Chatham County craftsman makes custom fishing rods

CorrespondentApril 4, 2013 

Bill Poe demonstrates the art of rod making. During the years folks have gathered in his Chatham County shop to talk fishing and maybe purchase one of his custom rods.

JIM LASLEY

It’s a cold March morning. Nothing much to do – hunting season’s over, too early for fishing. Best to find a warm place and good conversation.

Down a country road, around a curve, a sign on the right – “Bill Poe’s Custom Rods.” A brick home, two boats, but it’s the shop to the left tucked in the grove of oak trees that’s inviting.

A large, scraggly cur announces the approach of a stranger. Poe’s on the stoop with a smile and an outstretched hand.

Inside it’s warm and quiet, a slight buzz from a florescent light. This is Poe’s shop, clean as a kitchen. Neat, all in order, simple. That’s why many folks travel here to rural Chatham County for the peace and quiet, to talk fishing, tell stories, and maybe order a custom fishing rod fine enough to hand down to a grandson when the time is right.

Poe, 75, offers his seat at the workbench. No that’s his place, where he belongs, foot resting on a tackle box, hands folded across his stomach.

The conversation begins with Poe remembering how it all started back in ’76 when his son accidently broke a rod. Poe repaired it, then made a rod for his son, then one for himself and then one for his son’s friend. Poe points to a rod hanging on the wall.

“The boy gave it back to me a few years ago,” he said. “Said he wanted me to have it.”

Poe says it’s nothing to make a rod – a piece of graphite, guides and two knots. He left the upholstery business in 1980 to go at it full time, standing 10 hours a day producing three or four rods. He’s made hundreds and hundreds of rods, mostly for bass fishing, occasionally a fly rod or a salt water rig for catching speckle trout or drum.

Now he has customers all over, one as far away as Hawaii. His rods – which sell for around $200 – may not be the most expensive, but they are recognized as being among the best you can buy.

Poe’s business has thrived on repeat customers, many of whom come to the shop to sit and talk.

“Used to be on Monday nights you could hardly find a place to stand in here,” he said. “Folks everywhere telling tales about their weekend fishing.”

Rod making has been good to Poe. He’s made a living and gained many a friend.

“The friends I’ve made are worth more than what little money I’ve made,” he said. “If it were not for this business I wouldn’t have many friends.”

Now Poe takes a minute to introduce his wife Mary Ruth, a cheerful lady with a pretty smile, who has stopped in to say hello on her way to the grocery store. She’s an important part of the process. She puts the finish on all the rods.

Poe pushes back his ball cap and scratches his head as the conversation continues. He’s talking about how some fishermen spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the sport. He remembers the days of fishing with a cane pole, cork and earthworm.

“Fishing can be as expensive and complicated as you want it to be,” he said. “But I like to keep it simple. That’s why I live out here in the country.”

Poe remembers a businessman from Greensboro who brought his wife to the shop.

“They asked if they could just sit here for a while.” he said. “They were getting away from the phone ringing, horns blowing and children crying.”

Poe loves to talk about his life, growing up in Staley, he and his uncle fishing with a with a fly rod for bass and crappie, about a 90-year-old friend who’ll fish for eight or nine hours a day, about a crank bait out of Georgia that’s hard to beat, about how he’s slowing down so he can fish in nearby reservoirs.

He’ll philosophize a little too.

“Not everybody can dunk a basketball,” he said, “but they can go fishing and hunting. It’ll take them through life and make them a better person. Those who miss the adventure, I just don’t understand. I feel sorry for them.”

Now the stranger stands to leave, says he’s been in Poe’s way long enough. His reply, “Hard to get in a man’s way whose not going to do anything.”

Pulling back on the road, Poe back in his shop, his dog curled on the stoop, a thought comes to mind: They sure don’t make’em like Bill any more. What a shame.

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