I started building fishing rods in 1994...the same year I started fly fishing. It's hard to believe that's been over 25 years ago, because to me it feels like 6 months. Early on in my rod building career, I adopted a sort of a personal philosophy that if at all possible, I would no longer own or fish with a factory-built rod if there was a suitable alternative that I could build myself. As I look back, for the most part I have stayed true to that commitment.
Due to the nature of my involvement in the rod industry, I've had the good fortune to be involved on a distribution level with several of the major players in the rod manufacturing game. Because of this, I've had the opportunity to cast most of the rods that many would consider to be "game changers" in the fly fishing world. The more popular models that come to mind, sprang out of the 1990s, and the list would include. but not be limited to, the first incarnation of the Loomis GLX, the Sage XP, the Scott Heliply...which to this day still reigns supreme in my mind as perhaps the finest all-around saltwater rod ever made. There is however one that I have a special place for in my heart that may never be equaled, and that would be the AllStar Austin series.
I know many of you are scratching your head, not ever having known that AllStar Composites, the company responsible for some of the finest spinning and casting rods in the USA, even had a line of fly rods. Let me assure that they did, and they were some of the most spectacular tapers ever manufactured. The lineage of the AllStar Austin cannot be traced in a straight, easy to follow line, as the series evolved in both design and materials over the course of a decade. AllStar employed several blank designers over the years that the Austins were in play, that included Tim Grennen, Don Mook, and Mike Welsh, and all of them put their own personal stamp on the blanks that came out of the plant in Houston Texas.
I was first turned on to the Austins in the early 2000s by my old buddy "Bubba" whom I have referenced in several previous Front Pages. Bubba had been using the AllStar 10/11wt. in the Florida Keys for some time to wreak havoc on the local population of Silver Kings. In the late 90s, Bubba won the coveted Don Hawley Tarpon invitational with an Austin in hand, At one point he also held an IGFA Bonefish Record taken just outside of Isamorade on an Austin 9wt. Bubba's guide in the Florida Keys for almost two decades was the legendary guide and host of the popular TV show The Seahunter, Rob Fordyce. During a conversation over lunch on the deck of his skiff, Rob once told me that the AllStar 10/11wt. was everything the SAGE RPLXi should be, and the those in the know referred to it in the Keys as the "dirty little secret". Since AllStar didnt have the reputation of being a high profile fly rod manufacturer and the Austin series certainly didnt have the same level of brand recognition as the other big names in the industry, the nickname was probably apropriate as well as accurate.
I had the privilege of becoming an AllStar distributor in 2002, initially with a focused intent on gaining some market share in the custom rod end of the business. My plan was a sort of "re-introduction" of the Austin series to the custom rod building community with shaprer, more industry specific marketing. It worked....the blanks were a big hit, and became a well respected, in demand platform for a high-performance custom fly rod to be built on. In an unfortunate turn of events, in 2005 AllStar was purchased by Shakespeare, and this eventually led to the Houston Texas manufacturing plant closing it's doors permanently in the summer of 2007. I tried desperately on a couple of occasions to purchase the mandrels, patterns and MAP sheets in hopes of reproducing these tapers myself, but unfortunately Shakespeare wasnt interested in selling. And, as could be predicted, once the change in ownership was complete, they chose not to keep the Austins in the lineup, and they eventually got lost in the corporate shuffle and quickly disappeared into the ether.
During my tenure as an Allstar distributor, I had amassed a complete collection of Austins that ranged from 7'9" 3wt. all the way up to the 9' 12wt. I kept them in my inventory, unknown to all my rodbuilding friends, like a diagnosable hoarder for almost a decade, The intent was to someday build them out in a custom matched set. However, in a moment of weakness during my time away from fishing, I was offered a tidy (read significant) sum of money for the entire collection by someone who knew what I had.....and yes I succumbed to the temptation. It remains one of the great regrets of my life in the last 10 years.
Many will say "those were old designs and materials" or "there are much more efficient tapers made nowadays", and yes, that may be true. But, there was something very special about those tapers that went beyond the physical properties of the carbon fiber and flag pattern. Something that I have yet to find in most of the more modern sophisticated designs.....that would be SOUL.
Hope you all have a great week,