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    

Rare Antique C1900 Fly Rod 8 Strip Bamboo German Silver Fabulous! FishingVintage Ll Bean 110 Bamboo Fly Rod W/original Sock-extra TipVintage Gene Edwards Bamboo Fly Rod Building Blank. Nos. Eight Foot.Uslan 8' Bamboo Fly RodVintage, Mint & Never Fished! Fenwick Fenglass Fs 89c. Plastic Still On Cork! Orvis Graphite Rod, Brook Trout 7' 6" - Vintage Fly Fishing Fly RodLeonard Duricane Fly Rod Model 857 8 1/2' 4 3/4oz. Line #7 Bag & TubeVintage Walton Powell Fiberglass 8 1/2 Foot Fly Rod Mint ConditionVintage Fenwick Ff 85 Fly RodExcellent 3-pc Vintage Horrocks & Ibbotson Vernley Bamboo Fly Rod W/two TipsVintage Fenwick Fly Rod Ff85 Translucent Blank 'i' Serial Number Made In 1968 1 R2f Montague Rapidan Bamboo Fly Rod 7 1/2' Exc CondVintage Fenwick Feralite Fly Fishing Rod Ff75 7 1/2 Ft 3 1/4 Oz.small Stream Bamboo Fly Rod Fe Thomas Special Vintage Flyrod !!Vintage Wright & Mcgill Eagle Claw "trailmaster" M6tmu 6'9" Fishing Rod + Case +Vintage Heddon Bamboo Rod #200, 4 1/2 FeetFenwick Fs80 8' Fiberglass Spinning Rod W/tube, 1975.Vintage Berkley Parametric Curt Gowdy Signature Fly Fishing Rod Pg-40 7' 6" ExcVintage Fenwick Fs60 6' Feralite Fishing Spinning RodVintage Custom Montague Fishkill 7 ½’ Light Creek/stream Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage Wards Thorobred Bamboo Fly Rod 9' 3/2 TipsD-vintage 6' Orvis Impregnated Bamboo 2 Pc Superlight Spin Fly Fishing Rod-78199Fenwick Ff85 8 1/2 Ft. Fly Rod With Original Aluminum Case !! "g" Series !!Vintage Custom Creek Stream Split Bamboo Fly/spinning Fishing RodVintage Shakespeare Split Bamboo Fly Rod Marvel No. 1357 9' 2 Tips Near Mint ! !2 Vintage Boat Rods Edw.vomhofe & Co. No.6&the H.l. Leonard Rod Leonard & Mills!Sage Graphite Ii Fly Rod1941 Heddon Deluxe Fishing Tackle Catalog, Fully Illustrated In Color, **good**Wright & Mcgill 4tmf ‘trailmaster’ 7 1/2' Spin/fly Pack Rod In Tube, 1960's.Vintage Un-named 8 1/2' 3 Pc With 2 Tips Split Bamboo Fly Rod. In Tube ! ! !C.1930's Horrocks-ibbotson 8-1/2', 3/2 "ultra Light" Split Bamboo Fly Rod WithRare Vintage & Mint. Not A Scratch On It! Lamiglas G593 Series G 500 Graphite Vintage Heddon Thorobred Split Bamboo Fly Rod # 14~~~~vintage Fenwick Fly Line No 5 Fishing Pole Rod M099881 Aftma Ff805~~~~Rare Vintage Great Lakes Products Whirlaway 75 Fishing Reel & Original Rod Wow!Nice 1932 South Bend Deluxe Fishing Tackle Catalog, Bamboo, Reels & Lures, F-vfVintage Fishing Rod And Reel Kingfisher Conolon 2327 And Garcia Mitchell 304Vintage Gene Eward's Bamboo Spinning RodRare Vintage Fenwick C-62 ~ 6' Foot 2 Piece Casting Fishing Rod Minty! L@@k!Rare Vintage & In Excellent Condition. Shakespeare Ugly Stik Fly Rod Fy1100 9'Vintage 12' - 0" Drop Ring Fly Rod Vintage Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Fly Fishing Rod Yellowstone Special - Vgc! Vintage Emmrod Fishing Rod Handle Patent Pending Grey Aluminum Lamiglas Xcf 106 4f -- 10'6" Mooching Rod And 6" Peetz Vintage Mahogany ReelVintage Custom 8 ½’ Creek/stream Calcutta Split Bamboo Cane Fly Fishing RodVintage Fenwick Fs 79c Spinning RodVintage,rare,wright & Mcgill,challenger,9ft,bamboo,fly Rod,fishing,case,lot Of 2Vintage Shakespeare Wonderod 6 1/2' Model #-dhh Spinning Rod Vintage/old .. Bamboo.. Fishing Rod/pole .. Casting/spinning Rod.. AntiqueVintage Fly Fishing Rod Unknown 3-pc Split Bamboo Fly Rod With Fly Fishing VestSt. Croix Premier Musky Pm70hf2 7' Fishing RodVintage Stub-caster Fishing Rod With Criterion Level Winding No. 1960 ReelGarcia Conolon 4 Star Ultra Light RodVintage H-i President Split Bamboo Bait Rod 9 1/2' Ft. 3 Piece, Usa,bag.Lot Of 4 Used Vintage Garcia Mitchell 300 Spinning Reels For Parts Or RepairVintage South Bend Bamboo Fly Rod-9'0"Vintage Bamboo Thomas Special Bait Casting Rod No.16Fenwick Feralite Fly Rod Ff75Garcia Conolon 4-star Ultra-lightTsunami Airwave 10' Surf Rod Med Hvy Tsawss-1002mh New