Guest Post by Tim Carter —
This particular build I’m going to discuss is for a friend of mine out of Virginia. He is an active-duty sailor and close to having his first baby – and a custom-built rod. Let’s hope he gets to use it within the first year. His only requirement was, “JUST MAKE IT A CUSTOM BASS ROD!”. His target species is bass and his choice of application design is for a spinning rod for use fishing finesse worms and knocking stumps in the muddy waters near Chesapeake, VA.
The initial course when building custom rods is understanding your target audience and what type of species of fish they intend to target. This is an important factor when making the build as sometimes it can vary with the size of the individual and what they personally want to handle. Understanding who I am building the rod for helps me create the most effective rod for that person. Our sailor is a 6ft guy so I’m going to stay in and around a 6’9” to 7’ 3’’ rod, especially since he wants to target bass.
He primarily fishes from a boat and, as previously stated, likes fishing finesse worms and knocking stumps. This leaves me to go with something right in the middle for a solid 2 pc 7’ fishing rod. I have been trying out the MHX rod blanks and found that they are in the same comparative range of most St. Croix, Gloomis and Lamiglas blanks, just without the bigger price tag as they are manufactured in China but, overall, a decent product.
Design Inspired by Legendary Captain and Iconic Spirit
After figuring out the material required for the build, I place the order. Since he was extremely vague on exactly what he wanted for thread color options, rod handles, reel seats, etc., I decided to go custom on everything.
To make it simple, ordering the kits that are available online makes it extremely helpful, especially if you’re just starting out with rod building, as it takes out much of the guesswork related to rod component selection and layout – it’s pretty includes everything you’ll need. For this particular build, I wanted to create a Captain Morgan theme as it is his favorite spirit and the color options have that rugged loud vibe. The final piece to acquire for the build was at the packing store.
The Process of Creating a One-of-a-Kind Fishing Rod
Once I have everything at my table it’s time to get to work. I used some scrap Mahogany and Red Oak to make a rod butt section. I had a cool idea about making this into a one-of-a-kind rod and that started with the butt end.
After cutting a couple of strips on the table saw I glued and clamped them together. My intentions were to mill this wood and insert the bottle cap logo inside it. While I waited for that to dry I started on the rest of the rod. Getting out my homemade cork gluing clamp, I played around with a few designs of how I wanted the cork to be patterned. This guy is more of an outdoorsman so I stuck with dark-colored corks and layered them together.
My vise, or cork clamp, consists of 3 rods: a solid 1/4″ steel rod that I use as a centerpiece that allows me to slide the cork onto the shaft cork to be slid onto the shaft (think of a marshmallow being slid onto a skewer); the other two are 1/4-20″ threaded rods used to clamp wood or plastic on either side of the cork. Just make sure you spray the rod down with some WD-40 or your fresh cork will be glued to the steel rod. After getting that all glued, I set it to the side and wait for it to dry.
Now time to start on the rod blank. The first thing to do is to find the spine of a rod. This can be found either using a spine finder or Just using the tape method. I have found the tape method to be just as accurate and easier to perform.
First, you place a piece of tape around the blank making a small flag end on the other side. I like to do this a couple of times so I know I have the spine perfectly set. Once you have your tape in place slightly bow the rod with the bottom end on a nice piece of hardwood. As this is under load roll the rod in your fingers and watch the tape flag.
Typically, you will find the spine immediately as the tape flag snaps into place. Once the flags snap up, take your china marker (wax pencil) and make a mark indicating which side of the spine the rod is located on. I will always make a mark on the tape as well and leave it on during the entire duration of the build. This will provide a guideline for the tip-top, guides, and reel seat to be perfectly in line.
After the rod butt and grip has been cured, It’s time to make the desired shape and length for both of them. I like to use a combination of methods for this approach. Either I chuck a hand drill onto the shank of the steel rod or I put it in a bench drill press to use as a lathe. Both are effective so it’s entirely what you have for tools to use.
Once I get my desired shape and size its time to ream out the center so it fits snuggly onto the rod blank. Always insert top-down and ream the handles bottom up. This will allow the taper of your rod blank to be the same as your reamed portion of the inside diameter of the cork. The rod butt was a little trickier part as I had to use a couple of different hole saw and spade bits sizes to get my desired shape.
After your cork and rod butt section are squared away, it’s time to dry-fit everything and make a mark on the blank as to where everything will be set with the Pro Paste. Make sure you have plenty of wipes and denatured alcohol (ethyl alcohol) handy to clean up any mess.
