Tom Morgan, 76, crafter of detailed fly rods

HELENA, Mont. — Tom Morgan, a past owner of the R.L. Winston Rod Company whose quest to build flawless fly fishing rods continued long after he was paralyzed by multiple sclerosis, died of pneumonia Monday in a hospital near his home, said Matt Barber, who bought Mr. Morgan’s company earlier this year with Joel Doub. He was 76.

For the past five months, Barber and Doub have been Mr. Morgan’s apprentices in Mr. Morgan’s home workshop west of Bozeman to learn how to craft bamboo, graphite, and Fiberglas rods.


‘‘Tom’s legacy will be that he really brought modern rod building to the forefront, and a lot of his designs at Winston will be remembered forever,’’ Barber said.

Mr. Morgan’s philosophy was to make the best fly rod possible, regardless of cost — every detail, fit, and finish had to be perfect, Barber said. While other manufacturers were producing stiffer rods that are forgiving when handled by beginner anglers, Mr. Morgan created full-flex rods that acted almost as an extension of the arm of experienced fishermen.

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He described himself to Rodmaker Magazine in a 2003 interview as ‘‘totally uncompromising.’’ If he spotted a scratch or a blemish, the rod wouldn’t be sold.

‘‘You’d think that since I couldn’t go fishing I’d lose interest in it, but it’s always been a pursuit of perfection,’’ he told CBS News in 2014. ‘‘I know that I provided thousands of people with great enjoyment in their favorite sport. It almost brings tears to my eyes.’’

Mr. Morgan was born in 1941 in Hollywood, California, and five years later his family moved to Ennis, Mont., along the Madison River, renowned as a blue-ribbon trout stream. His parents ran a hotel that was frequented by avid fly fishermen, and he started guiding anglers at age 15.


He was a guide for 14 years, which he said helped him learn how some rods worked better than others.

But Mr. Morgan had only built one rod before buying San Francisco-based R.L. Winston Rod Company in 1973 with a friend he’d guided with. They moved the company to Twin Bridges, Mont., where Mr. Morgan pursued his craft for 18 years and turned the company into a renowned rod maker.

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