By Terry Battisti
June 24, 2011
In bass fishing, as in life, there are doers and dreamers. Dreamers sit back and let life pass them by, all the while thinking of how they could change their life yet they don’t have the fortitude to get off the couch. Then there are the doers, people who get an idea in their head and will stop at nothing in order to see it through.
Successful anglers are never happy with the status quo. They’re always trying something different – be it a new area, new lake or new piece of gear. They strive to become efficient at all things bass fishing and the word quit isn’t in their vocabulary.
Gary Dobyns is a paradigm of this model. His intensity on the water and drive to win are feared by all who compete against him. He’s won over 100 tournaments and exactly forty boats in nearly 30 years of competition, making him a western legend.
I’ve followed Gary’s career for nearly 20 years and have called him a friend for close to 10. I’ve seen him fish all day in the sweltering sun of Lake Mead and then devote hours to talking with the media and fans, never hinting that he was tired and needed to rig tackle for the next day.
Four or so years ago, Gary started a rod line together with another major manufacturer. I knew that Gary’s drive and attention to detail would elevate the rod market to new heights. In 2009, he broke away to take the project solo, doing things the only way he knows how – the Dobyns way, no compromises.
How it all Started
Dobyns started messing with custom rods back in his early days of bass fishing in order to fill niches that weren’t available in stock rods.
“I’ve used custom rods forever,” he said. “When it comes to rods, I’m really picky and it was always difficult for me to find exactly what I wanted. Because of that, I’ve worked with a bunch of different builders over the years and have developed a lot of rods that fill certain needs.”
He’s also spent a lot of time with numerous companies over the years developing stock rods.
“I worked with ABU Garcia, Columbia River Outfitters, Competitive Edge and G.Loomis, to name a few. But even when I worked with these companies, I was still building custom stuff to fill my needs. There was always a need for something that couldn’t be found on the shelf at the tackle store.
“This was the driving point for me starting the business,” he continued. “I felt that if everyone could have rods like the ones I had custom made they could become better anglers.”
How it Almost Ended
But having his own business is more than making the perfect rod. It’s about doing everything the right way.
“Five years ago I just wanted to be a fisherman and business owner,” he said. “I approached Lamiglas because I have always respected how they do business and we’ve always been good friends. It became a 50/50 deal and all was great until we got a couple bad loads of rods. The blank manufacturer changed materials on us and the blanks broke.”
That’s when Dobyns took matters in his own hands. He bought out Lamiglas’ half of the company, shut the company down, recalled all the rods from the dealers and started from scratch.
“That was a bad time for me,” he said. “I put it out on all the bass forums and was very public about the problems we were facing. I wanted to make this bad experience right for everyone and just wanted the rods off the street. I knew the product was good until those two loads of rods. Unfortunately, there have been rod companies in the recent past that had the same issues as we did and they just put their heads in the sand. I wasn’t about to do that.”
Since then, Dobyns’ Generation II rods have proven their mettle.
“In all, it turned out fine,” he added. “The new rods are awesome and now I get to work with my family every day – it’s become a true family business. And, I also have to thank the Posey family (Lamiglas) for being so good to me. When we split Dobyns Rods off they were more than fair and remain close friends to this day.”
Lightness vs. Balance
Gary’s theory on rods is pretty basic but it’s one that’s been overlooked in the recent past with the industry drive to make rods lighter than air.
“My philosophy with rods has always been this: balance, feel and sensitivity,” Dobyns said. “I hope you noticed balance is my number-one criteria. You can have a light rod but if it’s not balanced its sensitivity decreases because your hand and arm are trying to compensate for the lack of balance.
“Also, if a rod isn’t balanced, it’s going to feel heavy in your hand. I can hand an angler a balanced rod that weighs more than a rod that isn’t balanced and I guarantee you they’ll think the heavier rod weighs less.
“That’s always been my main frustration over the years,” he said. “Although I wanted my rods to be light, I was always putting counterweights in my rods to balance them out correctly for the application.
“Now, working with my builder in Korea and the high-end materials we use, I can design a rod so I don’t have to add counterweights. All of our rods are light and balanced for the application.
“For example, our rods designed for cranking, jerkbaits and any other technique where the angler holds the rod tip low, are balanced slightly weight-forward. On the other hand, rods designed for techniques where the angler is holding the rod high are weighted slightly to the rear. This little attention to detail makes our rods more comfortable to fish over long periods of time.”
Dobyns has also figured out a way to balance his rods by strategically placing components rather than adding actual weights.
“Our rods are all balanced by strategic placement of components,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve dolled (that’s Okie for “bling,” folks) the rods up to look good but by doing so, I can place small amounts of weight where needed to balance the rod right. It takes a lot of weight to balance a rod if you can only add weight to the butt. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much weight added to the right spot on a blank to balance it correctly. That’s what our component placement does for us.”
The phrase “technique-specific” is overused in the bass fishing world. Since Dobyns claims to have 73 technique-specific rods, I asked him what the phrase means to him.
