by Andrew Spencer
photos by Jeff Allen Photography
It was Christmas morning, and I was ten. I woke up at the crack of dawn, as was my custom before old age got the better of my sleep requirements, and raced downstairs to see what Santa Claus had left for me. Rummaging through the goods, I saw a piece of paper. Interestingly enough, it was written on my father’s own stationery. Even more interestingly enough, Santa’s handwriting bore a striking similarity to my father’s. I let those details slide, though, because it was the message that really mattered to my mind. The note read: “Andrew, your new Bill Fisher fishing rod will be waiting for you in Nantucket next summer. Merry Christmas!”
A long time ago, on an island far, far away, I hit the jackpot. This was my own version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. And the added bonus was that there was very little chance of my shooting my eye out with it. When I finally got my young hands on that fishing rod, it was tough to put it down. I loved that rod; I love it to this day. However, just as my sleeping habits have fallen victim to my advancing years, my ability to wield that Bill Fisher rod (made by Bill Pew) seems to be following a similar trajectory. While it’s still a thing of beauty, it’s heavy and can make fishing from anywhere other than a deserted beach as much an act of faith as anything else. But, I’m a traditionalist, so I feel a sort of nostalgic pull back towards it whenever I think of changing up my rod.
Thank goodness, that Jeff Allen has arrived to save me from myself.
In early 2012, Jeff was recovering from a serious battle with Lyme disease, and wanted to find an outlet for his creative side. A serendipitous conversation with his neighbor Cam Gammill, one of the current co-owners of the new incarnation of Bill Fisher Tackle, led him down the path of custom rod making. It was the beginning of what Jeff called a symbiotic relationship with the shop, and what Nantucket fishermen called a Heaven-sent gift.
On the surface, a fishing rod looks like a pretty simple operation. You’ve have a straight piece (we’ll call that the rod) and you have little guides going up one side to hold the line as it is cast out (we’ll call those the guides). Throw in a reel seat to hold the reel (we’ll call that the reel seat, just for simplicity’s sake), and you have a complete fishing rod. Like I said, pretty basic.
However, there’s so much more to it than that. First, you have to decide on the material for the rod itself, also known as the blank. Graphite or fiberglass? Both have their advantages, which can make the decision a little harder. On top of that, guides are much more than just little rings. They can determine how far you’re able to cast, and the material from which they’re made plays into that. Then, comes the decorative component, the wrapping that holds those guides on to the rod. And, the most important component of all, you need somebody who is skilled at both selecting and putting together, all of these various components in order to best fit your individual needs.
Jeff has spent years fine-tuning his skills, attending workshops, classes, and conferences all over the country. He knows where to find the best cork in the world to make handles with (Lisbon, to be exact), and he knows the best types of guides to cast different types of fishing line. He can tell you why you should get a graphite or fiberglass rod based on your preferred type of fishing, and he can tell you the best style of handle based on how you hold the rod in your hands.
“A lot of what I do is education,” Jeff said. “I teach customers what they need to know about the different components so that they can make the best decision for themselves.” That education starts with a preliminary meeting with the artist himself, who takes the time to really find out what his customers want from a rod. “I ask them to bring in their favorite rod and reel,” he explained, “and we talk about what they like in terms of the rod’s power, its action, and things like that. Do they want a one-piece or multi-piece rod? Do they want cork or foam on the handle? I also look at how they hold the rod when they’re fishing because that’s an important consideration.”
Once the initial plan is decided upon, Jeff dives in and starts building the rod of his customer’s dreams. No detail is overlooked in a Fish Stix rod. The finest components come together with classic styling to create what Jeff describes as “an heirloom rod,” something that will be treasured for generations to come. And trust me when I tell you that any rod that Jeff makes will not only be treasured by future generations, it will be coveted by them while you’re still fishing with it.
Whether you decide on the Nantucket Classic model, with its traditional honey-colored Lamiglass blank, or you opt instead for something slightly more exotic, like a rod with exotic wood and locally scrimshawed ivory inlays or custom airbrushing on the blank, Jeff will create exactly what you want. And what’s more, the rod he makes for you will fit both your personal tastes and your personal hand. When Jeff is hand-turning cork grips for a customer, he’ll actually have the customer come in so that he can ensure that the grip fits the angler’s hand perfectly. It’s the level of attention to detail and skill that makes a Fish Stix rod truly custom.
When you buy one of my rods, you’re getting a level of quality that you can’t buy in an off-the-rack rod,” Jeff said. “I provide a classic look with the latest technology and the highest-quality components.” That, friends and neighbors, is a combination that cannot be beaten. I would have added “with a stick,” but that just seemed too easy. Suffice it to say that a Fish Stix rod is more than a rod. It’s an extension of yourself that just happens to fish like the best dream you’ve ever had. Jeff’s trademark is superior quality and craftsmanship. But just in case you’re looking at the angler next to you wondering if it’s a Fish Stix he’s using, look at the butt cap. A red dot means it’s one of Jeff’s. It’s his version of a red sole on a lady’s shoe, I guess you could say. And just like the woman wearing that pair of Christian Louboutins, the angler fishing with a Fish Stix rod is a person who knows their equipment. So pay attention to what they’re doing.
What might be the most exciting news about these amazing creations is that, unlike my ten-year-old self, you don’t have to wait six excruciatingly long months to get your hands on one. Jeff can have you in his shop and out with a brand-new custom-made rod in three weeks. And with prices starting at $700, you’re not paying an outrageous premium when you compare them to a lot of rods you see on the racks in tackle shops. He offers discounts to military veterans, and runs an environmentally friendly shop, too. “I do everything as green as I can,” he said. “With every step of the rod-making process, I am as environmentally conscious as possible.”
What’s more, he offers repair services for those times when, despite your best efforts to prevent it, the inevitable break occurs. He’ll store your rod for you over the winter or, alternatively, give you instructions on how to care for it yourself. And just in case you want a sneak-peek at some of his handiwork, head over to Bill Fisher Tackle at 127 Orange Street. There you can see a full selection of pre-made rods, all of which are for sale just in case you find you can’t wait the three weeks to have your own made before you take one out on the water.
What I really do is make toys for grown-ups, Jeff said. I just love doing it.
And Nantucket fishermen love him for doing it, too. Now if I can just get in touch with Santa, I think I might have one more gift to add to my list.
To learn more about Jeff Allen and Fish Stix or to contact Jeff about a rod, please visit his website at: www.FishStixNantucket.com.
Article edited. Full version available in ONLY NANTUCKET, Summer 2016.