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A Primer on TFO Rods: What Makes Us Different

Editor’s Note: TFO Bass Category Manager Collins Illich discusses TFO rods and a little bit about what we do and how we do it. Enjoy. …

Talking fishing rods should be fun. Sadly, we all get caught up in industry jargon and techno-babble that can be at best, confusing and, more likely, misleading. TFO wants it to be fun and easy for our anglers.  When we talk rods, we want our anglers to understand why the rod was made. Keeping it fun means we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the modulus of the material, flag patterns, resins or mandrels.  What we do talk about is what a rod does. We want our anglers to be armed with the correct tool for the specific job.

If you want to talk about the specs of an individual rod or why it was made the way it is made, our support staff in Dallas is always around to help. But, you won’t see this information in our catalogs or on our website. What you will see is why a rod was made the way it is.

TFO has unique capabilities based on having their own factory. It provides TFO the opportunity to work with materials our designers demand, control quality and consistency and to experiment with cutting- edge materials before they hit the market.

TFO has had the same factory from inception. It has made all our rods for our 21 years in the industry. Industry icons and TFO designers Gary Loomis and the late Lefty Kreh both acknowledged that our engineer, B.J. Im, is “the finest rod engineer they ever worked with.” B.J.’s production and design oversight is crucial to our success. Working closely with TFO’s worldwide design team, B.J. oversees daily operations, controls and most exciting, development.

Consistency from our factory means defects are minimized. Every rod is loaded and specs are confirmed before it is prepped for delivery. The few defects that make it down our production line are tossed and don’t get into our anglers’ hands.

Consistency is everything when it comes to warranty, too. Damaged rods are turned around within 48 hours. Our team inspects every section, replaces damaged sections and finally assembles the entire rod and puts it under load.  Each rod is thoroughly tested and inspected before being boxed up and shipped out.  Ferrules are ground to 1/10,000 of-an-inch tolerances. That consistency allows for a simple swap of a damaged section with a new one.

TFO is already gearing up for ICAST in July and the 2019 consumer show circuit. Check our schedule online or follow us on Facebook for updates. Drop by one of our shows or better yet, drop in on one of our dealers to check out the lineup. Our gear line covers everything from ultra-light trout to 50-pound class with bass, walleye and inshore in between. TFO’s fly lineup has the right tool for you, from bluegill to tuna.

Want to know more about our rods or have a question, then let us know with a comment on below or on one of our social media pages.

Another Perspective on Lefty by Rick Pope

I met Lefty Kreh back in the mid-80s on a hosted trip to Turneff Island in Belize to learn more about bonefish and fly fishing in saltwater. Flip Pallot and Mark Sosin joined us in a week of the absolute worst bonefishing trip ever — but one that I’ll never forget.  I met Flip first – as Lefty suggested Flip as a guide on my first trip to Florida in the early ‘80s. Like all who met Lefty, he was and has been a friend since.

A career change and my entry into the fishing business in 1995 meant that I would see much more of Lefty and, like all of us, I clung to every piece of fishing advice that he so generously dispensed. He honored me with acclaim for TFO’s entry into rods that were “affordable” – as he lived a frugal life and he believed affordability would allow more folks to enjoy the sport.

Our friendship grew along with our opportunities to spend time together at various fly-fishing events around the country. Lefty’s personality, people skills, humility and candor began to impress me even more than his casting skills.  His interest in TFO’s affordable concept also grew, and ultimately, I decided to write him a letter and beg him to join us and help design our rods. That was in late 2002. Unfortunately, he suffered a “minor” stroke just before Thanksgiving, so I delayed my pitch. Then between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he suffered his first heart attack. Not wanting to add to his stress so again, I delayed.

