Last summer on the Columbia River, Kaitlyn Monroe had her hands full with a hard-charging salmon! Her husband, Bill Monroe Jr., coached her through the battle — he also voiced supreme confidence in his wife’s ability to catch the fish.

“Oh yes, Kaitlyn’s caught many chinook salmon, so she knows her stuff,” said the longtime guide. He also made sure that Kaitlyn used all the right gear — including the best fishing rod that money can buy.

Bill offered, “You want a rod that not only handles the fish but controls the fish too. It’s a critical piece of gear that must work well because you rely on it time after time. So, quality is everything! A well-made rod allows you to enjoy the unique thrill of fighting the fish.”

Bill’s clients use fishing rods that are most certainly unique, not only for their colorful appearance and solid construction, but when you look closely. Each rod tells a story, starting from the name: Wraptor Rods.

Bill said, “That name equals quality and trust! It’s the only rod my clients use!”

Jay Johnstone, owner of Wraptor Rods, is a one-man rod-wrapping machine.

Each fishing rod that he builds from the blank up is an original. His artistic and creative talents provide anglers lasting memories that reach beyond a day in the outdoors.

At home in the Washington County countryside, Johnstone explained: “If you are coming to me for a rod, you’re coming because you want something that’s personalized to you … and that’s the big reason my business is growing.”

Inside his workshop, bins of dyed-feathers and spools of colorful nylon thread stack the shelves — and it’s those feathers that make Wraptor Rods rise above the rest.

He builds rods for every species of fish; “From trout to tuna,” he said with a broad smile. Wraptor Rods custom fishing rods are built with the “best components in the industry,” according to Johnstone. He added: “From the Rain Shadow blank, to the Alps reel seats, to the Telaxium handles, Wraptor Rods are built to last.

But laying down the feathers on a thin rod blank takes delicate dexterity, keen eyesight and a steady hand to get each feather placed just right.

Johnstone said he “paid his dues” with many mistakes in his early days: “Botched jobs taught me many lessons — mostly how not to apply the feathers and other personalized features.”

These days it’s a much different story as Johnstone has streamlined his operation and now proudly boasts he can apply the feathers and wrap the guides on a rod blank in under an hour.

“Still, I have to admit,” said the longtime rod builder. ”My hands do start to hurt after about a hundred rods. Still, I like doing this — at first, it was just a hobby and now that it’s a business, I really enjoy it because the rods make people smile.”

Wraptor Rods has been Johnstone’s passion for more than a decade and he has built thousands of rods — all by hand. He likes to say, “Like your fingerprint, no two Wraptor Rods are the same!”

It is the creative challenge that keeps him on his toes in the fishing game: “You have to understand, I’m not making the same rod every day. I build something different every day, so I must constantly churn out new ideas — that’s what really keeps me going.”

His custom rods are priced in the $280-$330 range, and the business is growing strong. His retail sales are off-the-charts successful, doubling in sales each year.

And yet, Johnstone said the business is not about “pumping out” new rods each week, it’s about making customers happy with their customized gear.

“It’s about the people not the paper,” said Johnstone, adding: “As soon as you get more worried about the paper end of this thing, you’re no longer creating a product that people will love and enjoy.”

He admitted that the idea of using feathers to personalize fishing rods just came to him one day. “I was repairing one of his father’s rods and thought, wouldn’t it be great to jazz this up a bit with a new look and maybe add a feather or two from my dad’s recent hunting trip.”

He had created a family heirloom — a fishing rod that his father could use and at the same time, he would always be reminded of a successful hunting trip.

“That rod is going to be around for a long time and it will be handed down and handed down. There is a unique story about its construction and that will resonate with future generations of my family. That’s cool because, in a way, dad will never be forgotten!”

Back in Bill’s boat, he showed off another proud family possession: his dad’s Wraptor Rod. “It’s an orange-ish blank because my dad is an Oregon State University alum. And then down here, just above the rod butt, those are miniature photos of the ship and Navy plane that my dad served on during the Vietnam War. The thread colors on each of the guides duplicate the many Navy battle ribbons that dad was honored with during his time in the U.S. Navy. It makes it a lot more of a personal experience.”

Personal, useful and gorgeous art that adds up to something far more than a stick to catch a fish. Wraptor Rods are family heirlooms and Oregon originals.

about author Grant McOmie

Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

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