History of Fiberglass Rods at Winston
During Tom Morgan's Ownership
Before I share with you my Winston fiberglass rod adventure, I should provide some relevant biographical background. Growing up in Montana with its wealth of fishing opportunities would be a dream for almost any fisherman. It certainly was for me. During the late 1940s, when I was a kid, many of the fishermen in Montana fished with bait, and that was how my father taught me. My first memories of fishing were of a small, crystal clear mountain stream with an old, dilapidated Montague bamboo fly rod and live grasshoppers for bait. Even though these wild rainbows and cutthroats were small and rarely saw a fisherman, they were very shy and would dart away, if I carelessly let them see me. They taught me my first lesson in the importance of being stealthy and keeping out of sight.
As I grew older, I inherited a hand-me-down glass spinning rod from my brother, Jerry. I used this rod to prowl Bear Creek, a small, brushy creek, right behind our house that was loaded with brown trout up to three pounds. I would sneak up above a pool, toss out a frog-colored floating flatfish, and tease the browns into grabbing the lure. These were my first experiences of fishing for big trout by myself and they are still very memorable.
In 1949, when I was eight years old, my parents built and began operating a motel and fishing resort, the El Western Motel, just south of Ennis, Montana. Even then, the Madison River and some of the other local waters were famous worldwide for their great fishing opportunities. The motel attracted lots of anglers from around the country and many of them were fly fishermen. Growing up around the motel, I became friends with many of these anglers and some of them eventually became my fly fishing mentors.
My first real fly rod was a Silaflex 7 1/2 foot 5-weight, 4-piece rod. It was given to me by the owners of Silaflex, Herb Jenks and Lee Harter along with Vic Williams, who was a trick caster for Silaflex at sportsman's shows. I was about twelve years old, and they were drawn to Ennis to help film "Rainbow Valley", a story about the Federal Fish hatchery on Blaine Spring Creek and about trout fishing in the Madison Valley. I was still a spin fisherman, but within a couple of years I started fly fishing exclusively, and the Silaflex rod was my main rod for several years. I have had a soft spot in my fishing heart for fiberglass rods ever since.
The Madison River, O'Dell Creek, and some of the other local waters were famous and drew lots of fishermen to the El Western Motel. Even though I wasn't very old, I was an avid fisherman and seemed to have a sixth sense about where to catch fish. My dad would ask me to show some of the guests where to fish. When I got old enough to drive I started actually being a guide. The guides around Ennis guided almost exclusively on the Madison or O'Dell Creek. However, I guided on those streams along with the Ruby River, Beaverhead River, Jefferson River, Missouri River, Ennis Lake, and the many spring creeks in the Gallatin Valley. This wide range of angling experiences on such a big variety of waters gave me a great foundation for knowing about rods and different angling situations.
This was a period of transition from the traditional bamboo rods to the newly developed fiberglass rods. Many of my clients still fished bamboo, but I saw more and more fiberglass rods as the years went by. One of my clients had some Pastor Rods made in southern California that I thought were beautiful and had exceptional action. Incidentally, this is a brand that I haven't heard about for many years. Shortly after seeing those rods, I bought a tackle shop in Ennis from my brother, Jerry, in 1961. I contacted the owner of Pastor Rods, whose name I have forgotten, to see if I could carry them in my shop. He said I could, and I started carrying them, selling a number of them over the three years I owned the tackle shop. This was also when Fenwick Rods were becoming popular and they were the other main brand I sold.
When I, along with my partner Sid Eliason, bought the R. L. Winston Rod Co. on October 5, 1973, Doug Merrick was running the company by himself. He worked five days a week and Saturday mornings. Obviously, it was a very small company even though it had a big reputation as a famous rod company with a long history of building great rods. Its great reputation came primarily from the bamboo rods created under the direction of Lew Stoner and Red Loskot during the 1930s. Doug joined Winston just after the Second World War, and eventually bought Red's share in the early 1950s. Lew died in 1957. Doug bought Lew's interest from his wife and became the sole owner. Immediately following Lew's death he hired Gary Howells who worked for him primarily during the winters. Gary Howells left in 1970 to start building his own bamboo rods.
Even though its reputation had been made on bamboo rods, anglers recognized that the Winston fiberglass rods were also great rods. When I bought Winston, a complete line of fiberglass rods had already been designed in line sizes #5 and above using J. K. Fisher phenolic resin blanks. At the time, I didn't own any Winston glass rods, but I did own one Hardy #6, designed by Jon Tarantino which, as I discovered, was quite similar to the Winston glass rods in both looks and feel. I am not sure of the design process that Doug went through in designing the glass rods, but I do recall he said he had obtained blanks from Fisher and had cast a variety of them. Whether they were all different from some of Fisher's models that they sold I was never quite sure of.
Before going on, I should mention that in the inventory Sid and I purchased there were a number of Winston fiberglass rods in the large showroom rack that were built on Grizzly blanks. Don Green, one of the principals who started Sage Rod Company, was then involved with the Grizzly Rod Company. These rods had a brown painted coating and Super Z nickel silver ferrules. The rods that were left, however, were all heavy line sizes, so I am sure they were rods that weren't very saleable. I discounted them heavily and finally sold most of them, although several may still remain in the Winston collection.
