Though often overshadowed by fishing lures and reels, fishing rods are the source of the word "angler," so they deserve our respect. That’s because in medieval England, fishing rods were known as "angles." Back then, before fiberglass and graphite composites, fishing rods were often made of light, tough, and pliable bamboo or ash, with maple butts and grips of cork.

In 19th-century America, a gunsmith from Easton, Pennsylvania named Samuel Phillippi is generally credited with making the first split bamboo rod in about 1845. In 1854, Charles De Saxe was issued a patent for a rod, and Thomas Chubb, Henry Pritchard, and many others won scores of patents throughout the rest of the century for tips, guides, seats, and ferrules.

Most of these early American rods were made of bamboo, but hickory and ash were also favored. Rod makers had to choose their wood carefully, though, taking care to cut their rods from the part of the tree between the heart and the bark.

Of course, even the early antique fishing rods had numerous components beyond the wood itself. There were the fishing-line guides, which ranged from the Pritchard guides (patented in 1859, they consisted of a ring soldered to a metal collar wrapped around the rod) to bell guides that were lashed to the rod with brightly colored thread or fine twine. The ferrules, which were the sleeves used to connect a rod’s sections, were often made of metal. Finally there were the rod’s grip and reel seat, which, by the late 1880s, was often braided in cord or celluloid.

Late-19th-century rod makers like John Krider of Philadelphia, Charles Orvis of Manchester, Vermont, and Benjamin Nichols of Boston would often engrave their initials, name, city of manufacture, or even the date of manufacture on the rod’s butt cap.

For rods that lack such information, you can date a rod in a number of ways. First, if there is a "wedding band" around the rod just above the handgrip, that signals a rod that is post Civil War. Ferrules without raised trim bands indicate a rod from before the 1860s (Orvis rods did not feature raised bands on its ferrules until about 1907).

The length of an antique 19th-century rod can also be an indication of its age. For example, in 1859, Frank Forester writes in Fish and Fishing of the United States and British Provinces of North America that 12 feet is the ideal length for a trout rod, and that it can be made of "hickory, lancewood, or bamboo, with a solid butt of ash." But in 1885, in Fly-rods and Fly-tackle, Henry P. Wells advises that "ten feet, or ten feet six inches, I believe to be quite sufficient to give to any single handed fly-rod."...

Charles Wheeler rods from 1876 were made of bamboo and had cork grips. His rod won an award at that year’s Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Also causing a stir at that event was a split bamboo rod with solid gold mountings, a solid gold reel, and topaz jewels embedded in the handle. It cost an astonishing $2,500 (a small fortune at the time), but it’s likely that retailer Abbey & Imbrie had it manufactured simply to call attention to itself (the gambit appears to have worked).

Thomas Chubb fly rods from the late 1800s are particularly handsome and collectible. Often made of lancewood, they can be indentified by the distinctive Chubb star trademark, a black-and-ivory-celluloid grip, and bands of red used for both decoration and to secure the rod’s ring guides. More idiosyncratic is the 1888 Abraham Coates rod with a reel integrated into its handle.

Most collectors of antique fishing rods focus on these 19th-century rods and the early 20th-century split bamboo fly rods made by Orvis and others. Lately, though, other types of rods have been getting attention, including the earliest fiberglass Wonderrods by Shakespeare, split bamboo casting and spinning rods, and even some early steel casting rods.

Bamboo rod names to look for include Granger, Young, Dickerson, Phillipson, Devine, Edwards, Thomas, Payne, Leonard, and Hardy, as well as rods made for Abercrombie and Fitch, Heddon, South Bend, and Abbey & Imbrie. As is the case with many types of collectibles, condition is everything. And having an antique rod’s original cloth bag and rod tube will add to its value.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

If you're into 19th Century wooden fishing rods (greenheart, bethabara, hickory, ironwood, lancewood), you've come … [read review or visit site]

Joes Old Lures

Joes Old Lures

Joe Yates' website is a great showcase for hundreds of old fishing lures, providing high resolution photos and in m… [read review or visit site]

Take a big bite - you won't want to just nibble at Robbie Pavey's gallery of over 300 antique fishing lures, many w… [read review or visit site]

This extensive site features over 500 pages of information on pre-1940 wood fishing lures and lure boxes. Start wit… [read review or visit site]

This site is sure to snag you with its great collection of fishing lures from the early 1900s. Includes lures from … [read review or visit site]

