Island twins embrace the Gulf and build custom rods
On a recent weekend, bruising waves, bullied by a hard, northerly wind, pummeled the length of the Galveston Fishing Pier, which juts out 1,100 feet from the seawall into the surf at 90th Street.
And so it was that fishing was banned that weekend along the lateral ends of the T-head that marks the pier’s end.
Otherwise, Andrew and Chris Orton quite likely would have been trying their luck there, home to Jimmy’s on the Pier, with bespoke fishing rods of their own design and build.
The twin brothers, who were born on the island 14 years ago, have garnered reputations as capable fishermen and designers of handsome, capable rods. The latter renown has earned them commissions from fellow sportsmen out to bolster their odds in the age-old struggle between man and fish.
“We bought season fishing passes to Jimmy’s on the Pier and fished nearly every day last summer plus weekends throughout the fall,” Andrew Orton said. “We noticed some of the fishermen had cool, colorful surf rods and we wanted similar ones.”
“We learned from YouTube videos, Facebook and tips from friends,” Chris Orton said of their nascent business, Twin Fin Custom Rods. “We started building rods for ourselves, and soon friends and acquaintances were asking us to build rods for them.”
Custom-built fishing rods start out as tapering lengths of tubular “blanks” spun of fiberglass or composite materials or, most popularly, of graphite.
The blanks are fitted with parts and adorned with threaded art — but not until the critical backbone is determined, a matter of feel born of experience.
“You bend and roll the blank until it pops into place,” Chris Orton esoterically explained while demonstrating the skill. “You start building from there.”
Blanks, which typically come in lengths of 6 to 12 feet, are then outfitted with guides through which line is fed; a seat to accommodate a reel; hand grips; a butt cap on the grip end; and a machine-laid underwrap over which are laid multi-hued design threads finished with coats of color preserver and epoxy.
“People might be surprised at how many parts it takes to build a rod and how many thousands of options there are,” Chris Orton said. “No two rods are the same.”
Parts are available at websites such as that of Oviedo, Fla.-based Get Bit Outfitters, one of the brothers’ go-to vendors.
Kevin Brotz, a lifelong fisherman and University of Florida graduate with a degree in business management, founded Get Bit seven years ago to benefit veteran and novice rod builders alike.
“All I had when I started out was videos and black-and-white books,” Brotz, now 32, said of his beginnings as a rod builder at about the same age the Ortons are today. “Back then, YouTube wasn’t even on the horizon; rod building was kind of trial and error. We have on our site a lot more in the way of tutorials, and we offer rod-building kits that are user-friendly.
“I’ve always had a passion for fishing and I’ve always sought out the best tools to accomplish my goals. I was 14 when I built my first rod, and I still have that rod to this day.”
The Orton twins, born on Feb. 11, 2003 — Chris first — under the zodiac sign of Aquarius, a water sign, according to believers — have a shared, lifelong affection for the surf.
“Chris and Andrew have been fishing and loving the water since before they could talk,” their mother, Kayla Orton, said.
That passion doesn’t surprise those who know them today.
“Let me show you,” Christy Rivera, who works at Jimmy’s on the Pier, said enthusiastically as she called up on her cellphone photos of the twins and their friends showing off copious catches of everything from Spanish mackerel to speckled trout, from flounder to redfish. “Andrew and Chris know what they’re doing at a very young age and they care about what they’re doing.”
While the Stephen F. Austin Middle School eighth-graders plan to attend Ball High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program in the fall, for now, they said, they intend to build their enterprise.
“We’d like to continue learning new techniques and making this into a professional, part-time business that continues to grow,” Andrew Orton said.
“We’re working out the business details right now.”