Small Business Saturday 2020: Ron Hickman and Subgauge Rod and Lure Art
This Small Business Saturday, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you Ron Hickman. I met him on Instagram and admired his beautifully crafted lures and rods, but I was completely blown away by some of the great stories he started sharing! It was obvious that I couldn't just keep these to myself, so here we are supporting small businesses today and always, learning about the great people behind the products.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began your creative business, Subgauge Rod and Lure Art
I grew up on a subsistence farm on the Carolina coast near Calabash NC. We grew, caught or killed what we ate. Fishing was more important for food than fun. As a very young boy our Dad outfitted us with a Mitchell 300 spinning reel on a Shakespeare rod. Lures were scarce so I started fashioning lures out of anything I could find. We fished the Waccamaw River, farm ponds and the coastal waters extensively. Fishing became a passion, plus I loved eating fish. I went to college at what is now Charleston Southern University. The trunk of my car always had an assortment of fishing tackle and my shotgun. There was an oxidation pond in the woods just behind the campus where I frequent would walk but to see what wildlife was there. Occasionally there would be a flock of ducks on it. I’d go back and get my shotgun, sneak back up and take one shot, killing several. I’d fly back to my car and put away my gun. An hour or two later, I’d go back with a rod and a topwater lure and retrieve my ducks, which I would stuff and roast in my toaster oven in my room. At least once a week I’d go to Sullivan’s Island or Isles of Palm and fish for redfish, trout, flounder, etc. I’d have a fish fry in my dorm room frequently. I began building rods while in college and moved to Atlanta in ’74 in a professional position. I wasn’t there yet but was becoming a Recovering Redneck.
What kinds of Rods and Lures are you best known for and who are your notable collectors?
In Atlanta, I quickly became involved in Trout Unlimited. There was great trout fishing in the Chattahoochee River tailwater that ran through Atlanta, plus all the great mountain streams. I was almost exclusively a fly fisherman and built all my own rods. Word got around and I became very busy filling rod orders. I had a good friend who was a pilot and flew the TV fishing show host Orlando Wilson all around. He introduced me to him and started advising him on his occasional fly fishing needs for his shows. Then in ’85 he invited me to go to Costa Rica to do a show fishing for trout in their tall mountains. He was already there with Bass Anglers Sportsman Society founder Ray Scott doing a tarpon show on the Caribbean side. When I flew in, we met for dinner and he told me there was a change in plans; we were going to the Pacific coast to so a show on sailfish. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about that. So we flew out to the coast one afternoon and Orlando said he had the show ‘in the can’ before Noon the next morning. He signaled for a flight out that afternoon. I was totally blown away by my less than 24 hours on the Pacific coast. I had a ticket back to San Jose and then to Atlanta so I bid them farewell and spent another week there. I had to figure out a way to do that and for the next 15 years I organized fishing travel to 4 continents. I did a lot of exploring around to find new fishing destination and still building more and more rods. I built rods for some shops including Abercrombie & Fitch while they were still a premier outfitter for global fishing and hunting expeditions.
Do you have any great stories about your custom work and customers to share with us?
While involved with Trout Unlimited, I got a commission to build a rod for President Jimmy Carter. There was an event at the Carter Center where I presented it to him. Months later I got a call from Ted Turner who wanted a fly rod. He’s been fishing at Ted’s Flying D ranch in Montana where he saw the rod. Over the next twenty years I built dozens of rods for Ted including a few for Jane Fonda. I was able to organize a lease on a 1.5 mile piece of water in NE GA, the Soque River. I drove Ted up there and guided him for several hours. He’d caught numerous trout upwards to six or so pounds, nothing big. He said, ‘I wish I’d found this before I bought all that trout water out west. Ted signed up along with seven others. I occasionally fished along with him and Jane. We also visited him at his big Montana ranch which ran from the Gallatin River to the Madison River, twenty-five miles from gate to gate. Amazing trout fishing. Another perk was that any ball game I went to from then on, Braves, Hawk, Flames, I sat in the owner’s box. Great place to watch a game. After about eight years, Ted bought my leased water. He used it as his shoulder season water when it was too early or late out west or at his Argentina ranch with opposite seasons. Whatever you’ve seen or read about the ‘mouth of the South’, he’s much better in person. Ted is quite the character.
My best friend returned from a trout trip in Argentina and brought Jack Hemingway with him. Over the next few years I got to know him well. He was a wealth of stories about his father, Ernest. He and I really connected on the trout fishing. He was an avid fly tier and I furnished him with a lot of materials and built him a rod.
What is your favorite part about creating a new lure?
Function is the most important part of making the things I do; something that works. For the past forty plus years I’ve had a variety of lathes for rodbuilding and then other things. It’s most important for turning cork grips and turning figured wood inserts for reel seats. Before the lathe, I used a drill in a vise to turn the cork grips. Then for many decades I turned lures for my own and close friends use. They worked and I gradually got creative with the painting and they got prettier. People liked them so I started selling them online. The most important part of anything I sell is that it works.
How can we purchase and see more?
Just about anything that I sell is visible on my IG Feed. Most often people browse through the photos and ask me to ‘make one of these’. And, frequently people don’t see exactly what they want. They contact me via DM and tell me what they want and most often I’m able to meet their needs. Email is also a good way to contact me. Just about everything I sell is custom for that person. I keep a supply of the turned wooden pieces on hand an paint and finish per the order. I build a lot of Florida flats fishing rods which the price varies. My lures and lure key fobs are $25, wine stoppers, bottle openers and shotshell key fobs are $35. Slingshots are $35 and in limited supply based on availability of forked branches. Everything is plus postage. It costs about $36-38 to ship a 7 ½’ 1-pc rod to FL. Everything else costs around $4 to mail. Shotshell key fobs and bottle openers are turned from poplar, everything else from basswood. They are hand painted and finished with a high grade UV protected epoxy.
Phone: 770 826-3801