Mix up your Pro Paste in equal parts. Once completed, start by applying to the sections of the blank where your components will set. First, slide your lower cork handle grip down. Sometimes this can take some effort so applying more up the shaft of the rod blank will make it easier to slide it into place. If it’s a split grip slide you’re winding check down next followed by the reversal of the next one that is going to be on the opposite side of the forward most cork handle section.
When you slide your reel seat down make sure it is in line with your spine you found earlier. More than often the reel seat will need arbors which can be bought separately or added in the kits sold online. These also have to be reamed and set, which are more or less just fillers but help keep the reel seat positioned properly as the epoxy dries.
Following that will be more Pro Paste and the last portion of the forward-most section of the handle cork and winding check. The last section of this is to glue the rod butt to the bottom and set it aside to work later on after it has cured. If it’s a homemade butt, make sure you have everything measured and centered perfectly and the epoxy set just right or the rod will wobble in your drier, leaving you with sags or uneven thread lay when trying to wrap or ProKote the rod during the thread finishing process.
After it has fully cured, it’s time to get decorative. I insert a portion of the Captain Morgan bottleneck onto the rod blank in my desired location. This can be done several ways but I found using a piece of construction paper to get the exact diameter of where I’m going to place it helps serve as a guide prior to cutting the aluminum label. Following that comes gluing it in place and yet again waiting for it to dry.
Putting on the Finishing Touches
Next is the fun part. Being able to lay the thread on the rod blank! First, I mark where all the guides are going to be placed. This is done by using a large bench tape and measuring from the tip back according to the manufactures placement. Once I find the location, I use the china marker and place a mark at each location on the blank.
In the next step, I get all guides out, making sure I still have all the components for the next task. These things can be so easily misplaced so I always label a bag with everything I need for that particular rod.
I use a combination of thread wrapping motors. CRB has some great products but I always go back to my solid hardwood hand wrapper for detail work or fine-tuning anything. Having a decent hand wrapper or motorized one will make a world difference.
Once you’re ready to lay the thread, place your rod either on your hand wrapper or motor. I usually keep a large tape dispenser handy which I use to tape all the guides on in their intended location prior to starting the wrap. Once you get the hang of it, a guide can be accomplished in about 5min to 10minutes. I always like to add a trim band in a metallic thread as it adds some flash to any custom built rod.
Completing the thread portion of any build is always satisfying as your seeing the rod come to life. Good tools to have for this portion are a set of embroidery shears, razors, burnishing tool, a magnifying glass, and a laser line for lining up your guides after completion.
I usually just eyeball everything but I like to take a piece of red thread and tape it to the center of my reel seat and line the guides and make any adjustments as needed prior to applying a color preserver and laying Pro Kote. This will ensure all the guides are in line with your spine and reel seat.
Once that is complete it’s time to place the rod in a drier motor. They spin at a lower RPM and allow you to apply Pro Kote to the threaded portion of the rod. Applying a thin coat of color preserver ensures your thread will retain its color. I usually apply a thin layer and let it turn for 8hrs and cure for 24hrs prior to laying the first coat of Epoxy in the rod drier.
After that has cured, I apply my first coat of Epoxy to the threads and decals. Immediately after applying this coat, I use an alcohol burner and flash the epoxy sections to remove any air bubbles. Once that has dried, I do a final QA and cut away any burrs or bubbles if any exist and repeat the Pro Kote step one more time. This makes a strong glossy finish that will look good for years to come.
The last steps consist of wiping the blank and cork down and applying wax to the rod and a cork sealer to the handle. This makes everything just shine and will act as a protective layer from all the fish slime and outdoor elements.
Rod building is definitely a fun task and can be accomplished with a small number of tools. Big-ticket items to consider if you’re thinking about wrapping a couple of rods or making any repairs is a quality solid wood hand wrapper and rod drier. I have added numerous trim bands to my factory rods or have done complex decorative pieces, all with just these two items.
I am pleased to make this rod for a fellow sailor and hope he has the opportunity to catch some lunkers out of the Virginian waters. Good luck with this one-of-a-kind custom-built rod, my good friend!
About the Author:
I currently live in Hawaii, but I was born and raised in Trout Creek, MT where I first started out fishing the Blackfoot and Clark Fork reservoir and many creeks Montana had to offer for trout, bass, and northern pike.
I am married to my high school sweetheart and have two little ones that are continuing down the same path of kayaking, fishing and all things aquatic. When I’m not on the water I am building and wrapping custom fishing rods for other avid fishermen to include saltwater, freshwater, and fly applications. If you’re looking for a custom rod please contact me at www.shakarods.com or email@example.com.
All photo credits: Tim Carter
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