Interview with Tom Schenk, owner of Chippewa River Custom Rod Co.

Last week we got the chance to chat with Tom, owner of Chippewa River Custom Rods, about how he got into musky fly fishing and building some of the best musky fly rods around. 

Folks that know of Tom and his company probably know him for his 1 piece predator fly rods. Trusted by many guides and serious anglers, it's very likely the rod that started to spread the Chippewa River gospel throughout the fishing community. First and foremost, not many of the big brands are still making 1 piece fly rods, let alone a 1 piece built for the “delicate art” of musky fly fishing. 

Hope you enjoy our interview with Tom where we talk about the 1 piece musky fly rods and much more! 


Interview:

Dan: Hey, Tom! Thanks for joining us. Would love to jump right in and have you give us some history. How’d you get into fly fishing in the first place?

Tom: Well I got into it at a fairly young age, but went into the service for a little bit. After I left, I got back into fishing for trout in the Driftless Area in Wisconsin. I moved over from Saint Paul in 2002, bought a bar and a boat. Started guiding a little bit and chasing some of the warmwater stuff. 

Dan: Bought a bar and boat, what more can one ask for right? What branch of the military were you in? 

Tom: 4 years as an Army Ranger, body wasn’t taking it real well! 

Dan: Wow, well thank you for your service. Good reminder if you needed it, not to  mess with Tom! And you also guided a little bit then? For musky? 

Tom: Yeah, nothing major just a little bit here and there for a few years and for other species. Guided Robert Thomes around a bit when he was writing his book, with Brad for a bit, and then some for Joe Flater. Still fish for them every fall up here though! 

Dan: You don’t have to go far to do that! These days, what’s your favorite type of fishing to do? 

Tom: Favorite type of fishing lately is probably wading for smallmouth in small rivers with a 7wt. Still chase musky every fall but I do more smallie fishing. Mainly just a time issue. I can get out for a couple of hours to smallie fish versus dedicating a whole day or weekend to a musky float. 

Dan: It does take time, you are right about that. So, where in all of this did you start making fly rods?

Tom: Well, I had been making them since I was really young just as something I was interested in. I worked at St. Croix for a bit wrapping 100 or more rods a week after I opened th bar. But I have been making them for myself and a few people for a while just by word of mouth and people that stop by. In the early 2000s I really started to hone in on the 1 piece musky rod. 

Dan: What was the whole genesis of the 1 piece and Chippewa River Custom Rod Co?

Tom: Well it first started with me fishing and friends fishing for musky and us not seeing anything really made for it. So then I got a hold of this blank that seemed to be the perfect one for the casting and figure 8 demands, but it was out of production. I was able to finally get that figured out and figure the rest of it out with the grip options, guides, etc. Then I found some other blanks for different 4 piece setups and spinning rods so I have a full lineup to offer. I saw a big push over the last 3 years mainly on word of mouth especially on the musky fly stuff. 

Dan: What are some of the key things to your 1 and 4 piece musky rods?

Tom: Well first there are the blanks that are lightweight but also powerful enough to cast big flies with less fatigue. From there I do a few other things, like the guides are all ceramic since I noticed musky line wearing through the traditional snake guides. Ceramic hold up way better. I also do the longer fighting butt which I think is especially good for figure 8s. As far as lining them up and casting them the 10s can do 350-500 depending on your casting style  and the 12s can do 500-700. That seems like a big range but on the large 10 and 12 weight rods it really isn’t, it all really depends on your cast. With the extended butt there are also folks who like them for two handed casting or waterloading, 

Dan: The wear on those guides you gave me was crazy! Is that just with the musky stuff or do you see it with other rods?

Tom: Mainly the musky stuff. It just beats them up. 

Dan: So other than just musky stuff, which I can easily make this all about, I want to talk a little bit about what other fishing rods you offer now?

Tom: Well I can really do anything. The 1 piece and 4 piece predator rods are definitely what I am known for, but what I really love is creating a custom rod for someone. I can't make a perfect fishing rod for everyone but I can make a perfect one for anyone. It’s not just fly rods either, I have some spinning and casting rods as well as ice fishing rods. I always enjoy having a conversation with folks about what exactly they are looking for. There are so many different options. 

Dan: Are you involved with every rod build and customer?

Tom: Absolutely, it’s just me. I touch every aspect of the whole thing. I am the only one working on them. And that’s what I enjoy. Maybe one day I’ll get some help on the clerical stuff but I want to work with every customer and help them build the perfect fishing rod for them. I enjoy building each one and chatting with people about it. So yeah, always feel free to call me day or night when I am working on one of your fishing rods. In 5 minutes on the phone we can get it dialed in and figure out which of the many options you would like. 

Dan: That’s awesome. I can attest to that - it has been fun working with you on a few different things. It has also been an awesome turnaround time even recently with shortages elsewhere. Are you seeing any shortages with your supply? 

Tom: Not really. A few small parts here and there might have a backorder and might cause a wait or need to swap a different color but nothing major. I am getting them out in 2 weeks and have access to plenty of inventory. 

Dan: That’s really good to hear! It has been crazy with some stuff out there! I guess to wrap things up theb, I just want to say thank you and give you a chance to close out with a little bit about what the future holds for Chippewa River Custom Rod Co? 

Tom: Of course and thanks for chatting with me. I think in the near future I am the most excited about a few other multi piece rods beyond just 4 pieces that I will have coming out. Other than that, I am not sure what the year holds. Sporting industry has been crazy the last couple of years. Looking farther ahead to the next decade I would probably say I’d like this to really keep growing the way it has been with high customer service and word of mouth. I want to keep working with my hands to build fishing rods. And hopefully over time build a client base of people that are really satisfied with every interaction with me. 

Dan: Well that has only been our experience working with you and pumped to keep doing it going forward! Thanks again for joining us Tom! Have a great rest of your afternoon! 

 

Thanks for reading everyone! It was great to have a quick chat with Tom and learn a little bit about how it all started! Personally speaking, I can’t say enough good things about working with Tom and his awesome fly rods. Whether it's the custom Muskysaber he made for Musky Fool, his legendary 1 piece Musky fly rod, or several of his other awesome options for every type of rod you can imagine he truly has some stuff you should consider for your next fly rod purchase. Stay tuned this week as we talk more about these fly rods and do our last giveaway of the spring!

 


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