Because the original fiberglass rods that Winston used had Super Z ferrules, I was curious who designed the spigot ferrule Winston was using on the Fisher blanks. Recently, I contacted Jim Fisher to ask him if he knew the history. He said that Jon Tarantino had the original idea and that he and Joe Fisher worked out the details to make it work. Incidentally, Jim and Joe Fisher were the sons of Joe Fisher who started J. K. Fisher Company. I do remember that there was a solid fiberglass spigot ferruled rod at Winston that had a groove cut lengthwise in the ferrule with a strip of rubber glued into the groove. That must have been one of the original ideas. The spigot ferrule was a great innovation in composite rod design because it allowed for a trouble free ferruling system that provided good rod action. One of the reasons I think the Winston fiberglass rods had such a great feel is that they were, except for the #11, cut from a single blank and ferruled with the internal spigot ferrule. This gave them a "one-piece feel". The Fenwick rods, with their Feralite ferrule system, were the start of the tip over ferrule design where large diameter tip sections fit over smaller diameter butt sections. This is presently the most common system of ferruling graphite rod but it results in a mismatch between the tips and butts. This design is great for manufacturers because it reduces both the labor to ferrule rods and the number of mandrels required but, in my opinion, results in rods that don't have the great smooth action of blanks that are the same diameter at the ferrule.
The Winston fiberglass line of rods on Fisher blanks consisted of line size models #5 through #12. There were two 7 1/2' blanks, a #5 and a #6. Except for the #11 the other rod models for the #5, #6, #8, #9, and the #12 were single piece 9' blanks. The #11 was a two-piece blank that came with a light or heavy butt. I was never completely satisfied with the looks of the #11 because the tip and butt colors never matched very closely. To make a #7 or a #10 rod, approximately 1 1/2" was cut off the tip of a #6 or #9 weight blank respectively. I wasn't happy with the resulting #7 rod, so I designed a new model. This particular rod turned out, at 8 1/2', to be possibly the very best fiberglass rod that Winston ever made for smooth casting. I used to call it the "Unity with the Universe Rod". A friend of mine recently gave me one of these rods which I was delighted to receive.
At the time I purchased Winston, the following fiberglass rods were available:
DT #5- 5 1/2', 6', 7', 7 1/2', 8', 8 1/2', 9'
DT #6- 7 1/2', 8', 8 1/2'
DT #7- 8 1/2', 8' 9", 9'
WF #8- 8' 9"
WF #9- 9'
WF #10- 9'
WF #11- 9', 9' 3", 9 1/2' steelhead & salmon
WF #11 & WF #12- 9' salt water
Winston also offered different rod lengths on special order but I'm sure these models covered the majority of the rods built.
The #5 and the short #6 rods came standard with a fixed hood and slide band over a cork body for a skeleton seat. The standard seat for the other rods was an anodized aluminum one. As a side note odd reel seats were sometimes used on the rods. For example, a friend of mine has an 8' #5-weight glass rod with one of Winston's traditional bakelite seats.
The standard fiberglass price in 1974 was $65.00, the WF #11 was $75.00, and the WF #12 was $95.00. The 3-piece pack rods were $65.00 and the 4-piece were $70.00. In 1977 the standard fiberglass price was $90.00, the WF #11 was $95.00, and the WF #12 was $110.00. The 3-piece and 4-piece pack rods were $92.50. In 1984 the standard fiberglass price was $160.00, the WF #11 was $165.00, and the WF #12 was $175.00. The 3-piece and 4-piece pack rods were $162.50. During the early 1980s a two rod travel set was added that included any pair of 2-piece rods and its price was $250.00. I don't have all of the different price sheets for the various years but the prices were gradually raised over the years to keep up with inflation and to generate more income.
Almost immediately after I took over Winston, I started to figure out how I could increase glass rod production. Although we sold some bamboo rods, I knew that glass rods would have to provide most of the rod income. I had payments to make to Doug, a family of two children with a third on the way, as well as a partner. Fisher was supplying most of the new glass rods in the popular line sizes to Winston. They were finished but without bags or tubes. Fisher had the capacity to increase their rod production, so I ordered more rods. Doug had a good supply of blanks on hand from which he would make up special orders for odd line sizes or lengths or rods that happened to be out of stock at the moment. Doug had those rods, in addition to the bamboo, wrapped by Ken Adachi from San Mateo who would come in once a week to deliver wrapped rods and to pick up new ones to be wrapped. Doug coated the rods himself, installed the reel seat, and delivered them.
Gary Howells was still very friendly with Doug and used to come over to Winston every Saturday morning to visit. After I bought the business, Gary continued this tradition. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had met Gary many years before when he ran the Staley Springs Lodge on Henry's Lake where he spent the summers. On his Saturday morning visits, we always talked about rods and fishing in Montana. In the course of conversation, Gary asked me what I thought of the Winston Rods for quality. Well, in my mind I had just bought the best Rod Company in existence, so there wasn't any doubt that they were the best. I had been a customer of Doug's for several years and owned three bamboo rods: a 7 1/2' #5, an 8 1/2' #7, and a 9' #9. I knew the Winston Rods and was very confident of their quality.
The next Saturday Gary brought over one of his bamboo rods to look at side by side with a Winston. I must say that I thought the Winston would easily win hands down. I was shocked at the differences when he pointed them out; the Winston definitely wasn't the winner. I ate a good dose of humble pie on that one. As it turned out, Gary, and not Doug, was the mentor who really started me looking at Winston's quality or, it would be better to say, lack thereof. This was disappointing, but I was lucky to have Gary around to help.
