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    

E C Powell Vintage Split Bamboo Fly Rod, 9' 3 Piece Plus Extra Tip.H L Leonard & Mills Tournament Vintage 9' Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage 8' H. L. Leonard Bamboo 2pc Fly Rod - Excellent CondionVintage Nathaniel "nate" Uslan Bamboo Fly Rod Model 7513 7'6" 2/2Vintage Ll Bean 110 Bamboo Fly Rod W/original Sock-extra TipCharles F Orvis 9' Impregnated Vintage Fly Rod, #2660Genuine Heddon Vintage 8.5' Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage Nathaniel "nate" Uslan Bamboo Fly Rod Model 9016 9' 2/2 Five Strip PentaEdwards E. W. Deluxe 9' Bamboo Fly RodVintage Near Mint Fantastic Custom Koshoshek 7 Foot Bamboo Fly Fishing Fly Rod Fenwick Ff765-4 Fiberglass Voyageur Fly RodVintage Hand Tied Flies With A Us Field BagVintage ~ "hardy Palakonathe Wye" 2 Piece Split Cane RodVintage 1938 Goodwin Granger Denver Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod W/ Case & BagVintage Fenwick Ff756, 7 1/2', 2 Piece, Fly Rod, /sock /case Mint L@@kVintage South Bend Bamboo Fly Rod 59 - 81/2' With A & F Rod Case Extra TipVintage ~ C1930 ~ "hardy Brothers" Bamboo & Brass ~ Rod Tiptube Or CaseScarce Antique 1920’s Outing Mfg. Co. Dewey’s Getum Fishing Rod Reel Combo-vtg Vintage Harnell 1480-s Four Piece Fiberglass 8 Foot Pack Fly Rod.Vintage, Antique, Bamboo Dame Stoddard Co Fly Rod With Original Holder And Bag,Fenwick Fs 85 - 8'6" Length 2 Pc Construction - American Made - Priced 2 SellCustom Bamboo Fly Rod 7' Winston Taper Flamed 4wt Maple Silver Up Locking Seat Vintage ~ C1961 "hardy Palakona" "the Taupo" ~ 3 Piece Split Cane Rod & BagVintage Fenwick 10' 6" Fenglass Fishing Rod # Sh1262 F Salmon Steelhead StriperAntique Vtg Brass Reel 4 Brothers By Pflueger & 7' 7" Bamboo Rod & Wood HandleVintage Fenwick Fs65 Spinning Rod MintFenwick #149 Ultra-lite 4'9" Spinning RodFenwick Fiberglass Spin Rod Fs 110 In Tube And BagLamiglas Xcf 106 4f -- 10'6" Mooching Rod And 6" Peetz Vintage Mahogany ReelVintage Fenwick Fs90 9' Fishing Spinning Rod 2 Piece - Nice!Scarce 1926 Shakespeare Deluxe Fishing Tackle Catalog, Rods, Reels, Lures+, FineVintage Fenwick Feralite Fs64 Fishing Spinning Rod Fishing Rod / Pole - Garcia Conolon B520 B - Excellent ConditionVintage Custom Fin-nor Big Game Trolling RodVintage Lot Of 6 Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rods For Parts Or Repair RestorationVintage Awesome Bill Barnes 6 Weight Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodBeautiful Fenwick Fishing Rod With Case! Excellent Condition! No Reserve!Lot Of 4 Used Vintage Garcia Mitchell 300 Spinning Reels For Parts Or RepairVintage Bamboo Fly Rod 3 Pc 8 Ft 6 Inch Round W/sleeveVtg Penn Senator 4/0 S-3240 Rf 30-50 Lb Deep Sea Saltwater Big Game Fishing Rod Garcia Conolon 2101 Spinning Rod CompleteFeatherweight Champion Black Pistol Grip Fishing Rod HandleVintage Fenwick Feralite Ff807 Fly Rod W/ Tube & Sock- ExcellentVintage Herter's Bamboo 9' Fly Rod 3 Piece + 1 Tip Original Sock & Tube 41855 O82-piece 6' 6" Garcia Conolon Light Action Fast Taper Spinning Rod Model 8208-dVintage Wards Precision Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodCa. 1960s Zebco Mod. 3366 G-- Six Foot, 2 Pc. Casting Rod In Mint.cond. Lotdw213Fishing Rod / Pole - Garcia Conolon -light Action - 2111 T - Great ShapeShakespeare Featherweight Bamboo Fly Rod 8', 3pc Vintage Shakespeare Bamboo Fly RodGarcia Conolon 2510b Spinning Rod2-piece 6' 3" Heddon Lucky 13 Casting Rod 4243Browning Silaflex 980 8' 2pc Vintage Fly Fishing Rod Very Nice Look Ships FastVintage 1930's Granger Deluxe Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 4 Pieces Original Bag Antique Winchester Split Bamboo Fly Rod 8.5" 4-5 Wt. Great Condition No SettingVintage Shimano Bullwhip Fightin' Rod Bw-2551 Light Action Spinning RodVintage Abu Garcia Conolon Four Stars 7'0" Spinning Rod No Reserve.Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod 4 Piece-montague RapidanVintage Custom Built Lamiglas Spinning Fishing Rod Surf Casting 8'-3/4ft 105"Champion Products Handle Rod Copper Metal Telescopic Casting Fishing Rod-vintage