The following appears in the May issue of California Sportsman:
By Mark Fong
Anyone who has fished with me knows that I am super-particular about my tackle.
I have been known to spend hours respooling line, changing out split rings and hooks, rigging and retying baits, and just tinkering with tackle.
Truth be told: I am even more fanatical about my fishing rods. There is just something special about the way a well-designed and constructed rod feels in your hand and how well it performs on the water. Once I get the opportunity to fish a rod of this caliber, there is no turning back.
PROLITE ROD TECHNOLOGY: GETTING SPECIFIC ABOUT NEEDS A few months ago a friend told me about Prolite Rod Technology, a company located in Tumwater, Washington, a suburb of the capital city of Olympia. Of course, this sparked my curiosity, and after some internet research I made a call and ended up talking to the owner, Chris Wegeleben. He is a lifelong angler and former Alaskan salmon guide turned rod builder.
Prolite builds a wide variety of technique-specific rods for both salt- and freshwater applications, and as it turned out I just happened to be looking to upgrade a few of my older finesse bass spinning rods. I explained to Chris what I was looking for and he helped me select a few models that he thought would best suit my needs.
As a small semi-custom shop, Prolite does inventory some of their most popular models, but the bulk of their offerings are built to order, which allows the customer the flexibility to customize their build. Options include custom decals, custom color guide wraps and a selection of build modifications.
Once I placed my order, it took less than two weeks for my rods to arrive. When I unpacked the rod tube, I was stunned by what I saw. My SVX Bass Rods featured satin black graphite blanks paired with silver-framed guides and understated black wraps and silver accent decals. I ordered each rod to be built with split-grip handles. I am really pleased with the look of the graphite reel seat, the silver carbon insert and the silver CNC locking nuts.
A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
This past Northern California winter has been unlike any I can remember, starting with extreme drought and ending with record snow- and rainfall. All this water is certainly great for the fish, but perhaps not so much for the fisherman – at least in the short run. The constant barrage of precipitation has left the water muddy, cold and put the bass in a less than cooperative mood for this time of the season. But when I saw a small window of opportunity to get out on the water with my new Prolite Rods, I jumped at the opportunity.
The last time I fished Lake Berryessa was in November of last year. At that time, the lake was some 35 feet lower than it is now, a huge difference for Berryessa. When I launched my boat at Markley Cove, the water was right around 50 degrees and had a bit of stain to it. I headed up the lake and by the time I exited the Narrows, the water had turned downright muddy. I spent some time scouting midlake and near the Big Island, but the areas
I wanted to fish were blown out, so I elected to run back down toward the dam in search of better water clarity.
PLAYING WITH A NEW TOY
I found better conditions at the mouth of Wragg Canyon. By this time, I was anxious to put my new rods from Wegeleben to the test. I spent the bulk of the day fishing points, cuts and small flats on the way back towards Markley Cove, and I had an assortment of different finesse offerings. The fish were definitely scattered. One bite here, one fish there, but I could never find an area that held a good concentration of bass.
I had three Prolite Spinning Rods on the deck of my Ranger: an SVX72 UL-S, SVX72L-S and SVX76ML-S. I paired the 7-foot, 2-inch ultralight with a 2000-series spinning reel that I spooled with a 5-pound FINS braid mainline and a 4-pound Gamma top- shot fluorocarbon leader. I rigged each of the other two rods with a 2500-series spinning reel, 10-pound braid and 6-pound fluorocarbon leaders.
With the UL rod, I threw a small 3-inch swimbait and a variety of other small plastic baits on a 1/8-ounce darter head jig. I tied up a drop shot on the L and a finesse football-head jig with a twin-tail grub on the ML. While I fished all three rods extensively, on this day the bass showed a definite preference for a 3-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm rigged on the drop shot.
THE RIGHT SPOT
Overall, I was very impressed by the light weight and balance of each rod. The New Guide Concept System and the minimalistic split-grip handle were perfectly executed. The rod actions were precise and the blanks were supersensitive and splined perfectly. Aesthetically, the builds were as nice as any custom rod I own. Simply put, these Prolites fish as good as they look.
