Yeah max leve exchange didn't help any at all (other then give a hole crap load of gold for it). Yeah I've been meaning to try that myself, however currently lack to skills to make the metallic parts.. all these dang crafts I have underway.. and somehow it's always the ones I don't have that I need.
The recipe for Ash Fishing Rod is Ice Shard x4, Wind Shard x6, Iron Wire, Ash Branch, Ash Lumber, Hempen Bowstring, Bronze Fish Hook, Bronze Reel.
The Iron Wire is an Armorer Rank 21 synth, and the Bronze Reel is a Blacksmith Rank 15 synth.
Assuming that the Ash Branch and Ash Lumber are substituted with Willow Branch and Willow Lumber, other possible substitutions include Bronze Gorge Hook, Iron Fish Hook (most likely in my opinion), Iron Gorge Hook, Silver Wire, and Brass Reel.
The Iron & Silver synths are all in the 20's, so yeah, I am not quite up to skill yet in order to attempt producing these. I will attempt them at a later time.
I have noticed considerable improvements when upgrading my armor though.