I got a report in mid-January where Lefty performed at the Denver ISE show that he was in fine form. He even shared with everyone the story of both the stroke and heart attack.  So I sent the letter. He replied with a phone call “I can’t say yes, but I’m not ready to say no. Can we talk about this for a while?” What was essentially an interview with Lefty lasted almost a month and consisted of much more than rod design and concept discussions. Life stories, family, relationships and business philosophy dominated the many conversations we had. Not one mention of money was made. Ultimately, he called me in late February and confirmed that he made the decision to leave his rod company of 20 years and would enjoy helping us with rod design. The press release was written February 25, 2003 – the day before his 78th birthday – and TFO’s business world changed dramatically.

By that point, we had established a good consumer following – although many dealers and certain rod companies threw stones at us for being Korean made and “too cheap.” I even had advice, or a threat, from one dealer that we needed to raise our price, that the rods are too good for their price. Even more upsetting were the complaints levied against Lefty for working with a cheap rod importer.  Our exclusive Korean factory was (and still is) owned by a brilliant engineer who both Lefty and even Gary Loomis claimed is one of the best they’ve ever worked with.

With the benefit of hindsight, splitting design from engineering proved to be very beneficial. Lefty could see transition issues in a rod by analyzing loop and shock wave issues in the fly line.  He could quite accurately predict where within the blank such issues exist – and how much line weight or fly resistance caused them to appear. To this day, I’ve never seen another with such an intuitive understanding of rod dynamics.

His first trip to Dallas was in March of 2003 and involved three days of evaluating every rod we had while we took detailed notes on action, performance, power and finish out. Changes and modifications were made while he took over the design of our prototype TICR series that, after six different 8-weight prototypes, we were able to introduce the family at IFTD in September.

Lefty proved to be more than the “pied piper” with consumers following him as he would call and ask, “Do you know Ed Jaworowski … then Nick Curcione, then Bob Clouser, Jake Jordan and Flip Pallot? They might be interested in working with us and each has excellent insight into rod design.” Through the 15 years and one month Lefty worked with us, we prototyped over 2,000 rods and he gladly accepted final responsibility for every one we’ve introduced. We became a true family, with epic sales meetings, dinners, stories and jokes – all because of Lefty.

Our incredible family of Advisory Staff members – four of whom are inductees into the IGFA Hall of Fame – have ideas and solutions to enhance rod performance and fishing enjoyment. Lefty always enjoyed the group discussions whether small or all inclusive. From talking knots with Cliff Pace and Larry Dahlberg to rod design with Flip Pallot and Gary Loomis to casting with Ed Jaworowski, he learned, taught and made us all better people. Ed, as one of his closest friends, convinced him to join us on an epic three-year production of The Complete Cast DVD set and watching its evolution remains as one of my life’s highlights.

He loved women and always seemed to pick one out of the crowd when on stage while claiming he could “teach any woman he wasn’t going with or married to” how to fly cast unlike “hardheaded guys who don’t listen well.” Lefty even coached a Catholic girls’ basketball team for a while after his return from WWII.  He always claimed, however, that his greatest catch was Evelyn – his wife and best friend for 65 years. Ev Kreh passed away November 25, 2011 after several years of declining health that caused Lefty to limit the length of his travels as he didn’t want to be away from her for more than two nights. With her passing, he came to Dallas the following weekend for an event with our major dealer, and we met a couple with a lodge on Ascension Bay that offered great permit fishing. We booked for the spring of 2012 and I caught my first (and only) two permit the same day with Lefty as my boat partner. After that, we always kept a couple of trips planned and enjoyed many until his health and lack of stamina began to slow him down.

Over the past few years, I came to realize that Lefty was much more than one of the best fly casters, teachers and rod designers in the world. His humility, people skills, passion and insights proved to be incredibly valuable to me as well as all who were fortunate enough to know him well. I regret that I never begged him to write the Lessons on Life book. I was blessed to work with him for the past 15 years and I pledge that his teachings on life will eternally remain part of our corporate ethic as his rod design influence will continue to exist in every TFO rod we make. May he rest in peace.