Where does one begin when discussing the legend of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths? I suppose I’d have to start with the man himself, the late Tom Morgan. Tom owned the R.L Winston Rod Company for roughly two decades. He sold in the early ’90s so he could focus on building the best fly rods on the planet, regardless of price.
Then, before he could start Tom Morgan Rodsmiths in earnest, Tom was diagnosed with MS. He spent the rest of his life, from the mid-’90s to the 2010s, in a wheelchair. Unable to move his legs or his arms. Hardly able to communicate.
In that state, Tom somehow managed to teach his wife Gerri how to build fly rods to his exacting specifications. I had the pleasure to know Tom and Gerri in the last two years of Tom’s life, and they were a wonderful couple. Tom’s rods were built through Gerri’s hands, and it’s her we have to thank for Tom Morgan Rodsmiths’ current existence.
I’ve had a 2-piece, 8’6″ 5-weight for the better part of four years now, and I can honestly say it’s still one of my favorite rods. It’s incredibly light, sensitive, but with enough power to handle almost anything you throw at it. Add in the absolutely gorgeous build quality, and you have yourself an heirloom-quality rod that’ll stick in the family for generations.
Yes, a TMR is pricey, but it’s worth every penny. Let’s take a deeper look at why I feel that way.
What I Like
Perfect Action for Trout
Tom Morgan spent most of his life chasing the ideal taper for a trout rod. He always wanted to build a rod that was a great fishing tool, not just a champion lawn-caster. That’s the genesis for Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.
And he achieved that completely. I have one of the last rods Tom personally worked on before his passing, and I’ve cast rods the new owners Matt Barber and Joel Doub have built. They all share the same wonderfully perfect action for trout fishing.
In close, the rod is quick and lively. You can cast off the tip with ease, then rocket a 40-foot cast to rising fish in a single motion. The blank has a surprising amount of reserve power, enough to effectively fish reasonably-sized streamers and any nymph rig I’ve tried.
Tom was famous for incorporating a progressive action into his rods. That’s where a rod is quicker in close, then grows slower as you put more line in the air. The TMR rods perfect this action, making them an absolute joy to cast.
No trout rod is complete without a tip soft enough to handle the lightest of tippets. I’ve fished my TMR all across the West, including some of the country’s notoriously fickle tailwaters, tying on tippets as small as 9x. The TMR’s tip deftly protects even that light of line, and it’ll take a mistake on your part to break most tippets.
Everything from long, hard runs by big brown trout, to the aerial displays rainbows put on, I’ve never once worried about losing a fish on light tippet when fishing my TMR. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened – it has – but the times when the tippet broke were entirely my fault.
I’ve cast a wide range of rods from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, and aside from their perfect action, they’re all also equally alike in accuracy. With the right line, you can land casts exactly where you need, up to 60 feet. Past that, accuracy gets a bit squidgy, but that’s normal for most 5-weight trout rods.
Outstanding Build Quality
Of all the wonderful attributes of a TMR, the build quality is perhaps the most striking. Other rods are light, accurate, and fun to fish. But few – if any – current rods are crafted with this superb attention to detail.
The thread wraps are varnished a half-dozen times each, and sanded with 0000-steel wool between coats. The cork grips are turned by hand in the TMR Bozeman shop, and they don’t just grab cork rings at random for the grips. Cork rings are color and quality-matched to ensure a consistent appearance throughout the grip, even after years of heavy use.
When you buy a TMR, you get to pick the grip style, color and style of the stripping guide, reel seat style, and reel seat insert. I love that TMR still offers downlocking reel seats as an option, and their array of reel seat wood inserts is dizzying. I went with a particularly gorgeous piece of amboyna burl, but you’ll be able to pick just about any wood you want.
2 and 4-Piece Options
I don’t think anyone would argue that the action of a 2-piece rod is almost always superior to that of a rod in 3, 4, 5, or more pieces. A single ferrule allows for a smoother taper, which results in both better casting and higher accuracy.
However, if you travel often and need a rod that goes into a carry-on, the TMR 4-piece rods are essentially as smooth as the 2-piecers. My next rod will likely be a 4-piece, 9′ 6-weight, precisely because I want something I can take to Alaska.
What I Don’t Like
The only knock I have against a TMR is the price. From a rod builder’s perspective (I build bamboo rods), the price fairly accurately reflects the labor that goes into a slightly-custom rod handmade in America. From a buyer’s point of view, though, $1,495 is a serious chunk of change. I’d love to see TMR offer something at a lower price point, if only to make these fantastic products available to a wider customer base.
A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths fly rod is an heirloom-quality product that more than lives up to its high price tag. From custom options on the rod to its perfect trout action, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better trout rod on the market. All TMR rods come with a lifetime warranty to the original owner, and each one is a unique piece of art. If you’re looking for only the finest fly fishing tool available, then I suggest you give the folks at Tom Morgan Rodsmiths a call.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He runs the Utah Fly Fishing Company, is the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with Spencer on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.