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    

Goodwin Granger Aristocrat Bamboo Fly Rod Pre Wright & McgillSpey Rod - F.e. Thomas "special," Bamboo; 13'6" - Two Handed Bamboo Fly RodBamboo Fly Rod, Wright & Mcgill Granger Victory Gv. 9050 + Extra TipVintage Phillipson Master Mf70 Fiberglass Fly Rod, 7' 6wtHeddon Deluxe President Vintage Fly Fishing RodVintage 3 Pc Heddon #13 Split Bamboo 9' Fly Rod Made In UsaOrvis Fly Rod3 Pieces Of Split Cane Fishing Rod In Box With Flies & Tackle Special BrandAbercrombie & Fitch Passport Fly Rod-less Than 100 Made In 1969-museum Quality !Vtg Edgar Sealey & Sons Ltd Poolson Flycaster Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod PoleVintage Phillipson Special Fly Fishing Rod W Case 576-3 ¾ Hdh Great Shape Fenwick World Class Fly Rod Wf 908-2 9', 3-3/4 Ounce - 2 Piece - Never FishedVintage Fenwick Sf75-5 Voyageur Spin/fly Pack Rod ***1974-1975***Vtg Granger Victory Bamboo Fly Rod 4 Pc Denver Co Usa Vintage Fishing Gv864Vintage Early South Bend Model 359 Split Bamboo 8.5' Fly Rod Orig Sleeve & CaseVintage Fenwick Fs65 Rare Spinning RodThe H.r.h. Custom Built By Tycoon Tackle Inc. Saltwater Big Game RodEarly Big Game Rod Marked Tycoon Tackle Inc Miami Foreign Pats On Reelseat3- Vintage Garcia Conolon Spinning Rods Made In UsaAction-rod By Orchard Industries Vintage Nice Vintage Bamboo Fly RodVintage Dynamo Truline Ord8c D-8 25-80 Lb. Factory WrapGarcia Conolon Spinning Rod 2510aJ.c. Higgins Pistol Grip Round Steel Casting RodShakespeare Wonderod Fly RodVintage 8' Harnell 639r Spinning Rod Made In UsaVintage Garcia Conolon Surf RodAntique South Bend Model 57c 9' Bamboo Fly Rod 4 Pcs. (2 Tips) + Tube/sock Nice!Very High End Browning Silaflex Model 312910 Made In Usa Vintage Fishing RodSt. Croix 2 Piece Casting Rod Wild River All Graphite 8'6"Antique Split Bamboo Four Piece Fly Fishing Rod Pole Vintage Fishing Rod Stub - Caster Very Nice Vintage Granger Favorite Bamboo 4 Piece Light Fly Fishing Rod With Case #9050Vintage Fenwick Lunkerstick 2000 Fc60 6' 1/4-5/8 Oz. Lures 6-12 Lb. Line 2 3/8 Vintage J.c. Higgins Pistol Grip Fishing Rod Handle Only!Antique Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod Lot Kingfisher + Wrap Around Fish Decal LogoAwesome Rare 2 Pc Princess 7 1/2 Ft. Bamboo Fly Rod Lot 166Vintage Garcia Conolon 2526d Two Piece Rod Casting RodStub-caster RodVintage Antique Un-named Split Cane Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod Pole 3 Piece 8' 6"Used Orivs Bamboo Impregnated Deluxe Fly And Spin (2-tips)Heddon Pal Spook #4451, 5 1/2' Solid Glass Casting RodVintage, Antigue Bamboo / Wooden Fly Rod Fishing Pole With Wooden Case Fenwick Hmg Graphite Rod Gpls 65, 6'6"3 Vintage Bamboo Fly Fishing Rods Antique 142" Bamboo Challenger Fishing Rod & Free-stripping Reel - Made In JapanShimano Magnulite Gt-1553 Fightin RodLot Of 9 Vintage Fishing Rod Handles Garcia Featherweight True TemperAbercrombie & Fitch Passport Fly Fishing Travel Rod W/ Case 9 Pc Parts Or Repair3 Wright & Mcgill Eagle Claw Rods - Starfire + Lake & Stream + FeatherlightVintage Garcia Conolon 2510t Spinning Rod Made In Usa W/ Case & BagOrchard Industries Action Rod - 3 1/2'7 Vintage Fishing Rods 2 Antique All Wood 2 Montague 9525 8860 Sea Spray 101Herter's Vintage Fly Fishing Rod7 Vintage Fishing Rods Wright Mcgill Sweetheart M2rc True Temper Wonderod H-i Vintage " True Temper "custom Built Ninety Five Pole/rod L@@kAntique "x-pert" 9 Ft. Telescopic Steel Fly Rod With Red Agate Guides & Tip-topVintage Zebco 4043 6' Heavy Action Wood Handle Fishing Rod Pole Usa Made 2 PieceVintage True Temper Custom Built 95-30 Solid Fiberglass 6' Boat Rod 6 FootRare 4 Pc. Beaverkill Tonkin Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 8 1/2 Ft. Nice Lot 318