Interview With Golden Witch Custom Fly Rods

golden witch custom rods

We recently had the opportunity to interview Russ and Erica, who own Golden Witch Technologies, a rodmaker’s supply house.  Their story shows that it is not always a clear path to flyfishing and it can involve dentistry.

1. How did you get started in rod building?

I grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping in Lancaster,PA, but never flyfished until undergrad curriculum requirements set an unavoidable gym class in front of me. I opted for Fly Fishing 101, borrowed a rod, and got hooked.

Between college and grad school, while working as the assistant manager of a small backpacking shop, I advanced my fishing-oriented craft skills from fly tying to my first few Cabela’s rod kits. Inside of a year I’d sold my first graphite rod and tackled a bamboo flyrod restoration. I continued to fund my own fishing by selling a few rods, all graphite, to family and friends.

By this point I’d read Keane’s Classic Rods and Rodmakers and Garrison’s “bible” to gather info on restoring cane rods and I knew – absolutely knew – that I had no interest in making cane rods. At that point fishing tackle was a subordinate hobby to backpacking and kayaking, actually fishing, and getting on with more academic work on my slow progress toward a teaching career.

2. What led you to start Golden Witch?

It was a confluence of interest, necessity, and opportunity. It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle to enter a grad program in philosophy, and needed some form of employment, that I filed the paperwork to legally found Golden Witch. I already knew I wasn’t fond of working for other people, but necessity dictated that I needed a job. I went further into debt buying a cork lathe and room full of other tools, plus a dozen blanks to work up into my first batch of rods. I was selling a few rods on consignment through tackle shops, but the best value I got for a rod was from old fashioned bartering.

I shattered a tooth in those pre-insurance days and went to the first dentist who could see me, planning on racking up yet more debt. During the lopsided conversation as he patched my tooth and took a mold for the crown, I learned he was a passionate flyfisherman. After he pulled the cotton wads out of my mouth, we worked a trade…my emergency dental work and a crown for a custom rod. I know it’s cheesy to write it, but that really did put a big smile on my face.

During my time in Seattle, I had the opportunity to begin a semi-formal apprenticeship, learning the fine art of crafting bamboo rods with Daryll Whitehead. As it turned out, the hours spent in his shop redirected my life. Rodmaking shifted from part-time to full-time and grad school faded into the background as I renounced what I knew (that I would NEVER make cane rods) and started studying another angle of the craft.

Learning how difficult it was to source materials for this new endeavor, Golden Witch gradually expanded to offer a tools and components for makers of both bamboo and graphite rods. After the apprenticeship, Golden Witch incorporated in PA and we further expanded our range of products.

At the same time as our move, we began doing shows and quickly learned that more folks stopped by the booth to ask “how do you make rods” than anything else, so we shifted gears and developed a series of how-to videos. In abbreviated form, that’s how we’ve gotten to where we are now and I expect we will continually adapt our company to make the best use of future opportunities.

3. What is your favorite type of fishing?

I love taking smallmouth bass on dryflies and poppers. It’s the perfect mix of my adult preference for flyfishing, but with those flies cast over the slower, warmer waters I was raised alongside. My parents always had a home on bass waters, first the Cocalico Creek and later, the Conestoga River. They still live on the banks of the Conestoga and my kids always join their granddad to spend a few hot summer days fishing for cats, carp,sunnies, and bass.

4. Where is your favorite place to fish?

Two answers.These days, with kids, my favorite place to fish is wherever I can get on the water with them; that might be the small trout stream bordering our back yard, out of my dad’s boat in coastal New Jersey, or at the (relatively) quiet end of a dock during our family vacation. Before kids, and again after they’ve graduated from our hectic routine of homeschool, Scouts, and martial arts, my favorite waters were, and will again be, simply homewaters. I have always preferred to fish a creek or river close to where I have lived, and especially that portion I fish often enough to know the drop-offs, the submerged logs, overhung banks, and swirling eddy lines, a place where I recognize the changes, whether they’re brought about by spring flooding or just the shifting seasons.

 5.What can we expect to see from Golden Witch in 2012?

More of the same. Golden Witch fits in a nook inside the niche “industry” of custom rodmaking; we’re tiny and Erica & I are comfortable with our small size. As Golden Witch has evolved, we’ve found success crafting & selling top end components for traditionalist rodmakers.

Most of our clients stick to cane, but a growing handful use our line of classic components on graphite blanks. One nice thing about “traditional” or “classic” product lines is that they don’t change much from year to year, so we don’t wear ourselves out chasing fads. If there is anything in the works at GW, it will be something to  complement our educational DVDs. I’ve been so busy between shop work and raising kids that I haven’t stopped to do any writing for several years.That’s something I’d like to change.

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  1. Very enjoyable interview with a man obviously cares about his work and the sport. Nice job!

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