After that lesson, I began to look at the fiberglass rods more closely. The first thing I noticed was the considerable difference in quality between the Winston Fisher rods and the Winstons that were made in the shop. The Fisher rods used preformed grips, whereas Doug pounded on individual corks that were much better quality, and then he turned them by hand on a wood lathe. The Fisher rods were wrapped with the same colored thread, but I immediately noticed that the wrap lengths varied somewhat from guide to guide, and on each side of an individual guide. The thread coatings weren't quite as heavy or as even on Fisher rods as the Winstons, so I thought that could be improved. In addition, the guide alignment was straighter on the Winston rods. On both rods, however, Doug was installing a very cheap all aluminum reel seat. The aluminum tubes that he was packaging the rods in were the cheapest Cal Air ones that had a swell formed onto the top of the tube with a plastic cap that snapped over the swell. The one good feature of this tube was the cap was held on with a bead chain, so it couldn't be misplaced. The bags were often mismatched for lengths, sometimes with a bag perhaps six inches too long for a given rod and in a variety of colors and fabrics.
This was the beginning of my long road to improve the quality of the rod components and the execution of the workmanship. I had a strong sense of wanting to build a quality product that I had learned at the motel where I grew up. I knew that attention to the details was what made the difference between an ordinary product and a great one. I started looking at as many different rods as I could to see what other people were doing.
One of my early decisions was to visit Russ Peak. I knew of his great reputation as the premier glass rod maker in the country, and I knew I could learn a lot from him. On a trip down to visit Fisher in Los Angeles, I made an appointment with Russ, the only way you could visit him except on Saturdays when the shop was regularly open, and went by his shop in Pasadena. I had never met him before, but I found him to be a very warm and congenial fellow. We hit it right off and had a terrific visit. Russ was very open and showed me much of what he was doing along with a description of how he designed rods. He was very supportive of my owning Winston and sincerely wanted me to succeed. I learned a lot that day about what a quality rod should look like and it gave me a wonderful insight into what I needed to do to help improve the quality of Winston rods. It was easy to see how absolutely beautiful his glass rods were. The color was a subtle dark brown with dark brown thread that blended into the overall color of the blank. The cork grips were made from almost flawless cork while the reel seat was very well finished with polished fittings. When Russ was finished wrapping the rods, he gave them a final coat of epoxy that was absolutely flawless. He used a rod-drying unit with heat lights to dry the epoxy coating. To this day, I believe that his rods were the best-finished composite rods ever built.
I decided to buy one of Russ's rods for myself to keep as a reminder of what a great rod looked like and how it was finished. Russ had a number of rods there to cast. I wanted a 7' #4-weight, so he took one out to the sidewalk for me to cast. I will never forget that he had me put on a white cotton glove before I could cast it, so the grip wouldn't become soiled. I told him that I would like him to build me the absolutely most beautiful and perfect rod that he could possibly build. I will never forget his response: He said he would build me a beautiful rod, but I couldn't afford one that was absolutely perfect. That let me know right then that even the old master wouldn't try to build a rod that was absolutely perfect. At that time his rods were $250, and he was kind enough to give me a 40% discount. As a reference, the Winston Glass rods were then $65! I still treasure his rod today.
That was my first encounter with Russ, but not the last. After we moved Winston to Montana, he would stop by the shop almost every year to visit on his annual trip to the West Yellowstone area to fish. On one of those visits he saw the rosewood seats that Winston was building for their glass rods line size #7-#10. He thought they were well designed and beautiful, and he would occasionally buy some for his larger rods. If he wanted to use our seats on his rods, I knew our quality was where it should be.
Another beginning step was to try and work with Fisher to get them to improve the quality of the wrapping and coating on the rods that Winston got from them. Joe Fisher didn't see the importance of the differences that I did, and, although he worked with the wrappers and coaters who did the work on a piecework basis, they didn't make any real changes. I understood this because they were being paid for each "start" on a rod. In other words, every time they started a wrap, whether it was a guide wrap or a trim wrap, they were paid a fixed amount and that included coating. They would actually make less money taking a little more time to do a better job. Not the incentive they needed. I could see the only way that the quality could be improved would be to have control over the entire process.
Fisher could supply more blanks, but I had to figure out a way to get more rods finished. There was just Doug and me at the shop, so our resources were very limited. In addition, as it was set up, there wasn't much room in the shop to increase production. One of the first changes I made was to convert an old bench into a glass rodmaking center. It was long enough so that I could lay out blanks to use a set of measuring marks I inscribed on the bench to mark the correct cut off point for the rod length I wanted. I could also fit a tip top and mark the ferrule point or, in the case of multi-piece rods, ferrule points. At this time, Winston glass rods were made on just three different mandrels: one for all of the trout and steelhead rods, one for the #11, and one for the #12 tarpon rod.
To ferrule a rod, I ground the tip of the blank off about 1/8" on a disk sander that we also used for sanding nodes on bamboo. This was done to make sure the top of the blank was sound. Then the tip top was added to establish the top of the rod in order to get the correct rod length and the blank was marked to indicate where it would be ferruled. The blank was held against a bench hook, cut off slightly long with a miniature hacksaw and both rough ends were sanded smooth and to the correct length on the sander. The original ferrules were solid white fiberglass, whereas the ones supplied by Fisher in the last years were brown. Both were fabricated in a pull-trusion process then ground to the same taper as the rod mandrel. They came in sticks that were about three feet long.
