Peter Ames III, a Long Island craftsman who hand-built fishing rods for sportsmen from Florida to Canada, died Nov. 26 at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. He was 66.
The cause was complications from diabetes, said his son, Peter Ames IV, of upstate Andes.
Ames built rods in the basement workshop of the Little Neck, Queens, home he’d inherited from his parents, a meticulously organized room crammed with tools and hundreds of spools of rod-wrapping thread.
He had a day job as director of personnel for New York City’s Department of Sanitation and built his rods at night and on weekends, using techniques passed down in his family for generations.
It took days to build a rod, often beginning with a face-to-face interview in which Ames appraised his client’s height, build and fishing style. The information he gleaned helped determine specifications — from rod length and material to the shape of the butt cap at the end of the rod. The finished product usually sold for a few hundred dollars.
Mass-produced rods became popular in the 1960s, gutting what had once been a healthy cottage industry, and Ames’ death leaves a handful of traditional rod builders left on Long Island, said Nancy Solomon, a folklorist and executive director of Long Island Traditions, a Port Washington-based group dedicated to preserving the region’s cultural and architectural practices.
“He never took a class, never went to school, didn’t work for a company,” she said. “His father was a [rod] maker, his grandfather was a [rod] maker.”
Peter Thomas Ames III was born Jan. 24, 1949, and graduated from Bishop Reilly High School in Fresh Meadows, now called St. Francis Prep. His parents, Peter Ames II and Wanda Malecki, worked at Sunshine Biscuits Bakery in Queens.
Ames began working with Solomon in 1990, giving demonstrations and lessons in his craft, and in 2004 spoke at a program organized by the Smithsonian Institution.
His son, who carries on the rod-making tradition, called that lecture “possibly the best time” of his father’s life, although Ames was already suffering from the disease that caused his death.
It was validation for a man whose work was long considered “a utility kind of thing, kind of like changing a tire,” his son said. “He was just so honored to have been there,” and cherished the certificate the Smithsonian gave him for sharing his craft.
Besides his son, Ames is survived by his wife, the former Jacqueline Sweeney, and daughter, Kelly Ann Ames, both of Little Neck. He was buried at Hamden Cemetery in upstate Hamden, along with one of his rods.