I am looking forward to putting in some serious work with these rods this spring. On a side note, I am looking for a new trout rod and I have a notion that Chris builds these too. After all, you can never own enough fishing rods. CS
Editor’s note: For more information on Prolite Rods, check out their website at proliterods.com and follow on facebook.com/ proliterods and Instagram (@proliterods).
Q&A WITH A ROD BUILDER
Chris Wegeleben lives and breathes fishing. Not only is he a highly skilled angler, the former Alaskan salmon fishing guide is an active member of the fishing industry. His company, Prolite Rod Technology builds performance-based, technique-specific rods for the fishing-crazed Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with Chris about his passion for fishing and his quest to build the best rods possible.
Mark Fong How did you get started in fishing? Chris Wegeleben My grandpa used to take me trout fishing at the local pond. I really started getting serious about fishing in my early teenage years, when my uncle started taking me to Montana and Idaho to go fly fishing. As soon as I could drive, my buddy Nolan Davis and I got a drift boat and we fished the rivers for salmon and steelhead at every opportunity we got. I then spent five-plus years as a salmon guide in Alaska.
MF What prompted you to start building fishing rods? CW We [buddies and I] really started building rods out of necessity. Back then, technique-specific rods were not a thing and we had to make do with whatever was available. One of the first rods we built was an ultralight side-drifting rod. We were basically building stuff that we couldn’t get our hands on. It was a lot of experimenting, building prototypes and finding what worked. Soon we figured out we had something pretty cool going.
We continued to build more and learn more and experience more fisheries and continued to expand. Over the course of time, we built a lot of rods for our buddies, then we started building rods for other people who appreciated what we were doing. They started spreading the good word and it just kinda took off from there.
MF Can you tell us about Prolite Rod Technology? CW Prolite started in 2017. We are a small rod-building company located in Tumwater, Washington. We pride ourselves in producing the best-quality products with the best customer service. We strive to better the fishing industry with a willingness to educate every level of fisherman. We want to teach others about the art and science of fishing.
We built 300 rods last year and are on pace to blow through that number; basically, we have doubled the number of rods we built during the last few years. Each rod is designed and built in Tumwater using the finest globally sourced blanks and components. We build for all fisheries – both fresh- and saltwater, and conventional and fly.
We occupy a unique space in the market. We are a hybrid production and custom rod shop. We have a full line of technique-specific production rods that are available through retail tackle dealers and online from our website (proliterods.com). Unlike traditional production rod companies, we have a custom side of the shop where we are able to do custom work at a cost similar to that of a comparable production rod. We do this by using our base build as a starting point, to which we have added a menu of custom upgrades.
MF Can you speak to the breadth of your overall rod lineup? CW We build rods for all of our Northwest fisheries, but our bread and butter is salmon and steelhead. With that said, we build a lot of trout, kokanee, sturgeon and bass rods as well. We also have a great deal of offshore angling opportunities as well, including: albacore, halibut and bottomfish. On top of that, we build a comprehensive line of technique-specific fly rods.
MF Finally, can you talk about some of your most popular or unique models? CW Our Northwest-style mooching rods definitely meet those qualifications. The trend toward using a downrigger and a single-action reels has definitely taken hold in (Washington’s) Puget Sound.
Our 10-foot, 6-inch SVX Float/Bobber Spinning Rod is an excellent all-around salmon and steelhead rod that covers all the bases. It’s perfectly balanced and just feels good in your hands.
We make a pair of downrigger kokanee trolling rods that are built on lower-modulus graphite blanks and finished with a spiral guide wrap. Unlike traditional fiberglass kokanee rods, graphite is quicker to respond to the movement and head shakes of the kokanee, making them more efficient in keeping the fish hooked up.
The Northwest has some excellent bass fisheries as well, particularly for smallmouth bass. Our 7-foot, 2-inch SVX ML action spinning rod is very popular. It’s a great all-around finesse rod. It fishes everything from Ned rigs to weight- less Senkos to drop shots. MF