Editor: iBass360 supports small businesses carving out their place in the fishing industry. We also support veteran owned businesses, and when we find a combination, it is all the better. Scott Belisle is a veteran and owner, designer and master rod builder behind The Lehigh Fishing Company. I recently met with Scott to find out more about his company and its beautifully crafted, high quality rods.
iBass360: First, thank you Scott for your time and thank you for your service. In which branch did
Scott: I was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. I loved my service and served quite a while, until my body could not take another jump.
iBass360: Tell us how you developed a passion for fishing?
Scott: From as far back as I can remember, my family took summer vacations in Avalon NJ. We stayed in a place on the bay that had a dock. My grandfather had me out on that dock from the time I could hold a rod. My brother and I would spend most of our summer days fishing that dock, and later the beaches, and offshore areas in and around Avalon. It took all my mother’s energy to get us off the dock and into bed or to the dinner table. Blues, stripers, weaks, flounder, oyster crackers, sand sharks, sea robins, skates…. It was a Jersey shore bonanza. When I got older, I added freshwater fishing to the mix, and now, living in the Poconos, it is easy to find fly water holding some nice trout.
iBass360: So the knees and shoulder gave out ending your career in the military, what was next?
Scott: Well, I did not just wake up and say “Hey, I think I will start a fishing rod company. I went to school and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. I got a job with an engineering company doing mostly land development engineering projects. I liked engineering, it fit my way of thinking and problem solving, and it was disciplined, something that was a hallmark of who I was in the service. So it was the engineering life for me.
I had first started looking into rod building while i was still in engineering. But, when the economic meltdown of 2008-2009 happened, companies were cutting back and the engineering firms that depended on them were cutting back as the spending dried up. I found myself staring at unemployment.
iBass360: And that is when the Rod God voice in your head said “if you build rods, they will buy”?
Scott: Ha ha, not exactly. I continued to feed my fishing passion during this time, and, given some of my physical limitations I was left with after my service. After I started looking into rod building, it was the desire to develop something innovative, especially with new materials, that drove me to pursue rod building aggressively. The cheap disposable nature of the mass market products- loose reel seats and cheap handles- also fueled my desire to build quality. Whether casting off the beach or dock, or fly fishing the Lehigh, I believed I could bring an innovative quality product to the market.
I started looking around in the market place. Talking to a lot of people with rod knowledge and I found that there really weren’t many manufacturers providing premium production rods with the custom requirements of experienced anglers. Given my engineering curiousity, I started a journey to find out everything there was to know about rod building materials and how to optimize those materials to meet various performance characteristics. When the reality of a faltering economy met the need to ramp up the efforts behind my rod project, it seemed clear that rod building just might be my future.
iBass360: So tell us about your quest to find the “right” way to build rods.
Scott: Well, it really was a sort of quest. I spent two and half years doing research, talking to experts, obtaining materials and experimenting with them in my shop. Varying the blend to achieve optimal characteristics was a very tedious, disciplined and necessary process to learn just how to and how not to build rods. My critical learning taught me that the fishing rod was
really the most important piece of fishing gear required to make the fisherman successful. It had to feel like an extension of the anglers arm. Fishing rod manufacturing requires lightweight, durable materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber- graphite.
Understanding the characteristics of these resins- both their performance in manufacturing, and their performance in the hand of a fisherman, was at the core of my learning. In this, I was so fortunate to develop a relationship with a mentor who is also an industry legend- Gary Loomis. Discussing my design of experiments and results with
Gary helped me understand the specific advantages and drawbacks of each rod material. This really allowed me to design different rods and rod building processes for different fishing conditions, levels of angling experience and the various fishing techniques.
iBass360: So optimizing materials was critical?
Scott: Yes, but I learned that that optimization had to be done based on how the unique requirements of each angling technique determined the degree to which fiberglass or carbon fiber worked better. The techniques called for a different level of casting ease, distance, sensitivity and durability. Optimization was like a 3D- matrix based on how the different materials performed individually and in combination vs. these performance characteristics. For simple understanding, carbon fiber is preferred when you require sensitivity because it is lightweight and flexible and it allows the transfer of vibrations through the rod to feel structure, bites, etc. As a rough rule, carbon fiber rods are approximately
40 percent lighter than other graphite or fiberglass rods. However, the lightweight characteristic of carbon fiber can sacrifice durability when compared to fiberglass rods. If you fish for larger species like musky, pike, salmon or stripers, you need a heavy rod for fighting the fish. In this case fiberglass rods will generally be preferred over the more brittle carbon fiber.
iBass360: Then, your quest led you to the optimal answers for rod performance?
