There’s no doubt that the Cousins Tackle booth was one of the busiest at the recent Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show, as people stopped by to chat with pro staffers, pull on rods designed for everything from trout to tuna, or just swap fishing stories.
There is also little doubt that one of the biggest draws for Cousins — in addition to the numerous signs and banners on the floor, in the hallways, in the rafters, on the seminar stage (who knows, maybe even in the bathrooms) — was newness. After all, while fresh and saltwater anglers have probably read about Cousins rods or seen the advertisements in magazines and on the web, for many this was their first opportunity to actually see and feel the products. Still others were totally surprised to learn that a new company was building top quality, American-made fishing rods and saltwater trolling lures right in Huntington Beach – much less doing it on such a grand scale.
Even though Cousins has been producing rods for only about eight months, it can already claim the second largest blank-building operation in the western United States. Its rod line-up includes more than 300 models, every one starting as a blank made in-house and hand finished with the finest components and attention to detail. With 47 employees as of March 2014 and a state-of-the-art production line, the company is poised for growth. Combine this with a seemingly insatiable need to craft the perfect rod for every style of fishing, and it seems reasonable that Cousins will someday meet its ultimate production goal of 1,000 rods per day.
What’s In A Name?
Two real-life cousins are behind the Cousins Tackle brand, and their names should be familiar to anyone associated with the fishing tackle industry over the past few decades. Over the years, cousins Bill Buchanan and Wade Cunningham helped launch iconic fishing tackle brands Sage, Seeker, Sevenstrand, Fenwick, Berkley, Spiderwire, Stren, Abu Garcia, Abel and Shikari. Their lineage in the tackle industry can be traced back to the 1960s, where Buck Buchanan (Bill’s father) and Bill Cunningham (Wade’s father), were both division managers at Sevenstrand/Fenwick. Bill and Wade later worked together at Fenwick, where the first high-modulus tubular style rods were designed and built. Wade’s uncanny skills in rod design and engineering later helped to launch popular rod brands Seeker and Sage.
Today, the two cousins are carrying on their family business with drive and ambition. “We want to become the nation’s leading manufacturer of top quality fishing rods, period,” said Buchanan.
“While our roots are here in the Southern California fishing scene, we are building rods for fresh and saltwater fishermen across the country. Our goal is to provide the absolute best rod in terms of performance and quality, whether it’s an ultralight spinner or stand-up tuna rod,”
added Buchanan. In addition to rods, Cousins Tackle also builds a full line of American-made offshore lure skirts and trolling lures, and is looking to expand this business beyond the saltwater realm, as well.
Cousins had to build its own factory, and design/fabricate much of its own equipment, before it could begin building rods and lures. “We’ve invested millions in getting this factory up and running,” Buchanan said. “This is a labor of love, but fortunately, we share a passion for fishing and the fishing business.” Both Buchanan and Cunningham have another key motivation for making sure Cousins succeeds — restoring local jobs and the region’s legacy for fishing tackle innovation.
“Back in the day, Southern California was known for innovations that changed they way the entire country fished. We want to bring that reputation back,”
said Buchanan. The first step was bringing in the right people.
Walk through the factory, and you’ll meet fishing tackle artisans like Blank Department Supervisor Phalla Thach, who worked with the cousins at Sevenstrand and helped Cunningham start Seeker Rods back in 1989. Or Skirt Department Supervisor Kham Thongphun, also a long-time employee of Sevenstrand back in the day. Or Wrapping Department Supervisor Sonia Freire Carrera, who has been perfecting her rod crafting skills for more than 20 years and has helped train a new team of rod-wrapping artists at Cousins. Sonia’s son Miguel Carrera is Cousins’ Rod Assembly Supervisor, making sure that every rod — whether it’s meant for bluegill, bass or billfish — is flawless in its construction and appearance. It’s interesting that Tcach, Thongpun and Carrera share immigrant roots, and are pursuing their American dream crafting products for what may be the most American of past times — fishing. The people who build Cousins rods and lures may not all be anglers themselves, but they take great pride in their work. Many visited the recent Fred Hall Show exhibit, just to see the fruits of their labor and witness angler reactions to their personal works of art.
These people, and many others like them, are part of a “family” of American craftsmen and women building an ever-growing variety of rods. Today’s Cousins rod line-up includes specialized rods for many styles of salt and freshwater fishing, such as the lightweight Graphite XF Inshore Series. These rods were engineered for live bait and jig fishing for white seabass, calico bass, yellowtail and other inshore species. Dozens of IM-8 Graphite Series rod models cover angling techniques for freshwater bass, trout, walleye, steelhead, salmon and more. The unique Gregg Silks Signature Series Big Bass rods are designed to fishing big lures for lunker stripers and largemouth. Cousins recently launched an entire series of Florida A1A Series Graphite Saltwater Rods for tarpon, snook, redfish and more. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Coming this spring, Cousins will launch even more new rod series, including Classic Fiberglass Saltwater Rods, Composite Live Bait Rods ad CPX Composite Bait & Light Jig rods sure to be a hit with saltwater anglers – particularly with the expected return of live anchovies for bait. Special “punching rods” for heavy cover bass fishing….fiberglass “reaction bait” rods for tournament anglers who love throwing crankbaits and topwaters… super soft downrigger trolling rods for kokanee salmon…Bill Varney Edition surf fishing rods…there’s always something new on the drawing board at Cousins.
Why do these cousins believe with all their hearts that Cousins (the company) will succeed? “I can say with complete sincerity that nobody puts more thought and care into building a fishing rod,” said Buchanan.
“It literally takes weeks and dozens of skilled hands to build a Cousins rod.”
Materials and components are all top-notch, from the rolls of raw graphite and fiberglass material to the individual rings of Grade A cork imported from Portugal which are hand glued, shaped and sanded for the ultimate feel. High-end components — including Fuji graphite reels seats and Fuji K-Series stainless steel Alconite guides — optimize rod performance. Cousins applies three coats of slow-cure resin over a three-day period, to ensure that the wrapping threads and guides are bonded to the blank for superior durability.
Cousins is a different kind of tackle company, as well. Their approach to the business — selling only through independent tackle dealers, protecting dealers with exclusive territories, enforcing Minimum Advertised Pricing, etc. — harkens to the “old days” of the tackle industry. “We build a premium product that is worth every bit of its premium price,” Buchanan said unapologetically. “We want our dealers to succeed and make a fair profit on our products; so they feel good about recommending Cousins rods to their customers.”
Based on the response at the recent Hall Show, the future seems bright for this new, “old-school” tackle company. Cousins rods have gained endorsements from a robust team of pro staffers and sponsored anglers, including numerous local bass pros, Capt. Pat Cavanaugh of the renowned sportfisher Pacific Dawn, and Northern California’s venerable Angelo and Abe Cuanang. The company is building its dealer network across California, the Pacific Northwest and Florida, with future plans to expand up the East Coast and the Gulf Coast States before spreading into the nation’s heartland.
“One thing I’ve learned from 40 years in this business, is that there is always room for a new product if it’s the best in the category,” said Buchanan. “Whatever segment of the fishing market we go into, that is what we intend to be.”