As my few days in Bozeman were nearing, I reached out to Dusty Smith of Livingston Rod Company to see if he had time to meet up. Dusty was winding down his guide season and suggested that we spend the morning at the rod shop and then the afternoon fly fishing together somewhere near town. It sounded like a perfect way to start the week in Montana.
Walking into the office was a mixture of fly rod building at the desk and waders, boots, and guide gear ready for the next trip piled in the corner. Several of Dusty's fly rods rested on pegs on the wall. It's a smallish space with a lot going on.
We walked through an interior door into a large high ceiling room. Dusty builds fly rods in part of this room but the majority of the area is used for rolling fiberglass and graphite blanks for his company and a growing list of small shop builders. Looking around the room there was a large cooler housing spools of fiberglass and graphite, stacks of blanks are ready to ship, an oven flipped on to warm up, tools laid out over the cutting table, rolling table, blank wrapper, and more. Stairs over the office led to a loft area that was used for storage and an area walled off for turning grips.
It was a cold morning so there wasn't a real rush to get to the river. Dusty wanted to cut a few flags and roll a fiberglass fly rod blank to show how it's done. Everything happens in his shop and it was neat to see him move through the room from each work space through the process. To start, he grabbed out a large roll of S-Glass, placed it on a metal cart, and rolled it over to the cutting table. He pulled the fiberglass sheet onto the table, flipped through his book of blank recipes, made measurements, and cut several flags. Each flag was attached to a metal mandrel, rolled, and then wrapped making it ready for the oven. Dusty rolled enough pieces for a complete fly rod and hung them in the oven to bake.
While Dusty worked, I snapped a series of photographs to chronicle the process of making a fiberglass fly rod blank which you can see below. I always have a good time shooting with a 50mm lens in situations like this as it allows me to capture small parts in focus of something larger that is going on.
Not enough is said about the talent and ability that Dusty has in fly rod design. Over just a few years, he's seen his fly rods rolled for him elsewhere to doing all the work himself in his own shop. He's developed quite a following and for good reason. His Western Glass is heralded and he successfully pushes the envelope on long "trout weight" fiberglass tapers.
Dusty has also had some setbacks and while he working on this rainy Sunday morning, we talked about what's working, and unfortunately, what hasn't. Undoubtedly, there are a lot of challenges for a one man shop who's in the business of building fly rods and fly rod blanks for others. Not only is he focused on Livingston Rod Company but also on a growing list of small shop builders and even some larger scale rod companies too that he rolls blanks for.
Over the last couple of years, he's sometimes struggled to keep up with orders, experienced setbacks trying to source materials needed (especially during COVID), and fell behind on following through with expected due dates for the delivery of blank orders and fly rods. This has caused a strain on his business, put him in a place of making apologies due to fulfilling orders late and working to provide refunds to other customers.
It's been a work in progress and he feels like he getting ahead of it all over time. Dusty is cleaning the slate to move Livingston Rod Company forward and we all want to see that happen. He's in a rarefied group of talented makers with a pedigree in design and the ability of producing his many good taper ideas in-house for himself and others.
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next for the Livingston Rod Company. I also want to get on Dusty's build list for my own Western Glass 5-weight when he rolls the brown glass version again...
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