1 on 1 with Ira Stutzman of Hells Canyon Custom Rods

March 23, 2015

Ira Stutzman’s custom flyrods have been described as “art that works.” Over the past 30 years, Stutzman has honed his craft in his Halfway, Oregon shop. He’s built rods for everyone from everyday anglers to former U.S. presidents. We recently spoke with Ira to learn more about his perspective on flyfishing, flyrods, and working with his daughter Kim. Here’s what he had to say.

Micah Sargent: When did you start flyfishing?
Ira Stutzman: About 100 years ago. Actually, I was probably 10-12 years old. So, 50 years ago.

MS: When did you build your first rod and what inspired you to do so?
IS: I was pretty young, maybe early 20s. I had repaired rods when I was young, just out of necessity. Finally it progressed into more of a hobby type thing and from that it grew into what I do now.

MS: When did you start Hells Canyon Custom Rods?
IS: 20-25 years ago. I had a full-time career and I left that 16 years ago to do this full-time.

MS: What options do you offer on your custom rods?
IS: We base our whole business on service. Everything we build has got a lifetime warranty. So that means that we can use some commercial blanks to build rods with or we have our own blanks we build. The grips are built one at a time to fit the individual’s hand, balance it to the reel they’re going to use, and, of course, the asthetics of what they want these things to look like.

MS: What makes a good rod to you?
IS: It’s an extremely individual thing. There’s different actions on different flyrods. So, depending on the ability of the caster, the rod’s got to be designed to fit them, but also their casting style. There’s a few variables that go into that. You don’t want to build a rod that’s got a faster action than somebody can actually use. It’s like a well balanced golf club or gun.

MS: You make rods out of both bamboo and graphite blanks. Which one do you prefer and why?
IS: The rod that I use probably 90% of the time is a good quality graphite rod. That being said, there’s nothing quite like having a well built bamboo rod. It’s certainly more traditional. It’s just a different style of fishing. I’m a big fan of lightweight bamboo rods, two and three and four weight rods. So, aesthetically and historically, I guess the bamboo is one of my favorites, but when I fish every day it’s usually graphite rods.

97213700MS: Do you see your rods as works of art or tools?
IS: I want them to be both. Our goal is to build a rod that is a simple elegance. When [our customers] pull that rod out of the rod case, to go “Okay, this is going to be a joy to look at and use.” Aesthetics is one thing, but, more important, the rod’s got to work better than it looks.

MS: I understand your daughter works with you?
IS: She owns half the business. Absolutely. She’s my partner.

MS: Does she build rods or focus more on the business end?
IS: She can do everything I do. She has worked with me for 10-12 years and has become half owner of the business. She can build rods. She can work on the lathe. She can certainly do the business end of it too.

MS: It has to be pretty rewarding to be passing your skills down to your daughter.
IS: It really is. I couldn’t have it any better, my friend.

MS: When your not guiding or building rods, what is your favorite species to fish for?
IS: Ooh! It depends on the day. I live in the northwest and we’ve got a great steelhead fishery here, trout of course, smallmouth bass… that’s a tough one. You get to the point where it’s not as much about catching the fish as just the adventure of going and being out.

To learn more about Stuzman and his work or order your own custom rod, visit his website or give him a call at (866) 607-9605.



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