To get the correct ferrule length I would then fit the internal spigot ferrule very tightly into the tip and with a pencil mark a ring around the ferrule at the bottom of the tip leaving a 1/4" space which again was marked with a pencil. I would remove the ferrule and mark off 1 3/4" above the pencil ring on the ferrule. Another pencil mark 1 3/4" below the one marking the gap was made for the ferrule inside the butt. Then the ferrule was cut off at the bottom and top marks. The 1/4" gap would be the space between the tip and butt. The first step in gluing the spigot ferrules was to roughen the inside of the tip of the butt using a small rattail file. Slow setting epoxy glue was carefully spread around the bottom of the spigot just short of the 1/4" gap and heated briefly over an alcohol flame to make it flow well. The ferrule was then dropped into the butt from the bottom trying to keep it centered so it would go as far as possible towards the tip of the butt. The butt was then slung vigorously until the ferrule tip came out which was then carefully spun several times as it was moved into the correct position. The ferrule was wrapped with masking tape at the glass blank/ferrule joint to hold it securely and stood on the ferrule, so the glue wouldn't run back down the blank. The last step, once the epoxy was set, was to bevel the end of the ferrule on the sander.
Once the blanks were ferruled, individual corks were driven on them by hand using a wooden cylinder with a hole through the middle. Winston was buying corks in 1 1/8" outside diameter, 1/2" thick, and in 1/16" increments of hole size. The fiberglass blanks had a steep taper so it was easy to fit cork rings for a handle. We were then using Duco clear cement thinned with lacquer thinner to glue the corks together. After a day, they would be dry enough to turn on a wood lathe to the proper size and shape using various grits of sandpaper. Most of the grips were half wells, but later more of them were cigar shaped, particularly on the smaller rods. The cork at that time was very good quality, but it still needed some filling. The filling was made using fine cork dust recovered from the vacuum and mixed with Duco cement. It was kept in a sealed jar. One innovation that Gary clued me into was first using #400 and then #600 wet or dry sandpaper to get a really smooth finish on the grips.
I now had a reasonable blank making facility, but I was limited by the number of blanks I could cork and turn. I needed some help. My good friend, Al Wilson, whom I first met in Ennis in 1961, when I was running the tackle shop, lived in San Jose, California. Not only had we become close friends but Al had guided for me during the middle 1960s when I was guiding in Ennis. Al had been a shop teacher at a San Jose high school, but had to retire because of a disability that kept him from standing for any length of time. Al wanted to work some at his small home shop doing something on the rods, if he could. I knew that he had great woodworking skills along with the desire to do quality work, so he should be a natural. In addition, he already had a wood lathe which was an essential tool for rodmaking. Al was sure that he could cork blanks and turn the grips. It turned out that by sitting on a high stool he was able to work comfortably. He came to the Winston shop and learned how to do the corking and turning the grips under Doug's watchful eye. I started supplying him with ferruled blanks and we were on our way. Al didn't want to drive the 55 miles to San Francisco from San Jose during the week, so he would come every Saturday morning to deliver rods and pick up ferruled blanks. We continued this arrangement until we moved the shop to Montana in 1977. For a couple of years, Al continued to receive ferruled blanks from us in Montana, and would ship back rods with turned grips until we got production going in Montana.
As a matter of interest, it was Al who was responsible for my buying Winston. Doug and Al had been friends during the Second World War in England where they both served in bomber crews. They had kept in touch over the intervening years. In 1973, my wife, Mona, and I were running the El Western Motel, when Al told me that Doug wanted to sell Winston. The El Western Motel had been sold the summer of 1973, so I was looking for another job. I thought this would be the perfect business for me. I immediately called Doug to see if it was true. It was! I immediately made arrangements to fly to San Francisco to visit with Doug about buying Winston. On the way down, I stopped in Salt Lake City to visit an old fishing friend and guiding client, Sid Eliason, to see if he would be interested in being my partner and helping financially. Sid said he would be very excited to help me and to become a silent partner in Winston. Doug, Sid, and I came to an agreement, and Sid and I soon became the owners of Winston. Sid and I remained partners for two years. I think it's interesting to mention that I paid Doug $10,000 more than he was asking for the business. There were other potential buyers who were also interested in buying it, so I had to make sure that I was successful.
A good amount of my fishing in Montana had been on spring creeks or other types of water where delicate presentations were very important. Very soon after taking over Winston, I knew that I wanted to design a series of lightweight trout rods. Winston was already making similar rods in bamboo that they called "Leetle Fellers," a name given to them by outdoor writer Peter Schwab. Light line fiberglass rods were uncommon, but I located some blanks and ordered them to see what other manufacturers were providing. Much to my disappointment, they were stiffer than I thought they should be. That is not unlike the situation today with the average graphite rod which I judge to be too stiff for the factory rated line size.
I contacted Jim Fisher who was the production manager and asked how we could develop a line of lighter rods. The current fiberglass blanks they were making were quite large in diameter with relatively a thin wall thickness so Jim didn't think we could reduce the wall thickness enough to make the lighter rods I wanted. He suggested that we use smaller diameter mandrels like they were rolling spinning rod blanks on. As a result of this discussion, Fisher rolled a selection of 7 1/2' blanks for me on the thinner mandrels. They also provided spigot ferrule stock with the correct taper for these blanks. I made these blanks into rods and cast them at the Golden Gate Park casting facility. After several back and forth pattern changes, I decided on the best combinations to make the new #3 and #4 fiberglass rods. During this process, Doug would cast the ones I thought best to help determine the final models.
