Shop Rat to Rod Designer By: Mike Rice

Connor Quigley grew up in Attleboro, MA. Like a lot of kids in New England he was a hockey player, starting at the age of three and continuing through high school. At the age of eight his uncle introduced to him to fishing by gifting him an Ugly Stik, a tackle box and the promise of three fishing trips. On his first outing he caught a trout in Spectacle Pond on Cape Cod. Later on he bought the Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing, a Bass Pro Shops starter kit and taught himself how to fly fish. When not playing hockey, rather than sitting in front of video games and getting lost on the internet, he spent a lot of time taking things apart to learn how they worked. This inquisitiveness lead to him making his own shooting heads of lead core and 12lb mono running line for his second fly rod, a TFO 8 weight.

Toward the latter part of high school, Connor got a job at the Bears Den as a shop rat. Friday afternoons and Saturdays he worked in shipping, stocked product, spooled reels, answered the phones and had the opportunity to cast every rod in the shop. A favorite part of his duties was receiving and logging rods and reels for consignment. He spent a great deal of time on his own researching how some of these older models were designed and built so that repairs could be made when necessary.

Up until he got his drivers license he had to rely on his parents for rides to and from his job. The day that he got his license was a Friday. His first time driving on his own was to work that afternoon at the Bears Den. Little did he know at the time how far that short drive would eventually take him.

He chose to attend the University of Maryland and pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. A short time into the course of study he decided to switch his major to mechanical engineering, saying “Just like when I was a kid, I was more interested in taking something apart, fixing and/or modifying it to make it more efficient.” He graduated from that program in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and chose to stay at Maryland to obtain his master’s degree.

In choosing his thesis, Connor combined his undergraduate work and his childhood passions and titled it, “Developments in Carbon Rod Analysis for Sporting Goods Applications.” He proposed to use existing scientific processes as well as develop his own computer programs and mathematical formulas to model the structure of hollow taper carbon fiber rods and predict the flexion of rod sections or find materials that provide the deflection desired. Connor explains it this way:

“Basically, I wrote a program that predicts how a rod made of a specific material will reflect and recover to a specific input, meaning how it loads and delivers line. I had to look deeper into a fly rod to understand mathematically how it performs…basically I dug myself a deep hole and had to build my own really long ladder to get out of it. But at the end of the day, it’s just math.”

As Connor began his research, he realized he was going to need sections of fly rods to study and test. Using his relationship with the Bears Den he called on Neville Ormond and John Wolstenholme at Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods. They were happy to oblige with both product and advice. Work progressed and Connor completed his course work and thesis, graduating in early 2022.

A brief time later Connor applied for an open rod designer position at T & T. He was eventually offered the position and began work there in August. While learning the rod building business from the ground up, he also began work on three new additions to the T & T Zone Series using everything he learned while working on his thesis. These rods, a 10’2” 2-weight, 3-weight and a 9’ 4-weight were just recently added to the Zone lineup. He describes each of these rods as “a beefed up versatile and user-friendly mid-range introductory rod. They are more of a fishing tool, from morning dry flies to afternoon nymphing to streamers anytime, the Zone will just take it.”

Connor still drives the same car he drove to work on that Friday so many years ago. That drive was the beginning of his journey, and he looks forward to what comes next.