When a self-described perfectionist and angling fanatic builds a fishing rod, art and performance converge.
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (April 10, 2023) – Mike Moroney of Highlands Ranch, Colorado spent most of his adult life running a business and consulting to higher education. “I still do some consulting but am semi-retired now,” says Moroney, a father of two and grandfather of six who’s celebrating 45 years of marriage with his wife, Gina, this month.
Throughout his life, the Colorado native has always loved fishing, so when he found himself with a bit more time on his hands, Moroney looked for a new hobby tied to his favorite pastime.
“I was living in Minnesota at the time and am not really an ice fisherman, though I’ve tried it several times. So, as it is in Colorado, my fishing is seasonal,” Moroney says. “I’ve always been a hard worker and poured myself into whatever I spend my time on. Rod building seemed like something I’d enjoy, so I signed up for a two-day class. That was about eight years ago. It was immersive and we built a complete rod on first day. I got done with my rod and… well… it looked like a rod that was built in a day,” Moroney chuckles. “The second day covered advanced techniques, and I left the class feeling confident that my skills would improve and that this was something I’d enjoy.”
A self-described perfectionist, Moroney took the rod he’d built home, then took it apart and built another on the same blank. “It came out much better on my second try, and I gave it to a friend who was retiring,” he says. “I started building more and more rods and I’d give them to friends and family, which was very rewarding, but my new hobby was getting expensive. I decided I needed to start charging for materials. People close to me started seeing my work and asking if I’d build rods for them. Since that time, I’ve always maintained a six- or seven-rod backlog.”
Moroney, who has since moved back to his home state, loves fishing in the mountains. “Our fishing here really is trout-centric, so I build a lot of fly rods and lighter spinning rods, but I have friends and connections throughout the country who fish for other species so it adds some nice variety to my work,” he says. “I only build around a dozen rods per year, which is by choice,” Moroney adds. “For me, it’s a hobby, not a business, and my clients regularly become friends.”
Getting to know everything he can about his clients and their needs is Moroney’s favorite part of the rod-building process. “The very early stages are the most important,” he says. “Getting to know my client… where and how they fish… species… their current rods and what they like and don’t like about them… their height and hand size; I document everything, not just their favorite colors. I ask them about their boat if they have one and their budget for the build. About 95% of my projects are what I consider high-end using the best available blanks, guides, other components, and materials.”
Once Moroney completes his intake process and creates a comprehensive file on a particular client and project, he orders the blank and components. “I’ll do some sample wraps and send pictures to the client with my ideas for the design,” he says. “Nine out of ten times they love it, but sometimes they offer some additional suggestions. If their ideas are too simple, I’ll insert some additional creative ideas. As a builder, I have to be satisfied, too. Then we agree on design and document it.”
Moroney’s overall design philosophy is that performance always comes first, then aesthetics. “Ultimately though, my rods must deliver both,” he says. I’ll always find ways to make my rods look spectacular, but aesthetics are worthless without performance, which is why so many of my builds begin with Rod Geeks blanks. I’ve been to the St. Croix factory in Wisconsin where many of the Rod Geeks blanks I use are made. The materials and technologies that go into them are second to none, and the artisans who craft them are just as passionate about their work and finished products as I am, which says a lot.”
Moroney recently completed a 6’6”, medium-light power, fast action, 2-piece spinning rod on a Rod Geeks C566MLF2 blank, and a 9’, 5-weight, 4-piece fly rod on a Rod Geeks C4F905.4 blank. He built the spinning rod for himself and the fly rod as a display piece for the various silent auctions to which Moroney donates custom rods. “I’m involved with and try to support several charitable organizations,” he says. “This fly rod will be displayed in a custom case my friend is building and will serve as a representative example of my work. I then work with the winning bidder at each event to design and build a rod specifically for them.”
“The design of the 6’6” spinning rod was easy because it was for me,” Moroney says. “I started with one of my favorite blanks for no-compromises performance. The St. Croix SCV carbon used in these Rod Geeks C5 blanks is just incredible. Performance aside, I also wanted this rod to be a good demonstration of my abilities, so I put a lot of inlays on this one. There’s a major chevron design that matches the inlays on the guides. It has a Seaguide reel seat that has a bit of palm swell and a double locking nut for security. The seat is open to the blank on the bottom and sides, so I added a Fuji metallic silver/blue insert, which looks great with the clear coat blank finish, the rod’s blue and silver thread wraps, and the carbon-fiber handle. I used top-quality ALPS single-foot guides, the smallest of which is a #6, which I find to be the minimum for comfortably passing braid-to-fluorocarbon leader knots.” Moroney says he built this rod as a two-piece model so he can always keep it at-the-ready in his Jeep.
Moroney’s most-recent fly-rod build was on a C4F905.4 blank, which also has a clear coat finish. “This blank is built with premium St. Croix SCIV carbon and a glass scrim,” Moroney says. “And when finished in clear coat, you can see all the construction details in the blank. It looks absolutely stunning and offers excellent performance.” Once Moroney decides on a blank color, he chooses a specific wood insert for the reel seat. “I work almost exclusively with a couple guys who make these inserts in Arizona and Washington. I give them my color scheme and they send me ideas. One sends me photos of specific pieces of raw wood. The other guy will actually ship me multiple finished inserts. I can keep the one I want and then send the others back.” After Moroney chooses a complimentary reel seat insert – box elder burl wood in this case – he matches thread wraps to the dominant color of the insert. “My wrap designs are more subtle on my fly rods than they are on my spinning and casting rods,” Moroney says. “I’ll do some inlays on the wraps, but they’re usually simple and classy without a lot of bling. This one has gold, light grey, and black.” Why does he do this? “A customer once told me that the real beauty of a fly rod is having a trout on the other end, and I agree!” Moroney says. He chose to finish the show-piece 5-weight with traditional full wells premium cork grips and double-foot stripper and snake guides. “Mike McCoy is my guy in Washington state and his company is called Snake Brand,” he says. “He did the box elder burl wood reel seat insert, but I also got my reel seat and guides from him for this build, as I often do. Everything that comes from Mike is premium quality; the feet on the guides are actually concave so they conform to the roundness of the rod blank.”
Moroney offers solid advice to new builders who may be just getting started. “Things will seem hard at first and you will make mistakes,” he says. “But you will quickly learn from those mistakes and your skills and abilities will improve. Enjoy the process – including learning from your mistakes.” Moroney says caring about your customers will also pay dividends. “So many times, my customers become my friends, so when you are building something for someone you care about it becomes very exciting and you want to do your very best work. Most importantly, be patient and enjoy the process,” he says.