Clayton rodmaker Cashion lures avid anglers

 In February 2018

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When Matthew Cashion graduated with a doctorate in chemistry from Virginia Tech amid the recession of 2009, he created his own job opportunity: Cashion Custom Lures & Rods LLC, based in his Clayton one-car garage.

Ph.D. to angler hadn’t been the plan, but jobs were elusive and Cashion was chasing a big fish: an American-made fishing rod.

Though recreational fishing is more popular than ever in the U.S., and professional tournaments fetch thousands in prize money, few rods are crafted domestically. Cheaper competition overseas scares off many manufacturers, but most of them didn’t spend six years studying epoxies, the material that makes a rod great.

Cashion demonstrates by standing in the middle of his Sanford warehouse holding the tip of his bestselling “worm and jig” bass rod against his throat with a visitor holding it by the grip. As he talks, a vibration runs down the rod, transmitted by the epoxies — sticky resins Cashion has formulated — bonding carbon fiber and metal.

It’s this thin wand that stands between man and fish, and the process of making one is fairly simple. Sheets of carbon fiber are treated with an epoxy then sandwiched in two layers and rolled like a cigar around a metal tube to produce what’s known as a “blank,” or the rod’s core. The cylinder is then wrapped and heated, “baked” in an oven. Guides to hold the fishing line and a “seat” to hold the reel are attached later.

Cashion only recently began installing the equipment to make the blanks in house and eventually hopes to produce all components at his Lee County warehouse rather than importing them. The bigger dream is that his high-end rods will one day compete with cheaper overseas models thanks to an as-yet-developed invention.

“My heart is in the materials,” Cashion says. But the 37-year-old company president is also chief salesman, marketer and plant manager who occasionally drives the merchandise truck to weekend tournaments Cashion organizes. The business is small but profitable and growing after moving from Pittsboro to Sanford in November 2016. Revenue passed the million-dollar mark last year, and orders occasionally outpace what Cashion’s nine workers can produce.

His rods sell for $120 to $200 at sporting-goods chain Bass Pro Shops, where they’ve been sold since 2014, plus independent tackle shops and through Cashion’s website. Driving sales are the amateur tournaments the company holds as far north as New York and west to Tennessee. Cashion also sponsors professional fishermen John Crews and Jamie Hartman, Elite Series anglers who will compete next month in the Super Bowl of fishing tournaments known as the Bass Masters Classic.

But the company’s secret weapon might be its Cashion Crew, which helps out at tournaments, tests gear, and blogs on the Cashion website in exchange for a discount on equipment. Crews and Hartman participate along with various volunteers, spreading the word about Cashion rods across the country. The Elite Series is the highest level of professional bass fishing, but Cashion also wants to catch the hobby anglers.

Sometimes, they simply walk in the front door. Steve South recently stopped by the Sanford warehouse, which doubles as showroom and factory floor. It was his second trip in as many weeks from his Johnston County home.

“Seldom do I have something that blows my mind,” South says, turning over his new rod in his palms. Comparing a Cashion rod to other brands is “like comparing a sports car to a Pinto. It amazed me.”

As other sports such as golf and youth football see participation rates fall, fishing rates are on the rise. Non-fishing folk might be surprised to know about the hundreds of colleges with bass fishing teams, a few even offering scholarships. Fishing participation rates rose 8% between 2011 and 2016, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Anglers spent more, too, to the tune of $46.1 billion on equipment and trips. About $1 billion was spent last year on rods alone, only 10% of which were made in the U.S., Cashion notes.

The lure of more business keeps him on the hook, even if he doesn’t get out on the water as much as he once did. “Now, I cherish the time when I can fish,” he says, mostly at local bass tournaments or with his children. “I enjoy introducing others to the sport, but I also relish the time when I can fish alone.

Fishing alone really helps me focus on the challenge of fishing. Trying to understand fish patterns and motivations is a lot of fun to me. I’m not good at it, but I enjoy the challenge.”

Photography by Cindy Burnham

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