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Gary Loomis Interview Part 1 - The Legend Lives (much to our relief)

Date: 11/14/09
Interview: Gary Loomis
Manufacturer: North Fork Composites
Reviewer: Terry Battisti


Forward: Earlier this year, hot on the heals of the announcement from G.Loomis that the company will no longer be offering rod blanks for sale, rumors began to swirl around the re-emergence of rod building legend, Gary Loomis. Each story regarding Loomis's return to the industry was matched by innuendo that it would not come to pass. Internet discussion boards were abuzz with heated debates to the possibilities. In true TackleTour fashion, we set out to get the story straight, right from the source, and thanks to the efforts of Contributing Editor, Terry Battisti, our efforts were met with success. Here now, in Part 1 of a two part story, is the story of Gary Loomis.

Mention the name Loomis at any fishing venue worldwide and only one thought comes to mind - the highest quality rods and blanks made on the planet.

Introduction: Mention the name Loomis at any fishing venue worldwide and, unless you live under a rock, only one thought comes to mind – the highest quality rods and blanks made on the planet.  At least that was the case prior to 1997.

The name retained its street value, though, even after the sale of G.Loomis to Shimano in that year, mainly because Gary maintained a position within the company making sure new blanks were developed and the R&D portion of the company remained in tact.  His tenure with the Shimano-held G.Loomis continued for a few years when he turned to another venture close to his heart – revitalizing the salmon and steelhead runs of the Pacific Northwest.

As popular as G.Loomis rods were, though, the company had a cult following within the custom rod building community and OEM manufacturers throughout the United States.  Unfortunately, as time went on, availability of blanks became scarce and in April of this year, Shimano reported that all blank sales would stop at the end of 2009.

Those words reverberated throughout the industry with staunch G.Loomis advocates now wondering where they would get their time-proven building materials from.

Well Loomis fans, followers and fellow cult members, you have no need to worry any longer.  Gary Loomis is back and here’s his story.

Historical Perspective: Gary’s career in the rod and blank business began in a serendipitous fashion in 1964 – on the banks of one of his favorite steelhead streams in the state of Washington.  Recently discharged from the U.S. Navy, Gary began fishing the summer steelhead run in May of that year.  His first successes were “beyond belief” but as the summer wore on, he realized that the tools he was using, his winter steelhead gear, weren’t getting the job done.

A machinist by trade, he knew that there was a right tool for any application and he needed to find out what tool it was he needed.

“As the water started to drop after May, the fish were still there but we couldn’t get them to bite,” he said. “That made me think that presentation was important and I started dropping down in line size. Each time I did, I caught more fish.

“But whenever I dropped down to 6- or 8-pound test, the fish would break me off,” he noted. “I thought long and hard about this and figured it wasn’t the straight pull of the fish that broke the line but the shock of the jerk they made when they took off fast.

“I knew I needed a rod that would supply more shock-absorbing traits, like a fly rod, to prevent the rod from snapping the light lines.  I went down to a local tackle store and purchased a 7-weight fiberglass fly rod, took it home and refitted the rod with a butt, reel seat and then wrapped spinning guides on it.  What I ended up with was a 10 1/2-foot spinning rod that would handle 6-pound test line without the fear of the line breaking.

“Then, as the water dropped further and became even clearer, I found that I needed to drop down from 6-pound to 4-pound line to get bit.  The problem was my retooled 7-weight fly rod was too heavy. So, I went down to the tackle store again and this time purchased a 4- or 5-weight rod that would handle the 4-pound test.

“As that summer wore on, I was the only angler on the entire stream that was catching fish,” he said. “And I wasn’t just catching one fish a day either – I was catching four to six fish daily and this was starting to wear on the other anglers.

“Then one evening as I headed to my car, one of the locals came up to me and asked, ‘why are you catching them and no one else isn’t.’  I showed him the rod and light line and he refused to believe I was using that light of tackle.  I told him, ‘you’ve seen me down here for weeks catching them and now that I tell you what I’m using you don’t believe me?’  It didn’t take much after that to convince him I was actually using that light gear and once I did he wanted to know where he could get one of those rods.

“I told him that I made the rod and right there the guy offered me $100 for the rod,” he laughed. “At the time I was making $97.20 a week and here this guy’s offering me more than I make in a week.  I said, ‘no – it wasn’t for sale.’  Then he offered me $150 and I said no again. The last straw was when he offered me $200.  I sold the rod and went directly to the tackle store, bought another rod and made a new one that night.

“The next day I drove up to the spot where I parked to fish every day and there was another guy waiting there,” he said. “This man walked up to me and asked if I was the guy selling steelhead rods and then asked if I’d sell him one.  I sold him my new rod for $200, went home and taught my wife how to make them and that’s how I got into the rod business.  The next thing you know I’m working for Cascade Rods and then I went to work for Lamiglas.”

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