In recent months, I had been hearing about a new fly rod Tom Morgan was building that some were calling the Ultimate. During the 18 years he was an owner of the Winston Rod Company, Tom designed and built some of the finest rods on the planet. So you had to take the talk seriously.
Since I had also heard George Anderson had consulted on the project, I decided to swing by his shop in Livingston and find out about The Rod.
Mike Dry: So what's all the talk about? This new rod of Tom Morgan's.
George Anderson: By the time Tom came to me, he already had some design ideas. He wanted to produce a series of perfectly matched rods for the kind of fishing most anglers do, especially on Western waters: casting light lines at 30- to 50-foot distances, yet still have the power to make longer casts with bigger flies.
My job was to sort of be the "ultimate critic" of his prototype rods. Give him a sense of what did and didn't work until he got what he wanted.
MD: So how did the process work?
GA: Tom had a very good idea on what had to be done with the use of new graphite materials and with new mandrels (rod designs) to produce a superior rod to what was presently on the market. He had G. Loomis build some blanks on these first mandrels and brought them all over to Livingston where we cast a variety of different tip and butt designs to come up with the finest combination in each line size.
We then cast a variety of other manufacturers' rods, including Tom's own Winston designs, in each line size from 2-6 to determine who had the "best" rods in each line category. At that point, we compared Tom's new designs to what we felt were the best casting rods on the market and determined where we needed to make some minor changes to improve these initial prototypes for Tom's new rods.
Tom would analyze our testing results and order more mandrels or make some changes to the pattern on the existing mandrels. We would then repeat the testing process and fine tuning until we came up with a rod that would perform better than our "benchmark" rods in each line size. This process went on for about 9 months.
MD: So what did you guys come up with that makes these rods so special?
GA: These are exceptionally soft-actioned, smooth casting rods. To get this, Tom did a couple of things different.
By using four individual mandrel tapers -- one for 2, 3, 4 and 5/6 weights -- each of his rods has close to an even number of wraps when the graphite's rolled on the mandrel. This eliminates the effect of the spine and torque twist when casting, so you get a more even flex and more accurate cast.
The other thing he did that's so important is make the tip of the butt section and the butt of the tip the same diameter. This is why his rods have such a smooth transfer of power that's very distinctive.
A lot of today's rods use a slip over tip design which increases tip diameter and stiffness. You also have to add material in the butt section to balance the rod. So you end up with a heavier rod than these new Morgan rods.
Most of today's rods are also a lot stiffer than Tom's and require a lot of line to load the rod properly. Often, way more than you need when you're fishing. So, as you know, the caster ends up doing a lot of the work instead of the rod.
MD: I know lots of anglers today like these faster action rods because they can cast them so easily. How are they going to like the action on Tom's rods?
GA: Tom's new rods still retain a fairly fast action with a softer tip and strong butt section. They are just softer across the board, allowing the new rods to load with a minimal amount of line in the air and to cast very accurately at the short to medium distances...distances where good anglers are doing 90% of their fishing.
People are going to pick up these new rods and say that this rod loads beautifully with the recommended line size. They won't feel that they need to go up one line size to get the rod to load at shorter distances, which is often the case with many of the rods now on the market.
MD: Speaking of Winston rods, an obvious question is "How different are these rods than the ones Tom designed at Winston?" Many people I know think they're just about the greatest thing available.
GA: That's true. We sell a huge number of Winstons in the shop and people really like them. They cast great and they're beautiful. But there are some important improvements in Tom's new rods. They're subtle differences. Not "night and day." But most anglers will find these rods perform noticeably better than the best rods on the market today.
MD: I've had a chance to see some of the materials that will be used in finishing and packaging these rods. Pretty amazing?
GA: I don't think there's any question about it: they're the best crafted rods you can find. The detailing is unique. There's just nothing like it around at any price.
MD: Give me some specifics.
GA: Well, the rods are just beautiful. They've got Number 1 grade cork handles (you really have to look hard to find any filler). The reel seats -- they're hexagonal shaped to match the rod tube and cap -- are all exotic woods Tom has been collecting for 20 years. You just pick which one you like when you order and it's made up for your rod. There's an agate stripping guide and garnet red wraps that are a pretty touch. It's a true custom-made rod.
MD: You mentioned the rod tube. That sounds pretty unusual.
GA: Yeah. They're custom-made, too. Extruded aluminum finished with an electrostatic process. It expands the pores of the metal so a translucent garnet paint is absorbed into them. Then it's baked on. You can't knock or chip the paint off. The rod cap is black anodized aluminum and topped off with a pure silver minted medallion with Tom's logo on it.
The rod bag is even unique. It's made of ultra suede which cushions and polishes the rod when it's in the tube.
MD: You're starting to get a little worked up here. I take it you kind of like the rods?
GA: (laughter) Who wouldn't. The whole package is a level of design and attention to detail no one has ever done before. There's just nothing like it.
MD: So who's going to buy these rods?