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Brandon Greene of Grand Forks holds up one of the custom ice rods he made for a customer. Owner of Hooked Custom Rods, Greene makes the rods in a shop in his Grand Forks home and is so busy he seldom finds time to fish in the winter. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service

‘From his hand to yours,’ custom rod builder lands a keeper

GRAND FORKS — In his quest for the perfect ice fishing rod, Brandon Greene says he never could find one he liked and that fit just right.

So, he built one that did. And hooked a booming side venture in the process.

“I built one for myself, then a buddy wanted one, and it just really took off,” Greene said.

That was five years ago. Today, Greene, 37, of Grand Forks, builds custom rods for anglers all over North America as owner of Hooked Custom Rods and Tackle. After wrapping up his day job on the buildings and ground staff at Minnkota Power Cooperative in Grand Forks, Greene spends five to seven hours most evenings and 11 to 15 hours a day on weekends just to keep up with the barrage of orders.

He builds the custom creations in a room of his Grand Forks home that is filled with the tools and supplies of the rod-building trade.

“Now, I’m looking at probably anywhere from 150 to 200 ice rods a year, plus some summer (rods), so it’s really taken off in a big way,” he said. “I never thought it would grow to where it’s at today.”

The turnaround time from order to delivery is about 3½ weeks with the Christmas rush, Greene says. He’s so busy making ice fishing rods, he rarely has time to fish in the winter.

“I spend a lot of time in here building rods, but it’s what I love to do,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in doing it right.”

Learning curve

Learning to build a quality fishing rod was a process of trial-and-error, Greene says. Gradually, though, he honed the trade, and his custom rods are works of art. Meticulous wrapping available in numerous colors holds the titanium alloy guides in place, and cork handles are available in six styles that can be further customized with foam inlay of various colors.

“At first, it was not easy,” Greene said. “I’m kind of one of those guys that I just like to learn on my own. There was a lot of error (at first), but I’ve perfected it, and I feel very confident in what I build these days.”

Building an ice fishing rod takes 3 to 4 hours, he says, depending on whether a customer orders a manufactured handle or a custom handle; the curing process takes another 48 hours or so.

Rods can be further customized with the angler’s name or nickname.

Greene has spent up to 12 hours building long rods for open-water fishing.

“You start with the blank,” he said. “I put handles on it, wrap it, epoxy it, and then I also seal all of my handles with a cork sealer.”

Greene offers nine different rod blanks, ranging from light-action “Panny Piler” rods for panfish to the heavy-duty “Jaw Locker” rig for larger species such as pike and lake trout.

Blanks are made from either solid glass or solid carbon fiber, he says.

“All of my blanks are manufactured to my specification, so I’ve engineered them to what I want,” Greene said. “Again, there’s a lot of trial and error there, but I’ve figured it out, and now people love it.”

Spreading the word

Greene has promoted his rods at sports shows but says word of mouth has been the best marketing tool, along with his website, Anglers from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and even New York and Alaska have bought the rods, he says.

Canada also is a burgeoning market, despite the weak Canadian dollar.

“The last couple of months, I’ve probably had the most Canadians ever, so that’s great,” he said. “I just had a guy call from way up in Saskatchewan.

“I’ve got tournament anglers using them,” he added. “I’ve got a couple of guys on Team USA, they go overseas and fish, and they use the rods. So it’s kind of all over right now, and word of mouth has taken off in a big way. I can only build so many a year, but it’s great. I love it.”

For skeptics who question the expense of buying one of his custom rods, which range in price from $100 to $155 or so, Greene likens it to buying a tailored suit.

“You go buy a suit, you say, ‘Yeah, the pants are a little bit long, so no big deal, whatever, I’m just going to deal with it,’” Greene said. “Or, you can go get that suit tailored for another $20 and have it right.”

The same holds true for ice fishing rods, he says.

“You can go buy that rod on the rack they’re charging $115 for, or you can buy something you’re going to pay $130 to $140 for and get exactly what you want,” he said. “That’s kind of the way I look at it.”

Making history

After a recent visit to Greene’s Grand Forks shop, he shared a photo of a smiling customer with a new custom ice fishing rod.

Seeing that smile “is the best feeling in the world,” Greene says.

“I’m making history with these rods,” he said. “It’s something that -- let’s face it -- when I’m gone one day, I’ve got all these rods out there, and people are using them, and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

From his hand to theirs, Greene says.

Given the workload that’s developed, Greene says he’s not sure what direction he’ll take his custom rod business in the future; for now, he’s enjoying the ride.

Even if it cuts into his ice fishing time.

“It’s fun to see where it’s going to go, and the sky is really the limit -- where do I want to go with it?” Greene said. “But the biggest thing is I always want to keep the quality there, and I think that’s what’s going to continue to sell rods.”

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