Bringing Innovation to Tradition

Tony Overstake is introducing new technologies to a traditional sport one customized rod at a time.

Fly rod builders are often thought to be grizzled wise men who harbor the ancient secrets of fly-fishing. They’ve lived a thousand years and the river flows through them like the force through a Jedi. They refine their style and art over decades of fine-tuning, and stick to methods of creating traditional products that don’t break with convention.

Not Tony Overstake.

At 33 years old, Tony has a thick mat of curled black hair and a square face devoid of wrinkles, save for a few laugh lines around the eyes. His athletic build is a byproduct of his days wrestling for the University of Oregon, and his short clipped sentences indicate a man who’s pressed for time and on the verge of a breakthrough. He may be the baby of fly rod building, but he’s got plans to turn the industry on its head.

As the owner and sole builder for True West Rods in Eugene, Ore., Tony has been building custom rods for four years. His choice of new and different materials sets him apart from the competition, and his futuristic view of fly-fishing has prompted him to start experimenting with new styles of rods.

Tony standing in front of his work station at his home in Cottage Grove, Ore.

“Fly fishing has this real ‘this is the way it should be done’ mentality,” he said. “There’s an older generation that has a vein of ‘you don’t change it.’ But there’s all these great components and new technology out there.”

Tony starts with a blank, or the stock rod without guides, of the customer’s choice. From there he attaches the most state-of-the-art guides using an assortment of threads or silk, which he then lacquers. Next he uses the highest quality cork to fashion a handle to the end of the rod and finishes by creating a rod seat of wood or antler.

Tony wrapping guides for a custom rod he's building for a customer.

This is the general process, which takes on average a month, but where the beauty and art comes in is the customization he adds to personalize each rod to its owner. For example, last year he built a rod for University of Oregon lineman Ryan Clanton. The color scheme is green and gold and has Clanton’s jersey number 60 next to the handle.

Personalization is one of many perks of a custom rod, but what sets TWR apart from the competition is their mentality of innovation. Nathan Woods, Tony’s business partner, joined TWR after graduating from the UO excited to be part of something so innovative and new. He now handles the business and marketing end of TWR and is quick to highlight what makes them different.

“We are part of this new generation of fly fishermen,” he said. “No longer is it a sport for a past generation. We love the rebellious nature of the sport, which is why we are changing the way we see and use the fly rod.”

As a result, Tony and Nathan plan on introducing a new style of rod never before seen on the U.S. market. The switchbutt is a conventional one-handed rod that has an extendable end piece to give it Spey casting capabilities, perfect for the brushy bank sides of Pacific Northwest rivers. Tony says it will greatly increase the rod’s versatility while adding almost zero weight.

A few completed rod seats and grips.

“All I can say is that this is revolutionary,” Nathan said. “We never want to lose site of why TWR was started, but the switchbutt can be much bigger than a custom add-on to a fly rod. It could become a mainstream fly rod.”

Another way TWR is moving forward is by looking backward. Their new lineup of fiberglass rods has people reevaluating the “old school” material. Before graphite came onto the scene fiberglass was the go-to material for rod blanks. However, when graphite was introduced it was stronger, stiffer, and seen as a superior material to make rods from.

Tony and rod blank builder Swift Fly Fishing are staging a comeback for fiberglass rods. These Elite Fastglass rods are defined as “light and crisp,” and “not grandpa’s sloppy glass.” Tony says he’s indicator fished for trout, and even swung flies for steelhead. It is also possible to add on the switchbutt extension to give them two handed switch rod feel and casting capabilities

“Fishing Epic blanks gives you the best of both glass and graphite,” Tony said. “Like the modern graphite you get a fairly fast, tip-flex loading rod when casting these blanks (especially the 580) that can handle heavier flies and longer casts. Then at the same time get to enjoy the feel of glass when fighting a fish, as they will bend down into the butt section.”

Who knows what the fly rod will look like when Tony is an old wise sage himself? New technology is always being created, tested, adopted and disposed of. With his rebellious nature and knack for innovation, Tony takes advantage of these new opportunities.

“I’m willing to do anything on a fly rod and I’m not worried about what the rest of the industry says about it,” he said. “I step outside the box, use different materials and challenge the status quo.”

Want to know more? Check out truewestrods.com for more information and ways to contact Tony with questions about products. Also check out a selection of Tony’s custom Epic Fastglass rods at the Caddis Fly Shop and online! Hurry because only a limited supply is available.

By Bryan T. Robinson

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