The rods were all one-piece blanks cut at the appropriate place to make the correct length. I used two different lengths of mandrels with the same taper: 7 1/2' and 9'. It ended up that #3 rods were designated #2/3 while the heavier ones were #4 weight line sizes. The #2/3 were made in 6 1/2', 7', 7 1/2', 8' lengths whereas the #4 were made in 6 1/2', 7', 7 1/2', 8', and 8 1/2' lengths. I tried longer lengths for both the line sizes, but I thought the rods were too slow to be good fishing tools.
Looking back at the process, I wish that I had done it differently. I didn't actually know what the patterns were with respect to the tip or butt pattern widths. I would communicate to Jim that a butt was too stiff, or perhaps too soft, or maybe the tip was wrong, and he would make changes and send the new blanks to me. Later on when I was working with Gary Loomis designing graphite rods, I had the taper patterns to work with, and I could keep the rods more consistent and the design process went faster. Nonetheless, the lightweight fiberglass rods were, and still are, a great success with anglers.
Shortly after buying Winston, I contacted an old friend, Jerry Humpal, whom I met in Santa Clara, California, during the winters of 1964 and 1965, when I was working at Cope and McPhetres, a sporting goods store and marina. Jerry was in advertising, a very good fly fisherman, and someone I was sure would be able to help me with Winston's advertising. He was thrilled that I owned Winston and that he would be able to help. The first project we did was to solicit more dealers to help increase sales because Doug had very few due to his limited production. The second project was to help sell the new lightweight fiberglass rods I had designed. I got together with Jerry at his advertising agency, and we worked on a name. I brought one of the new rods and we went into the parking lot to cast it. Jerry could see that it was a delicate rod for sneaking up on fish. I don't remember who came up with the name "Stalker", and neither does Jerry, but we both decided that name really fitted the rod and how most anglers would fish them. During the time Winston made the Stalker series of rods, they were very popular and, they still remain so, bringing very high prices when they become available either individually or on E-Bay.
This is jumping ahead a bit but I would like to describe the wonderful catalog that Jerry Humpal helped me create. When I first bought Winston there was a very nice catalog that listed the rods and had photos with black backgrounds but was of an older style. I reprinted it the first two years but it didn't have the "life" I thought it should have or represent what I wanted Winston to become. Gary Howells had given me an old Jim Payne catalog that not only showed and described the rods but also had a number of articles by prominent anglers of the time. I didn't want to follow that format exactly but I wanted much more than just a listing of the rods. Another impetus to change the catalog was the introduction of graphite rods so, in any event, the catalog had to be expanded. The other important reason that I thought Winston needed a better catalog was we were moving from San Francisco to Montana where all of our income would be derived from rod sales.
Jerry and I carefully went over the categories we wanted to include in the new catalog. The first was an introduction talking about Winston's move from California to Montana. Then there was a multi-page article about line and rod selection for different angling situations. The categories of bamboo and fiberglass rods came next with detailed descriptions of both along with their manufacturing processes. A short history of Winston including some of its heritage followed. The next category detailed the rod fittings and components. The graphite rod description along with the models available was the last rod category. This was the first year graphite rods were in a Winston catalog. A care of rods category detailed the appropriate methods to maintain rods in good condition.
From my observations as a guide and watching anglers cast I thought that a section on proper casting technique was needed. I must also admit that when I first bought Winston my technical casting skill wasn't very good even though my fishing ability was excellent. Mel Krieger helped me with my casting and I practiced a lot until I became a very competent caster. This is certainly an essential for a rod designer. Since he was a terrific caster along with being a great teacher I asked him to cooperate with me on a casting article which he did. I still believe that our discussion about casting was one of the best ever.
I wrote a short article on playing and releasing fish as the next section. From my observations as a guide many anglers tire fish more than necessary which can be very harmful to them. I had caught a lot of steelhead on light tackle and knew some techniques to quickly land them prior to their release.
The next category discussed rod repairs and refinishing if the customer had a damaged rod. The final category was how to order your rod.
It turned out to be a big challenge for me to write the copy taking more than a solid month of time. Rather than have photographs accompanying the rods we decided to have line drawings. Jerry's advertising agency had a very talented artist, Bob Sleeper, working for them who did pencil drawings of various fishing scenes we had picked out from books and magazines along with drawings of some of the rods. In addition to the drawings there was an insert in the center of a coated four page sheet. On the front were pictures of Lew Stoner, Doug Merrick and Red Loskot, Gary Howells, and a composite of me, Glenn Brackett, Chris Warner, and Al Wilson. This photo was taken from our moving to Montana ad. In the middle was a beautiful four color photo of a bamboo, graphite, and fiberglass rod. On the back side was a photo showing the different reel seats available. The color photo was taken by Karel Bauer of San Francisco. The catalog itself was printed on light brown stock with dark brown ink.
Jerry entered the catalog in an advertising competition for Western catalog publications and it won first place out of several hundred entries! We were elated and very proud. The catalog was an outstanding success and helped set the quality trend of the rods that were to follow.
In the fall of 1974, knowing that I needed more help, I hired Glenn Brackett, a 35-year-old fisheries biologist. I first met Glenn on the Clearwater River in Idaho when I was steelhead fishing during the 1960s and he had done some guiding for me when I ran the El Western. I had also stayed with him during the summer of 1974, in Last Chance, Idaho, when he was guiding for Wil Godfrey on the Henry's Fork River. Glenn didn't have any rod-making experience, but he was a great angler who had fished all over the world, including New Zealand, Argentina, the Florida Keys, and around the western United States. I was confident that he could bring a great fisherman's perspective as to what made a great fishing rod, and he did. I strongly believe we made one of the great rod design teams for fly fishing rods based on our fishing experiences.
