If you ask Kris Kristufek, your fishing rod should act as an extension of your arm as you fight a fish, and create a lever to help you bring in your catch. The handle should fit you like a glove, and the rod should be well balanced.
And while hours and hours can go into enhancing the aesthetic value of a fishing rod- and for Kristufek, it does- the technical aspect of a fishing rod “needs to be perfect,” Kristufek said.
Kristufek owns Lake Lady Fishing Rods, and he’s made more than 2,500 fishing rods that have shipped all over the world. His custom-built rods, made in a workshop at his Breezy Point home, are made specifically to fit the fisherman who will be using them.
“Manufacturers are building rods for the average fisherman- he’s five-foot, ten-inches tall, 160 pounds, has a size 9.5 shoe and fishes four times a year,” Kristufek said. While that model may work just fine for many fishermen, “it doesn’t describe the serious fisherman. So I have to build that rod differently.”
Since every person is unique, Kristufek builds every rod unique. He measures his clients’ arm and hand lengths to dial in the length and weight of the fishing rod he’s making. Those rods can range from fly fishing, to ice fishing, bass or pike rods. The materials, too, vary greatly. Often they’re graphite or carbon fiber, but bamboo is also a popular material.
Bamboo is not only a very delicate, but very expensive material for fishing rods. The special species of bamboo is split, dired, straightened and planed before six pieces are glued together to make the base of the fishing rod. Because of how labor intensive the process is, the price goes up.
“But it sure is fun to fish with,” Kristufek said.
While Kristufek seems to feel that the technical aspect of a fishing rod is the most important, he still spends plenty of time on making the rods’ appearance look fantastic. Many of the rods are wrapped in thread in intricate patterns and bright colors. Kristufek also inlays beautiful feathers onto the rods, and some of the thread designs he creates take the shape of salmon or other fish.
The handles of the fishing rods are made from layers of Portuguese burl cork, which is high-quality and comes in several colors. By layering the colors with, in some cases, abalone shell and birch bark, he creates an individual work of art. From the base of the handle to the smallest guide at the other end, the rods are works of art.
Kristufek didn’t start making rods until after his retirement, though he’s loved fishing ever since he was a child. After he retired, Kristufek said that he and all his friend,s who had also recently retired, were “climbing the walls trying to figure out what to do.” A friend suggested that Kristufek build a fishing rod, so he made his way to the Brainerd library to find everything it had about building fishing rods- which was all of two paragraphs.
But it was a start, and soon Kristufek had created his first fishing pole. “My first rod was atrocious,” Kristufek admitted. He kept it, though, and when he teaches classes he shows it to people to show that everyone’s got to start somewhere.
Kristufek kept building rods, and began to get serious with the hobby when then-governor Jesse Ventura was to visit the Breezy Point area for the Governor’s Fishing Opener. Marv Koep contacted Kristufek and asked if he’d make a fishing rod for the governor.
“It didn’t take but a split second to agree,” Kristufek said. He ended up building 8 rods, for the governor, luetenant governor, the governor’s wife, and several others.
Since then Kristufek’s spent a lot of years taking high-quality rod blanks and improving upon them. Today he insists that a fishing rod of his making will be one of the most sensitive rods you’ve ever fished with.
Fishermen, he said, are always trying to tell the difference between what their hook is hitting- a rock, leaf, blade of grass, or a fish.
“If you can’t tell what’s going on on the other side of the rod, you’re not going to catch many fish,” he said. “I want to transfer what’s happening under the water to the hand and to the brain.”
Today there are endless pieces of technology in a boat that are all meant to bring in fish- GPS, fish finders, the motor- but it’s the rod that puts the fish in the boat. To learn more about Kristufek’s Lake Lady Custom-Crafted Fishing Rods, visit www.lakeladyrods.com.