Flylords caught up with Tate Cunningham the Co-founder and Operator of Moonshine Rod Company. A fly rod company based in Tenessee that creates and distributes unique, well-built fly fishing rods at a price point that real people can afford. Check out the full interview below.
Flylords: Who is Moonshine Rod Co?
Moonshine: We’re a blue-collar built, performance rod company that makes quality rods at a price everyone can afford.
Flylords: Can you tell us a little bit about the team behind the brand?
Moonshine: Nick, one of the founders and CEO has a background in the tech world, is forward-thinking and wishes he was on the water a little more these days. He resides in Colorado where good water is always taunting him to get out more!
Jon, Nick’s brother, is the other founder, opposite from his bro in terms of all-in-creative, and has always been hands-on making cool stuff in the shop. If you’ve seen a Midnight Special, that’s Jon’s creation which he’s been tweaking in his workshop since the company started. Check out some of the videos of him turning custom reel seats; it’s somehow therapeutic.
I’m also one of the partners here at the company (Tate) and am somewhere in the middle, managing our operations and new product development here in Tennessee. I basically keep the wheels on the bus and remind my co-workers that TN is the superior state in which to live. I wish I could say I fish all the time, but I’m usually in front of a computer living vicariously. If you like fishing, don’t get in the rod biz!
Dakota takes care of our CS and some of our marketing initiatives. If you ever have an issue, Dakota makes it all better, so be nice to her! Also, she can probably out fish you.
We work with several other great folks that are outside of the company that have been amazingly helpful as we’ve grown. At the core though, we’re a small team of four, but I think with the two brothers being complete opposites, it’s sort of a yin and yang kind of thing that happens that lets us fill in all the gaps of what is needed to grow. It’s the best of both worlds when we all have to wear a lot of hats.
Flylords: Where did the Moonshine name come from?
Moonshine: Don’t tell anyone (wink), but the first rods may have been built in a work shed that may have also housed Jon’s handmade copper moonshine still. Of course, it was purely decorative…
Flylords: In an industry with a ton of established Rod Brands – how does Moonshine Differentiate themselves?
That’s a great question as there are a lot of rod brands we look up to, but I think what makes us different is we try to just do our own thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing. To our knowledge, no major brands have included an extra tip with their rods and we saw it as an opportunity. It does not mean that your tip is on deck to break, it means that accidents happen out there and there is nothing worse than being sidelined when you’re on a trip. Warranties are great, but they don’t help you keep fishing the same day. Numerous folks have written in about being glad they had it after they snagged the elusive rock and tree fish. We all know of someone’s rod the car door took out.
We crush at customer service. We don’t just collect a sale, high five and move on, we zero our inbox every day and make sure you are treated as though you’re a human being and not another number. We’ll answer your questions and help you every step of the way. I know when we first started in ’16-17, we struggled with some CS as Jon was essentially playing “contractor and tradesman” which is tough to manage both. We overwhelmingly fixed that in 2018 bringing more people on the team and utilized everyone’s strengths. If you haven’t had exceptional service since that time, shoot us an email.
Flylords: Do you think being located in Tennessee helps identify your brand? How?
I think naturally, people identify and associate Moonshine (the liquid) with TN and VA, but our customers haven’t been limited to the south by any means. People are throwing our rods, worldwide (which is humbling) and aren’t just southern states picking one up because “Moonshine”. In fact, our analytics say otherwise. I believe Moonshine just resonates with people in general as it’s been engraved into American culture from basically day one. Also, Moonshine, in general, makes people happy. Wear your wading belt responsibly.
Flylords: Speaking of Tennessee, what is your favorite local fishery?
Moonshine: Local, I would say the Caney River although it’s been going through a tough time the last few years. Excessive rain and dam repair have screwed up the flows and D/O, but we’re all hopeful it will correct sooner than later. In the meantime, I’d say most of us chase Striper or go for some of the good Smallie fisheries along the Harpeth River and its feeders.
Flylords: Moonshine makes quite a few different levels of rods, could you recommend something for a novice angler? What about an advanced angler?
Moonshine: For new anglers, we usually recommend the Drifter series. It’s $199.00 bucks comes with an extra tip and is an easy caster being medium action. Bias aside, I know a lot of experienced anglers that like to fish the Drifter – it’s a great stick for the money. If they want something a little more custom, our Midnight Specials are a sweet option and don’t really look like anything else. It’s a moderate fast rod.
Although we’ve traditionally built entry to low-mid priced rods, we’re rolling out some really exciting things in the near future that will address the last couple of years of valuable feedback from our customers; we’ve listened to them. This will include lighter weight in hand, swing weight, balance, and recovery. We have some truly high performing products coming we believe you’ll be excited about. And of course, they’ll be a really handsome rod, backed by the same great warranty and customer service as you’ve come to expect from our company.
Flylords: The greatest challenge of starting a fly fishing brand in the current market?
Moonshine: I think it’s challenging to stay true to who you are and why we started in the first place. When there are brands and very well established brands at that, there are a lot of people that are brand loyal which we understand as a company, and on a personal level when it comes to my favorite truck, for instance. But I think putting blinders on, to a point, and keep doing what we do, build great products and treat people right, hopefully, it will continue to fall into place. That is what got us here in the first place and what we’ll continue to do.
Flylords: What was your greatest achievement in 2019? What about goals for 2020?
Moonshine: For 19′ we had another year of really strong growth. I don’t know if Iceland counts as an achievement, but it definitely checked the bucket list. Our goal for 2020 is to keep working hard and put out some exciting new products for all of you that have been consistently asking.
I hope that 2020’s greatest achievement will be that we listened to our customers in the last several years and we are going to deliver on that.
Flylords: Do you have any non-profit or environmental initiatives you are concentrating on in 2020?
Moonshine: Absolutely. We’d like to continue working with Cast Hope, which is a non-profit that serves underprivileged kids, introducing them to fly fishing and good mentors. We’ve also made donations to several nonprofits and organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, The Lions Club and several schools that have no budgets, trying to do something great for their kids.
We’ve also worked with PHWFF for a number of years and continue to support them. Jon has done rod building classes and even 1-on-1 builds with some of the veterans at his home in VA. I got to be a small part of the CO chapter for a number of years. Although none of us are Veterans here at the company, we’re all Patriots. Serving Veterans, LEO’s and First Responders is something we’ve done from day 1 and will continue to do so.
One thing we’re really proud of is the number of asks we get and say yes to, despite our size and reach. We can all help someone or give back in a meaningful way, no matter how big or small. We can all pick up trash on the river and be kind- it costs nothing outside of our own egos. I love that hashtag #lessegosmoreamigos. Credit to that guy!
Flylords: Does Moonshine have anything exciting on the horizon for this year?
Moonshine: Yes! We’ve got new products that we plan to roll out and some cool trips to capture more content. Making new and better rods, interacting with our customers, and watching people make memories is as good as it gets for us here at Moonshine. We’re stoked for 2020!