Tom Greene opens the front door of his Custom Rod and Gun tackle store in Lighthouse Point. The telephone starts its day-long ritual.
-- An old friend will be in town in two weeks and needs another 50-pound actioned boat rod for marlin fishing in St. Thomas.
-- Another repeat customer requests a set of five new rods for his brother- in-law's birthday. They plan to fish for sailfish in the Pacific and need reliable equipment.
-- A woman from New York he has known for 12 years calls for a replacement rod. It seems the one she used to catch bass and trout was stepped on by her son.
-- A rod blank manufacturer from California calls to confirm the next shipment.
This goes on all day.
Greene is used to interruptions.
"I get calls from all over the world," said Greene. "That's what happens when you have the reputation."
The reputation is everything.
Greene is known for his artistry in the construction, repair and refitting of customized fishing rods. He can build a rod from scratch, repair a broken guide or reel seat, mend a split rod blank or use parts of an old rod to make a new one.
"You name it and I've done it," Greene said. "I'm not afraid to tackle anything."
No pun intended, he says.
And that includes using his custom equipment to catch fish.
"It helps to know how to use it as well as how to make it," he says.
Greene's reputation for catching big fish -- sailfish; white, blue and stripped marlin; huge tuna; 150-pound tarpon; and sharks -- helps his customers.
Kelley Everette of Alaska is the prime example. He caught an International Game Fish Association world record 1,103 1/2-pound blue marlin on 30 pound Ande test line -- an amazing 36.7-to-1 ratio -- off Kona, Hawaii on June 25, 1987. A 20-to-1 ratio, Greene said, is considered excellent.
Everette caught the marlin using one of Greene's Custom rods.
"Most of it is the skill of the angler," Greene said. "But you have to have good equipment to do something like that. And knowledge."
Some anglers argue the reel is the most important piece of fishing equipment. Others say a reliable rod is paramount. Greene says both are equally important.
"A good rod is just as important as a good reel," Greene said. "You can have the best reel in the world with the best line, but if you can't present the lure or bait properly you will not catch the fish. Presentation depends on the rod."
Greene and his staff of three also sell and repair reels. But building and repairing of rods is Greene's bread and butter.
Greene sells, but says he never recommends, manufactured -- or what he calls production rods. The ones found in any department store.
"I keep them here just to show how not to make a rod," he says.
Greene's rods are not cheap. A production models may cost $19.95; a custom rod can cost 10 times that.
Greene said many customers don't discuss price, although some are slightly stunned to see a $400 custom rod tag.
It's the reputation that brings them in and the satisfaction that brings them back, he says.
"I once sold a set of six boat (deep sea) rods to some Arabian prince for $1,500 each," Greene said. "He was very belligerent and tried to beat me down in price every way he could. One of his people, we later learned, lost one of the rods over the side of a boat. We heard that guy lost his life, but we think he just lost his job."
Greene hopes the prince never returns. He prefers working with cordial people.
"When you take into account the cost of quality materials, I'm not over- charging," he said. "Each rod takes about a week to make and the parts are top-of-the-line.
"The first thing any custom rod maker tells you is that cracking and creaking are signs of cheapness. Production rods are cheap and you can prove it."
Greene says a popular rod manufacturer duped the public a few years ago using a clever advertising campaign.
"They had these rods on shelves for about five years and they didn't sell -- not even at $9.99," Greene said. "Then they put together this multimillion dollar advertising campaign, marked the rods up to $49.99 and sold a million of them. They're junk."
Greene doesn't advertise.
The reputation, he says, is enough.
Mark Pridemore, who has spent seven years as Green's rod-making protege said, "Tommy really knows his stuff. Each rod takes a lot of work. Tommy never cuts corners. You can't if you want to have a reputation for excellence."
Greene said today's better rods are constructed from graphite blanks. Fiberglass still is popular. Often he receives requests to construct rods from a composite of the two.
"Graphite rods tend to be stiffer with a with a faster (more flexible) tip," Greene said. "When an angler makes a cast any rod stores power to flip the lure or bait. After that, the rod then becomes stiff again so that the lines is now shooting through a tunnel of guides like a funnel. Fiberglass rods tend to drag the line through the guides, while graphite gives you more accuracy, distance and a straighter cast with less effort."
A basic graphite or composite rod blank starts at about $65. Most department stores sell entire rigs for less than that.
Greene buys his rod blanks wholesale from various manufacturers around the country. It is too tedious a task to construct blanks.
A rod blank is made of rough cloth-like fiberglass, graphite or a composite wrapped over a tapered metal tube, which is the inside diameter of the fishing rod. Starting at the base of the rod and wraping toward the top, the tube is layered with the cloth.
"The strength of the rod is determined on how much is wrapped and how the wrapping is cut. The more cloth, the stronger the rod," Greene said.
A fly rod may have only six layers of cloth compared to 40 layers for a typical boat rod. Both have the same inside diameter.
Once the wrapping and cutting are done, the rod blank is baked, cooled, sanded and polished. Greene said many production rods are sold before they are polished because companies cut corners.
Greene cuts either the tip or butt of the rod blank to change the action (taper). The typical boat rod is about 68 inches long. Spinning rod blanks usually are 72 inches.
"The newest sensation in the industry is the stand-up fishing rod, which does the same thing as a sit-down boat rod, but is much easier to handle," Greene said. "We make loads of them."
Greene said he first used a stand-up rod while hunting stripped marlin off Costa Rico four years ago. He caught a variety of marlin, swordfish and tuna up to 500 pounds and never used a fishing seat.
"For years we were under the belief that a boat rod had to be 66-68 inches with aluminum butt which made it heavier, and that the only way to catch big fish was to sit down and buckle up," Greene said. "Now custom rod makers are building rods all the way through the handle. They're lighter, smaller and anyone can use it, walk all over the boat, and still catch the same kind of fish with it. We can now build a strong rod with about 25 percent less money, and it's physically easier on you to fish with."
Greene said besides allowing the angler to move about, the rod also is beneficial because it doesn't cause any hand sensitivity loss.
"The smaller rod doesn't hurt you, but it does the same job," he said. "The taper is changed. Where a straight 80-pound strength boat rod puts a lot of strain and stress on you, this one is a piece of cake to use."
Custom standup rods are hot sellers, even at about $170 .
"I can sell you 20 similar production rods off the rack from $65 to $110," Greene said. "Why is my rod better? First, I use better reel seat, and while other rods have four or five guides, mine have seven or eight depending on action. I use only the best ceramic guides. Plain metal guides and cheaper ceramic ones do not distribute heat properly. They get grooved easily and can wind up cutting your line.'
Greene said he also insists on using top quality threat to wrap the guides onto the rod blank. The more complex custom wrappings with boat and angler names included take more time than basic wraps.
"Once the rod is finished you can't even tell the guides are held in place," he said. "A lot of people want that special added touch to personalize their rods."
Once a rod is wrapped, it is coated on the average of eight times with a clear, glossy epoxy (resin) finish. On most rods, the guide areas receive six coats. The rest of the rod blank gets two. Each coat takes 24 hours to dry, then requires wet and dry sanding between finishes for a glossy appearance.
"Fanciness is what costs you," Greene said. "You can buy an 80-pound boat rod with fancy wraps and the best of everything and spend $650 or more. Or you can spend $400 for something basically with the same parts without fanciness."