VET'S DISCIPLINE LEADS TO GREAT RODS
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 underst