Just good enough just doesn't fly with Bill Poe, and fishermen all over the country are glad he takes that attitude toward his work.
Although some fishermen get discouraged trying to find Poe's little shop at the end of West Perry Road, once they get there and order one of his custom-made fishing rods, they often weave back down the long, gravel road for another one.``You can find good rods in the stores,' Poe says, ``I'm not saying you can't, but it's kind of hard to find exactly what you want in the store. That's the whole thing. If you know a custom rod builder, he can build you any kind of rod you want.
``A lot of people have a favorite rod they broke, and they just can't find another one like it without having it built. Some of the rods, like long, one-piece surf rods, they just don't have them in the stores.'
Recently Poe ordered a $150 blank for a two-piece fly rod, when he noticed a slight warp to it. Some people would say, ``Well, it's good enough.' But not Poe. He sent it back to the manufacturer.
Also, rods have strong and weak sides to them, and Poe says he takes care to put the guides on the correct side - depending on whether it's a spinning or casting rod - whereas a factory manufacturer may not.
For freshwater rods, he uses cork handles. And all of his rods are made with top-quality guides and most are made of G. Loomis graphite blanks.
``Anybody in fishing knows that's the best blank,' Poe says. ``If they know anything about a fishing rod, they know that's as good a fishing blank as there is on the market. And another thing that means a lot to me is it's made in America.'
Many of the best fishermen in this area use Poe's rods. In fact, in the Operation Bass Red Man Tournament's Piedmont division, which is composed of men primarily from Virginia and North Carolina, at least eight of the top 30 qualifiers used Poe's rods, he says.
People as far away as Virginia and South Carolina drive to Poe's shop to order rods, but he also ships a few of his rods to dealers in several other states. He has even shipped components as far away as Panama, to some men stationed there who wanted to build their own.
Poe, 53, always has been an avid fisherman, but didn't begin building rods until about 16 years ago.
``My boy broke a fishing rod, and I fixed it, and I decided to build me one. My boy saw it and wanted it, so I built him one, and that's the way it started.'
About three years ago, Poe decided to quit his job as a furniture upholsterer and craft fishing rods full time.
The only drawback with his new profession is he doesn't have time to accept invitations for fishing trips, which invariably come from the people who buy his rods.
``Some of the best friends I've got, that's how I met them, building fishing rods. They've been friends since.
``I don't get to go too much, but I get invited on some good fishing trips if I had the time to go. They ask you to go fishing, but they're in a hurry for their rods.'
Because his job keeps him so busy, Poe can't keep up with all the new technology in fishing, nor does he know the best ways to catch some fish. But if a man comes in and knows what he needs, Poe says he usually can make it.
One fisherman recently sent Poe a snapshot of himself playing a bonefish in Mexico with a rod Poe built him. The shot shows the light rod curving sharply, as guides along its length give it support.
``They caught snook, tarpon, bonefish and didn't have any problems,' Poe says. ``He picked the rod out and everything. He knew exactly what he wanted. If a man knows what he wants that makes it a lot simpler, because I've never been to Mexico bonefishing.'
Some fishermen do build their own rods, and Poe says he's beginning to sell more components for people who want to try. But often, once they get started, they realize there's more work involved than they had thought.
Wrapping the nylon thread around the guides is the most tedious aspect of building a fishing rod, especially when adding a different color of thread for the trim. It comes unraveled easily, and once that happens five or six times, you want to quit, Poe says.
In addition to wrapping thread around the guides and putting on handles, the rods require two coats of color preservative and two or three coats of finish. Poe builds the rods, and his wife, Mary Ruth, puts on the finish.
While fishing has evolved into a science, rod wrapping has become more of a craft. Poe can create elaborate spiral or diamond designs with metallic-colored threads.
``You can get just as fancy as you want with it. A lot of times, they want the colors to match their boats.'
Whether making a 6-foot, medium-to-heavy action casting rod for bass fishermen in the Piedmont or sending materials to military men stationed in Panama to build their own, Poe has established himself as a leader in this small industry. He may not get rich, but around here, at least, he's famous among fishermen.
In Poe's mind, that's about perfect.