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    

Fenwick 8’ Fiberglass Fly Rod, Ff79 5 Wt. W/tube, A-1960.Heddon Black Beauty No. 17 Featherweight Bamboo Fly Rod 7 1/2' ProjectW&m Granger Special Bamboo Fly Rod 8 1/2' Full Length Two Tips For Parts W/ TubeLyon & Coulson Imperial #214 Bamboo Fly Rod 8 1/2' 3/1 Orvis Midge Bamboo Fly Rod 7'6". 2 TipsVintage Heddon # 20 Split Bamboo 8' Fly Fishing Rod, Also Its 4.5 Weight.South Bend #323 Bamboo Fly Rod, 9' 3/2 Hdh, 1950's.Sage 690ds Graphite Ii 9' 5 Wt. Fly Rod, Unfished In Tube.Shakespeare Wonderod Fy 708ul "custom Pro" Fiberglass Fly Rod 6 1/2' 5 Weight!Fenwick Fs67 5' 9” Ul Fiberglass Spinning Rod In Tube, 1974 4-pc.9’ Heddon #17 Bamboo Fly Rod – 4 Piece 9pc.pack Rod Vintage Martin 72 Fly Reel, Bretton104 Spin Reel, Fly Rod,spin RodHeddon Pal #8350 Mark Ii Fiberglass Fly Rod 6 1/2' Line 5 W/ Bag & Tube Ex+!Montage Split Bamboo Fish Kill 8 1/2' Fly RodVintage Fenwick Spinning Rod Fs53 & Fs55 Two For One Bid Excellent No ReserveCook's 'willow Creek' 2507 9’ 3/2 Bamboo Fly Rod, 1950's. Rare 1926-1927 Heddon #35 "peerless" (first Era) 9', 3/2 Split Bamboo Fly Rod W/Fenwick Spinning Rod - Fs50 - 5' Weighing Only 1 3/4 Oz Brook Trout Special !Fenwick Fs53 Ultralight Glass Spinning Rod 5' 3" Two Pc 1/16-1/4 Oz 1-4 Lb LineVintage 8-1/2 Ft Cane (bamboo) Fly Rod, 3 Pieces, Plus Extra TipExcellent Condition Vintage Harnell Spinning Rod Model 626Rare Antique Bamboo Fly RodVintage Bamboo Fly Rod Building. Guides/ FerrulesVintage Fenwick Ff807 8' Fly Rod With Tube And Sock In Excellent ConditionFenwick Fs85 8 1/2' 8 1/2 Oz. Spinning Rod With TubeFenwick World Class Wf86 8 1/2’ Graphite Fly Rod In 6 Wt. Fly Atom Glass Fly Rod 4'6" 1 1/2 Oz. Nmit!Vintage Orvis Silver Label Tl Tip Flex 9.5 4pc 9ft 5wt Fishing Rod W/ CaseVintage Gene Edwards Bamboo Fly Rod Blank. 7'-3 Pc.-4- 5 Wt. Nos.1952 South Bend 9' 6wt Hex Bamboo Fly Rod.Vintage Champion Featherweight - Extra Long - Casting Rod Handle South Bend Antique Bamboo Rod E Or Hdh 291 7 1/2' Very Good Used ConditionVintage Harnell Model 562 Saltwater 40lb Fishing Rod 6' 3" Original CarboloyKencor Mod Sp4v Ultra Lite Fishing Rod 1-4 Lb Excellent!Fenwick Fs70 Light Action Glass Spinning Rod 7' 1/4-1/2 Oz 4-10 Lb Line W/ Bag!Fenwick Bait Casting Rod Fs85c /fenwick Rod CaseVintage Sealey Octopus '' Spinet '' 7ft- 5lb Split Cane Spinning Rod Exc ConEagle Claw Trailmaster Spin/fly Rod Glass 5 Line Light Action Mini-ferrules ExitLamiglas Esprit Chinook Special Graphite Casting Rod With Slotted Reel SeatFenwick Voyageur Fishing Rod Sf75-5 Pack Rod Fly/spin "j" Date 1969/70 FeraliteOrvis "99" 7 1/2' Bamboo Fly Rod 2/1Vintage 9' Phillipson Paramount Bamboo Fly RodVintage1930 Wright & Mcgill Gv8642 8'6" 4pc Split Bamboo Fly Rod Orig TubeClassic The Divine Rod Fly Fishing Rod 9 1/2' Fred Divine 3/2 Wood Form NmintVintage Orvis Bamboo Fly Rod Spectacular Bamboo Fly RiodVintage Scott Fly Rod 7' 3 WtDevine Bamboo Fishing RodVintage Orvis Pa Special 8' 2/1 Graphite Fly Rod #10/30 Presentation Case RareVintage 7 Ft. Cane (bamboo) Fly Rod, 2 Pieces, 4 Or 5 Wgt LineLot Of 2 Vintage Star Rods Made In The Usa Fishing Rods 4-6 Lb & 8-12 Lb Test(7) Antique "steel" Fishing Rods All Usable. Tru Temper. Gs Tiger, Bristol& MoreFenwick Ff70-4 7' Vintage 4pc Fly RodOrvis Impregnated Batten Kill 7' Vintage Bamboo 2pc Spinning Rod Hl Leonard Bamboo Casting RodVintage St. Croix 19sp-59ml & St. Croix, 2401-l-6' Spinning Rods, UsaVintage # 149 Fenwick 4'9" Ultralight P339122 Fishing Rod Nice!Vintage Fenwick Combination Spin Fly Voyager Travel Fishing Rod Sf74-4Lamiglas Tp-7030sp Rod 15-30 Lb 1 - 3 Oz 2-pieceShakespeare Wonderod 1270b Fiberglass Fly Rod 7'9" Yellow Color W/ Bag/tube!Vintage Sage Fly Rod Model Gfl 590 Rp 9 Ft 5 Weight 2 Piece Graphite Ii + Tube