COLONIE — Generally, most good fish stories are about a big one, either catching it or how it got away. But, a new line being manufactured by RODgeeks is out to prove bigger isn’t always better, at least as far as the rod goes. The bigger the fish, real or exaggerated, just always makes for a better story.
The RG-42 fishing rod is just 42 inches long, but has most of the amenities of a full size, high quality rod and comes with a solid spinning rod and nifty carrying case, tackle box and even a pair of pliers.
“It has a solid backbone to fight a good size fish and the tip is designed to cast bait a long way and it will give you a good sensitivity and a solid hook set when you feel the bite,” said RODgeeks President Bob Penicka. “It fishes great and it’s easy to take with you and fish anywhere, anytime.”
At first blush it may seem like a gimmick, but Penicka backs it up his product with a partnership with St. Croix and its 70-plus years of designing high-end fishing rods and his own resume that includes stints as an engineer for GE and the COO of Calloway Golf.
“We use the best materials and the best methods to build a light weight, strong fishing rod,” he said during a recent interview at the company’s headquarters on Avis Drive. “The world doesn’t need another company making a 7- and 8- foot fishing rods for the shelves of bass pro shops. We are trying to use our knowledge of product and production techniques and marketing to find where the needs are and where we can help someone out with a better product and build a business around that. That’s how we came around to building crazy little 42-inch short rods. That are easy to live with and they fish great.”
For the 10th year in a row, the number of people fishing has increased to 49.4 million in 2018, the highest raw number since 2007, according to a report published by the Outdoor Foundation. Due to the population increasing, the percentage of people who went fishing at least once in 2018 dropped by 0.1 percent to 16.4 percent while the aggregate number increased by 300,000.
While the serious angler may scoff at the idea of using a stubby 42-inch rod, the vast majority of fishermen, about 42 millions, are recreational, tossing in a worm just a few times a year. That is the market RODgeeks is going after with the RG-42, and, like completing any task, the quality of the tool used does make a difference.
“Nobody creates a solid product for them and we think we have done that,” Penicka said of the recreational fisherman. “Our biggest challenge is people see it and say a 42-inch rod? Is it worth it? Will it work well? This is a serious fishing implement, even though it looks pretty unconventional.”
It took the company nine iterations of blanks — just the bare rod sans the eyelets to run the line through, the handles or grips often made of cork or rubber, or fixtures to hold the reel — to get it right because the focus was to get everything a full-size rod offers into something about half the size.
Golf clubs to fishing rods
In the mid 1980s, Penicka was at General Electric manufacturing lightbulbs, but didn’t find it too enlightening, so he went to Harmon International Industries, a company known for making high-end audiophile products. In 1997, the Ohio State University grad joined Calloway Golf around the time the company purchased Odyssey, a company known for making putters. He worked his way up to COO and was in charge of manufacturing one of the largest, and best, line of golf clubs in the world. The company’s signature product at the time, the oversized driver, changed the game of golf.
A passion for making birdies on a golf course, or catching a trophy fish, though, is not what drives Penicka.
“I’m not in this because I like to fish, but I have been a lifelong hobbyist and it is one of my favorite pastimes. I like to play golf too, but I wasn’t at Calloway because I had to be tied to golf,” he said. “Life takes some crazy twists and turns sometimes. I was not in college saying ‘I can’t wait to build fishing rods.’ I’m an engineer by education. I like materials and I like manufacturing.”
After Ely Calloway died in 2001, the company went through a difficult time, so Penicka put in his notice and took a year off to connect with his wife, also an engineer who works at RODgeeks, when someone asked him to buy manufacturing factory in China that was making fishing rods for St. Croix.
That deal wasn’t feasible, but St. Croix still wanted someone to make rods, so Penicka set up shop in Central Mexico and the 200 or so employees there have been making several hundred thousand blank fishing rods a year since 2008 for St. Croix — a company based in Wisconsin with the reputation for selling solid, high-end fishing gear.
In 2014, he began using the factory to make RODGeek blanks for custom rod makers and about a year ago started selling finished rods directly to the customers. The RG-42 is the latest, but not the last, new product from RODgeeks.
“We were looking around and noticed retailers make more than double what they paid for a rod when they bought it from the manufacturer. That’s too much markup,” he said. “One of our hooks is we are truly factory direct. Most of the blanks are made in China and go through three levels of distribution before they get to the consumer and I thought if I can go straight from the factory to the consumer I can offer them a better value and I can have a lucrative segment of the business.Everything we do we go right to the consumer. We can paint a rod any color you want and ship it to right to your door.”
He and his wife started RODgeeks out of their home and then moved to an office in the Quackenbush Building in downtown Troy. While they liked the Collar City, it was impossible to find the needed warehouse space so they moved to Avis Drive.
Many of the RG-42 and other rods, up to a 14-foot casting rods used to toss bait up to 300 yards to get past breaking ocean waves, are shipped to Latham where they are then shipped to their final destination, the consumer.
For a company that makes fishing rods that are shipped all over the world via St. Croix, the shop in Latham has a mom and pop feel to it that is open to anyone who wants to come in to check out the blank rods or ask questions.
On a workbench in the back office was one rod that is bittersweet, he said. The company held a promotion for Veteran’s Day and asked people to submit the name of a vet and the number would get a free, custom made RODgeek rod done with wrappings of red, white and blue thread in the design of the U.S. Flag.
A vet on Long Island won the contest, but the rod was damaged enroute so a new one had to be made. It will take about 35 hours of wrapping more than 600 tiny pieces of thread, alternating between the red and the white, and then wrapping blue pieces with silver highlights to get the star section of the flag and then more wraps to get the sky.
There are six full time employees and if products need assembling or boxes need packing, the employees’ teenage kids and their friends work some part-time weekend and evening hours.
Every so often the company holds a rod building classes at Avid Drive where people can take a blank rod and add personal touches by wrapping threads like the custom rod builders.
“We are in the business of selling blanks to custom rod makers and we are trying to promote that activity here so for $60 you can build your own fishing rod,” Penicka said. “We use the RG-42 as the product because it’s modular and easy rod to build and it’s a rod almost nobody has in their garage already. It takes about a half a day to build so there is a lot of time to talk and we hear a lot of ‘I can’t wait to fish with this thing’