Is Custom really Custom? Words Matter


Is Custom Really Custom? Words Matter


               The world of ice fishing has seen an explosion of growth and innovation in the past decade. It has been transformed from the sleepy pastime of bobber watching on a set spot portrayed in the movie Grumpy Old Men, to the high intensity, run and gun power fishing sport that it is today. Much of that change has been facilitated by the advent of new, powerful technologies that allow anglers to be more strategic and purposeful in their approach.

All aspects of the sport have seen rapid improvement over this time. Shelters are more comfortable, portable, warm, and easy to use. Clothing is lighter, designed specifically for angling, even with float technology. Electronics are not rare any longer, they are for most; essential. For me, if the flasher dies, I go home. Auger technology has been revolutionized with the new lithium powered augers. For many, gone are the days of mixing fuel and warming up engines. And not least of all, ice fishing rods have experienced a quantum leap from the jiggle stick of old.

A trip through the ice fishing section of any major retailer right now will reveal literally hundreds of different types of ice rods, made by dozens of manufactures. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. I remember going to Cabela’s to by my first ice rod a dozen or so years ago and having no clue. I wanted to crappie fish with my buddies. In my mind I chose what I thought was the best rod. A 30” Medium-Heavy Ugly Stick, because obviously bigger was better, right? Soon I was back buying a spring bobber to try to make up for my mistake. I fished that rod for two seasons. And I caught crappies with it. The fish didn’t care, but I sure wasn’t optimizing my chances for success.

Even with my early mistakes, I was bitten by the fishing bug in a major way and within a short period of fishing and researching I was led to the decision that a “Custom Rod” was the way to go. After visiting all the custom rod booths at the St. Paul Ice show I chose to go with Tuned Up Custom Rods and got a Precision (and a hat for my son.) That decision led me to seek out a job with Tuned Up because I became a believer in their rods and more importantly their company.

When I began at Tuned Up Custom Rods there was only a handful of employees, and 3 main custom ice rod companies. In the 3 years since, we have grown to 49 employees and the number of rod companies grows daily. In that same time, our ice rods have found their way to the shelves of several major outdoor retailers, something of which we are very proud.

With the huge influx of new rod builders and the explosion of demand for custom rods, a new debate has emerged. What is custom? There are daily debates happening on Facebook pages, and numerous threads on forums such as In-Depth Outdoors about this very topic. This is my attempt to clarify how we define “custom” at Tuned Up Custom rods, and to offer a few new terms that might help settle the debate. Because words matter.

I see that there are 4 distinct types of ice rods available to consumers right now: Mass-Produced, High-End Production, Custom, and One-offs.

First, the Mass-Produced rods. These rods are made from large corporations. They often come as a rod and reel combo. These are the most affordable and easiest options for people getting into ice fishing. Most anglers begin with a mass-produced rod. Some stay with them and some climb the ladder. Mass-Produced rods tend to be made with lower end materials and are designed for cost effectiveness. They are like the economy class of cars. They’ll get you to work, but they aren’t the flashiest.

Next, we have the High-End Production rods. These rods started from the reputable rod manufactures like Fenwick and St. Croix. In recent years, the quality of the High-End production rod has increased dramatically. At Tuned Up we have a line of High-End production rods called the Inferno Series, which is designed by us, but manufactured oversees.

This is where I believe a lot of the controversy over whether a rod is custom or not comes into play. Many would argue that the Tuned Up Custom Rods such as the Bullwhip and Precision which are available at major retailers are simply High-End Production rods and not truly custom rods. I’ll address that in the next section.

Let’s talk about Custom rods. This term has become watered down and clouded with all the debates and arguments raging. We define a custom rod as one produced on top quality, proprietary blanks; hand designed but professionally produced to ensure repeatable quality control. Followed by using the highest quality components (for us: Recoil Guides, Grade A Cork, and EVA Foam). And hand built in our shop in Coon Rapids, MN which is open to the public. Customers, then can customize the length, handle type, handle material, colors of the wraps, and handwritten personalization. All these custom options are included in the price of the rod. Yet, if the consumer is not interested in the customization process, we will build the same product for them using a stock color scheme and length choices.

Now we come to the argument that a rod with stock options isn’t really a custom rod. I equate it to the order process of a Ferrari (bear with me.) When a person orders a new Ferrari, they are offered an incredible list of options for customization. From seats to colors to powertrain to badges. It is extensive. But if the buyer isn’t interested in that, they can simply select the stock equipment.  Which customer bought the super car? Both! And furthermore, both had a choice in how their car was made. One just chose to let the designer pick the options. A 28” Tuned Up Custom Rods Bullwhip with stock black and hi-vis yellow wraps purchased at Scheels is hand built in our shop by the exact same people that will make a 29.75” pink wrapped, cork handled Bullwhip badged “Bubblegum” being shipped to a customer in Nebraska. They both own the same rod. They both chose their own form or customization. Which one owns a custom rod? Both!

Finally, let’s talk One-Off rods. These are a new and growing trend where an individual obtains rod building equipment and then creates one of a kind, non-duplicatable ice rods. Many one-off rods focus on the aesthetics of the rod. And some are beautiful. Some one-off rods use premium materials and perform exceptionally. One-off rods are produced slowly, usually by a single person. Volume and one-off are not in the same business model. One-off rods are totally unique and can be very interesting, but there is an inherent risk in not having duplicatable products. Unfortunately, many people have begun arguing that a rod is not custom if it is not a true one-off creation. This is a blurring of terms, and it hurts both types of rod builders.

In summary, consumers today have access to more rod choices and higher rod quality than ever before. While it is true that you can catch fish using any rod out there, more and more consumers are finding that the benefits of a top-quality custom rod make the investment worthwhile. And it is an investment. I believe that Tuned Up Custom Rods offers the very best option for marrying the dependable and repeatable build quality (along with the best warranty in the custom rod business), top tier components, hand craftsmanship, transparent build process, and individualization choices on the market. I believed this when I chose Tuned Up as a consumer. I believed it when I sought a role with the company. And I believe it now, having lived it for the past three years. Hopefully we can move beyond the confusion of blurred word meanings, and get back to meaningful and important debates, like Jordan vs James or braid vs mono or catch and release vs catch and cook.


Tight Lines,

Dan Baker

Tuned Up Custom Rods

  1. I now own 2 different TUCR and second everything you stated above. I have SEVERAL ice rods but my Quick Tip is usually in my hand. I’m considering adding the Commander to my rodbag but would like to see one or better yet try one first.

    Keep doing what you have been doing 😎

  2. That does explain a lot Dan. Information I didn’t even think about. Keep up the great work!

  3. Looking forward to seeing my new 38 inch ltp rod

  4. Could not agree more Don. Thanks for the explanation. I have several TUCRods. My go to is a 30” bullwhip with “ Got another one” written on it. Best and only rod I’ll ever hunt pannies with. So good my two best hard water fishing brothers had to pick their own up at Scheels In Appleton to keep up. My precision walleye rod labels “eyes on the ice” that I received this year is INCREDIBLE. Better hook sets and unbelievable control.
    Thanks to you and your team at TUCR!

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