WOODLAND — Gary Loomis has reeled in thousands of fish. His passion for designing rods to catch them has helped Woodland spawn a cluster of rod manufacturers revered by anglers across the country.
The city of 6,100 residents is home to three major fishing rod manufacturers — Lamiglas, G. Loomis and Composite Ventures. Smaller fishing-oriented businesses come and go.
The companies combined employ about 200 workers and give Woodland cachet among well-heeled anglers who can afford to spend more than $1,000 for a fly rod, along with those who can do with a salmon rod that costs a third as much. Woodland is recognized nationwide for its rods, said Tom Posey, president of Lamiglas. One Composite Ventures employee even called Woodland “the Silicon Valley of fishing rods.”
Loomis, who has had major roles in all three Woodland rod companies, likens the cluster to Detroit’s former status as the hub of the American automobile industry. “Somebody got it started and along came other people,” he said.
It isn’t surprising, considering that three good fishing rivers — the Lewis, Kalama and Columbia — are nearby. So it’s easy for the companies to test new rod designs — and employees are happy to do so. Posey spent part of his holiday break fishing on the Olympic Peninsula for winter steelhead. “It’s all part of this job,” he said. “You have to get out there and fish these rods.”
Employees: About 50.
Location: 1400 Atlantic Ave., Woodland.
Production: Number of rods made not available.
Employees: About 100.
Location: 1359 Down River Drive, Woodland.
Production: 100,000-175,000 fishing rods per year.
Location: 1395 Down River Drive, Woodland.
Production: 500 and 700 tubular structures per day, including fishing rods and blanks, hiking sticks, gun barrels and antennas.
Larry Weindruch, a spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association, likened the Woodland rod industry to the cluster of golf club makers near San Diego, which is a golfing destination.
Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates, which does research on the fishing industry, said in an email that it’s common for similar manufacturers to cluster, such as knife and optics makers in Portland. Employees leave one company to start another, and manufacturers can poach experienced workers from competitors, Southwick said.
Bruce Holt, a spokesman for G. Loomis, said the Woodland companies were able to provide jobs lost with the decline of the logging industry. Between them, the work force has built up expertise in the specialized world of creating light but strong graphite fishing rods. “You’ve built a base of people who understand how to do this kind of work,” Holt said.
Posey said the companies have good relationships. “We help each other if somebody needs something, whether it’s a box or something else,” he said. “We are all different in our pursuits in how we do business. They’re all good companies.”
Lamiglas could be called the grandfather of the Woodland fishing rod industry. The company started in Kent and originally made only blanks, which are basic rods without handles or line guides.
Around 1970, Lamiglas bought a Woodland fishing rod company called Cascade Products. Eventually, Lamiglas moved its manufacturing to Woodland.
The family-owned Lamiglas sells rods for Northwest species such as salmon and steelhead, along with rods for bass and walleye. “We’re pretty well balanced between the West Coast and the Great Lakes and the Northeast” for sales, Posey said. He declined to provide the number of rods the company makes per year.
“We’re world-famous for salt water rods,” Posey said — the first Lamiglas rod blank ever produced, in 1949, was an 11-foot fiberglass surf rod.
These days, all Lamiglas rods are developed in Woodland and most are made there, though some are produced in overseas factories, Posey said.
Lamiglas salmon and steelhead rods range in price from $108 to $605 on the company’s website.
Unlike its major competitors in Woodland, Lamiglas has a retail shop at its building on Atlantic Avenue, where you can buy a rod labeled, “Handcrafted in Woodland, WA.”
In 1981, Gary Loomis started the company that still bears his name, and it quickly built a reputation for high-end rods that continues today. In 1997, Gary Loomis sold the company to Shimano, a Japanese company whose principal business is bicycle components.
Holt said an advantage of Shimano’s ownership is being able to purchase new machines to build better products. However, rod-building can’t be automated, he said. “Of the 12 steps to build a blank, 11 of them are hands-on,” Holt said. “It’s a real art, a technical art. That’s why rods can be expensive.”
G. Loomis produces makes between 500 and 700 tubular structures per day, including fishing rods and blanks, hiking sticks, gun barrels and antennas, which are all made in Woodland.
“The biggest part is bass,” Holt said, accounting for about 50 percent of sales. “It’s the most popular on the high-tech, high-end side,” he said.
Suggested retail prices for G. Loomis salmon and steelhead rods range from around $200 to $600.
Though G. Loomis fly rods can top $1,000, the big price tag attracts some anglers, Holt said. “The cost of the rod is almost a badge of honor.”
The company sells through dealers; its sales and marketing office is in North Carolina.
Holt said weak runs of fish in local rivers do translate into fewer sales, though downturns in the overall economy aren’t as much a factor. “For the people who can afford our rods, when times get bad, they get away from it and go fishing,” he said.
Just up the street from G. Loomis is Composite Ventures, owned by Gary Loomis the man.
As North Fork Composites, the company makes 500 models of rod blanks. Composite Ventures also sells 300 models of finished rods under the Edge brand.
“We make rods for every fish in the world,” Loomis said.
As with his previous company, Loomis targets the upper-end angler. “I pick my customers as the top 15 percent in the industry who catch 90 percent of the fish,” Loomis said.
Edge rods are sold online directly to consumers — but not through dealers. That way, Loomis said, the company can hold the cost to consumers down and concentrate on quality. For instance, Edge rods come with synthetic handles because the commonly used cork insulates the feel of a strike from the angler’s hand. Titanium line guides are lighter than steel and thus improve a rod’s sensitivity.
Edge salmon and steelhead rods range in price from $225 to $350.
In addition to fishing rods, North Fork Composites makes oars, hiking poles, gun barrels and radio antennas.
Composite Ventures produces about 500 blanks and 350 finished rods per day, Loomis said. The company is outgrowing its space on Down River Drive and plans to move to a new location near the Woodland Walmart next year.
But Loomis has no intention of building rods anywhere else but Woodland. “I don’t think about going overseas,” he said. He’d rather stay local. “It’s good for America.”