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 Paul Young Texas General Bamboo Fly RodVintage Orvis Seven-three Impregnated Bamboo Fly RodVintage C1950 Phillipson Power Pakt 3 Piece 8 1/2' Split Bamboo Fly Rod & CaseFenwick Fiberglass Fly Rod In Triangle Tube And Green Cloth Bag--model 756Vintage Orvis 'nymph' Impregnated Bamboo Fly RodEarly 1900's Fred Divine Bamboo Fly Rod Old Divine Rod Fishing Pole Utica N.y.Shakespeare 9'3" Bamboo Flyrod, Fly Rod Two Tips And Case Nice - Nr VtgOrvis Impregnated Bamboo Fly Rod1940’s Frost & Co Frostco Westchester Impregnated Tonkin Bamboo Fly Rod 9ft Vintage F.e. Thomas Bamboo Fly RodVintage South Bend Split Bamboo Fly Rod, 13 - 9', For RestorationVintage Rare Heddon The Umpqua 8 ½’ Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodVintage Orvis Battenkill 8' 2/2 Bamboo Fly Rod C. 1967 Vintage-(1927)-heddon No.13-split Bamboo Fly Pole-9 Foot-4 Piece Kit-orig.cond.Vintage C1960 Wright & Mcgill "dandy" 8a - 9' Two Piece Fly Rod W/red Reel SeatVtg.1930's South Bend #31 Bamboo 9' Double Built ,3 Piece Fly Rod W/spare TipVintage 3 Piece Split Bamboo U.s.a. Made Fly Rod "sandia Special" No. 7250 - 115Antique South Bend Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 9' 3/2 No ReserveVintage-(1934)-south Bend No.290-split Bamboo Fly Pole-7&1/2 Foot-3 Piece KitNice Vintage Heddon 5 1/2 Foot Bamboo Casting Rod--caseVintage Hardy Signed Split Bamboo Fly Rod As Found Needs Tlc 8'7" AgateWeber Ja Henshall Bamboo Fly Rod Rare Mount Hood Edition 4pc Bag As Found2 Nice! Bamboo Vintage Fly Fishing Rods 1 South Bend Bait Lures Co. 9' Foot #47 Vintage Shakespeare Rainbow Wonderod 2pc Fiberglass Fly RodVintage Hardy? Signed Split Bamboo Fly Rod As Found Needs Tlc 8'7" 3pc GreenAntique Leonard 10 1/2' Bamboo Salmon RodVintage Jc Higgens 3027 9ft-4 Section Bamboo Fly Rod, Cloth Case & Tube-niceVintage Scott Fiberglass Fly Rod Building Blank. F86/3. 8-1/2' - 7 Wt. 3 Pc.Vintage Unused Constable Bromley Bamboo Fly Rod From The 50's Very Cool!!!!Bamboo Fly Rod 6'6", 2pcStub-caster Glasscaster Jc Hoghins Bristol Pistol Grip HandlesShakespeare 1362-9 Red Eye Bamboo Fly Rod 9', 3pcVintage Lot Of Bamboo Fly Rod Sections South Bend & Other 6 Pieces Total & BoxVintage Powell Fly Rod-chico Era Df90-4 9' 5-6-7wt.Vintage Lot 2 Shimano Fightin'rods-magnumlite Spin Vintage Wright Mcgill Stream & Lake Bamboo Fly Rod 8 1/2' 4 1/2 Oz. Pair Vintage Beaty Bamboo Fly Rod 1920s Estate FindVintage Garcia Conolon 2452 7' 2 Piece Med Action Spinning Rod,usa,used!Rare Heddon - Bamboo Bait Casting Rod W/ Complete Jumping Bass Decal Ex+ NrVintage Jc Higgins Fishing Rod Ice Rod Trolling Rod Summit 1993l ReelVtg The Johnson "profile" Phillipson 2 Piece Uniglas Series 800 Fly Fishing Rod Ll Bean Vintage Travel Fishing Rod 4 Piece 5' LongAntique Pezon & Michel Paris Bamboo Fly Rod Bambou Japonais Needs Restoring1965 Wright And Mcgill Eagle Claw Trailmaster 6½ Ft #4tms Fiberglass Rod Finwick Ff756 71/2', 3 1/4 Oz. Vintage Fly Rod And Aluminum CaseVintage Browning Silaflex Fishing Rod Model 142961 No Reserve Sweet!Vintage St Croix Trolling/casting,musky/pike Rod-used (ur574), Fishing PoleAntique Chubb Bamboo Salmon RodVintage Fenwick Fs64 6 1/2' Two Piece Fiberglass Spinning Rod No. M 066960 Exc.Fenwick Fs 83 Classic Glass Spinning Rod - Not A ScratchHardy Aluminium Fly Rod Tube Vintage Zebco 2 Piece - 6' Centenial #-6100 Casting Rod Usa Vgc+++Vintage Wards Thorobred Ex+ Flamed Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodVintage Rare 7 Piece H&i Split Bamboo Pack Fly/casting Fishing RodVintage True Temper, South Bend, Montague, Zebco77, Saltwater Fishing RodsVintage Shakespeare Fiberglass Flyrod 7/8wt 8ft 0in 3pc Fishwest Upgrade ProgramVintage Iver Johnson Special Creek Stream Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod.Vtg Shakespeare Triumph A1305b-9' Split Bamboo Fly Rod 4pcs 2 Tips Cloth & CaseHardy Vintage Bamboo. 8 Foot 3 PieceAntique Nos Never Used Wwii 8' Arai Occupied Japan Bamboo 4 Piece Fly Rod & Box