On a recent trip to Victoria, TX, I took a few minutes to visit Waterloo Rods. It had been a while since I had dropped in and was anxious to tour the new shop at 703 N. Main. Waterloo has grown remarkably over the years with Jimmy Burns at the helm and is now in its third and largest location. Growth of any small enterprise will always be a product of good business sense, fair dealing, and hard work. If you have followed Waterloo over the past fourteen years you have no doubt witnessed plenty of all the above.
Jimmy was not the founder of Waterloo, nor was the manufacture of fishing rods his first venture in the fishing business. He grew up in Bloomington, a stone’s throw from the coast, between Victoria and Port O’Connor. His passion for fishing and fishing skill led him to become a fishing guide in 1995, an occupation that suited his friendly personality and work ethic.
Jimmy acquired Waterloo from Ryan Seiders in 2005, when Ryan decided to make a career change and join brother Roy in a little venture they called Yeti. While Ryan’s name may not ring a bell, you’re probably no stranger to Yeti products.
Recognizing the obvious synergies between rod building and running a guide service, Jimmy’s original plan was to continue guiding and build rods on the side. It took but a few months to learn he had signed up for two full-time jobs.
Being a professional fishing guide, Jimmy had earned a solid reputation among his peers and forged connections within the guiding and fishing communities. More importantly, he knew what serious anglers needed and expected when they laid down hard-earned cash for a premium product.
Waterloo has thrived remarkably in a highly-competitive marketplace by following a marketing strategy of fielding a sizeable pro-staff of handpicked fishing guides and top-flight tourney anglers, as well as generous donations to conservation organizations, fishing tournaments, and charity events. It is almost impossible to attend a fishing-related event in Texas today without seeing the Waterloo name on banners, caps, jerseys, and in the list of sponsors. The following they have amassed are almost cult-like in their allegiance to the brand.
What began simply as a fisherman building rods for a few fishermen has grown to become an enterprise of eight full-time employees producing thirteen models of high-quality, handcrafted fishing rods for both fresh and saltwater fishing applications. The saltwater market is 80% of the business while freshwater represents the other 20%. Jimmy says they are actively seeking a larger share of the freshwater market with several new products in development.
The Waterloo slogan – “Might as well fish the best!” – probably best signifies the Waterloo mission to produce quality fishing rods and the reputation for quality their products have earned in angler’s hands. In this era of shrinking domestic content in many consumer goods, Waterloo proudly boasts of 100% U.S. Made rod blanks in their premium models. Not many in today’s fishing rod business can lay honest claim to this. Plus – all of the premium Waterloos are handcrafted in Victoria by Texans.
Custom is another term that gets bandied about rather loosely in the rod business. Custom in some brands means you get to choose the length or the color of the guide wrappings. When you order a custom Waterloo, the options you can specify are many and varied – including the colors.
It starts with the rod blank – length, power, and action. You can purchase a range of lengths from other makers – so long as they’re within that company’s standard offerings.
Power describes a rod’s resistance to bending under a given amount of weight – usually defined as ultra-light, light, medium, etc.
And finally, there’s action. This describes where the rod will bend when a specific load is applied. Fast means the rod will bend in the top third of the black length near the tip. Slow means it will bend all the way into the bottom third, toward the butt. All of this is measured under specific loading against a deflection graph that is standard in the industry.
A true custom rod is just that, a rod that can be custom-tailored specifically to an anglers casting style, the type of lures he plans to throw with it, and the fish he hopes to catch. The obligatory whip and wiggle we all give a rod in the showroom is hardly a test of how the rod will cast a lure and handle a fish. Jimmy Burns and Carson Marek at Waterloo will take time to understand exactly how you want a rod to perform and will custom design it to your exact specifications. That’s what custom is all about.
A rod needs a handle and here again there’s a slew of options with Waterloo. Length of the handle, type of material it’s made from and the style – full grip or split grip, cork or synthetic, take your pick. The new Winn Grips lend a true custom touch to your new Waterloo, not to mention how well you can hang onto it with wet or slimy hands.
What about rod guides? How many should there be and what size? I ordered an HP Lite from Jimmy at the Houston Fishing Show last year and he said, “Here, take this one. It’s exactly what you just described.” The only problem was I’m way old school when it comes to guides, the rod had full Recoils and I like ceramic rings, large enough to allow my leader knot to pass through. “No worries,” he said. “We’ll build it the way you want it.” Now that’s custom!
What if you can’t shell out for a full custom build? Waterloo’s got you covered there, too. Their Phantom and Salinity series rods are available in lengths and actions that suit a wide slice of angling applications, “Right out of the box,” as they say. If $300 to $400 is too much for your budget, how about $110 to $160. Sound better? One thing’s certain, you get a quality rod whichever price point you choose.
For offshore enthusiasts, Waterloo also offers custom rods for snapper fishing and tarpon. These range from 30# up to 50# pound-class , with a range of options you would expect in a custom build.
Even if you have to make a special trip to Victoria, a visit to the Waterloo Pro Shop is sure to impress. There’s just something extra special in seeing how your rod will be built, each step of the way. There’s also some really cool stuff you probably won’t leave without. Waterloo-branded apparel, Custom Corkys, Double D – Jay Watkins Series, stuff everybody needs.