From a distance, it’s just a fishing pole.
But look closer and you’ll see the intricately woven threading in diamond patterns along the rod. “They are a piece of art,” says Captain Jim Fortman of Naples.
In addition to running fishing charters in the backwaters of the Everglades, Fortman makes custom fishing poles—a hobby that stretches back to his childhood in Fort Lauderdale. He started building his own rods just for fun. Then as he got older and a little more experienced, he started making them for friends and family, and eventually started getting enough requests that it made sense to make it a side business. He started J-Stick’um Custom Rods and Jigs in his garage. Now, he’s got a backlog of about three months’ worth of work.
He starts essentially from scratch with a rod, adding custom grips, a reel and guides for the line. The most intricate part is looping the thread around the rod or adding specialty logos. The finishing touch involves a coating of epoxy, a time-consuming process that involves three to four days of layering. He’ll do a pressure test before putting on the guides to make sure it’s up to his durability standards. “When you buy custom-built, they’re a lot tougher,” Fortman says.
Prices range from $200 to $400 for a rod. He sells at the Vanderbilt Farmers Market in Naples, but takes orders online and ships across the country. Most of his rods get used, of course. But he’s created a few that are displayed as art pieces, such as the one threaded in pink and white for breast cancer awareness. The majority of fishing rods are mass-manufactured, but Fortman takes pride in knowing that he’s creating something that a serious fisherman can appreciate. “It’s a lost art,” he says, “but it’s worth doing.”