October 15, 2012
Behind The Scenes at a Fly Rod Component Factory
By Kirk Deeter
This is Shawn Szczesiul, plant manager for REC Components in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. REC makes many of those "things" that go into fly rods, from reel seats to cork handles, to guides and rod tubes. Can you guess what that chunk in Shawn's hands will be made into? High-grade buckeye wood reel seats for fly rods.
Last week I had a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at REC, and I have to tell you, it was one of the most fascinating plant tours I've ever taken. I've seen rods and reels made in several plants, but this was my first glimpse at components being produced. The level of detail and ingenuity that goes into making the simple screws or tubes and so forth that many anglers take for granted is impressive. REC also manufactures iconic Wheatley fly boxes by hand, using the same tools that look a mere generation removed from the Industrial Revolution.
While REC is careful not to disclose exactly which brands its products go into ("We prefer our presence to be behind the scenes," says company CEO Alan Gnann), you would be surprised to learn just how many major fly rod models are comprised, at least in part, with the "DNA" created by REC. And when new fly rods are introduced with the claims of being X percent lighter, who do you think shaves off the extra weight and where does it come from? In many cases, it's all about the components, and REC is the company that makes it happen.
Szczesiul, who like many at REC is an avid angler and outdoorsman, explained: "It's pretty cool to walk into a fly shop and look at the rack of different rods, and be able to point to different things and say, 'yeah, we made that... and that... and that..."
I'll be writing more on REC down the road, but the question on my mind now has to do with how much you value the components in your fishing rods. It's pretty clear to me that, while the graphite technologies might differ from one rod to another, the things that give each rod an identity are their components: reel seat, guides, etc. In fact, you can make a strong argument that those small details are what allow brands to be brands, rather than commodities. And yes, to me, the interesting accents on a rod are worth paying for, but I value a rod like I value a fine shotgun: yes, performance is foremost, but looks matter. What say you?