Northwestern Minnesota man finds retirement niche by building custom fishing rods



Any size, any color, Horken can probably build it. The retired gig occupies the owner of Rob’s Rod Repair and Custom Built Fishing Rods at his East Grand Forks store.

As busy as he wants, at least, and that’s how Horken likes it.

“I built them for birthdays, I built them for Christmas, I built them for graduation gifts with the school colors as envelopes,” said Horken, 65. “They turn out to be cool.”

Horken makes the windings by wrapping strands of special wire around the rod blank to hold the line guides in place and to provide decorative patterns near the rod handle.

“I’ll normally wrap three threads at a time and then you keep working them so they’re tight,” Horken said.

Masking tape holds envelopes in place until they are permanently attached with epoxy.

“By the time you make 20 envelopes, you’ve got a bunch of masking tape in there,” Horken said. “It’s something that you really have to practice. You want to get (the envelope) so it’s aligned well, and a lot of measurement and math goes into it.”

Horken uses St. Croix brand graphite blanks for walleye, bass and pike rods and fiberglass blanks for catfish rods. Where it attaches the guides depends on the length of the rod and the location of the spine, or the strongest point of the rod, Horken says.

Natural progression

For Horken, an avid fisherman in his own right, getting into the custom rod business wasn’t very difficult. He started a rod and reel repair business in 1988 alongside his sales work at WDAZ.

He also started making basic custom canes.

“I think it was just out of necessity with my own equipment, learning how to replace (rod) tips and replace guides and so on,” Horken said. “That, coupled with the reel repair business, went hand in hand, of course. You need both to go fishing.

“I think actually starting a business has kind of progressed over time,” he added. “People heard that I did and that I would start bringing their stuff, and I was just providing a nice little service.”

Horken, who retired four years ago, no longer repairs reels, but he’s definitely taken it up a notch when it comes to making custom rods. The rods that Horken makes today have more intricate packaging designs and custom colors that give each rod a distinctly personal touch.

These are works of art, compared to the rods he built before he retired, which Horken says were “built to go out and fish with” and simpler in design.

“In my retirement, I always thought I was going to have time and want to learn how to do decorative wraps,” Horken said. “Right now, I’m focusing on just two of them – and that’s the diamond wrap and the chevron wrap. Both are popular. They turn out to be really, really cool.”

This is evident in a catfish rod that Horken is building, which features the purple, gold, and white colors of the Minnesota Vikings on the packaging. By early last week, Horken had finished wrapping the base of the cane but had not wrapped the cane guides or attached the tip to the virgin fiberglass cane.

Turning thin strands of yarn into the colorful wrapping patterns that adorn each custom rod is a time-consuming process, Horken says. He believes he will have about 8 hours of cane work with the Minnesota Vikings colors by the time it is completed.

Add in the two coats of epoxy that protect the rod and casings and the time it takes for the epoxy to dry, and the process from start to finish is more like a week, Horken says.

“It’s just cool when they turn out really cool like this,” Horken said. “I think there’s a reason the Vikings use purple, gold, and white for their colors, because it gets really crisp.”

Learn by reading

An avid reader, Horken says he learned to build rods through reading books and through trial and error. He describes himself as a perfectionist in his work.

“I started packaging that suddenly went wrong where it’s not the way I like it, and I just tore it up and started all over again,” Horken said.

Horken, who works primarily by appointment, recommends anglers looking for a bespoke rod bring a favorite rod. He will then try to find a similar blank and customize the rod from there.

The size of anglers and the species of fish they plan to target are also considered in the design of a rod, Horken explains. Typically, a medium-action rod with a fast tip is best for jigging, while a medium-light rod with a fast tip is best suited for fishing with live bait rigs, Horken explains.

“You might wish the ending was a bit quicker, so let’s look at this (favorite) cane, compare the cane to the blank and go from there,” Horken said. “Just handling a raw white is really hard to say.”

The quality of the blank is an important factor in the ultimate quality of any fishing rod, says Horken. The graphite blanks it uses typically sell for around $ 95 to $ 300, while the glass blanks used in catfish rods are considerably cheaper.

Cork rod grips are more expensive and more comfortable than foam grips, but they’re not as durable, Horken says. For this reason, he generally recommends foam grips for catfish rods.

“A lot of times I’ll try to guide (clients) down a certain lead, just because a lot of times someone will say they want a $ 200 blank and want to put a fistful of 50 cents on it,” Horken said. . “If we’re going to invest that kind of money, let’s do it really well.”

Each custom cane is different, but they all have something in common, says Horken.

“There is absolutely nothing better than catching a fish on a custom rod,” he said.

For more information on Horken Custom Rods, call (218) 779-6008 or email [email protected]


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