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    

Vintage Orvis Battenkill Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage R.l. Winston Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod Made By Lou Stoner In San FransciscoRare Early Russ Peak Fiberglass Fly Rod W/ Sock And Marked TubeVintage Pezon & Michell Fario Club Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod With Staggered Butt*spectacular* 1951-1952 Heddon No.8 9', 3/2 Split Bamboo Fly Rod With OriginalBamboo Fly Rod, Wright & Mcgill Granger "special" 9050 Antique Hardy Glass Fibre Fly Rod Jon E Tarantino Design Glaskona Trout RodVintage Fenwick Travel Fly Rod Model Ff856-51960 Orvis Impregnated Light Salmon 3 Pc Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 9' Original TubeBamboo Fly Rod, Vintage Wright & Mcgill,1938 Needs RestoreVintage Hardy Palakona Split Bamboo Fly Rod C.c. De France 7ft Two Piece Max Cook 8'6" 3/2 "steuck Special Bamboo Fly RodMontague Eel River Vintage Bamboo 3/2 Fly / Casting Combo Rod - Excellent CondAwesome Fenwick Fiberglass Fly Rod In Tube And Bag, Model Ff85Antique Vintage Leather Flyrod Case Old Fishing RodRare Vtg Jay Harvey X.i.d Lincoln 101" Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod Hexagonal Signed Abu 165 5 1/2ft 3-piece Casting Rod In Original Bag C. 1966Wright Mc Gill 8ft. Fiberglass Fly RodVintage Eagle Claw Trailmaster M6tmu Travel Pack Fly/spin Combo Rod Made In Usa Montague-redwing Split Bamboo Fly Rod W/ Original TubeVintage Fenwick Feralite, Ff85, 8.5 Ft, Fly Fishing Rod. NrFenwick Fc61 2-pc. 6' Fiberglass Casting Rod, 1971 Usa.Vintage Fenwick Ff909 9' 4 7/8 Oz 9 Weight Fly Rod W/ Spin Butt AttachmentOrvis Impregnated Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod Salmon 9Vintage Browning Silaflex, Model 412900, Pistol Grip, Near Mint! W/tube Case.Vintage The H.l. Leonard Rod Co Split Bamboo Casting Rod Fishing Pole, NrVintage The H.l. Leonard Rod Split Bamboo Casting Fishing Pole Leonard Mills CoNew Greys Platinum Xd 9' #5 Comp Fly Rod Sage Fishing Orvis Redington $699 MsrpFisher Alaska Fly Rod 9 Foot 5-6 Weight 4 Piece. Rare.Ny Club Bamboo Fly RodFenwick Ff 9010, 9' 5 Oz. Fly Rod, Usa, Great Cond.Redwing Fly Rods Type Pezon Longcast 8ft. Bamboo Fly RodVtg 9' Heddon 1669 Split Bamboo Cane Fly Rod Fishing Pole Extra Tip Canvas Bag Vintage Harnell Fishing Boat/jigging Rod 6 Eyes 6'10",stripped/sea Bass EtcVintage Goodwin & Granger Denver Colorado Split Bamboo Casting Rod NrVintage Split Bamboo Fly Rod Antique Heddon Bamboo Casting Fishing Rod - Three SectionsVintage 9 Foot Octagon Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod With CarrierVintage Bamboo Fly RodRare Early Orvis 6'-6", #4, Graphite Fly RodFenwick Classic Glass Model Fs89c Casting Rod With Feralite FerruleWright Mcgill Trailmaster 7-1/2" Fly Rod Set Eagle Claw Model 4tmf D Line 79 Ft Vintage Montague Fly Rod Bamboo Fishing Rod W/bag 3-pc Clean StraightVintage Montague Bamboo Fly RodPair Of Vintage 3 Piece Split Cane Fly Rods 1 Farlow + 1 Other - Needs Tlc- NresBeautiful Vintage Fenwick 'fenglass' Downrigger Rod Dr-82-c 8'2" 3/8-1oz/8-20lb Vintage Nos Garcia Conolon 7' Fishing Rod 4510Vintage Wright Mcgill Trailmaster Fly RodVintage Wright & Mcgill Eagle Claw Vm8tm Trailmaster Fishing Pack RodJ. C. Higgins(sears), Original Pistol Grip 1 Pc. 55" Casting Rod Heddon Pal Fiberglass Fly Rod Model #7564 Mark V 7' Controlled Flex ActionZebco "john Powell" Vintage Fiberglass Rods (2) Both In Excellent Shape Ps-32Vintage Waltco Glasscaster Coiled Steel Fishing Rod Vintage Champion Featherweight Casting Rod Handle Pistol Grip On Cordells 5'6" C.1920 Montague City Rod Co. "rev-o-noc" 5' Split Bamboo Bait Casting Trade RodVintage H.i. Bamboo Fly RodVtg. Fenwick Voyageur Spin/fly Rod Combo Sf74-4 7' 4-3/8oz Made In UsaBamboo Fly Fishing Rod, Vintage Fishing Rod Needs To Be RestoredFenwick Fs 70 Fishing Rod ~ W/tube And Sock ~ Very Nice!!Vintage Browning Silaflex 2 Piece Lightweight Spinning Rod Model 332905