Scott: It is never that simple, but what I can say is that I have been able to develop unique, patent pending processes by which I can optimize materials in the making of my rod blanks that will better deliver the performance characteristics anglers are looking for. It is tough to say any more without revealing my proprietary processes.
iBass360: So how did you transfer this into a rod building company?
Scott: Again, there was a lot of market research involved which led me to initially offer five rods- four fresh water: a five ft. ultra-light and a six ft. medium action, for spinning and a 7 ft 3 weight and 8 ½ ft 5 weight for fly fishing- and a saltwater medium inshore rod. These seemed to be the most popular in the markets I initially wanted to serve. Since then I have increased to fifteen base rods which include a variety of spinning and spin casting rods for fresh and saltwater, fly rods and now two ice rods. I am adding four more variants this year and my custom builds all begin from one of these 19 “platforms”.
iBass360: You spoke about some aspects of your process being proprietary, what else makes your rods unique?
Scott: Lehigh’s rods are premium rods. We do not compromise on materials. We do our own designs and formulations, manufacture our own blanks and do our own tapering, wrapping and finishing. I select only premium components from American Tackle Company in Florida and REC
in Connecticut. Premium materials, a custom type of process, optimized performance and Made in the USA labor does result in a premium price, but these are rods that will last a lifetime, rods that provide the latest in materials technology with some classic features such as wood trim. I think I am the only one putting oak handles on a hi-tech rod. This type of detail really appeals to the discerning fisherman. This is why our slogan is “Premium Fishing Rods for the Avid Angler” an angler who does not compromise on casting and fish fighting performance, quality or rod life.
iBass360: if I can push a little more, how do you get the performance a particular angler is seeking?
Scott: What I can say is that I design and build rods applying manufacturing processes not previously used in the fishing industry. Through my research, I have partnered with leading resin
makers to develop a system that is resilient and impact resistant. We combined this with the latest in carbon fiber technology to make rods that load and unload quickly for ease of casting.
Each rod is hand made in our facility near the Lehigh river in White Haven, Pennsylvania. I don’t market through agents or through the big box retailers. I spend a lot of time with customers trying to understand their requirements before I recommend a rod to meet his or her needs. Then, in the manufacturing process, we vary the key rod building variables- material, taper, wall thickness and modulus, which is the degree of stiffness, or resistance to bending. When these come together, along with the right components, in the right way, you can meet the specific needs of the ordering customers.
iBass360: Tell us more about Lehigh Fishing.
Scott: The rod building pilgrimage that began in 2009 resulted in me establishing The Lehigh Fishing Company in 2011. Lehigh’s goal in meeting the needs of the serious angler is to introduce new models and new innovations every year. The latest innovation is an inter-
changeable surf rod that has an two different upper sections to allow it to be fished for both medium and heavy situations. The other thing that is important to know is that we have a pro staff team to offer not only new design ideas but also to extensively test each rod before it is introduced to the market.
iBass360: Any last things you want your potential customers to know?
Scott: Just a few last comments. Our mix of products reflects the breadth of our product offering, about 60% spinning/casting and about 40% fly. We offer fly rods in 3, 5 and 7 weight and will be introducing two 9 weights later this year- one for freshwater and one for the salt. I do keep the main models in stock but custom builds will take two to three weeks to build. Our customs are for those anglers who know what they want in a rod, whether it’s wood grips such as oak or cherry, custom wrap colors, or even a pewter anodized aluminum reel seat. I also found that the technology lent itself to building putters- you know, many golfers fish and many fishermen golf.!You can check out our website or our Facebook page for more information or just call us.
iBass360: Thanks Scott. Your dedication to delivering unique, high quality and high performance rods to the avid fisherman is impressive. We thank you for your time and wish you a lot of success. Thanks again for your dedication to our country and our sport.