During the time Winston was in California and not long after I had developed the Stalker rods, Fisher brought out a line of #3 and #4 weight rods. I felt strongly that they copied my idea and were using either my patterns or something very similar. I was very upset by this and didn't know quite what to do. I ended up sending Joe Fisher a bill for $2,500 for design fees for the light line rods. The next time Joe visited us he brought the bill and asked what that was about. I explained what I thought happened and why I sent the bill. Of course, they didn't pay it, but it made my point. Nevertheless, Fisher continued to sell their light line rods.
To improve our sales, I contacted a list Doug had of fly shops that wanted to become dealers for Winston. In addition to those prospects, Jerry ran a small ad in Fly Fisherman soliciting dealers. In the ad for the Stalker Fiberglass Rods that announced the 1975 catalog we listed 23 Winston dealers. It's interesting to note that all of the eighteen years that I owned Winston we always had requests from more dealers than we could supply. I always tried to keep a balance of good dealers with our rod supply, so we could make reasonable deliveries.
Now that I was improving the rod quality by using cork handles that we were turning ourselves and controlling the wrapping by having Ken Adachi and his son, Steve, wrap the rods, we needed to finish more rods. When I bought Winston, everything was on the bottom floor even though there was a mezzanine floor above the retail shop space that you accessed when you first came into the building. At some time in the past, there had been more rod production, and there were rod turners for another twelve rods that weren't being used. I set these up on the mezzanine floor to help increase both the fiberglass and bamboo production. During this time, a United Airline mechanic, Doug Wilson (no relation to Al Wilson), stopped by the shop to see if he could help us with anything. I said that he could do some rod coating for us, if he was interested. For more than a year, Doug would come in for several hours in the morning to coat rods. He wouldn't take any money for his work, so we paid him in rods and tackle.
Because I also wanted to improve some of the rod fittings, tubes, and bags, I immediately started using the better quality Cal Air rod tubes with a screw top. The reel seats Doug was using were very inexpensive and not commensurate with the new quality I wanted. Cal Air was making very nice aluminum reel seats in two sizes, the CA3 for rod sizes up to #6 and the CA5 for larger rods. I told Leonard Price, who owned Cal Air, that I would like to use his seats, but, if possible, I would like a special color. He sent us some color samples, and by working back and forth we came up with a pale rose gold or champagne color. These were used for a year or two on the glass.
In 1975, Chris Warner stopped by the shop looking for a job. Winston needed to finish more rods to keep up with the demand for both fiberglass and graphite rods, so I hired Chris who took over the coating operation from Doug Wilson.
The last item that I wanted to improve was the rod bags. I decided to standardize both the bamboo and fiberglass with a red bag. I couldn't locate a supplier of bags so I bought material and had them sewn locally. One suggestion from Gary Howells that I incorporated into the bags was having the top seam sewn on the outside of the bags. This prevented the rod sections from catching on the seam when it was removed from the bag. Winston had a beautiful woven label on their bags and I continued having them added to the bags until the middle 1980s. Just before we moved to Montana in 1976, a supplier of rod bags approached me. He showed me some samples that were made from a poplin cloth that looked very nice. I contracted with him for a good supply of bags. When they arrived I was shocked. The bags he originally showed me were made from a nice soft poplin cloth, whereas the ones he delivered were sized with some material to make them easier to sew. They were stiff, felt terrible, and looked bad. I called him to complain he said that was what they had to do to sew them and there wasn't anything he could do about them. I ended up using them, but I sure learned a valuable lesson.
I wanted to add wood spacer reel seats to the rods because I thought they would look better and increase the value. It seemed to me that a simple solution would be to take a clear anodized Cal Air CA3 seat, cut the center aluminum barrel out, and glue the threaded portion along with the hood assembly onto a wooden barrel. I tried this and it worked very well. I bought Al Wilson a Sears Craftsman lathe so he could turn the wooden barrels for the reel seats. At first, I used this seat on Winston's graphite rods, but on the fiberglass rods I continued to use the anodized CA3 seats. I couldn't use the CA5 reel seat to make a wood spacer seat similar to the trout seats because the design was different, so it was used just as an anodized aluminum seat on rods #7 through #10.
Eventually, I wanted to use a wooden spacer on the fiberglass rods with a complementary wood color and chose rosewood. I looked in the San Francisco newspaper and saw an ad for rosewood. Al Wilson and I went to the warehouse where they were selling it, and we bought what we thought was a lifetime supply for a very good price. Making the reel seats with a wooden spacer for the fiberglass rods did present a problem because the rod butt was too large to go inside the seat. Al came up with the idea of using hardwood dowels and tapering them down to fit inside the rod blank and turning them level to fit inside the seat. This worked well because the fiberglass blanks had enough hoop strength to support the inside plug. Al made a supply of various sized hardwood plugs for all of the different glass rod models, so we could just epoxy in the correct size when we installed a seat.
The rosewood was difficult to finish for its natural oils prevented regular varnish from drying on it. For a time, we used an epoxy finish, but then I discovered a way to finish both the rosewood fiberglass seats and the walnut wood we were using on the graphite rods. I found an epoxy made by a company in Salt Lake City that I could mix a whole gallon of the resins, and they wouldn't set up for about a week. However, every day the resins got thicker and thicker. I would dip the seats three times over three days until they were very heavily coated with the epoxy. I then sent the seats to Al Wilson who turned the epoxy off until it was about .010" smaller than the finished size I wanted. I dipped those seats in our dust free spray booth with several coats of Varathane polyethylene varnish.
