Custom rodmakers chase a standard that will always elude them
"The process [of rodmaking]," says Aaron, "is quite simple -- but it requires a quest for perfection to really make a great rod. I mean you never reach perfection -- but you have to want to. There are just so many ways to screw up -- you have to be willing to throw out hours and hours of work and start over if you really want to make a great rod. It takes a certain kind of person to do that."
How often does he have to throw out a rod and the 40 to 50 hours of work he puts into it? "Almost never," he says, though it may be necessary to undo the last step or several. The big hitch comes if "something went wrong when I glued it together. There is no way to undo that, so I just have to start over."
Along the way, though, there are a lot of parts that prove inadequate for the build, and Aaron finds himself "throwing out a lot of strips that are almost ready to be glued up because they have cosmetic or structural flaws that weren't initially apparent. Most of the time, for a two-piece rod (which has 12 strips -- six for the butt and six for the tip) -- I will make 6 extra strips. That way I am ready if I find a strip or two with a problem. When I have down time -- I take those random strips and use them to make test rods for myself."
As the tradition enfolds innovation, so it also allows for an end-justifies-the-means mentality -- it’s all about the rod that Aaron knows he can wrangle from bamboo and wood, however he has to get there. "Sometimes that is a combination of two different methods, sometimes it means making a new tool, and sometimes you just go with the tried and true method. I am still modifying my process on every rod I make -- and probably always will. There is always a better way."
Of course, perfect is the enemy of good, and part of that pursuit is knowing when to quit. "I use my wife as a barometer to know when I have gone too far. Nine times out of 10 when I reach that point she sets me straight and tells me that I am insane because one, nothing is ever perfect and two, nobody is ever going to notice the .001-inch diameter dust nib on the varnish (the one I can't help but see). If I waited till every rod was perfect before I sent it out the door… I wouldn't have a single rod out the door."