Come next spring, 20 Hutchinson High School students will have new fishing rods to take to their favorite angling spot.
They’ll fish with pride, knowing they made the rods in a science class at school. While building the rods, they learned about the outdoors and gained insights into engineering, chemistry and perhaps even physics.
“I learned it’s a lot harder than it looks,” sophomore Max Scheeler said Friday while wrapping colored thread to attach a guide to his rod. “It takes a lot of concentration to get it on straight.”
Scheeler is a student in science teacher Maria Nuthak’s Minnesota Wildlife and Natural Resources class. For the past three weeks, retired 3M engineer Chet Kiekhafer, a professional fishing rod builder, has been volunteering in Nuthak’s class, guiding the students to make their own custom rods.
For the first few sessions, Kiekhafer explained the types of rods and how each is used to catch various fish. Students then chose one of three types of rods to build.
When the rod blanks arrived, students got to work, attaching the grips, guides, tiptops and other parts. Kiekhafer explained how to locate the blank’s “spine” and why its location is important. His instruction also included the types of adhesives required, and how a final epoxy is used to coat the threads that connect the guides to the rod.
“That protects the thread,” he said. “There’s a lot of different adhesives being put on.”
By Monday, the students had completed their rods, putting anywhere from 15 to 20 hours into the project.
Each rod is unique, with students choosing thread colors and making other design decisions. Senior Megan Schlueter said she enjoyed the building process because she was able to “make it the way I want it.”
Kiekhafer, a member of the Custom Rod Builders Guild, learned about rod building from world-renowned craftsmen. After retiring, he formed Crow River Custom Rods.
“It’s an addictive hobby,” he said. “And then it gets to the point where you make it a business. I have rods all over the country.”
Supplies and equipment for the high school project came from several sources including the Crow River SnoPros snowmobiling club, the school’s REACH program, and the school. Students, except those in REACH — a program for students who want more focused academic and social support — bought their own rod blanks.
The rod building process required attention to detail, making the classroom unusually quiet.
“They’re concentrating,” Kiekhafer said. “They like working with their hands. They learned there’s a lot of different ways to come up with the same results.”