Orvis Rods - Made in USA
I just returned from a terrific trip back to the Orvis HQ in Manchester, VT. The primary focus of the trip was to attend a dealer meeting with seminars, new product showings, and networking opportunities. All of those were great, but the real highlight for me was getting to tour the Orvis Rod factory. Orvis has been making rods in Manchester since 1850 and the opportunity to see the history and meet the people that build/repair the rods of today was truly inspiring.
As a retailer, one of the most common “complaints” we hear has to with the prices of high end rods on the market today. The top of the line rods generally are in the $700-$800 range across the board and it is rare to find a rod that is under $200 that is truly made in the USA. Orvis builds all of its rods from the Access line on up there in Manchester from start to finish. The price point rods (Clearwater & Streamline) are made overseas to the specifications of the rod shop here in the USA. After seeing the complexity, equipment, and labor that it takes to transform a few sheets of carbon into a high performance fly rod, it’s hard to imagine that they could actually do it for much less.
The process is simple in theory, but complex in the details with quality issues needing to be addressed at every stage of production. The graphite is stored on premise in very large rolls about 5’ tall or so. Flags are cut on some crazy looking cutting machine that looks like an Olympic sized air hockey table with some sort of laser controlled thingamajigger that affords very precise cuts in terms of edges and depth. Each rod section is cut individually, along with the various scrim and graphite combinations used in each piece. Once cut, the flags start to take the shape of some of the finest fly rods that I’ve ever fished.
The next steps include mounting the flags to a machined and polished mandrel which gives the rod section its overall taper. Each mandrel is unique to a particular rod model, so it is safe to say that the mandrel room in the factory stores 100’s upon 100’s of skinny metal pieces that are probably as hard to keep organized as they are to make!. Once the flag is rolled, the section heads to the oven where everything is cooked to allow the resins to cure and strengthen.
Now that the blank is built, the labor becomes intense and minutia-like in its exactness. I have no idea how many people are involved in each rod, but I recall that the number was somewhere in the 20’s. A different person paints the blanks, assembles the reel seats, shapes the drill holes in the cork, and mounts all of this onto the blank. Once all this is done, the rods movie into the finishing room where they are wrapped, the guides are mounted; finish coats are applied and dried. After all this, some guy with nearly o30 years of experience sits down with each rod and inspects it for cosmetic flaws and any obvious structural defects. Rejected rods are stripped down and destroyed, the ones that pass end up going along to the final testing which involves various stress tests on some highly sophisticated robotics.
We only spent a few hours observing, but I left with the impression that I could spend weeks there before I really understood all that goes into just the manufacturing of a rod from start to finish. Add some pretty sophisticated engineering folks in R&D and I was simply amazed at how much labor goes into a production of fly rods. The experience of meeting the guys and gals building the rods we have on our wall here in the shop certainly added a level of connection to the process that I hadn’t expected. So, I am feeling especially proud to be fishing and selling the Orvis brand of premium fly rods that are built right here in the USA by people just like you and I.