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 Bamboo Fly Rod, 8 1/2 Foot , 2 Piece, Paul H. Young, Detroit ?Pat. 1938 Wright & Mcgill Bamboo Fly Rod 3pc 7' With Tube Norsv!Fenwick Feralite Ff9010 Salmon Steelhead Fiberglass Fly Rod 9' 10 Wt. Exit!Orvis Salmon Fly Rod Unsanded Graphite C. 1986 10' 3 Piece Exit!Vtg South Bend 290 Bamboo Fly Rod - 7 1/2' - Sock Tube - Fishing Pole - OriginalVintage Goodwin Granger Victory Bamboo Fly RodGarcia Conolon 2065 Charles C. Ritz Fiberglass Fly Rod 8'5" 9-10 Wt W/ Bag/tube!Vintage F E Thomas Dirigo Bamboo Fly RodFenwick Feralite Ff9012 Saltwater Tarpon Fiberglass Fly Rod 9' 12 Wt. Exit!2 Custom Vintage 8'5" 3 Piece Bamboo Fly Rod W 2 Extra Tips 4 Total Tips7 Foot 4 ½ Oz. Phillipson Haywood Zephyr Split Bamboo Fly Rod8'0" Sewell Dunton Bamboo Fly Rod Number 105 With SleveVintage Fenwick Ff705 Aftma 7 Ft. 2 Piece Fly Rod Fly Fishing Rod Very Nice OneAntique "the Divine Rod" 3-pc Split Bamboo 8.5ft Fly Rod Utica New York With BagVintage Bamboo Fly Rod,goodwin Granger Co. 9ft Granger Special, Denver, Pat 1938Shakespeare Professional Wonderod A-928 9' 8 Wt. Salmon Steelhead Glass Fly RodVintage / Antique Large Lot Of Bamboo Fly Rod Parts 18 PiecesVintage Bamboo Fly Rod 3 Piece 9 1/2' Fly Fishing RodMontague Sunbeam Bamboo Fly Rod. W/ Original Cover, Spare Barrel M8 Case. 9' 3/2Vintage Phillipson Master Mf66 2 7/8 Oz Fly Fishing Rod + Tube 6 1/2' Hdh Hdg #6Scott Powr-ply F-80/5 Ply Rod Wf-5f Made In San Francisco VintageAntique Heddon Dowagiac 1908 Split Bamboo Spin Rod 2 Tips W/sock & Heddon TubeVintage Garcia Conolon Four Star 2508-a, 6 1/2', Fiberglass Spinning Rod, NiceVintage Bamboo Cork Handle Self Contained Juper Lane Fishing Rod Pole4 Pc Southbend Bamboo Fly Rod For Parts Or Repair ~ Look17 Old, Verry Old Antique-newer Style Fishing Rods.Vintage Rod Building Components With Over 245 Snake Guides Etc. Look!!!!Vintage Ferrules / Granger/phillipson/heddon/south Bend Etc. 1947-1952 Heddon No.25 "expert" 6' Split Bamboo Tournament Casting Trade Rod W/Vintage 1950's Nos Actionrod Model 2086 Hastings Michigan Fly RodVintage Fenwick Feralite Fly Rod Fishing Pole 9'3" 5oz 94922 W/caseRare Fenwick Yellow Jacket Spinning Rod Ks72l 6' Antique Bamboo Fly RodVintage Shimano Colfer Handle W/ Loomis Era Lamiglas "green" Rod. Flawless Mint!Vintage Great Lakes 8'6" Fiberglass Fly Rod Tb 8 1/2'. Line D Or 6. Nm Fishing3 Estate Fly Rods Wright Mcgill No M2a 8' Denver Co Sweetheart + No 3-a 8 1/2'Antique ** Kingfisher Trademark ** 8'6'' Ft Bamboo Fly Rod With ( 2 ) TipsVintage Fenwick Feralite Model Plc55 5 1/2 Ft. Bait Casting RodGarcia Conolon 2508t 6.5' 2-piece Spinning Rod Light Action. Mint Never UsedVintage Old Weird Unique Bait Casting Rod Handle With Boat Attachment PatentedOrvis Graphite 8 Foot 2 5/8 Oz Hls Series 2 Piece Fly RodTwo Vintage Used Bamboo Fly Rods For Parts & Repair Or Display. Johnson Profile Eponite Series 400 Two-piece Fishing Rod 6'-4" PhillipsonBamboo Fly RodHardy Bros 3 Piece Bamboo Fly Rod Palakona - Made In England AntiqueVintage Fenwick Fly Rod Fs 64 6.5ft. 4.25oz 2 Piece With Original TubeWinchester Store Spyker Hardware Xenia Ohio Vintage Fishing Rod Canvas BagVintage Abbey & Imbrie 3 Piece Bamboo Fly Rod 9' 0" Needs Ferrel On TipVintage Horrocks Ibbotson Wooden 2pc Fishing Rod Trout Decal 1920's Bamboo? Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod 8’- 8” - NameHeddon Pal #6906 Mark Iv 6 1/2'. Fas-tip Action W/ Original Case. Nice Old Rod!Rare C.1922 Shakespeare No.1111 "expert Casting Rod" 5', 2/2 Split Bamboo W/bothVtg. Metal Fishing Action - Orchard Industries Inc. Detroit Vintage Garcia Conolon 4 Star Spinning RodVintage Fishing Fly Rod "eagle Claw" 8 Ft. Long - Nice Condition ! 2 Tips !Wright Mcgill Eagle Claw Feather Light 6ft Flsu529-6ft Spinning RodVintage 2 Piece 5 Foot Split Bamboo Bait Casting Rod - UnbrandedVintage Fishing Rod CaseShimano Magnumlite Fightin Rod Gt-2593 Bass/walleye Special SpinningVintage 13' Olympic Surf Casting Fishing Rod And Daiwa Reel