it makes a difference
Why should you buy
a custom built fishing rod?
By Justin G. of Mylie's Place Resort, Venture Custom Rods customer
Many anglers out there might be just like I was up until a few weeks ago. Blissfully ignorant about the real advantages of a custom built fishing rod. Yes, I always liked the idea of having my name on my rod as well as choosing some guide wrap colors and the type of handle length, configuration I preferred, but I came to realize I had no idea what the biggest benefits of having a custom built fishing pole were. If you are serious about your fishing, I highly suggest you continue reading. Anyone who has seen the movie, The Matrix, can relate this choice to picking between the red pill and the blue pill. Once your eyes are opened, you can never shut them and forget what you will soon know by choosing the red pill.
It wasn’t until the NW Sports Show in Minneapolis in March of 2018 that I happened to stumble onto this information. While keeping my good friend Paul Amberg, of Venture Custom Rods, company in his booth at the show, I overheard a younger angler (maybe early 20s) ask the question, “Why is a custom rod better?” Much to my surprise, Paul went into a discussion about the bend of the rod and how the line should follow the rod as close as possible while it is loaded so it does more of the work for you. In case you are as blissfully unaware as I was until that moment, allow me to explain these 2 ideas in detail. I must warn you though, you may never look at your store bought, factory mass produced rods the same way ever again.
The first, and most important, thing a custom rod builder will do for you is what I will call the “spine test.” On any random rod blank, there will be a predisposed place the rod will want to bend when it is put under load. A rod builder will (or darn well should if he/she is worth anything at all) perform this test on every blank so that they line up the reel seat and guides to the natural bend in the rod. Now, the interesting thing about this is the following: a safe bet is that 90% of your factory assembled rods will be built wrong from the jump. How can this be? In a factory setting, time isn’t taken to ensure the spine is found and properly marked before installing the handle and reel seat and guides, which can all be done by different people and/or departments in the process. So, you may end up with 1 or 2 rods built “on the spine” just by random luck that the reel seat went on in the right orientation, but most likely it won’t be. Trust me when I tell you, if you are a serious angler, this will/should blow your mind.
As someone who purchased his first custom rod over 10 years ago, Paul assumed I knew all about the spine test and somehow it had never come up in conversation previously. It was all I could think about when my mind drifted to fishing and will stay with me as long as I’m in the fishing industry as a resort operator or an angler. You can perform your own spine test on your store-bought rods by holding them at about a 45-degree angle with the handle butt on the floor. Place the open palm of one hand about ¾ or slightly more towards the top of your rod and then use a finger or 2 on your other hand to apply some pressure on the middle of your rod to make it bend. You can try to turn the rod slightly with the fingers applying the pressure making the rod load up. You will feel it turn and kind of jump or slip onto the same spot over and over. It is a bit tricky at first, but when you get the hang of it, you will want to test every rod you have to see if it was built on the spine. If the guides aren’t line up along the bend of the rod, then you have a rod that failed the spine test. The first personal rod of mine I checked was a $350 muskie stick. Guess what? It was not built on the spine! The guides were off to the side when the rod found it’s natural bend. Wrong, wrong wrong! The horror!! I’m afraid I will find the same result on every single factory-built rod I own when I have time to check them all.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, when the rod is built improperly, it will have a tendency to try and roll a bit to that position when under load. When you are fishing a nice fish or snagged up, you might notice your head wanting to flip slightly one way or the other. Paul’s theory is that when someone finds a “favorite” rod out of a few of the same type they may have owned, it might be because that rod was built properly by pure luck and the rod is working how it is supposed to. Most of us would not even realize why a particular rod has a better feel or seems easier to work and use, but that would likely be the biggest reason.
Now, this is not an attempt to say that those store-bought rods won’t work. They will work fine, of course, but you aren’t getting full value for your purchase when a rod isn’t built properly from the jump. Practice the spine test and check every rod you consider buying in the store before making a purchase. I know I will never look at rods the same again.
The 2nd significant difference in a custom rod vs factory rod is simple and easy to grasp. Custom rods will have an extra guide or 2 or 3. The reason for fewer guides on a factory rod is time/cost. More guides and more wrapping time increase the cost of a rod. More guides are a good thing though because you want your line following as closely to the bend of the rod as possible when under load. When that happens, the line has less resistance on each guide when there is weight on the end of the line. Fewer guides means they further apart and you will be going from guide to guide a on a steeper angle the more the rod bends over. You are now fighting the rod as well as the fish. A couple extra guides allow the rod and reel to do more of the work for you. There is some fancy math that explains the physics of it all, but you can trust me when I tell you that more guides are good, good, good. Less guides are bad, bad, bad.
Anglers are often a loyal bunch. We can be brought up on certain brands of equipment and become partial to them just because that is what we have always known. Sometimes budget can be an important consideration as well. I won’t try and convince you to throw away what you have and replace everything with custom built rods immediately, but I would urge you to consider a custom build the next time you are in the market to purchase a good quality rod. If you are spending anything near $150-$200 for walleye and bass rods or $200-$250 on muskie pole, you owe it to yourself to at least consider having someone build you a rod properly from the spine up. A good custom rod built properly on the spine of a quality blank, with the right number of guides using standard cork, reel seat, etc is surprising affordable if you are already buying higher end rods. You don’t have to break the bank, but you can certainly do some upgrades if you want more than the standard package.
We haven’t even talked about upgrades to handles (cork upgrade, wood, EVA foam etc), reel seats (aluminum w/ double nuts), guide wrap colors (is 1000 color options enough?) , tricked out guides (one word – holographic) and personalizing it completely with intricate thread art wraps that will make your rod stand out among all others. You can have it personalized with an inscription as well to make it even more memorable for yourself or that special someone in your life that loves to fish. We will talk about that all next time around, after your mind has calmed down and your world re-balances itself from the discovery that nearly all of the store bought, factory produced fishing rods you have been using for your entire fishing life have been built incorrectly. For those of you that are already using custom rods and didn’t know the 2 most important advantages, you can now tell your friends why your rods are better than theirs and have science to back you up.
I highly recommend you check out what Paul has been building. From St Croix to Mudhole to Rainshadow and more, he can access the right blank for you and your budget and work with you to get a rod that is perfect for how you fish and built properly from spine up. How much bling you give it is entirely up to you!
Tight lines, everyone!!