BOZEMAN – For some, fly fishing is a sport. For others, a passion. And for still others, it goes even beyond that.
Tom Morgan was raised in Ennis and spent time as a fishing guide. His passion for fly fishing led him to begin a life-long career as a rod maker.
Morgan has passed away, but his legacy and his rods survive.
“He (wanted) to have a small custom rod shop and build rods, one-off, for each customer and really emphasize the quality of the rod and the relationship with each customer,” said Matt Barber, co-owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths in Bozeman. “That’s where Tom Morgan Rodsmiths began.”
Each Tom Morgan rod is as unique as the customer. And the old adage, “The customer is always right” is at the heart of his legacy.
“How we make rods may be different than other people make rods,” said company co-owner Joel Doub. “Maybe some people think it’s a little crazy the way we make rods and we certainly learned that from Tom and his wife Geri, you know that very specific way of making rods. We like to say the attention to all the details and the parts is what creates the sum that’s greater than all those individual things.”
One customer’s rod took 9 months to make before a flaw was discovered. It then took another 9 months to make the rod correctly. That’s when a customer learns attention to detail is paramount. You might not see the flaw, but the namesake of the company would.
“You know Tom was such a stickler to detail,” said Barber. “You know we have this saying: ‘Don’t hold on to a mistake just because it took you a long time to make it.’”
Tom Morgan’s legacy goes beyond just the rods that bear his name. Barber and Doub teach classes in rod making and the plane you see in the video stripping the bamboo was designed by Tom.
Both men admit a Tom Morgan rod isn’t for everyone. Anyone can buy a rod and catch a fish pretty easily. These rods are for the person who sees fishing as something more than just a way to catch a fish.
“I don’t want to get too woo-woo about the whole thing, but there is kind of a spiritualism or mysticism with some kinds of fly fishing, especially when you progress through the beginning, intermediate and advanced stages,” said Doub. “You get to this place where you really want to fish where you want to fish, how you want to fish, and maybe with the instrument that’s of your choosing and it was made specifically for you. I think that’s really where we find that nexus between what we do and what our customers really want.”
Tom Morgan died a little more than a year ago before seeing this version of his dream. Morgan was also confined to a wheelchair so he never got to actually cast any of the rods he built.
Barber and Doub strive to assure that Morgan would be proud to have his name on everything that leaves the shop. Thanks to this commitment to quality, each rod from grip to tip becomes more than a fly rod – they become extensions of the owners.
Tom Morgan wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Reporting by Chet Layman for MTN News