History:  Black Dog Custom Rods / Rod Builders Institute

As a lifelong fishing enthusiast, I was always curious about the way fishing rods are designed and constructed.  It seemed to me that designing and building your own rod would allow you to optimize the performance of the rod and the comfort level of using the rod for a day of fishing.  In 1997 a job change took my wife and I from Washington to Wisconsin where I took the job of Chief Information Officer at the UW-Milwaukee campus. As I was getting familiar with the newly created technology division and the staff I found I had a well known bamboo rod builder in the division, Frank Stetzer. Having always been interested in bamboo fishing rods, I went to talk to Frank about teaching me to build rods. He agreed and I began to learn about the, to me, fascinating world of designing and building fishing rods, especially custom rods.

I began by purchasing old distressed rods at garage sales and flea markets; taking them home and stripping them down to rebuild. I started with bamboo rod restoration and added wood, steel, glass and graphite to the mix. It was, and still is, fun for me and relaxing work. Each time I finished a rod I would take it to work and get Frank’s comments. Each time I got stuck and didn’t know what to do next, I asked Frank the next day at work and added to my knowledge and skills. Rod building quickly became my escape from a high pressure job and rapidly became a part time business as my skills increased.  The escape turned out to be a fascinating mixture of physics, mathematics, chemistry, mechanics and artistic endeavor.  And so my knowledge grew…..my wife will tell you that after 25 years in the business I have one of the largest known collections of useless knowledge in my brain…unless you want to discuss fishing rods. She keeps me humble.

In 1998 we were approached by a popular wholesale tackle dealer to consider becoming a retail outlet for his products selling to other rod builders. We decided this would be interesting and agreed to do it. Turned out to be a venture that lasted 10 years and allowed us to meet many, many rod builders across the country and outside the US as well. Never a really large business, it pretty much died over night when the recession began in earnest in October of 2008. We were still building rods for gifts, friends and an occasional sale; getting better at it as we learned from each new rod and each new rod builder.

I elected to retire early in 2004 and we returned to the Northwest, specifically, to a mountaintop in Northern Idaho. By this time we were building nice rods, doing repairs on rods of all types and generally learning what we could about the trade. Once retired I began to concentrate on rod building full time. My wife was still working for a Canadian software company and we built a shop/garage that allowed us both to work year round from the mountaintop. We also began to contract to build private label rods.

Late 2005, we created Rod Builders Institute (a subsidiary of Black Dog Custom Rods) to advertise rod building classes and keep them separate from the custom rod building aspect of the company.  I have always had a passion to pass along knowledge to others, particular the younger generation, and thought that offering classes on rod building might be a productive endeavor.  The classes I teach are intended to provide a solid base for someone new to the craft and fast track their growth in the field by learning tips and techniques that it took me years to master.  My past students tend to excel in the craft with several now practicing professional rod builders themselves.  In addition, the techniques used in rod design and rod building transfer directly to everyday life in the form of analyzing and managing work flows, critically thinking through the task in front of you and optimizing the solution to the problem.

In 2010 we relocated to the Lewis-Clark Valley at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers. We continued to build rods, repair rods, teach rod building classes and build private label rods in the valley. We also began to experiment with sports shows and art festivals. We found that art festivals produce better results in terms of sales and repairs than sports shows, at least for us these are more productive. We have gradually moved into the artistic community eventually establishing a studio and concentrating on selecting the art festivals in the West that form a circuit we can travel annually. We continuously add and subtract festivals depending on how well they attract customers and generate sales for us.

My wife is now retired as well, and in 2018 we are expanding the circuit of art festivals we want to attend. We are moving away from a fixed location for doing our work and prepared a more mobile workshop. We hope to create a festival circuit that allows us to travel continuously attending shows and building rods, repairing rods, and meeting new people in new places. We may soon be in your town or very close. Hope to see you at one of the many art festivals we will attend.

After volunteering for the US Army Corps of Engineers for almost 3 years, we decided to purchase a home.  We moved to Wilbur, WA in August, 2021 – Black Dog Custom Rod was located in the basement with 1200 sq ft of work and display area.  Wilbur is very close to Banks Lake, Lake Roosevelt, the Potholes and the Columbia River.  LOTS of fishermen in this area and LOTS of fishing tournaments!  We have recently sold our Wilbur home and will be moving closer to Spokane…we will update our location as soon as we have a new address.

Tight lines and smiling faces!

Joe and Charlene Douglas


Our “black dog”……Gizmo (long hair, miniature Dachshund), on the job as always!