“Make sure you’re keeping tension on it.”
It was familiar fishing advice in an unusual setting. Because I wasn’t standing on a boat, but in the shop of Snake River Custom Rods owners Ricky and Goldie Prieto. And the line I was keeping tight wasn’t attached to a fish—it was the thread holding the guides in place on my first handmade fishing rod.
Custom rod building has become quite popular in the fishing community, and the Prietos are among the top Idahoans in the trade. Ricky has been building rods for nearly a decade, and he turned his passion into a family side business by launching Snake River Custom Rods in 2019.
“We enjoy building and we enjoy spending time together in the shop,” Ricky said. “To us, it’s an art.”
The Prietos transformed their garage into a complete rod maker’s lab, featuring a paint booth, a wood lathe, various saws, hundreds of rods in all shapes and sizes, a laser engraver, 3D printers and a wall filled with the colored threads used to customize each rod design.
For my build, we chose an ice fishing rod (tis the season!). It started out as a 31-inch fiberglass “blank,” but in short order, we selected a reel seat, rod tip and guides to match. For my guide threads, I honored my alma mater with a blue-and-orange theme. I even got to add my Tight Lines 208 logo!
Before we started putting this thing together, I had to ask—other than satisfying a creative itch, why go through all this trouble to build a fishing rod?
“There are a lot of advantages,” Ricky said. “You get better components and have more design control than purchasing something that’s bulk manufactured. The quality and functionality are better—and there’s something really satisfying about catching a fish on a rod you designed and built.”
Prieto proved his point right away with a “spine test” on my rod. Every fishing rod has a natural curvature it wants to follow. By building the rod on spine, you maximize its efficiency anytime it bends or loads, which leads to better performance casting and fighting fish. Store-bought gear—even the expensive stuff—often comes slightly off-spine.
Once we were on-spine, my reel seat was attached fairly easily with tape and epoxy. The most time-consuming part is hand-wrapping the guides onto the rod with thread. For an experienced pro like Ricky, wrapping each guide only takes a minute or two. For a novice like me, it took about 20. But with patience and some help from the experts, a cool-looking ice rod began to take shape. With everything in place, we sealed the guide threads with brush-on epoxy, which cured on a spinning rack for 24 hours.
“I really like that rod,” Ricky said. “Ice rods are tricky because they are so small. Obviously, you’ll get better and faster with more builds under your belt, but that rod is going to catch a lot of fish!”
Snake River Custom Rods builds everything from ice rods to big sturgeon rigs. The Prietos customize 60 to 80 rods per year, and there are some beauties. During my build, Goldie was fashioning a yellow, red and blue, Wonder Woman-themed rod. The intricacy of her thread weave pattern is unbelievable!
In addition to building custom rods (which make great gifts) the Prietos also perform repairs, sell individual rod components and offer rod building classes for anyone who wants to give it a try.
For me, the process was more intricate than I ever imagined. But I enjoyed my time in the lab, and thanks to a little elbow grease and a lot of good coaching, I have a shiny new, custom-built ice rod.
After the hours I spent wrestling with thread and epoxy, I can’t wait to put it to the test. Tight lines!
Interested in building or ordering a custom fishing rod? Check out Snake River Custom Rods on Facebook or call Ricky Prieto at (208) 283-1920.