The online community of knife collectors, A Knife Family Forged in Steel
I was reading a discussion here about how pleased a member was with his purchase of a Dobyns rod. He commented that the only thing that bugged him was the placement of the hook keeper which interfered with using the reel. This statement got me to thinking and for what it might be worth - here's my 2 cents.
Quite awhile ago, I began using custom rods so I wouldn't have to put up with the probs like the mentioned hook keeper placement. I've found that the cost difference is small (compared to Loomis, etc.) and is well worth being able to select guide foot and material including numbers & placement, blank material, action and length, even the thread type and style of wrap, etc. all of which combine to achieve the rod performance being looked for. Not to mention thread color and grip material. All these items come together to make a hook up, fight and landing even more exciting and pleasurable whether you're on freshwater or salt.
Of course, finding a rod builder that has the expertise and experience to give you what you are looking for can be daunting. Going to fishing show can be a place to begin. Reputation from trusted sources goes a long way in finding one. Even phone calls can help narrow down the search. Any rod builder worth his salt will be more than willing take the all time necessary to discuss all the facets on your "improvement" bucket list. Meeting face to face is important and taking a rod along to show what you want to improve is a good idea. Being able to show and say "I wish this was better" can be a big help. And I'd suggest also taking along list. The time spent in such research and discussion is well worth the time.