By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Tom Morgan, a former owner of the RL Winston Rod Company whose quest to build flawless fly fishing rods continued long after being crippled by multiple sclerosis, has passed away. He was 76 years old.
Morgan died of pneumonia on Monday at a hospital not far from his home, said Matt Barber, who bought Morgan’s company Tom Morgan Rodsmiths earlier this year with Joel Doub. For the past five months, Barber and Doub have been Morgan apprentices in Morgan’s workshop west of Bozeman to learn how to make perfect bamboo, graphite and fiberglass rods.
“Tom’s legacy will be that he really put modern rod building at the forefront, and many of his designs at Winston will be remembered,” said Barber.
Morgan’s philosophy was to make the best fly rod possible, regardless of the cost – every detail, fit and finish had to be perfect, Barber said. While other fly rod manufacturers produced rods that were more rigid and forgiving when handled by novice anglers, Morgan created full flex rods that acted almost like an extension of the arm of experienced fly anglers.
He described himself to Rodmaker Magazine in an interview in 2003 as “totally uncompromising”. If he noticed a scratch or defect, the cane would not be sold.
“You would think that since I couldn’t go fishing I would lose interest, but it has always been a quest for perfection,” Morgan told CBS News in 2014. “I know I have provided some thousands of people enjoy their favorite sport, it almost brings tears to my eyes.
Morgan was born in 1941 in Hollywood, California, and five years later his family moved to Ennis, MT along the Madison River, known to be a blue ribbon trout stream. His parents ran a hotel frequented by avid fly fishermen, and he began guiding anglers at the age of 15.
He was a guide for 14 years, which he said helped him learn how some canes work better than others.
But Morgan had only built one rod before purchasing the San Francisco-based RL Winston Rod Company in 1973 with a friend he had guided with. They moved the business to Twin Bridges, MT, where Morgan plied his trade for 18 years and transformed the company into a renowned cane maker.
He sold his stake in Winston in 1991 and opened Tom Morgan Rodsmiths in 1995 so he could continue to make rods without the pressure to produce more at the expense of quality.
At that time, he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. He was in a wheelchair and his wife, Gerri Carlson, became his hands.
Morgan and Carlson worked together to turn his designs into rods outside their home west of Bozeman, not far from where he grew up in Ennis.
They have produced a limited number of exquisite rods, around 125 per year, purchased by fishermen all over the world. This perfection comes at a cost: a bamboo rod sells for just under $ 4,000, while graphite and fiberglass rods can cost as much as $ 1,500.
Doub and Barber bought the business in February after agreeing that they would keep the business in southwest Montana and stay true to Morgan’s philosophy and not increase production to sell larger ones. quantities of stems.
Barber said Morgan was doing well until he was rushed to hospital on Friday, studying how different stems bend and examining new prototypes of bamboo stems.
Carlson said her husband believed in the universe and in its place, even though he was not a religious man.
“The nurse told us the day before he died that he said, ‘I’m ready to climb to the stars,'” said Carlson.
Barber said plans were underway to hold a memorial to Ennis next month.