“Actually we make crossover rods,” he answered. “Our rods are designed with several specific techniques in mind. For example, a good jerkbait rod also makes a good crankbait rod. For each of those applications you want a rod that has a moderate-fast action that will bend through its midsection. This is important because in crankbait fishing, when you do hook a fish, you want the rod to act as a shock absorber so the fish can’t throw the hooks. The same is true when jerkbait fishing. Fish often swipe at a jerkbait and because of that they’re oftentimes not hooked well. The mod-fast rod will not pull the hooks out of the fish as much as a faster action rod.
“Jig rods are another beast. I want my jig rod to be fast action with a little bit of a tip. The reason for this is I want the hook to start penetrating as soon as I start my hookset. The same can be said about a frog or toad rod.
“In most cases, our rods are not one-technique specific like a lot of other companies state on their products. We list on the rod what I recommend using it for, which might be four or five different types of baits. That’s why I call them crossover rods.”
What Makes a Dobyns Rod?
“The best materials you can use,” Dobyns said. “To start off, the blank is the meat-and-potatoes of all rods. Without a great blank, you’ll never have a great rod.
“Our blanks are made with the best high-modulus graphite available for each rod and its intended application. We don’t use fiberglass scrim in our blanks like most companies do. We use only carbon scrim.
“The butt section of the rods has Kevlar for added strength and this also adds to the look of the rod,” he added.
“We have four fiberglass composite rods in our lineup. There are a lot of anglers who want a glass rod for cranks and jerkbaits. Our glass rods consist of a glass/graphite composite in the butt section which transitions to full glass in the forward 60 percent of the rod.”
For those curious, the builder of Dobyns Rods also makes blanks for two high-end Japan Domestic Market (JDM) companies (use your imagination here folks).
The high-quality doesn’t stop at the blank either. Dobyns uses three different grades of cork for his rods depending on the series. For the Champion Extreme series he uses AAA-grade cork, the Champion series uses A-grade and the Savvy Series utilizes B-grade. The difference in the three being the amount of fill added to the cork.
“Most people don’t have a clue what the cost of cork is but I like high-quality and want my customers to have it too,” he said. “Many customers are going to foam or EVA grips because of cost and availability of cork. But, I like cork and I fully believe it makes a better rod.
“Our guides are made by Kigan,” he said. “Kigan used to be a heavy hitter in the rod industry and now they’re coming back. Their guides are more readily available and I’m working with them to develop new guides that will eliminate a lot of issues pertaining to the way guides function.
“Most anglers don’t realize that guides can make up to half the cost of a rod. For our Savvy Series, we use alconite guides.” For those who don’t know about line guides, Alconite guides are the standard guide that has been used by the industry for years. It’s proven to be strong and sturdy yet remain light and smooth.
“For the Champion Series we use silicon carbide also known as SiC,” he said. “This material has long been thought of as the pinnacle of guide technology. It’s light, dissipates heat extremely well and is very strong and smooth.”
His Champion Elite series guides are what puzzle a lot of people, and for good reason. He uses zirconium inserts for this series.
“Our Champion Extreme Series guides are made out of zirconium,” he said. Most people think that zirconium guides are cheaper than SiC and this can be true in some cases. But, the zirc’ we use in our guides is actually a higher quality material than SiC. It weighs less and has better heat transfer properties than those of SiC. This is reflected in the fact they cost twice as much as SiC guides.”
Dobyns also uses aluminum trim rings for looks and longevity along with specially-designed hook keepers that won’t foul your line on a cast.
He doesn’t stop at high-end materials for his rods, though. His dedication to making sure you receive the best rod goes all the way through the shipping process. All of his rods are shipped from the factory to the pro shops in PVC pipe. The rods are fitted with a hypalon (foam) protector that covers the tip of the rod down to the third guide. Then the rods are tied in place inside of the pipe so they can’t slide.
“It’s an added cost but I’m all about the product reaching the customer in perfect condition,” Dobyns said.
Warranty has always been an issue with rods and unfortunately, always will be. The problem is most anglers don’t realize (or maybe they do) how roughly they treat these fragile pieces of equipment. Yet, when one breaks, even if it’s 5 years old, it’s never their fault.
Manufacture defects, with respect to blanks, mainly consist of small air bubbles that prevent good adhesion of graphite and/or glass to the resin. If this happens in the manufacturing process, the blank will break either the first time it’s tested at the factory, or within the first couple of trips out on the water.
Because there is always the possibility of a defective rod leaving the factory, Dobyns has in place a limited lifetime warranty.
“Warranties are a necessary evil,” he said. “What we do is offer a 100% warranty on manufacturer defects and a $60 charge on any rod that fails if it’s not a manufacturer’s defect.
“Manufacturer defects in the blank are going to show up really fast. But, if a reel seat becomes loose on the blank, we still consider that a manufacturer’s defect and will replace that 100%.
“What makes our warranty program so good is we take pride in getting replacement rods to our customers in a quick manner,” he said. “I know how tough it can be to have your favorite rod break – especially when you need it for an upcoming tournament.
Stay tuned for Part II where I talk to Gary and two of his National Prostaff members, Dave Lefebre and Clark Reehm, about why they like Dobyns Rods and what their favorite sticks are.
Click here for part two!