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”)

OldRods.com

OldRods.com

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]

Mrlurebox.com

Mrlurebox.com

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]

AntiqueLures.com

AntiqueLures.com

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]

Oldfishinglure.com

Oldfishinglure.com

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]

TackleCollecting.com

TackleCollecting.com

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 Collectible Heddon Bamboo Fly Rod Model 14 Thorobred 8.5' 3/1 2f TaperVintage Heddon #10 9' 2 1/2 Ft Bamboo Fishing 3 Piece Fly RodVintage Montague Rapidan Bamboo Fly RodVintage Heddon #13- 8 1/2 Ft. Bamboo Fly Rod For Refinishing4 Piece Vintage Goodwin Granger Victory Bamboo Fly Rod W/ Sleeve & Tube (911)Orvis Vintage Never Used Rocky Mountain Fly Rod Fly Reel Spinning Reel 50a Bamboo Fly Rod Makers Phillipe Leonard Payne Garrison Young Stoner PowellFenwick Voyageur Fs67-4 - 4 Piece 5' 9" 2-3/8 Oz. Ultralight Spinning RodVintage Orvis Golden Eagle 8' 7wt 2/1 Fiberglass Fly Rod323 South Bend Excel Oreno Line Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod With Tube-4 SectionHeddon #14 2 1/2f 9 Ft.(ish) Bamboo Fly RodVintage Scientific Anglers System 6 Fly Fishing Rod,.. 8' 1"...2 Piece...a5215.Montague Sunbeam Genuine Tonkin 9'vintage Bamboo Fly Rod Fishing Rod 4 PieceVintage D.a.m. Ever Ready 9 Ft 6 Wt Split Cane Bamboo Fly Rod 3 Pc 2 Tips + SockOrvis Full Flex A 7.5ft 3wt 2pc Vintage Fly RodVintage H. L. Leonard Rod Co. Lf86 Fly Rod 8'6" Length 3 3/4 Oz #7 Line 2pc Vgc Garcia Conolon 4 Piece Travel Rod 2546-a 6'0" Ultra Light Spinning RodVintage Lot Of 15 Fishing Rod's + One Reel Vintage And Very Collectable Stub Caster Ice Fishing Rod Antique Vtg Primitive 3 Piece Bamboo Fishing Fly Rod Cane Pole Unmarked Nice :)Vintage Hardy's The Lrh Dry Fly Palakona Split Cane/bamboo Rod #6 3 PieceRichardson Chest Pack Vest And 3 Tray Fly Boxes Built In Flies Excellent Cond.Vintage Browning Silaflex Spinning / Fly Combo Rod With Tube Bag Seahorse LabelVintage Bamboo Fly RodsVintage Goodwin Granger Fly Fishing Rod,.pat April 12 1938..2 Piece, 7'6".denverPayne Made Abercrombie & Fitch Bamboo 3 Pc Rod With Original TubeVintage Big Game Fishing RodFenwick Fs-65 Fiberglass Spin Rod In Fenwick Tube And Bag3 Vintage Abbey & Imbrie 5', 2 Piece Bamboo Casting Fishing RodsVintage Three Piece Cane Fly Rod In Wood CaseVintage Mint H.l. Leonard Rod, Original Case & Tube, Catskill - No Reserve - Ex.Vintage Fenwick Fs55 Ultra Light Spinning Rod, 5 1/2', 2 3/8 Oz. - Made In UsaBrowning Silaflex 5'6" Model 332955 Two Piece Spinning Rod W/ CaseShakespeare Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod A-1362 9' 3 Piece W/ Xtra TipH-i Canada Creek Bamboo Fly Rod 8' 3/2Vintage Pre Browning Silaflex Spinning / Fly Combo Rod With Seahorse Label Antique Vintage Bamboo Flat Sided Fly Rod W/ Box & Floats Orvis Impregnated Bamboo 6 1/2' Vintage Spinning RodGarcia Conolon 9’ Surf/spinning Rod Model 2571b Medium Fast Taper 8-30# Excllnt!Fenwick Fs68 6 3/4' 2 Pc Spinning Rod, Tube & Sock, R 101374, Foul Proof GuidesVintage 9 Foot Bamboo Fly Rod, 3pc+1 With Wood Holder Excellent(10) Vintage Fiberglass Ice Fishing Jig Poles All In Very Nice Used ConditionGarcia Conolon 4 Piece Travel Rod N546-a 6'1/2" Light Spinning RodVintage Shakespeare 8'6" Fiberglass Wonderod Fly Rod W/ No. 1824 Fishing ReelFenwick Fs70 Fishing Rod Vintage Phillipson Royal Fly Fishing Rod Rf80 4oz. Hch-gbf #7 Clean W Case Vintage Phenix Fishing Rod Spinning 7'0" 2 Piece Trout RodRare Antique Kingfisher "champion X 205" 12 Ft Split-bamboo Bait / Trolling RodVintage 3-piece Split Bamboo 8' 0" Fly Rod Brand Unknown W/ Sierra Aluminum CaseHarnell Royal Vi Big Game Rod Antique Fly Fishing Kit Split Cane Rods, Reel, Flys, Line, Hooks, Vintage CaseVintage Abu Garcia Conolon 6 1/2 Foot Med. Action Spinning RodVintage Eagle Claw Trailmaster Pack Rod Spinning Rod Model M4tmu - 7 1/2 Vintage 6' Bait Casting Rod, 2pc Fiberglas. By Waltco Fishing Tackle. Very Good Vintage Phenix Fishing Rod Spinning 6'6" 2 Piece Trout RodVintage J.c.higgins 48w Reel And J.c. Higgins Pistol Grip RodOrvis Bamboo Impregnated Surf Spinning RodVintage Bamboo Rod; Three-piece Bamboo Rod & Extra Tip, Project Rod Needs WorkFenwick Lunkerstik 2000 # 2053 5'6" Beautiful Near Mint Condition.....nice One!Spinng Rod, Bamboo, Phillipson 7', 4 3/4 Oz