Field work and years of practice have helped Wayne Harrell of Tarboro hone his craft as a high-end fishing rod maker and repair expert.
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Field work and years of practice have helped Wayne Harrell of Tarboro hone his craft as a high-end fishing rod maker and repair expert.

Harrell emphasizes quality of gear

By John Henderson

Staff Writer

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For decades, Wayne Harrell has been building and repairing fishing rods.

They last so long that he is now refurbishing some that were purchased in the early 1970s, he said.

The lifelong Tarboro resident operates Harrell’s Fishing Rod Repair Service and Custom Rods.

The rods aren’t cheap, selling for about $250 each, but their quality, strength and longevity far surpasses the rods and reels coming out of China these days, he said. He makes rods that are tailored to the buyer.

“They are custom made,” he said. “I make any length you want, any size you want. I can put your name on it.”

Since 1972, he’s been building rods and reels mainly for freshwater fishing.

“Now I’m getting into a lot of refurbishing ones I built in 1972, 1973, 1974,” he said. “People are still using them. A lot of them have been passed on to their children.”

Since his rods and reels last for decades, they are a good investment.

“The material and the way it is put together (is better),” he said.

His fishing rods come in an assortment of sizes and colors.

“They tell me what color they want, and I build some college rods, East Carolina rods, Virginia Tech rods, North Carolina rods,” he said. “I can make the colors of any school. I got school decals I can put on them.”

Harrell, 71, has been fishing the waters in and around Tarboro and the Tar River.

“Most of the rods I make are freshwater rods,” he said. “I’m not really into big, 12-foot surf rods. I mostly make fresh water rods for bass, trout, stripers, shad. Shad come up the spring that’s a big thing.”

It’s been his long-time side business, which he can devote a little more time to lately. Last January, he retired from his longtime job as a salesman for Smithfield Foods.

“I was born here, went off in the military and came back and sold meat for 51 years,” Harrell said.

Q: What products or services do you provide?

A: I build custom rods and also repair anybody’s rods. I offer repair service and building, more repair than building.

Walmart has driven down prices of rods so low makes it difficult to sell a $200 dollar fishing rod any more, so my business is a lot bigger in repair now than building. It used to be big in building, but building is kind of going away because of price differences in what they make in China and what I can build.

My rods are mostly now given as birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, retirement gifts. But years ago, I did a lot of rod building. I’m working on a fly rod now for a gentlemen, but it’s really pricey. Stuff out of China is so cheap and that’s all a lot of people want.

As far as rod repair, anything that is broke on a fishing rod I’ll repair it. I do a lot of restoring. I have one I’m restoring that their grandfather gave them, an old bamboo fly rod. I’ll restore it and make it look new again.

If the guys says, ‘I want a 7 foot ultralight rod,’ I’ll make it for him. I’ll put his name on it, fix it up real pretty.

I do a lot better work than the Chinese. But I don’t blame a guy who is going to fish once or twice a year from going and buying a $20 rod.

My rods last longer. I’m restoring ones now I built in the early 1970s and they are still fishable. I just go in and put new hardware on them, freshen them up and make them look good.

I’ve been building rods for many years. When I was fishing in the 1970s, I couldn’t find a rod like I liked in stores. I saw in magazines where you could order components. I started building some on my own and then for some friends.

Q: Who are your key leaders?

A: I am the rod company.

Q: How many people do you employ?

A: One.

Q: What is your business philosophy?

A: Make good stuff, tell the truth. I tell them like it is. I guarantee these rods, workmanship for life, not the material. You bring it back 30 years later and something is wrong with the workmanship, I’ll fix it.

Q: What makes your business unique?

A: They are better quality (than those sold in stores), and they are custom made.

Q: How has your business grown?

A: The repair is really doing well. I’m doing repair work for a couple of tackle shops that take (rods) in, and I go pick it up and carry it back to them fixed. I’d rather do repair than building. I make more money doing repair. It takes probably five man hours or maybe more to build a custom rod.

Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?

A: It is a side business. I’m happy what I’m doing. Some people make a living at it, but I’ve never gone into that. If you make a living at it, you have to find a clientele that would pay that kind of money for it. I’ve never really gone out and looked for that.