Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Visit To Tom Morgan Rodsmiths

(Tom Anderson, a.k.a. "Duff", is proof positive that retirement isn't so bad as his summer travels again took him west for several months of fly fishing and along the way he ended up at Tom Morgan Rodsmiths for this report.)

Some years ago I had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time - George Anderson's fly rod shop in Livingston, Montana.  Long story short, I was admiring a beautiful Tom Morgan Rodsmiths graphite rod from the rod rack, when I causally asked if Tom was also building glass.  I was told that he was indeed working on some glass tapers and that if I could come back the next day he would have a prototype there for me to cast.  The rod, a 7'11" five weight, was unpainted raw white fiberglass with a rudimentary grip and reel seat but cast a line that was a thing of beauty.  Tom told me that that rod morphed into his 8' five weight with very few changes.

Taking a friend's suggestion, I e-mailed Tom and shortly had a reply saying that he did indeed remember me casting the prototype and that I would be most welcome to visit.  The night before I was to visit Tom, he e-mailed me asking if I needed directions and when I answered that I would appreciate that he followed with specific directions including a general and close-up google maps.

Since in my mind, I was visiting American Fly Fishing royalty, I thought I had better take a closer look in the mirror since I had been traveling for nearly two months and couldn't remember the last time I had a haircut.  Well, I saw what apperared to be a homeless man staring back at me.  When you are a little long in the tooth and blessed with sparse gray hackle, it doesn't take long to transition from shabby chic to homeless guy.  I panicked and begged my wife to see what she could do with the scissors.  She couldn't perform a miracle but did get me somewhere between "Normal Guy" and a Sasquatch.

The next day we drove up Tom Morgan's long drive to his beautiful home and workshop set high on a hill with 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains - a fitting place for a beautiful fly rod to be born.

After being let in, I found Tom waiting to greet me in the living room.  We talked a little about the prototype I had cast and how things had progressed from the early prototypes.  He told me that he had had some of the best casters in the country assisting with the casting evaluations of the new tapers, among them his good friend, Per Brandin.  I made certain that I remembered to tell him how highly he was regarded in the Fiberglass Flyrodders forum.  I asked if I might take a few photos and possibly do a short write-up on the website.  He said, "Duff, take as many pictures as you want of anything you want and stay as long as you want."

After showing me his workshop, actually three separate rooms that included a bamboo shop, a general work area and a coating room, Tom asked if I might like to cast a few rods.  In my initial e-mail I had mentioned that I was very interested in the two glass rods that he had designed especially for the Japanese market, in particular the 6'9" light three weight.  Although he didn't have the 6'9" avaible, he gave me the 7'3" light three weight to try along with a Hardy Featherweight with a double taper three line.

Tom explained that although these were called "light" three weights, they were still true three weight rods.  Tom worked in conjunction with a Japanese friend to get the two rods honed to perfection.  The tapers were sent to Japan for testing and later his Japanese friend came from Japan to test them further at his home.  In the end, his friend pronounced them "perfect".

Now back to that Hardy Featherweight. Do you know how a leader, after being in a reel for some time, can curl back and bury the end of the tippet?  Well, with my mole-like near vision, I simply could not find the tippet end and managed to make a mess of it.  When I finally got it out and stripped off the leader, I was so happy that I quickly wound it back, only to hear Tom say, "Duff, that's a right hand wind reel.".  I looked down at a bird's nest of line.  All this in front of Tom Morgan.  I've never been so embarrassed.

Finally out the door with the lovely 7'3" rod, I found it a revelation.  I stripped off some line, cast it out and gradually threw less and less line until I found the rod would actually cast just the leader. I was just amazed at how that rod performed.  Slow, yes, but very controlled and not at all a noodle.  Tom said that the 6'9" feels exactly the same, the difference being only the six inches.  While I was outside, I took the opportunity to take a few photos of the rod.  The blank color is simply beautiful and the finishing sets a standard.  Tom said that the blanks are actually opaque but that he had made some translucent blanks early on.  He went on to say that the translucent blanks were problematic in that no matter how carefully they were sanded, it was too easy to go too deep invariably resulting in white spots.

Tom had his "normal" three weight brought out for me to compare.  It was a 7'6" #3 that was again a true three weight but noticeably different in feel - a lovely three weight for casting at normal fishing distances. Both rods are sublime tapers and the lovely cosmetics are a tribute to Tom's wife's (Gerri) meticulous attention to detail as she does the finish work on all TMR rods, fiberglass, bamboo and graphite.

In the course of our conversation, Tom mentioned a problem he unexpectedly had with his white ferrule stock.  He had intended using the Winston stock that he had but found that when he miced them he found the tolerances were "just terrible".  He had a machinist grind some new ferrule sections and they were only off by 2/10000 over 10".  Tom said that because of the much improved tolerances, the ferrules should last much longer.

The Bamboo Shop

The Glass and Graphite Shop

The Coating Room

I am almost certain that I want to order a TMR made 6'9" #3 but have not been able to decide on the reel seat.

I could tell that Tom was immensely proud of his new glass tapers and frankly told me that they are the best he has ever done.  Coming away from my visit, I feel that if any glass rod is worth waiting for, it most certainly is a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths fiberglass.

Demo Rods

Reel Seat Options

I want to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Morgan for inviting me into his home and treating me so graciously.  At the end of my visit I expressed again how highly we regard him not only for his legendary body of work but also as a person.  Thank you, Mr. Morgan, for keeping the faith with fiberglass.

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