sample Sale for the past nine years (at the Gulf Freeway location), has grown phenomenally in both interest and participation. This event is simply too big to host indoors, and to keep costs low for the vendors and exhibitors who participate, the giant tents that house Salesman's Sample Sale are held over to accommodate the expo. Manufacturer's and other suppliers to the trade come together to meet and greet the public and also present detailed seminars and classes. Whether you are merely curious, ready to take the plunge or already building, this is one event you do not want to miss.

Drop by FTU or contact any of the suppliers in the accompanying sidebar. If crafting your own fishing rods piques your interest, consider signing up for a Kenny Murph class. Bring your wife, a child or a buddy. It's a great way to increase your fishing enjoyment when you cannot be on the water!

Sources of Rod Building Components and Supplies

American Tackle Company

American Fishing Tackle Company

Anglers Resource (Fuji)

Batson Enterprises

Mud Hole Custom Tackle

North Fork Composites

Pacific Bay International

REC Components

Seaguide Corporation

VooDoo Custom Rods

Winn Grips

Rod Builder Organizations and Publications

Custom Rod Builders Guild

RodCrafters Journal

Getting Started

I had been a long-time customer of Fishing Tackle Unlimited, shopping at both their stores since the '90s, when they were Cut Rate. In 2007, I was in the Gulf Freeway store when I happened to notice a department I had always walked past and never paid any attention to rod components. But this time something caught my eye and I actually entertained the thought of trying my hand at rod building.

I had always used the more popular brands of rods for trout and reds but they never really seemed to have exactly what I wanted. So I compromised. "It's just a fishing rod, right?"

But thinking about building my own, it occurred to me...We buy the best boats and expensive reels, lures by the hundreds and the latest fishing clothes. Then we compromise on the most important item the rod. Most don't really understand the terminology used in describing rods.

Well, I was all in, right there. I am pretty good with my hands and I can usually figure out anything. I bought the equipment I needed and picked out a blank and components to get started. I was really unsure about a lot of things since I was new, but there is plenty of info on the internet and plenty of knowledge at FTU to help. After a few bumps, I actually found it to be pretty easy to do.

People usually spend $30-$50 on their first rods because they see impending doom for their project. In reality, first rods are actually very fishable rods. People take different routes on what they like to do most, threadwork, custom grips, and high performance. When you do combinations of them, you get some really unique rods that will make your buds green.

Also, with new products, technology, and building techniques, you will be able to build rods that will be more articulate, sensitive, cast better, and can even be more comfortable to use. Why do I bring up comfort? Because if the rod doesn't fit your hand correctly, if it's not balanced properly, if the blank and guides do not suit you, you will be uncomfortable and get fatigued very quickly. You will be thinking more about the discomfort, than paying attention to your fishing. A comfortable rod will just disappear in your hands, leaving you to concentrate totally on fishing.

I have seen many ardent fishermen that are shocked when they get a high-performance fishing rod in their hands...a custom rod can take your game to the next level.

-Terry Jones