During the summer of 1976, my wife, Mona, and I purchased a house about four miles outside of Twin Bridges, Montana. We also bought a 24' by 32' shop from Paul Mantha in Twin Bridges. Chris Warner and I left for Montana in the fall of 1976, but Glenn stayed on in San Francisco. Chris and I started getting the shop ready for production. I hired Paul to build a separate coating room, some benches, and a rod storage cabinet including a shipping bench. We had brought the rod turning equipment with us from San Francisco and set it up in the new coating room. Al Wilson continued installing the cork, turning the grips, and delivering rods to the shop in San Francisco where Ken and his son would pick them up, take them home to wrap, and return them a week later. Glenn would then send the wrapped rods to Chris Warner and me in Twin Bridges where Chris would coat them, and we would ship them to dealers and customers. Thus we tried to build up an inventory of rods.
During the spring of 1977, I designed a new shop addition on the back of the original shop that was about 32' by 24' that consisted of a blank ferruling room, two small rooms for miscellaneous operations, and a spray booth room. Into these spaces, we moved the bamboo operation including a gas-fired heat-treating oven, a bamboo wrap-coating machine, a deflection board for glass and graphite blanks, along with a tip topping area. The spray booth was used primarily for coating bamboo rods, but it was also used to dip the final finish on the wood reel seat spacers. A gas-fired make up unit was installed to provide heat into the building so the spray booth could be used in temperatures down to about 35 degrees.
Glenn moved the balance of the equipment to Montana the spring of 1977. The shop in San Francisco was sold, and Winston was on its own in Montana. This was a very hard transition because the retail shop in San Francisco brought in about $100,000 in retail sales with a very good profit margin. In Montana, we had to rely totally on rod sales. In addition, we didn't have the complete infrastructure ready for production until Glenn arrived. Glenn had developed wrapping skills while in San Francisco; consequently we relied on him to train wrappers in Montana. Chris continued to do the coating while I did most of the ferruling, corking, and turning the handles. We all worked at shipping the rods.
The original decal labels midway between the cork grip and stripping guide was a trophy cup with the words "San Francisco" printed on them. Shortly after the move to Montana, the decal was changed from reading "San Francisco" to "Montana". Later this label was changed to an oval with the words "R. L. Winston Rod Co." I am not sure of the date of the final change. When I first took over Winston, the fiberglass rod tube labels were a decal. While we were in San Francisco and, later, in Montana we used a brown die cut label with an image of an angler crouching beside a stream.
By the time we moved to Montana, the glass rod models had all been defined and production had been standardized. Gradually, the quality of the rods increased as we all learned more about getting the processes refined and standardized. One area that required constant vigilance was the straightness of blanks, particularly with the fiberglass. All of the fiberglass blanks, except the #11 weight rods, were rolled on one-piece mandrels. The mandrels were steel and, on the fiberglass blanks, quite large in diameter at the butts. As a result, they were quite heavy and it took considerable force to rotate the blanks and mandrels as they went through the Century cellophane wrapper. The model of Century wrapper Fisher used rotated the mandrel with the fiberglass cloth wrapped around it right at the head as the cellophane was applied. It seemed to me that this caused torque on the resulting fiberglass/resin matrix resulting in a number of blanks that tended to look like corkscrews. Over the years, I returned a number of these blanks to Fisher that I thought were too crooked. However, overall the Fisher blank quality was very high and they were committed to making a quality product. In retrospect, I wish I had the blanks now that I sent back for credit.
Shortly after the move to Montana, I, along with Glenn Struble, designed a large wood reel seat with a light bulb thread similar to what E. C. Powell used on his bamboo rods for Winston's line sizes #7 through #10 weight rods. Al Talbot made a polyurethane pressure die for me to punch out hoods using aluminum blanks. I had looked at a lot of different reel seat hood designs to determine how reel seats held reel feet. From my observations, most of the hoods were too straight on the sides and top. This design would allow the foot to move side-to-side regardless of how tightly the screw locking nut was tightened. What positively holds the reel foot from moving side-to-side is only the hood. In a few cases, a slot or groove in the barrel may also help. What the screw lock nut or slide band does is hold the foot back into the hood. The hood I designed and Al made the die for had a 7-degree slope on each side and on the top. Therefore, when a reel foot was placed in the hood it was held on the sides and the top and it wouldn't move side-to-side at all. I never saw a foot that the reel seat wouldn't hold including a Pflueger Medalist.
The process for making the hoods was quite complicated. First they were parted off a tube at a longer length than the finished length because of the polyethylene die. Then they were turned to the correct diameter on the outside by holding them with an internal collet. We used 6061T6 aluminum alloy that was too brittle to punch without annealing. We annealed them ourselves by lining up a row of about 10 pieces on an aluminum bar and heating each individual piece with a small hand held Bernz-O-Matic torch until there was an orange "glow" around each hood blank. After cooling, the hoods were ready to punch.
The polyurethane die consisted of five basic parts. It had a tool steel base with two bolts on each side that swiveled up so they could be attached to the top portion of the die that enclosed the actual forming die, aluminum blanks, and polyurethane plug. To load the die, you would insert the aluminum plug into the forming die with a small polyurethane plug that fitted inside it. On the bottom of the blank was a small steel disk that would be used to eject the formed hood. After the hood blank and polyurethane plug were loaded, a tool steel top with a hole for the pressure rod was placed over the die assembly and secured with the two bolts on the side of the base. Then a tool steel rod that just fitted inside the hood blank was loaded into the top and the whole assembly was placed in a hydraulic press. The press we used had a pressure gauge on it and the pressure was increased to about 3000 pounds. This expanded the polyurethane plug that in turn formed the hood blank into its correct shape. The die was disassembled and the formed hood was knocked out with a wooden dowel and hammer. The forming process hardened the aluminum, so it didn't have to be heat-treated to make it hard.
