A peak behind The Vortex and into the future of R.B. Meiser Fly Rods with Bob Meiser, Nick Moses and Steve Godshall
What is the origin story of R.B. Meiser Fly Rods?
Bob: I was in construction for a lot of years, and when it wasn’t fun anymore, building rods was so much more fun. It was right after I’d moved here, maybe 1985. We moved for the steelhead. For these fish. I mean, I unrooted my whole family from northern Wisconsin, it was hard, but there wasn’t here. The rivers here, the ocean. It’s special. But I mean really, I’m one piece of this. Without Steve, R.B. Meiser wouldn’t exist. And, I mean, he’s finding guys like Nick.
Nick: I was working with my Dad, who was coming up here working with Steve doing fly rod building classes for Siskou Fly Fishers Club. My dad was coming up because Bob had someone leave so he was coming up to help out and keep things going. I was in Montana, not using my degree, working at a fly shop, so I would come out during the winters. Someone left, and my dad was retired, he didn’t want to do it, so I started helping out during my time out here. My dad, my grandpa and my brother built my first rod as a kiddo, but I didn’t come back to it until the mid 2000s.
Bob: Nick’s another embryonic gussie. (to be continued – STF)
How did you become interested and begin building Spey rods?
Bob: It’s kind of like the Gussie from “The River Why” that was swimming around in amniotic juices knowing that he was going to swim around with salmon and steelhead. It’s in your blood. It’s in our brains. It’s in our psyche. My dad used to pick me up on his shoulders, cover me with a garbage bag with a hole cut in it for my head to fit through when it’d rain, so I could stay dry.
I started building rods in grad school. The first time I ever saw a two-handed rod was on the south shore of Lake Superior in 1976. In those days, we’d get up in the lake bluffs, get out our binocs, and search for pods of breaking Brown Trout. In the past, we’d been flipping Cleos at em’ with spinning rods, but then we got snooty and wanted to get all those fish using fly rods. But often, they were just out of reach for our fly rods. One day we came across an angler on the beach that was fly fishing like us, but he was using a two handed fly rod, and casting overhead. He was able to reach the cruising pods of Browns with little effort. I approached this angler and asked to see his rod, and the lines he was using. This was before graphite, and long before impregnated polymer sinking fly lines were available in the US. Turns out this angler was from Scotland, and he’d been fishing the south shore of for these Browns for several years, having relatives in Houghton/Hancock. These were Loch Leven strain Brown Trout, very similar to his native ocean run Browns of Scotland.
We immediately knew that we wanted rods like he had. I was very fortunate in that I lived very close to the St Croix rod factory in Park Falls Wisconsin. In those days you could buy a whole metal garbage bin of blank seconds for just a few bucks. Sometimes there were 25 or 30 culled blanks in each bin. They were all fiberglass blanks. I’d cut, and fit various rod sections up, and fit them together to create the length and actions that we wanted. Often the completed rods were made up of 4 or 5 fitted sections, with each section being a different color and length. We got our first two handed rods this way, and they worked just fine, being very similar to the rod that our friend from Scotland was using.
Nick: Man, I was a big single handed guy.
Steve: We corrupted him. Give up the one. Pick up the two.
Nick: When I got to Montana, I started to drift away from skiing to fishing. I went to school for fish and wildlife management, came out to work for one summer for ODFW, and I turned into a fish bum, and that was that. It really started with trout spey, after coming out here when my dad started working with Bob.
My first steelhead was that year, up on the Skeena.
Bob: Nick’s a prodigy. I watched him on that trip. We were up there, fishing bars for an entire day, and we were getting fish, but Nick wasn’t. So I started watching him. He was getting grabs, but he didn’t know it. So, one night we polished off a pretty good bottle of booze, stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, talking about what we were going to do the next day. The next day, Nick was like Zen and the Art of the Swing, just zoning, his karma dialed into the cosmos, the steelhead were entering his reality, and he got it. And then it came. The damn thing was an almost 20 pound hen, his first one, and he’s been f***ed ever since. I’ve got the pictures to prove it. He was running around hugging us, it was beautiful shit. Zen and the Art of The Swing.
Steve: If you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I didn’t really fish a day in my life until I was into my 50s, but when I get into something, I dive into things. I had a little bit of money, a lot of time, and so I began running rafts, fishing, got a few more clients and there we went.
What river would you consider your home river(s)?
Bob: I’ll go first. The Upper Williamson. It’s a trout river. In the glorious State of Jefferson, of which, I’m a firm believer, there’s not better place in the whole world, there’s no better place. It’s hard to explain.
