As a child growing up in the small town of Tomball, about 35 miles northwest of Houston, Trey Kistler loved fishing so much that he would illicitly cast for bass in private ponds in his suburban neighborhood. “If they didn’t shoot at me, then I would sneak in,” he recalls with a laugh. Even back then he favored high-end equipment, no doubt because his father, Billy Kistler, was a cofounder of Houston’s All Star Rods, known for its off-the-shelf graphite bass poles. 

Trey eventually enlisted in the Army and served in the Middle East during the Gulf War. By the time he came home, in 1991, his dad had cofounded another off-the-shelf rod maker, CastAway. He taught Trey the craft. By 1999, Trey had started his own business building bespoke rods for customers in his garage.

At the time Trey was working two other jobs, and he didn’t exactly have an MBA. “I didn’t know you had to mark up,” he says, referring to pricing goods high enough to exceed the cost of supplies and labor. That Kistler Custom Fishing Rods is still around 25 years later is a testament to the quality of its wares and the determination of its founder. Its breakthrough came in 2003 with the Helium, a rod admired for its delicate balance of light weight and strength. It’s powerful and flexible enough to reel in a ten-pound bass with ease but sensitive enough to let anglers know when they’ve got a bite. The Helium landed Kistler an account with sporting-goods chain Cabela’s, which sent sales skyrocketing.

The next few years proved challenging, however. Producing rods at scale brought technical problems and customer-service issues. Rapidly growing a garage-born business takes investment, and Kistler found himself overextended when the 2008 financial crisis hit. The company went from roughly seventeen employees to three.

Things turned around during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many anglers had more free time and other Texans, eager to get outside, took up the pastime. The brand expanded with a seven-thousand-square-foot factory and showroom in Magnolia, twelve miles northwest of Tomball. 

Kistler now sells close to 15,000 rods annually. Trey has fulfilled custom requests for George H. W. Bush and singer Jimmy Buffett, who had a seven-foot medium-action casting rod (in parrot colors, naturally) delivered while he was in the area for a concert. “I wonder where that rod is right now,” Kistler says with another laugh. “I hope he didn’t break it.”  


Cast Away!

Three Kistler options for all levels of expertise.


The Grasshopper

$150

Picture a kid going fishing and you likely imagine someone akin to Tom Sawyer, in rolled-up jeans, holding a cane pole on his way to a fishing hole. This rod is not that. It comes in the child-friendly size of four feet six inches and is made of graphite—light enough for little ones to handle but still strong enough to land a big fish if they get lucky.

The Helium

$400

Just as carbon fiber’s unique combination of lightness and durability has revolutionized bicycle and automobile construction, it has changed how fishing rods are designed and created. The carbon-fiber Helium, built for freshwater fishing, is at once responsive for casting and retrieving and stout enough to withstand a Texas-size bass. Kistler offers nearly twenty variations. (You can also design your own online.) It’s a looker, too, with an eye-catching cork handle.  

The Nitranium

$650–$998

The highest-end Kistler rod, outside of special editions and collaborations, features a blank that’s woven in the U.S. from high-modulus carbon fiber. (Kistler’s other rods use blanks made elsewhere, including Japan.) The blank is essentially the spine of the rod, without the handle and the ferrules that guide the line. High-modulus fiber provides better casting accuracy, feel, and strength.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Hot Rods.” Subscribe today.