How many of us can say we do what we truly love?
For most of us, that sort of bliss is the stuff of dreams. Local couple David and Kelly Gaestel, however, are actually living their dream â€” with the exception of the 40 hours a week they also spend at their day jobs, of course. For the past eight years, theyâ€™ve been building a successful custom fishing rod business, one enthusiast at a time, working from their home in Port Republic.
It all started when David was stuck in the hospital for a few days recovering from surgery. As a fishing fanatic, the idea of missing out on a couple of days of fishing was a real bummer. So he ordered himself a rod-making kit as the next best way to pass the time until he could get back on the water.
That home rod-making kit ignited a fire. He enjoyed making a rod by hand so much that he converted a small shed in his backyard into his first workshop. But his custom rod-making operation quickly outgrew that space when his wife Kelly took an interest in the business.
Kelly had lots of experience in crafting custom jewelry and was intrigued by the design potential she could harness leveraging the colors, threads and materials that go into a custom rod. She didnâ€™t know much about fishing or fishing rods, but David taught her from the ground up. Now, they are partners, running a successful local business called Crazy Horse Fishing Rods out of a much bigger workshop in their home in Calvert County.
The Gaestels provide many services under the umbrella of Crazy Horse Fishing Rods, from repairing and restoring rods to building a custom rod from scratch to meet a customerâ€™s exact specifications. They make every kind of rod imaginable, from fly rods (her specialty) to custom jigging rods with a spiral wrap (his specialty).
David, the vice-president of the newly formed Southern Maryland Recreational Fishing Organization, is still an avid fisherman and heâ€™s caught over 30 species on rods heâ€™s crafted, from trout to Mako shark and his daughter Kali even caught a first King Salmon on Lake Ontario for the third summer in a row on one of her dadâ€™s rods.
The process for building a custom rod starts with a customer questionnaire so the Gaestels can pinpoint exactly what kind of rod you need for the type of fishing you want to do. They recommend you come into their shop so you can see all the options in person.
Itâ€™s worth a trip there just to take a look at the eclectic vintage rods and reels that they have collected over the years, including a reel manufactured by Lionel (the famous train maker) from the 1940s and an 1890 Castilia with the matching newspaper advertisement listing a dozen of them for $89 back then.
Each rod starts with a blank thatâ€™s selected based on the type of fishing you do. Then you get to pick a color.
The Gaestels joke that their shop is like Baskin Robbins.
â€śWe have 28 colors, a rod for every occasion,â€ť Kelly said.
Next, you pick the thread or threads to hold the guides, and depending upon your preference, the thread work can be simple or complex.
David just finished up a custom rod for Ocean Cityâ€™s famed Capt. Monty Hawkins with a special reel seat and colors to match his boat the Morning Star.
Next, you pick a handle and reel seat. You can customize these options, like requesting a specific length of the foregrip or picking a material you want such as cork or EVA. Once youâ€™ve made all your selections, the Gaestels get to work.
The final step of making a custom rod, coating the finished rod with two-part epoxy and slowly rotating it for hours and hours to make the coating dry evenly, might be an art form in itself. Their shop can accommodate up to 10 rods drying at a time.
The Gaestels offer repair services in their shop, too. In their spare time they scour yard sales and flea markets for rods to use for parts or to clean, repair and resell.
Their workshop has shelves lined with boxes that contain an impressive collection of thousands of rod guides. If you have a fishing rod that needs a repaired guide, even if itâ€™s an uncommon style such as a double-folding guide or a roller guide, chances are the folks at Crazy Horse Fishing Rods have one to match.
David takes a lot of pride in repairing damaged rods to make them usable, even better than they looked when they came off the factory assembly line the first time. It costs about $15 to get a guide repaired.
â€śI love it when I give back a rod and the customer canâ€™t tell which guide it was that was broken,â€ť David said.
Custom rods range from $250 to $350, but the Gaestels offer refurbished rods to fit any budget. Second-hand rods that can be cleaned up and repaired are resold for about half the cost of the retail price of a new model. Theyâ€™ve got hundreds to choose from, so thereâ€™s a good chance you can find exactly what you need at a darn good price.
As an outdoor enthusiast myself, it was impossible after spending a few hours appreciating the Gaestelsâ€™ workshop to leave empty-handed.
My brother-in-law, who has a birthday coming up, lucked into a fantastic Baltimore Orioles themed saltwater rod. It will go well with his Oâ€™s hat and Natty Boh shirt and is going to make him the envy of his fishing buddy for sure.
If you live in Southern Maryland and enjoy fishing, you owe it to yourself to give the Gaestelsâ€™ workshop a visit to observe their level of craftmanship and artistry focused just on fishing rods.
To find out more about Crazy Horse Fishing Rods, go to www.crazyhorsecustomfishingrods.com/ or give them a call at 410-474-7664. But based on my first-hand experience, nothing beats an actual visit.