Steve: It’s a mystical place.
Nick: Probably the Klamath. It was home for me for so long, and forever, I didn’t steelhead fish it, so now, I have a new attachment to it. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens there in the next few years.
Steve: The Rogue River, baby! 12 years. 200-plus days a year guiding. I’ve done it all, but the Rogue River gave me a lot of fishing knowledge, it taught me what I know about the lines, the rods, the clients, and I’ve had some great ones, and I’ve had some turkeys, they’ve all taught me so much. Sometimes, these guys, the good ones, they get a fish, and I’d find myself wondering, what did they see? What did they do? You can learn so much. That’s all the Rogue, my experiences on the Rogue. Guys like Brian O’Keefe, who used to tell me they could “feel” the fish, not just know it was there. Nick’s got some of that. There are guys that are just magical, fishy people. Nick’s one of those. I’m observant, sure; I measure; I scale. But some people just feel it, they can’t define it, but, they just have IT..
Which rivers have you never fished before that you would like to try?
Bob: Personally, I’d love to go and fish a really good eastern Canadian Atlantic salmon river. I’ve been to Russia, went there on a really cool format with a bunch of really crazy Russians, fishing the Kola and stuff, but I’d like to do that.
Nick: I’ve got a weird one, but I’d love to go to India. Cold water, high mountain fast water style stuff. I think they’re a member of the carp family (golden mahseer), but just big, powerful, gnarly fish, and I’d love to get out there and give them a go.
Steve: Guiding for so many years, seeing so much and meeting so many people and having so many experiences, my goals aren’t related to fishing. I’m here to foster R.B. Meiser into the future, to support Nick taking over, to take us all to the next level. Bob’s legacy will go on for 40-years. I was in the restaurant business before all of this, and legacy is important. Bob deserves a great legacy, and I’ve brought in Nick, and Nick is just killer. Legacy is important. I’m almost 75 years old, we’re both getting down to the nitty-gritty here.
Bob: We want to do things for us, but we also want to do this for the people we love, to leave something behind that we’re proud of.
What does a perfect day fishing look like to you? Paint us a picture. The place, the rod, the river, the fly.
Bob: I just did it. Yesterday. I want to Yamsi Ranch (Upper WIlliamson) It’s such a cool fucking thing. It’s a husband and wife, and what they have is a very rare thing. Extremely rare case, there might not be another place like it. They’ve got a total grip on what’s remaining of habitat for high desert redband trout. They’ve got all of what it takes to maintain the legacy in central Oregon. They’ve got habitat. They’ve got nursery areas, propagation areas, spawning areas. I just walked it all, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. But you can fish it, and release redbands on dry flies. It’s a legacy that needs to be carried on. I’ve had so much fun, I mean, that’s where my ashes are going to go. I’m going tomorrow. This is really special. They have the opportunity to develop a controlled niche, where they can help what the fish can be.
Nick: Mine’s simple, really. Good company on a river to yourself. It’d be something like the Klamath, I’d fish a 12’6” CX, with one of Steve’s Scandoids on it.
Steve: My perfect day was many years ago on a creek in the Upper Rogue River, above where it flows into the mainstem. Dry flies. Any patterns. No steelhead, nothing I guided and worked with every day.
You have a long list of contributions to steelheading and spey rods, what do you consider the one you’re most proud of?
Bob: Ya know, look. In all regards, fishing is something you do to find joy in your life. Everything about it, the places you go are generally going to be beautiful, the select few friends you go fishing with are special. That’s a beautiful thing. Building rods, and you know, building custom lines, if it gives people enjoyment, and I’m a part of it, that’s a good thing, and I know Nick feels the same way. This isn’t a good way to get rich, to make a lot of money. A lot of people would say that. But we love it. You know we’ve got the same mentality, the same ilk of people. I might talk to 500 people a year on the phone that I don’t know who they are, but I know who they are. Know what I’m saying? People call us looking for answers, for help, and we can give that to them. It’s a beautiful thing.
Steve: Whatever I do, I’m always looking for what’s better, what’s more to go. The biggest thing has been the fly rod blank engineering. I’ve stumbled on a magic that no one else’s ever found. That, and the lines. I guide people and we’d fish in the morning. Then, during lunch, I’d sneaky-like re-rig their rods, with lines I’d packed along for the day. They’d go along fishing and, they’d work, and they’d ask, “what did you do to my rod!?!?!” I’d tell them, I didn’t do ANYTHING to your rod, I messed with your line. They’d demand to take them home. What I love to do, you see, the magic’s in the match. That’s my mantra. That was the start of my line business. I like to fix things. When I was in the restaurant business down in California, I used to work beside a shoemaker that worked in San Pedro. Frank was his name. He’d have people come in, and they’d want a pair of shoes, but he’d bring you in, and he’d measure both feet, and he’d dial everything in, and those shoes. Those shoes! The magic’s in the match.
