ARLINGTON -- She was tall, well over 6 feet, dark and willowy, with an indescribable allure. The first time I held her, I couldn't tear my eyes off of her. It was love at first sight. She is, without question, the most beautiful fishing rod I've ever seen. That she'd been built, from the ground up, especially for me made the moment I touched her for the first time even more thrilling. I just wanted to keep holding her forever. This is what Bobby Weckherlin does. He'll tell you that he makes custom fishing rods. I say he's a matchmaker. He brings fisherman and rod together, hopefully forever. I've found my one true love. Let no man -- or fish -- put us asunder.
Weckherlin, just 22, is a custom rod builder and owner of Rod Workshops, which he operates out of his garage in southwest Arlington. It's a small business now, with a chance to grow much larger.
We crossed paths when Weckherlin made a crappie rod for my fishing buddy, Fred Simpson. After listening to Fred rave about the rod over the course of our last two or three fishing trips together, and learning that Weckherlin's shop is only a few miles from where I live, I decided I wanted my very own rod, too.
I'd just bought a rather expensive new rod at a sporting goods store, but hadn't unwrapped it yet. I took it back and went to see Bobby.
The rest of the story sounds like something out of eharmony.com.
A serious hobby
Weckherlin got into the rod-making business to save himself money, essentially. A graduate of Martin High School in 2009, Bobby's first love was fishing, specifically bass fishing.
"I've been fishing since I could walk, my entire life," Weckherlin said. "I started with the cane pole and cork off the boat dock and gradually turned to serious bass fishing and stuff.
"When I got really serious into fishing, it was quickly getting expensive, buying all these factory-made rods. I was spending $125 a rod, or even more. Rods are like golf clubs. You need this kind of rod for this lure, or this kind of presentation."
Weckherlin's dad got tired of hearing Bobby complain about the cost of fishing equipment and suggested he start building his own rods. At first Weckherlin thought it was a crazy idea, but when his dad followed up by giving him a rod-making kit as a Christmas present, he took it as a challenge.
"So he gives me the kit and I'm like, 'Oh, boy, how am I going to do this?' But I do it anyway and as I'm doing it, I realize that, 'Hey, this is really fun.' Nobody really taught me, but I learned from watching the DVDs that came with the kit.
"I gradually started getting a handle on it. When I finished my first rod, it was the ugliest-looking rod I'd ever seen, but I was so proud because I'd made it myself. Then, as time went by, I got better and better and the rods got nicer looking."
Now they're downright beautiful, as my own beating heart can attest.
"Instead of buying these factory-made rods, I was making rods that I wasn't just building on my own, but that I could customize any way I wanted them," Weckherlin explained. "It could be exactly the way I wanted it.
"Instead of going to a sporting goods store, or fishing store, where you get whatever's on the shelf, when you make a rod, you can get it precisely the way your want it, whether it's color, or feel, or whatever."
Over the last two years, Weckherlin estimates that he's built close to 300 rods. He started with family and friends -- experimenting along the way -- before deciding to turn his passion and avocation into at least a part-time vocation.
"The first person I built a rod for was my uncle," Weckherlin said. "It was kind of ugly looking, but he still has it and swears it's the best rod he's ever had."
A lost art
As he learned on the job, Weckherlin began to grasp the nuances of what has become almost a lost art. There probably aren't more than a handful of professional rod-makers in Texas now.
"Each rod has its own special traits," Weckherlin said. "None of the rods I make are put together exactly the same way; they're never identical. Each has its own quirks and personality."
The first thing Weckherlin does when he gets a new rod blank is to determine the rod's natural spine -- where it wants to bend. He has his own methods for doing this, something he's not sure commercial rod-makers put as much time into as they should.
"Factories look for the curve coming down and mark that as the spine, which may or may not be true," Weckherlin said. "You have to really bend a rod to find the spine."
It's the customization that makes each rod so special, though. If a client is a huge Aggies fan, Weckherlin can trim a new rod in maroon and white with the Texas A&M logo. Or maybe you prefer the red and black of Texas Tech or the burnt orange of Texas. It's your dream, Bobby will build it to your specifications.
Do you prefer a cork handle or EVA foam? You want traditional line guides or the new, smooth working microguides? Where do you prefer the reel seat? And the handle, do you want that thick or thin, coarse or smooth?
For my new baby, I asked for a black graphite rod, 61/2 feet long with the guides wrapped in gold thread. She has a cork handle that feels supple in my hand. I wanted a crappie rod, so the action will be light; I'll be able to feel the bite through the tip of the rod.
But Weckherlin can fix you up, whether you're angling for crappie, big bass or even bigger catfish. If saltwater is where you get your kicks, he has you covered there, too, using tougher fiberglass for the heavier action. Your wish is his command and the cost is about the same as what you'd spend buying a decent rod at a sporting goods store.
It's the attention to detail that makes each rod special.
My new baby is sleek and shiny. She's made for action, fast and furious. I can't wait to take her out for a spin.
There's just something about her, something that makes a man want to spend his mornings and evenings with her, working in tandem to bring home the mighty crappie.
I think I'll name her "Dominique."
E-mail former Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves at