‘Reel’ Good Rods

Goughnour crafts custom fishing rods


When I was a kid, fishing seemed like the cool thing to do. Like other kids, I dreamed of catching “the big one.”

I earned some money one summer and blew it on a fishing kit — a cheap pole, reel, baits, fishing line — the whole bit. After begging my dad, he relented and we went fishing on Picnic Island in Wausau, Wis. That’s where my adventure began.

We’re talking hardware store fishing rod, you know, the dime-a-dozen, just-off-the-rack, pole. Oh, how differently this might have played out if I had a custom-made, one-of-a-kind, fit-my-hand-like-a-glove, pole. Courtesy of one Jim Goughnour.


Pointing to the alignment and hook holder, Jim Goughnour explains the need for proper alignment of guides with the reel seat. Proper alignment ensures a smooth cast and prevents line from bunching up or tangling as it passes through the guides.

Now, Goughnour doesn’t just make a rod, he builds a custom instrument capable of obeying the commands of its handler.

Pick up one of the rods and you can tell it is balanced. It responds to touch, flexing effortlessly with an angler’s hand and wrist.

Goughnour has spent quality time fishing and applied his experience and knowledge into his custom-made instruments.

His curiosity on how rods work spurred his knowledge and brought him to his present avocation. He started by fixing broken rods for friends, and eventually worked his way up to building them from scratch.

Before retiring, Goughnour worked as a project manager for General Dynamics. He oversaw satellite and communication system projects. One of his prized undertakings was working with NASA on the Mars communication assignment.

This work honed Goughnour’s skills of testing, evaluating and always getting the job done right.

Building a fishing rod is no different.


Goughnour threads a line through a newly finished rod, as he tests it for weight and alignment.

From a blank, (the meat of the rod) everything is built.

Goughnour selects a blank based on an angler’s fishing preferences. He smoothes it down to remove any rough edges and gets the correct weight.

Once the balance and weight are correct, he applies guides, a handle and places the reel.

The building period for each rod is different, based on cure time, the number of guides and its weight. Goughnour strives to make the lightest rod possible for its intended use.

Having the proper axis is also critical. The axis is measured by line of sight with the guides lined up so the fishing line is straight and parallel to the rod. The reel seat and handle also need to line up with the axis. If they don’t, the lure or bait may fade to the right or left of the rod, and line may tangle and twist as it unreels.

Goughnour said his greatest compliment is when a person comes back after using their rod and telling him it is their favorite.


Sizing a grip and handle is as important as knowing how the customer is going to be using his new rod, and this machine helps in that process.

Back to my fishing trip on Picnic Island... Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. I cast for several minutes, hoping for a bite. Didn’t get any.

On one cast, my lure snagged the branch of a large tree. The tree and I began an unfair struggle. The harder I pulled, the worse the snarl got. I made one final hard pull hoping the line would break and give me my pole back.

The tree pulled harder, jerking the rod from my hands and into the upper branches. I looked at the tangled mess, up at my dad, hung my head and mumbled, “Let’s go home.”

So, the next time you are in Wausau, go down to Picnic Island, you might find that pole still in the grip of a large, smug, old tree. You can bet your pole, line, fishing gear, and all the fish you ever caught, you won’t find a Goughnour pole there.


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