When does a fly rod become yours? Is it once you purchase it? After you’ve caught that first fish? Once the cork is stained, the reel seat is scratched, and you’ve been through a few seasons of angling together?
What if a fly rod could be unequivocally yours, even before you make the very first cast?
Fly fishers generally revel in owning multiple fly rods from various manufactures in a whole array of weights, lengths, and flex profiles. And while the off-the-rack fly rod is a totally adequate and enjoyable angling instrument, there is another option. An option where the fly rod can be yours in a way that transcends ownership.
Out behind his house, Steve Christopherson’s shop is filled with tools and storage bins. There are miscellaneous odds and ends lying about. But everything in his shop goes into creating custom fly rods. The shop is where Wayward Angler rods are built from the components on up. For the past twelve years, Christopherson has been building fly rods for himself and individual clients.
“The best part of it is talking to a customer,” Christopherson says, “because they see everything that goes into it and they get addicted to the process.” The talking seems to be an integral part of the building method. “I get to know how they fish, how they cast. I get to know them.”
The experience is a significant part of what sets a custom fly rod apart from a stock product. Whereas even the smaller companies have a team manufacturing rod after rod to identical specifications, an individual builder is invested in one piece from start to finish.
Consider the vast number of variables that go into a fly rod. A skilled craftsman is able to break down those components and match subtleties – a grip, a stop in a casting stroke, a thread color that draws the eye – to the person who will be using the finished product. “A lot of small decisions have to be made,” says Christopherson, “but they all go into making a rod just for that person. And thankfully, there are points in the build where there can be feedback and I make sure that it is what they want.”
A Wayward Angler rod, be it graphite or fiberglass, is built using high-end components. Christopherson fashions cork, matches seat inserts, and spaces guides based on years of research and customer feedback. “This is definitely more engineering, where form follows function,” he says. “These are fly rods, so performance has to be first. But in the finishing there is a real artistry, and it is fun to either bring a customer’s idea to reality or to be given artistic license.”
Underneath the aesthetics and utilitarian purposes of the fly rod is the inherent connection that anglers have with their gear. The rod is the focal point of all the romantic notions of being out on the water chasing fish. From that basic starting point, the smooth cast and the appealing visuals just add to the total package. A custom fly rod is probably the only way to have all those elements in sync. More than that, it requires a builder that really understands the trade – and equally, the person.
“You develop a relationship with someone as you learn about the way they cast a fly rod,” Christopherson says. “As I am building, it is great to know what the customer is going to be using it for. I get pictures of fish that have been caught on the rods, and have even gone fishing to see people catch fish on the fly rod I’ve built for them. That is the best part of all of this.”
Most rod builders, be they hobbyists or professionals, will acknowledge that a high-end fly rod from one of the premier companies is a spectacular fishing tool. In fact, the volume that entities like Winston, Sage, or Orvis deal in allow for competitive pricing. A custom rod, however, brings a personal element to the most personal piece of gear an angler uses. Even if it is only one rod out of many, a fly fisher should have the experience of working with a custom builder to fashion their fly rod.
Steve is also very involved with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a project that is s dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans.