Hand-Made & Home-Grown
A look at the R.L. Winston Rod Co.
As I look upstream, I see deep undercut banks, likely home to huge Beaverhead browns. Fly-wand in hand, I'm hoping to cast a few spells on some unsuspecting trout, but the streambanks are also home to overhanging branches that love to consume flies. Aiming for a small gap in the brush, about a foot from the bank, I cast, holding my breath as the fly soars through the air. It lands right on target. I want to applaud my expert casting, but the truth is, I'm not that good. This precision isn't the result of skill, but rather of careful craftmanship and a commitment to quality. The rod I hold is a Winston, and I'm starting to see what all the fuss is about.
Hours earlier, I rolled into Twin Bridges, eager to learn about the renowned Montana fly-rod company, R.L. Winston. As I passed the driftboats lined up along Main Street, I understood why Winston relocated here some 40 years ago. The owner at the time, legendary rod-maker Tom Morgan, considered this fly-fishing nirvana. Nestled in the Montana mountains, within casting distance of the Beaverhead, Jefferson, Madison, Ruby, and Big Hole, it's a fly fisherman's paradise.
During a factory tour from pro-services manager Adam Hutchison, I got the answers I was looking for. With materials like boron, graphite, and bamboo, Winston handcrafts art-like rods with the utmost attention to detail. At any point during production, employees can remove a rod, for any reason. If a measurement doesn’t match the exact 100th of an inch or a minuscule piece of fuzz appears underneath the coating, the rod is pulled from production.
In the midst of the tour, sincere greetings and enthusiastic introductions were common. It's a friendly, close-knit community in Twin Bridges, and not many top-tier companies are like this. Winston keeps it local, employing 50 of the 418 people living in Twin.
Furthermore, Winston employees have the Beaverhead River in their back yard, and when lunchtime rolls around, they often head out and toss some bugs. I like knowing that these rods are made by anglers for anglers. "It’s really the staff that makes these rods special," Hutchison explained. "Our rods are reflections of the great people of Montana." In a time when most companies export their production half-way around the world to a machine-filled factory for a higher profit, Winston makes the active decision to keep production in fly-fishing paradise, and in the hands of avid anglers.
Measure twice, cut once.
A few weeks after throwing more pinpoint casts along the snag-covered banks of the Beaverhead, I was eager to push this rod to its limits. In early spring on the lower Madison, with cloudy water and minimal hatches, the arsenal of effective flies narrows to nymphs and streamers, with a few midges tossed in. Once again, my Winston Pure showed its adaptability. Despite cold hands, violent gusts, and dampened spirits, this dry-fly rod launched streamers 30 feet to within inches of my target.
Next up was a cumbersome two-fly rig with an indicator. Once again, I benefitted from Winston's meticulous hands-on construction. The sturdy boron held up to the heavy rig and my arm felt no fatigue. Cast after cast, I found myself forgetting about catching fish. I was satisfied with my sniper-like accuracy. Short and far, the rod remained dead-on.
While taking a break to bring some life back into my hands, I begin to notice the aesthetics. With the rod laid out on the gravel covered shore, the lustrous green coating, nickel-and-maple reel seat, and impeccable cork grab my attention like a freestone cutthroat snatching a stimulator on a hot summer day. This grade of beauty is what you find hanging above a mantle for all to see.
The lower Madison.
As I stood in the wide and trout-filled lower Madison, it hit me. Throughout my life, I've fished beautiful rods from quality brands. But I'd never fished a quality rod with beautiful craftsmanship that was made right here in Montana. Something just feels right about tossing bullseye casts on a Montana river with a Montana-made rod. The more one fishes, the more important the total package becomes. And, Winston has created just that—the total package.
I now see what the fuss is about and it's well-deserved. With a Winston rod in hand you get more than the ideal trout rod. You get to hold something tangible that reflects the 40 years of handcrafting rods right here in Montana. And with that tangible reflection, you know that each and every rod is crafted from the hands of anglers who fish the same rivers as you and I. So, the next time you're looking for a new rod to toss your favorite bugs into your favorite river, look for a piece of Montana's history, and look to a Winston.