Updated: Aug 22
After more than 32 jumps as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, various deployments overseas (mostly pre-9/11), and a post-military stint as an engineer, disabled veteran Scott Belisle of White Haven, Luzerne County, took a leap of faith and followed his passion for fishing and he built a better mousetrap.
Not actually. But he does own a patent for fishing rod blank design that sets his rods apart from the rest, and his growing customer base is snapping up rods as fast as he can build them. Belisle is one of the very few people in America manufacturing fishing rods from scratch.
In 2009 he decided to build a fishing rod like no other. “I wanted to show people what it’s like to have a good quality American-made rod in their hands,” he said.
“I tell people it was two-and-one-half years of blood, sweat and tears, and many prototypes to perfect the process that goes into my rods. I didn’t rest until I came up with a good product.” All rods are covered for breakage or damage for 20 years.
“I made a lot of phone calls to the folks in the composites and resins industry and did a lot of research on my own, and finally came up with the combination of materials that I wanted to put into my rod blank.”
“Many people mistake me for a custom rod builder, I’m not. I make the blanks, so I’m considered a manufacturer. I make all these rods by hand right here in this shop,” he said.
Belisle designed all his mandrels, which are lengths of tapered stainless steel and are basically a male mold of a specific rod. “I have a different mandrel for all 23 rod styles I make,” he said. Lehigh Fishing Company rods range from short ice fishing rods to an 11-foot surfcasting rod. “I apply carbon fiber, a material used in the aerospace industry because it is strong and light, over the mandrel that has been coated with a resin, and that’s where the rod begins.” he said.
“The layers of carbon fiber determine how stiff you want the rod to be,” he said. “What we call in the fishing industry “hoop strength”.” Hoop strength is the rod’s ability to stay round when under a load. When you put a rod under load, you want it to oval a little, but you don’t want it to go overboard so that it fails.”
“Once the mandrels are laid up with a specific amount of materials, they go into the oven at nearly 300 degrees for two hours. Once that’s done, the blank is extracted from the mandrel and sanded.”
“For each rod, I have targeted diameters along the blank from butt to tip. I’ll use calipers to get to my tolerance, which is within three thousands of an inch or half the thickness of a piece of paper,” he said. “Then it gets a couple of coats of clear coat, and I continue building the rod.”
“A big distinct difference between the baitcasting and spinning rods, and the fly rods, is the blank construction. With the spinning, casting conventional rods, I have what’s called the hybrid construction where I use carbon fiber and fiberglass. So you’re getting the best of both worlds. You are getting the carbon fiber’s performance and a much stiffer and lighter material, but you’re also getting a little of the fiberglass’s durability. Production rods come with traditional guides,” he says, “but I also offer AirWave guides. My customers love them, and these guides allow you to throw lighter lures further since the line is so much freer flowing through the guide train.”
“With the fly rods, I have two distinct layers of carbon fiber in the blank. There’s the standard base layers of the carbon, and then overtop I have another type of carbon, so you’re getting two different types of carbon in a fly rod. These rods are fast. But in my mid-flex five wt., I designed that to be a little slower, so it has a slower taper. It’s not as fast, but it’s nice for delicately laying in dry flies,” he says.
“And my little seven-foot, three wt., is even softer yet. That’s more of a full flex, and that’s even a slower taper on that mandrel to allow that nice slow action on that fly when you are trying to fish in tight quarters,” he said. “I named that rod the Mud Run because that’s tight quarters fishing. Like when you got mountain laurels on both sides of that creek, and when you’re not doing any false casting, you’re doing a lot of rolling and flipping, and that nice light full flex is easy to get your fly out.”
“My fly rods come standard with the recoil guide, and that’s nice for the winter steelheaders such as myself. When you’re out there in the wintertime and get ice buildup on your guides, you can just pop the ice right off,” he says.
“I had both of my shoulders rebuilt when I was in the Army,” he said. “I do a lot of fly fishing, and I can’t have a rod that I have to do a lot of the work with because it puts a lot of strain on my shoulder, so I created rods that are very user friendly.”
“I’m a very passionate fisherman,” he said. “I’ve been a fisherman my whole life. I fish for anything that swims. It doesn’t matter what it is, where it is, and even though I’m sending rods all over the country now, I still try to find time to fish. I’m making and selling between 150 and 200 rods a year. It took a while to get my name out there, but as people are buying and using my rods and telling their friends, and with social media, it’s just made things explode for me.”
For more information www.lehighfishing.com.
For over 28 years, Alex Zidock and his wife JoAnne have hosted the TV show "Out in the Open," which can be seen on BRCTV 13 in the Pocono Mountains and BRC 11 in Lancaster, PA. Not your typical "hook and bullet" type of show, "Out in the Open" sheds more light on people, their backgrounds, what they do, and how they do it. The video version of this article about Lehigh Fishing Company can be viewed on their YouTube channel with numerous other segments they have aired in the past.