Freedom Of Choice

If you’re in the market for a new rod, or matching set of new rods, then you know the decision over custom built or off the rack is a serious dilemma. Truth is, both alternatives have benefits and you’ll have to analyze your objectives before making a final purchasing decision.


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The author battles an estimated 250-pound blue marlin on a 30-50 lb. class custom Chaos stick.

Custom rods offer three main advantages—functionality, fit and finish. Functionality refers to exactly how and where you intend to use the rod. Custom built rods can be designed technique specific, starting with blank construction, length, taper and action. Next you can choose special guides, grips and reel seats. Balance and optimum guide placement are also part of the deal with custom rods.

Custom built rods require time to assemble, usually one to four weeks depending on the detail and intricacies. If you need a replacement rod for the weekend, you better head over to the local tackle shop.

Before making a final purchasing decision you need to be honest with yourself in regards to the species and size fish you intend on targeting. What type and size of live or artificial baits do you plan on fishing with your new rod? Do you need a soft tip, plenty of backbone, or both? Is sensitivity or weight a serious concern? Answering these important questions will help a custom rod builder design the perfect tool for the desired application, because the very same rod blank can be outfitted in numerous manners to achieve different goals.

I recently had Chaos Rods ( design and build a pair of custom 8 foot snapper/grouper sticks specifically suited for headboat fishing in the Dry Tortugas. I wanted a little extra length for underhand casting and to keep my vulnerable monofilament away from the jagged hull of the aluminum headboat I routinely fish. While I requested enough backbone to beat big black grouper, a sensitive tip was also desired so I could stay in touch with my baits in deep water and stiff currents. However, my biggest concern was overall weight, as I knew I would be standing at the rail for extended periods of time without a break from the action. I requested a maximum total rod weight of 16 ounces, a tall order to fill for an 8 foot conventional rod. After sampling multiple blanks, we ultimately selected a pair of 30 to 50 lb. graphite blanks and outfitted them with lightweight titanium guides and the lightest components available. Coming in at 15.9 ounces with the precise strength and sensitivity I was hoping for, it would have been nearly impossible for me to find a mass produced rod with the same characteristics.

Fit is another major benefit to custom built rods. Anglers of all ages vary greatly in size and reach—in this endeavor one size does not fit all. A rod designed for a specific angler can be personalized with custom butt and foregrip lengths, a range of grip materials and dimensions to accommodate large or small hands, and of course the action, overall length and weight of the rod. It’s also possible you only have so much room to work with under your hardtop or in a horizontal rod holder. Or maybe you enjoy fishing from a kayak and want a rod with a shorter butt. Whatever the case, mass produced rods are typically made for the masses, so their specifications are designed around the average angler using average components, all of which provide reasonable performance. However, those who require more usually turn to custom rod builders for the style and performance they demand.

The final factor in the equation is finish. Custom built rods often feature stylish weaves and wraps in a variety of patterns and colors, resulting in impressive works of art. Abalone inserts, metallic threads, fish decals and custom reel seats are only a few of the ways anglers can personalize their rods.

Along with the aforementioned benefits there are a couple of downsides. Custom built rods require time to assemble, usually one to four weeks depending on the detail and intricacies. If you need a replacement rod for the weekend, you better head over to the local tackle shop.

Additionally, with anything custom often comes an inflated retail price, which is fair considering this is not a mass produced product made in China. A custom built rod is a high quality product handcrafted specifically for you. And just so you know, many high performance off the rack rods retail for as much and sometimes more than custom built rods, so don’t make any decisions without due diligence.

Not to be outdone, there are certainly plenty of high quality rods on the market from leading manufacturers. We’ve all caught a ton of fish on them and will continue to do so for years. Star Rods, Shimano, Daiwa, Penn and Seeker Rods are just a few of the many trusted brands producing fantastic equipment. Most big name manufacturers offer a wide range of rods in various actions, sizes and configurations to satisfy nearly all technique specific applications. The convenience of instant gratification is also a benefit as you can take your new rod(s) home today. The biggest disadvantage is that you are limited to what is in stock and on the rack at the time. Anxious anglers often make impulse decisions and sacrifice what they really want and need for something available at the moment.

Ultimately, the decision regarding a new rod or set of rods is really based on personal preference, intended purpose and budget. New boat owners often complete the package with a matching set of custom built rods. In this scenario finish is the most important aspect, with time and money not so much of a concern.

Whatever you decide, custom built or off the rack, don’t lose sight of the fact that even a rod with 24K gold guides won’t help you find or catch more fish. You still have to focus your efforts in areas that are expected to hold the game fish you seek. And you can’t forget about employing the correct terminal tackle and techniques. What the right rod will do is ensure you enjoy the experience to its fullest while also having the greatest chance for a successful outcome. Choose wisely!