Angler Profiles: Custom Rod Building as Therapy for PTSD?


Retired US Marine and law-enforcement special investigator looks forward to building his first two custom fishing rods

James Tannahill of Mont Belvieu, Texas radiates love and gratitude. Speaking with him, one would have no clue they were having a conversation with someone who struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on a daily basis.

“Things got so rough, I came very close to being a statistic,” says Tannahill, who recently retired from a military and law-enforcement career spanning over 30 years. “People don’t realize how far-reaching PTSD is; it is particularly prevalent in the military and law-enforcement communities, which have the highest suicide rates of all occupations, but it can impact almost anyone and have a variety of causes.”

Tannahill, 54, was born into a military family and attended Texas Tech to play basketball. His life’s path quickly shifted when he broke his leg. “I ended up transferring to UNLV, and I’ll tell you, Las Vegas is a tough and distracting place for a young person to try and attend school. When I struggled there and ended up dropping out, my father gave me some good advice, and I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. My sister did, too. It was a great decision, and it changed my life for the better.”

Tannahill got married while in the service. “When my enlistment was over, my wife and I couldn’t get stationed together, so one of us had to leave,” Tannahill recalls. “She held a higher rank, so it was me who left.”

Tannahill would go on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Midwestern University later in life, but at the time he retired from military service, he says there weren’t too many career choices for an ex-Marine. “Law enforcement appealed to my sense of public service,” Tannahill says. “I became a cop and loved it immediately, because I really enjoyed helping others.”

Within the field of law enforcement, do an excellent job and you’ll end up getting recruited. That’s what happened to Tannahill.

“I worked for four different departments between 1999 and 2018,” Tannahill says. “I developed a passion for tracking down missing kids and ended up working the last five years of my career as a Special Investigator for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. It turned out to be the toughest job of my life,” says Tannahill, who took an early retirement last year. “Needless to say, the job took a toll on me due to the cases I worked. Besides saving children, the job was not pleasant, and I experienced trauma from the things I saw and was forced to deal with.”

In the months since his retirement, Tannahill has sought out and received care and treatment from the VA. “Thanks to my Team at the VA, I’ve done a pretty good job improving my spiritual, mental, and physical health so far,” reports Tannahill, who has lost an amazing 75 pounds. “I’m still working on my financial health,” he chuckles. “The VA takes a lot of criticism, so I really want everyone to know how extremely valuable it has been to me. My docs have consistently gone what anyone would consider above and beyond in helping to treat and heal me. The quality of care I have received at the Houston VA has been amazing.”

Tannahill’s doctors recommended he consider starting a new hobby. “I already had fishing,” Tannahill reports. “My family got me into inshore saltwater fishing several years ago, and I was hooked after my first redfish. My time in the service gave me an appreciation for top-quality equipment, so I’ve grown to become a huge fan of St. Croix rods. I went up and visited my brother in Wisconsin a few years ago and there were three things I wanted to see during my trip. One of them was the St. Croix Factory in Park Falls. I’ve always admired St. Croix as an American fishing rod manufacturer and the quality and performance of their products. And after touring the factory and seeing the care that goes into every rod, I’ll be a fan for life.”

A couple of months ago, Tannahill saw a video on custom rod-building. “It captivated me, so I started doing some research and came across Anglers Resource owner Bill Falconer’s videos. He explained things so well that I thought, ‘this is something that I want to try.’ I love fishing so much and just think it will be a great craft to learn. From what I have heard, rod-building has also proven to be helpful therapy for some veterans suffering from PTSD. I have no clue, but I want to try!” 

Tannahill reached out to Rod Geeks – St. Croix’s rod blank business – and asked if they offered a military discount. “To my surprise, they did, but they also wanted to hear more about my story and thought it would be interesting for other people who are thinking about getting into rod building to follow my journey as a beginning rod builder,” he says. “So, they asked what kinds of rods I wanted to build and graciously sent me two blanks. I love fishing a popping cork, so they sent me an XC733 blank in their X-COMP Series, which I plan to build into a spinning rod. I also want to build an all-around casting rod for soft plastics, so they sent me a CARBON2 INSHORE Series C2SW76MLF.”

While Tannahill has his blanks, he also needs components like reel seats and guides, materials like epoxy and thread, a winding jig, and some other basic materials before tackling his first two builds. He reached out to Anglers Resource, and Bill Falconer himself is making recommendations and helping Tannahill get the other materials and equipment he needs.

“I can’t wait to get started!” Tannahill says. “Bill at Angler’s Resource and Rod Geeks have been great, and Bill is already a hero to me. The thread-wrapping and tying parts seem a bit intimidating to me, but I’ve been watching Bill’s videos and I know I can manage it once I get the equipment; it’s not that expensive. Bill says he will also help me with guide spacing, reel seat placement, and how to find the spine of the blanks. I’m super excited to get started.”

Tannahill’s first two builds will be chronicled in a future article. The retired investigator says he also plans to start his own YouTube channel to chronicle everything he does and learns. “If I can help just one other person, this will be worth it,” he says. “That’s why I’m doing this; I want to inspire and help others… from a total layman’s point of view. I know there are a lot of really great YouTube channels with seasoned custom rod builders, but there’s nothing I’ve found from the perspective of a total beginner. I want to show what I learn, but also share how building custom fishing rods can be a positive and therapeutic experience. If it helps me, then it could also help other people suffering from PTSD.”

About Rod Geeks
Brought to you by the people, expertise, and experience of St. Croix of Park Falls, Inc., Rod Geeks has delivered handcrafted, high-performance fishing rod blanks to custom rod builders since 2014. Backed by over 75 years of experience in designing and building the best fishing rods in the world, we own and operate modern, state-of-the-art fishing rod factories in Park Falls, Wisconsin and Fresnillo, Mexico where we combine the best raw materials, equipment, technologies, expertise, and experienced craftsmanship to produce thousands of uncompromising fishing rods and blanks every week. Whatever your next adventure or project, trust Rod Geeks to provide a foundation for your passion and creativity that’s worthy of your talents.

About St. Croix Rod
Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly crafting the “Best Rods on Earth” for 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.

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