Bob: (laughing) I didn’t know that story! That’s why you get a line with the rod. That’s Steve and my nightmare! Someone gets a wonderful rod, but they get a line from somewhere, and their line doesn’t work with the rod.
Steve: AND THEY BLAME THE ROD!
Bob: They’ll blame the rod and either don’t use it or sell it. All they had to do was talk to Steve.
Bob: All they had to do was take one more step. So, when I talk to clients, don’t even mess around. You called us because you want to learn something about the tools you’re using for your fishing environment, so, I’m going to tell you, if you’re there, I think this, and for lines, 99% of the time, they love it. The 1 percent? They’re probably just assholes, anyway.
Steve: That, and that I found Nick. Nick’s the best. He didn’t stumble here.
Nick: I just want to carry the torch, to pass it along to someone like me 40-years from now. Both of these guys have so much knowledge, I have two sensei’s, and they’re so different. Bob is sensitive and artistic; Steve is sharp and an engineer.
Bob: We’ve been 100-percent transparent from way back, from when I knew that Nick was obviously going to be the guy, it didn’t take long to figure that out, all you had to do was get to know him. All Nick did was be himself, he took the rods one at a time, and made every one perfect. You have this common problem, right? When you have a company with a name, and the person with the name is gone, it falls apart, yea? I wasn’t going to let that happen. It won’t happen.
What do you want to be your legacy?
Steve: I don’t want a legacy. I don’t want to be a king, I want to be a king maker. Bob is a king. Nick Is a king. I helped pull this together. I don’t want to be the king. I hope my legacy is that I made the spey game better. It doesn’t have to have my name on it. I don’t ever need to catch another fish, myself, but I want the game to go on. The spey game, to go on. I’m simple. I’m happy when I’m the man behind the scenes.
What will it take to conserve wild fish?
Steve: Oh that’s big time.
Bob: I’m going to speak here, in this regard. What we need to do, we need to listen to old people. And I’m not talking about old age people, I’m talking about old in the thousand-of years sense. The history of what our fisheries are, could be, and have been. One of the best examples of ancient knowledge being used is the Yurok people in the Klamath removing the dams on the Klamath. And I mean, I might cry here, and I apologize for that, but, I’m so proud of what they’ve done, by removing those f***ing dams. It would not have been possible without those people. It took such a long time for us to recognize as non-native people, to realize how valuable that watershed is, for so many reasons, infinite reasons, it took that old knowledge to make it happen. Without those native people, those dams wouldn’t have come down, and it’s going to be so remarkable to see what happens when they come down. And it’s every detail, the original river hasn’t flown through the original channels in 125 years, but it’s not just where the river flows. It’s the native riparian area. It has to be the right kind. It has to be correct. They’ve done such an amazing job and such amazing studies. Such an amazing job. I feel so lucky to be able to live to see these days.
Nick: I mean, I wrote an essay about this in middle school. It’s been that long since we’ve been talking about this. I can’t wait to see what happens. I think everyone, doing everything they can, and being river stewards, not loving it to death, that’s what’s key. I can’t wait to see what the Klamath looks like in 10-20 years. I’ve got to pinch myself.
Steve: It’s simple. Get rid of every dam. There’s never been a dam a fish liked; you can’t f*** with mother nature and hope for a better outcome! She’s got a game-plan. You want to screw with it? It’s not going to be good. You say the dam will be fine, you say we’ll start a hatchery and make up for it, but it’s not the same. Man playing god, it doesn’t work out.
What are your plans for the next 5 years?
Bob: Spending quality time with my dog, my wife and maintaining the friendships that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire over the years through this. I just want to still be able to be a good friend to them.
Nick: Mine’s all revolving around the business. I’m working to get us up near Bend, and carry on this legacy.
Steve: I’m here to set Nick up, get them to Bend, and I’m going to retire (again.) This is not a job, to me, at least. I love what I do. I don’t think of having a job. Now, I’m passing it along.
You’ve got a lot, enough for a few articles, I’m sure.
Swing They Fly: Yea. A few articles, A book. Maybe a movie.
Keep an eye out for future articles born from this conversation at SwingTheFly.Com