We then buffed the formed hood to a high luster and bright finish. The hoods were cut off to the correct length using an internal collet on a lathe. The hoods were long because part of the blank was used to contain the polyurethane plug. Glenn Struble provided the threaded barrel and a locking nut. We made a small aluminum ring check that fitted between the threaded portion of the barrel and the cork grip. An aluminum plug that fitted inside the hood was made and faced flat on a lathe. After all of the parts were made and buffed to a high luster, they were sent to an anodizer to be clear anodized. When the anodized parts were returned, they were sent along with the finished barrels to Al Wilson for assembly. On the light saltwater rods, however, we continued to use the Cal Air 5 seats, whereas the tarpon rods had a very large seat that I don't remember the number of. All of these seats were anodized.
Eventually, I decided to change the CA 3 seats to
a style similar to the large light bulb style thread
I was using on the larger wood seats. Once again,
Glenn Struble was able to make a smaller version of
the rounded thread seat I was using on the larger
rods. Glenn had a large supply of aluminum tubing
from another project that was an appropriate size to
make hoods for the smaller wood seats. I made a new
die to form the hoods for the smaller seats using a
rotary table, a milling machine, and a carbide burr.
When we made this change all of the aluminum hoods
were sent to a heat-treating company to do them in a
big lot rather than annealing them ourselves.
Winston's glass rod sales gradually diminished as graphite took over the marketplace not only for Winston but for other manufacturers too. Glenn, Chris, and I continued to like the action of glass and fished them in addition to promoting them. By the early 1980's, almost all of the fiberglass rods we were selling were directly to our own customers and not to dealers. Despite the slow sales, we continued to build fiberglass rods because we knew they were great fishing rods, despite the popularity of graphite. Glenn and I always thought that Winston was a fisherman's rod company, and we would continue to sell what we thought were great fly rods whether they were fiberglass, bamboo, or graphite.
Then one day I called up Joe Fisher to order a batch of fiberglass blanks, and he told me they were no longer available. Hexcel, who had supplied the phenolic resin cloth Fisher used, was no longer producing that product. I was dumbfounded! I just couldn't believe it. Not only had Hexcel quit making the glass prepreg but also Joe Fisher had not told me they were going to stop making it in time to allow me to build up an inventory of fiberglass blanks. There are not many times in my life when I have gotten really angry, but this was one of them. This was the start of my great dissatisfaction with the J. K. Fisher Company that eventually resulted in my turning to Gary Loomis of the G. Loomis Company for our graphite blanks.
Winston continued to sell from inventory what fiberglass rods we had left. There was not enough demand at the time, however, to look for another supplier of fiberglass cloth and to develop a new line of rods. When I sold Winston in 1991, the glass rods had been discontinued since 1987. That was the end of an important era for Winston rods and one we were sorry to see end. The fiberglass rods represented some of Winston's greatest designs.
During the 1990s Winston brought out what they called their "Retro" fiberglass rods, but they evidently were not a great success because they discontinued them after a short time. I wasn't involved with these rods.
In addition to the story about the fiberglass rods while I was an owner of Winston, I would like to add some comments about the guides. On all of our fiberglass rods and graphite rods, we always used hard chrome plated stainless steel snake guides. They were always on the small side and for a good reason. We were always careful to size the rods according to the line size that would flex them in their normal fishing ranges. In addition, the tips on the Winston rods were always on the supple side making the rods feel light and lively. A large part of this feeling is the result of the tips not being loaded down with heavy guides. From our experience smaller guides do not result in less distance when casting; if anything, they permitted greater distance. My personal philosophy for this reason is that the line doesn't slap around the rod as much resulting in the line going out more smoothly. In addition, the size of the wire on different guides doesn't result in a change of friction one way or the other. I know that many anglers would disagree with this, but I respectfully think they are wrong. I have shaken and cast so many rods with big, heavy guides that feel sluggish and dead that I know I am correct. I must add one caveat to this: so many of the new graphite rods are so stiff in the tip that a little more guide weight at least softens them a little. The glass rods all used carbide stripping guides.
I fished extensively with two glass rods. My favorite light trout rod for many years was an 8' #4 two-piece. I fished mostly small dry flies with this rod. I found it ideal for spring creek fishing along with fishing big rivers like the Missouri where a delicate presentation is required. The second rod was a special one I made just for streamer fishing. I have an unusual technique for fishing unweighted streamers on or near the surface using a floating line. One of the essential requirements is that the tip be very flexible so that you can impart a very small but rhythmic movement to the fly. The supple tip of a glass rod is ideal for this. My special streamer rod is 8' 3" in length and balances with a #6 line. To make the rod, I used a #6 butt and a #5 tip that happened to be rolled on the same mandrel so the ferrule fits perfectly. The rod balances perfectly at short to medium distances where I prefer to fish my streamer technique. In fact, despite what you might think would be an unbalanced rod, it is one of the smoothness casting rods I ever had the pleasure of using. If you are interested in reading about this unique and very effective fishing technique, you may go to our web site at:
I hope this history of Winston fiberglass rods has been enlightening and interesting reading for you.