Larry Nicholson's site dedicated to vintage fishing lures. Features beautiful images of lures and boxes from Fred A… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Scarce 1946-1948 Heddon No.17 "black Beauty" 7-1/2', 3/2 Split Bamboo Fly Rod W/Vintage Wright & Mcgill Granger "aristocrat" Bamboo Fly RodSouth Bend Cross Double Built Model 166 Split Bamboo Fly Rod 8.5ft Bamboo Fly Rod Heddon 8 Foot 3/2 4 Weight With Alminum CaseSuper Rare Vintage A+ Quality H.l. Leonard Bamboo Fly Rod Model # 39h 7-1/2'lVintage Heddon Deluxe Fishing Rod Pole #50-8 1/2' 2 F Used-in Great Shape!Garcia Conolon 2404-a 8' 6wt. 2 Pc. Vintage Fiberglass Fly RodVintage Herter's 3 Pc Fiberglass Fly Rod Made In Usa W/ Rod Bag & CaseVintage Fenwick Pls70 Spinning Rod Made In UsaVintage Phillipson Bamboo Fly RodWright Mcgill Trailmaster 6' 9" New 9 Piece Rod Set Eagle Claw Model Vm8tmHand Built Split Cane Fly Rod: H.hatton, Hereford. 7' #4-5 No Reserve. V.goodOld Vintage Heddon Split Bamboo Fly RodWright Mcgill/eagle Claw Trailmaster 5 Way Rod - 8 Piece -model Trp603 - 6'9"rodGoodwin Granger & Co. Bf878 Colorado Special Split Bamboo Fly RodBamboo Fly Rod Custom Or Edwards Or Thomas Straight 7 Weight Steelhead BassFenwick Fenglass Sf74-4 Combo Spin/fly Fishing Pack Rod 7', 4 PieceVintage Fenwick Ff79 Feralite Fly Rod Made In UsaVintage 1970's Fenwick Pls70 Spinning Rod 7', 2 Piece, Ex++ L@@k1936-1938 Heddon No.14 "thorobred" 9', 3/2 Split Bamboo Fly Rod With OriginalVintage 1960's Abercrombie & Fitch Compact Passport Rod ExcellentVintage Goodwin Granger Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 9660Vintage Fenwick Fs65 Feralite Spinning Rod Made In Usa9’ Phillipson Paragon Split Bamboo Fly Rod 3/2 South Bend Split Bamboo Fly Rod #346 9ft Line D Or HdhVintage Bamboo Fly Rod Bamboo Rod Building Components Vintage Wright & Mcgill Granger Special 8642 8' 1/2" 4 1/2oz Bamboo Rod As Found~lot Of 6 Fly Fishing Rods Lamiglas, Fenwick Feralite , Phantom More~Good Vintage 9 Foot Bamboo Fly Rod - Marked Repaired By Walter D.krienkeFenwick Fs 85... Vintage Fenwick Fishing Rod & SleeveShakespeare Wonderod No. 1290 7'9" Glass Fly Rod, Cork Reel Seat Original TubeVintage 4-piece 6' 6" Eagle Claw Featherlight Fly Rod By Wright Mcgill 5/6 Line Vintage Fenwick Fs68 2-piece Ultralight Spinning Rod - Made In UsaVintage Unused Eagle Claw Wright & Mcgill Fly Fishing RodUnused Vintage Anglers Choice Split Bamboo 9' 6" (3 Pc) Salmon Fly Rod-montagueTrue Temper Professional No. 63 Uni-spin Rod And ReelVintage Montigue Flash Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage Antique 2pc J C Higgins Bamboo Fly Fishing 63" Rod Pole W/ CaseFenwick Voyageur Sf75-5 7'6" 5 Piece Spin Fly Combo Rod .read DescriptionVintage Sabre 1910 Spinning 8' Rod Made In UsaShakespeare Wonderod Fy-a510 Presidential Gold Cup Fiberglass Fly Rod, 7'9", Ex!Vintage Garcia Conolon 2 Piece 7' Spinning Rod 2510b Made In UsaGarcia Conolon Spinning Rod 7 Ft. Medium Action Agate GuidesVintage Wright Mcgill Eagle Claw Fly Spin Rod Trailmaster Metal Tube Cloth BagOrvis Bamboo Rod 7 1/2 4ozShakespeare Wonderod Fy-a320 Black Glass Fly Rod, 7'9" Plastic On Grip Gold TrimThomas & Thomas 9 Foot Fly Rod #600 Circa 1980sVintage Fenwick Fs85 Spinning Rod 8 1/2', 2 Piece, /sock /case Ex+++ L@@kAwesome Fiberglass Fenwick Combination Travel Rod Sf74-4 In Original TubeVtg Eagle Claw Trailmaster Fishing Rod Combo In TubeRare Mint Vintage(?) Pezon & Michel Bamboo 6'1" Spinning Rod, France. Trout/bassHardy's Of Alnwick Graphite De LuxeVintage Fenwick Fs68 Spinning Rod Made In UsaHeddon Black Beauty #17 Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod9’ Thos. E. Wilson & Co. Split Bamboo Fly Rod 3/2 Howald Miracle Rod Kalamazoo Tackle Co. 7'9" Grey Glass Fly Wonderod Trade RodFenwick Feralite Fs 70..vintage Fishing Rod, Sleeve & TubeOld 9-foot Split Bamboo Fly Rod - Two TipsVintage 2-piece 7' Eagle Claw "denco" Spinning Rod By Wright McgillBamboo Fly Rods (barn Found)