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White Water Custom Rods, Part III: Meet Ricky Kossen

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White Water Custom Rods, Part III: Meet Ricky Kossen

Ricky Kossen and Rich Parisen bested this big bluefin on a W.W.O. custom rod.

In a previous blog post we introduced you to Rich Parisen, White Water Outfitter’s resident master rod builder. With some 40+ years of experience at the task – the first 20 under the tutelage of custom rod building pioneer Hank Altenkirch, Parisen is one of the premier rod-builders on the east coast. Still, no one person can keep up with the quantity of high-quality custom rods requested by W.W.O. customers year after year.

“I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t produce high-quality rods at the pace we set here without some serious help,” said Parisen, “so I’m thankful to have a smart, industrious and eager-to-learn Ricky Kossen as my understudy. He’s 19-years-old, enthusiastic and meticulous. It’s been fun watching him grow into his role. Ricky has been building rods for only four years now, yet he’s progressed to the point where he’s solid on every step of the process. You can see he’s headed for great things down the road if he keeps putting in time at the shop.”

Kossen got his start in rod building after his dad had a set of custom rods made for his boat. “When I first picked up one of those rods, I thought it was the coolest thing,” he revealed. “When Rich said he could show me how to build them, I jumped at the offer and soon began learning the basics in a shop at his house. We started with learning about grips – how to remove them from rods that had to be repaired and how to put new ones onto fresh blanks. I worked there for about two-and-a-half years before coming to W.W.O. where I’ve advanced to wrapping rods and learning the entire process from start to finish. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be learning from a staff that has so much overall technical and fishing knowledge.”

Ricky wrapping a custom spinning blank that will soon be put to use for fluke, weakfish and other bay targets.

For his part, Kossen has dug in, worked hard and continued learning – not only about building custom rods, but about every type of fishing imaginable. That on the water experience, he said, really helps when it comes to understanding what kind of rod a customer wants, what blanks and qualities will match up best to a customer’s needs, and how to bring it all together in an angling tool that really shines in terms of performance and appearance.

“I grew up around the water,” said Kossen. “We had a Bayliner in Oakdale, NY, at my Grandparent’s house, and we fished on Great South Bay. When my dad upgraded to a 21-foot Parker, we kept it in Shinnecock. Mostly we targeted fluke, flounder and porgies when I was a kid because that’s the kind of fishing my father enjoyed. We never chased stripers or went offshore – but I certainly loved every minute of it.”

Settling in at White Water Outfitters “everything changed,” continued Kossen. “With the staff we have here, I suddenly had the opportunity to try all kinds of fishing from back-bay bass and blues to giant tuna and even marlin! It’s been a big jump for me, but I keep learning both on the water and in the shop.” 

As for building custom rods, Kossen agrees with Parisen that the single most important thing is to listen carefully to customers so you can design the rods they really want and need. The starting point, he said, is finding out what kind of fishing the angler will be doing. “We can custom tailor specifically to the fishing you like most,” he explained. “A lot of considerations go into getting the equation exactly right; rod length, thickness, taper, action, plus perfect placement of the grip for comfort and utility all come into play. If you can tell us what you want or like most in a certain style of fishing rod, we can work off that with our experience to build something you’ll absolutely love.”

According to Kossen, White Water Outfitters uses the highest quality components on the market, incorporating guides from Fuji and Alps, grips from Batson, (a.k.a., Alps Forecast,) and a lot of Winthrop components on offshore rods.

Some of Kossen’s favorite blanks include a 6’6” spinning, medium/medium-light Rain Shadow MB843 he finds “super” because it handles fluke, weakfish and porgy with ease. “This is a great bay rod,” he explained. “Go with a 7’ and you can also battle school stripers.”

For specifically targeting bigger linesiders, a 6’6” medium/light Rain Shadow RCLB70ML conventional blank is perfect for fishing live baits like bunker. “I like a medium/light rod for this as it matches up well with slot-sized stripers and bass weighing up to 30 pounds,” stated Kossen. “Fish this rod in inlets and nearshore ocean waters. It’s great at Montauk, too, and it can double for working flutter spoons.”

Ricky enjoying the offshore scene with a W.W.O. custom rod that has a paint job matching his sky-blue Sportsman Heritage 231 CC. 

If trolling tuna is your game, Kossen suggests 60-100 class outfits for putting a lot of pressure on fish to so they come in fast with the highest quality flesh. “My tuna rods have Winthrop guides and AFTCO butts - but Alps is a great choice, too. “My offshore rods also have a custom color paint job to match my sky-blue Sportsman Heritage 231 CC.”

As for his growing role at W.W.O., Kossen continues to do plenty of rod wrapping, varnishing, epoxy and finishing work while splicing more gripping tasks and cork tapering into his repertoire.

“I truly enjoy creating something from nothing, and constructing a tool someone might be able to use for years into the future,” stated Kossen. “I look at Rich, for example, and realize he built rods for Altenkirch’s over 20 years ago and many are still in service. That’s really impressive!”

Kossen also gets a thrill from seeing some of the rods he’s made put to the test with giant tuna on W.W.O. owner Bryce Poyer’s 27’ Conch. Seeing the team battle huge fish while knowing he put a lot of work into a particular rod that everyone can trust to be reliable provides an incredible feeling, he added.

Ricky laying down a coat of epoxy on a custom light tackle trolling/chunking rod to be paired with a Shimano Talica 25.

“I still have a lot to learn going forward,” admits Kossen, “I’m getting pretty good at some of the finer points – but the more I learn, the more I realize haven’t fully mastered anything just yet.”

“That will come with time,” ensured Parisen. “All Ricky has to do is stay his course.”

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