A fly rod is a rare blend of beauty, design and performance that you can’t find in many other sports, or even other objects in general for that matter. So much thought goes into every single design element and even down to the individual materials that make up blank. To be a master of all these moving parts and create a tool that any angler can pick up and lay out a beautiful cast, regardless of all their bad habits and weaknesses, or even that frenzied panic that seeing a big fish brings, demands the skill and determination of a craftsmen with the eye of an artist.
One of the up-and-coming rod designers in the industry grew up right down the road from the Sage headquarters on Bainbridge Island, WA. Peter Knox grew up fly fishing the many fertile waters around town, eventually working at the local fly shop. That job helped Knox gain a few connections in the fly fishing industry, eventually landing him a gig in the Sage rod building department. “I was a huge fan of Sage and applied for a job a couple of times while in high school,” said Knox. “After my first year as a mechanical engineering student in college, I applied for the third time and finally secured a summer job rolling blanks.”
The Life Of A Fly Rod Designer
That first summer hooked Knox on creating the ultimate fishing tool, something he’d already been practicing at the vise and on the water. “I like to tie my own flies, build my own leaders, experiment with lines, and assemble my own rods,” he said. “Designing rods is the next step.”
After rolling blanks all summer, gaining the skills needed to work with the many different materials, Knox started to want to know even more. “I had a lot of questions about how the parts I was building were designed and towards the end of the summer I got connected with the R&D department, were they were kind enough to give me an internship,” said Knox. The internship deepened Knox’s understanding of the materials he was working with, as well as the different construction methods used to create fly rods. “That started me down the path of designing parts,” he said.
Now a full-fledged designer with Sage, Knox is spending his days designing new fly rod components and thinking about the future of rod design. “If you look at the meat and potatoes of what I do, that would be design work, typically either action design or construction design,” said Knox. “The second would be evaluation of parts and testing on the water and cast to evaluate different materials or construction methods with a variety of precise testing equipment.” The final step is to work closely with the team that puts the new designs to work, implementing the ideas into actual, fishing tolls. “We always have to look at the practical side of things and make sure new processes and components are actually possible,” said Knox.
How To Get The Dream Job
While Knox spends a lot of time with a fly rod in his hand, he’s not fishing as much as the average angler. “I cast a fly rod close to every single day of the year,” he said, “but as far as actual fishing, I like to think of quality as well as quantity.” While Knox can’t spend every day casting to a fish, days where there is good weather, a lack of other anglers, or easy access to his favorite spots are hard to beat. “Some of my favorite trips are overnight float trips,” he said. “I do a handful of three- to five-day float trips a year. There’s something about being able to go your pace, camp when and where you want to, wake up next to the river, and really experience what’s out there that really enriches the fishing experience.”
The job of a fly rod designed isn’t just an excuse to work in the fishing industry, you have to actually enjoy, if not downright obsess, over the design process. “I really enjoy dreaming up what’s next in fly rods,” said Knox. “When I’m not at work, I spend a lot of time thinking about opportunities to take our rods to the next level.”
That pure excitement over the design lets him get psyched on work, even when dealing with the one part of the job he doesn’t like: “Getting negative feedback from people who have no idea what they’re talking about,” said Knox. While the intricacies of a fly rod’s design may be apparent to other designers or experienced anglers, many new anglers will assume the rod’s design is flawed, when in actuality, it’s their casting technique. Regardless, Knox still gets jacked up on design ideas nearly every day he gets to work. “It’s not often that I show up at work not excited about what’s happening,” said Knox. “This gets me mentally charged and ready to return to work and make something.”
First Step To Get The Job: Start Casting
Instead of running out and reading up on rod design, first you have to understand how a fly rod works, how to cast as best as you possibly can, and what is demanded of a rod in different conditions. “Get good at casting and try to get an in-depth understanding of as many different fisheries as you can,” said Knox. While a saltwater angler will need a fast rod to pick up line in an instant, a trout angler throwing dries will want something completely different. Knowing those needs will help to create ideas in the design phase of rod building.
An education in a field like mechanical engineering will also help you further your knowledge base of the way rods work and how the forces placed upon them should travel through the rod’s materials. Above all though, you have to love designing fly rods. “My fascination with building fly rods has to do with my desire to create the perfect fishing tool,” said Knox.
This is part three of a series on the best jobs in fly fishing. Stay tuned for a full look into A Day In The Life Of A Fly Shop Owner and find out if you have what it takes, coming out Friday, July, 8 on the Postfly Blog.