Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan is widely regarded as one of the reigning experts in the design and construction of fly fishing rods. He grew up in Montana where he became addicted to fly fishing as a young boy. He began guiding as a teenager and, from the start, took great interest in the casting styles and equipment of his clients. In the early 70’s he bought the R. L. Winston Rod Company and proceeded to make it into one of the preeminent major rod company’s in the world. He sold Winston in the early 90’s and started a small “boutique” rod-making company, Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.

Currently, Tom makes rods from bamboo, graphite or fiberglass. People stand in line to pay $4,000 for his bamboo rods. Regardless of the material of construction, Tom’s rods are differentiated by their smoothness and “fishability”. They are a joy to fish with. A friend of mine says that he can fish a Tom Morgan designed rod all day long and never wipe the smile from his face.

This is a remarkable story of how one man’s dedication to excellence has brought joy to many thousands of fishermen over the past 40+ years. But, here is the “rest of the story” that makes it even more remarkable. Since the mid 90’s, Tom has been nearly paralyzed from the neck down from MS. While he is not able to physically carryout the steps of the rod-making process, he is always busy assuring the quality of every rod as well as designing new manufacturing tools and developing new and ever improving rod designs.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I traveled to Montana to interview Tom for the Oral History collection at Western Washington University. We were concerned about tiring Tom so we prioritized our questions so that we would be complete after about an hour. Tom didn’t want to stop. He had a lot more that he wanted to tell us, not just about the past, but about the future, about new designs that he was working on, about new tools to continue to improve his rods and the building process. All through the interview, Tom demonstrated great passion for his craft and for the joy it brings to fisherman.

Do you remember that in an earlier post we talked about Viktor Frankl and a couple of very important lessons from his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”? One lesson was that nobody or no thing could ever deprive us of the freedom to select our own attitude. The other lesson was that the primary human drive is not pleasure or power but, rather, the pursuit of meaning. It is, he claims, this pursuit of meaning that sustains us through even the toughest of times.

I drove home from Montana understanding that Tom Morgan is the embodiment of Frankl’s beliefs. In an earlier interview, Tom, when talking about his condition, said, “I choose to be happy”. Clearly, then, here is a man that fully exercises his freedom to choose his own attitude, whatever the circumstance.

Secondly, Tom obviously derives great meaning or sense of purpose by bringing joy to thousands through his fly rods. The energy, enthusiasm and creativity that he invests in the rod-building process enriches his life as well as those of us who have been privileged to meet him.

I’ve had an extra little bounce in my step ever since I returned from Montana.

Bill Kindler


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