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Forty-year Florida Keys resident Rick Berry has designed fishing rods for everyone from weekend anglers to famous people who fish recreationally or professionally.

“I’ve met former President George Bush Sr., who fishes regularly in the Keys, and I actually built him a red, white and blue rod,” said Rick. “I’ve also built rods for legendary anglers Roland Martin, a nine-time bass angler of the year winner, and Stu Apte who still holds a couple of saltwater fly rod records.”

Rick’s fascination with fishing began when the Miami native was a child accompanying his father on angling excursions to the Keys. As a teenager, he headed to the island chain nearly every weekend to fish the bridges.

3 Rick has designed rods for everyone from weekend anglers to world-renowned celebrities. (Photos by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Rick Berry has designed fishing rods for everyone from weekend anglers to world-renowned celebrities. (Photos by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Rick studied marketing in college, and eventually he and his wife, Trula York Berry, moved to the Upper Keys to run Bill’s Tackle Shop — a business he had helped his father build.

His own business, Key Largo Rods, was born in 1978. Since then, it has grown into a rod-making empire and a passion and life’s work for Rick.

More than 30 years after the debut of the enterprise, the rod-maker modestly considers himself a small manufacturer. Nevertheless, he has expanded the business to feature 225 distinct rod models sold throughout the eastern United States, and racked up an impressive total of more than 2,500 models designed and 250,000 built over the years.

“One of the reasons I have so many models is because the other manufacturers knock me off,” Rick said. “We sell primarily to tackle dealers, and I have some accounts I’ve had since 1978.”

The variety of rod materials now includes solid and hollow fiberglass, pure graphite and blends that are part fiberglass and part graphite.

The master rod designer has even crafted a red, white and blue rod for former President George Bush Sr.

The master rod-maker has even crafted a red, white and blue rod for former President George Bush Sr.

One of Rick’s toughest professional challenges came five years ago when Captain Richard Stanczyk, a leader in the Keys fishing world, pioneered daytime swordfishing and enlisted Rick to design the perfect rod for it.

“Designing swordfish rods is almost the impossible dream because they have to be built to sustain a 50- or 500-pound fish,” said Rick.

It took 22 experimental rods, but he finally hit on a design that worked for Stanczyk — a major accomplishment.

Legendary angler Roland Martin, left, examines a swordfish rod that Rick made.

Legendary angler Roland Martin, left, examines a swordfish rod that Rick made.

“Early on we had the heavy-type rods, but now we are going with lighter and lighter gear because with lighter weight it’s quicker to reach the bottom,” said Rick. “By using 30- to 50-pound tackle, which is very light for fishing in 1,500 to 1,600 feet of water, the fish automatically come to the surface which helps the fisherman quite a bit.”

Rick considers himself fortunate to be in Islamorada, where year-round fishing and immense species diversity combine to make a world-class fishing destination.

As a master rod designer, he is often asked what kind of fishing he likes best. Despite — or perhaps because of — his vast angling experience, he finds it difficult to provide a simple answer.

“The truth is I like it all,” Rick admitted. “Whether it’s in the backcountry of Florida Bay, the gulfside, bridge fishing for tarpon patches, reef or offshore, I’ve done it and love it all.”