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 Heddon 7 ½’ - #13 Bamboo Fly Rod Rare Estate FindBamboo Fly Rod - Orvis "99" 7' 6", 5/6 Wt. W/orvis Reel Combination!!rare!!heddon Black Beauty #17 Bamboo Fly Rod Nice!!! Vintage 8.5ftVintage Phillipson Paragon 69 Bamboo 3 Piece Fly Fishing Rod 8 1/2' - 5 HdhVintage Fenwick Ff-70 Fly Rod, Trout, Small Stream, 7' 2pc. Rare, FishingVintage Fenwick Fly Rod Ff79 8' 3 3/8 Oz. Minty From EstateVintage Ff-605 6' 2 Piece Fenwick Fly Rod, Bluegill, Brooktrout, Rare Vintage Phillipson Pacemaker Bamboo Fly Rod Wow 4 Pc In CaseCortland Procrest 8' Fiberglass Fly RodVtg Excellent Cond 7' Phillipson Royal 2-pc Rf70c Fly Rod Fabric Cover & Tube The Walton Powell Split Bamboo Fiberglass Graphite Fly Rod 7ft 6"Lamiglas Fly & Spinning Rods Ultra Light Action, Bag And Tube Vintage Garcia 4 Star Conolon B537-a Fly Rod Made In Usa Vintage Fenwick Fly Rod Ff856 8 1/2' 3 3/8 Oz. #6 Minty From EstatePhillipson Paragon Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod 3/2 9'Unknown Bamboo Salmon-steelhead Rod 8' 6", Dam Quick 5206 Fly Reel + Line Vintage Fenwick Surf Spinning Rod Made In Usa Wright- Mcgill Granger " Favorite" Split Bamboo Fly Rod 9'- 3/1- 5 Oz- 6wtVintage Garcia 5 Star Conolon 2405-a Fly Rod Made In Usa Vintage Wright & Mcgill Trailmaster 6.5' Fishing Pole Rod W/ Tube - Spin FlyEdward Vom Hofe & Co Bamboo Fishing RodSuper Near Mint Vintage Heddon 4 Pc (2 Tips) Black Beauty Split Bamboo Fly RodVintage Fenwick 7' Fly Rod W/ Sock & Tube -lightly UsedVintage Rare H&i 7’ Tonkin Price Trout Logo Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodShimano Speedmaster Fightin RodVintage Ultra Light 6’ Creek/stream Fly/spin Split Bamboo Fishing RodVintage South Bend Bamboo Fly Rod No. 59-9 Ft, With Cloth Sack And Tube E. C Powell Split Cane Fly RodSouth Bend #359 Split Bamboo Fly Rod 8 1/2'- 3/2 Beautiful Dry Fly ActionFenwick Venture 2pc. Light Spinning Rod, Vs 56 Ul-2, 5'6" Nice!!Lot Of Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod SectionsSouth Bend Bamboo Fly Rod VintageVintage Fenwick Fly Rod Ff98 9' 4 3/4oz. Line 10-11 Minty From EstateRedington 9'8wt 4 Piece Tsf Fly Rod - Trade In ProgramVintage Fenwick Feralite 2 Piece Fishing RodVintage Usa 5-1/2' Fenwick Feralite Fs5 2-piece Ultralight Spinning Rod - MintyVintage Phillipson Stream Knight Sk 76 7'6", 2pc, Glass Fly Rod 3 Vintage Bamboo Fly Rods By Phillipson Heddon Dolphin 4 Extra Sections Leonard Tournament 50 1/2 Fly Rod 3/2 With Original Sock, Tube And Hang TagAntique J. Forrest 12’ Bamboo Salmon Fly RodOrvis 6 1/2' Full-flex Fiberglass Spin Rod--- Lures 1/4- 1/2 OzFenwick Spinning Rod Sp843, 7' Medium Light Action Shimano Bullwhip Graphite Fightin' Rod Bw-2593 5'9" 1-piece Spinning Rod/rare!Vintage Garcia Conolon 2510-a 4 Star Spinning Rod Made In Usa Vintage Fenwick Flyrod Ff 756 7"1/2ft 6 Weight 3oz. W/ Tube Trout, Bass, Vintage Custom 8' Tonkin Cane Split Bamboo Fly Rod Sewell N Dunton "angler's Choice" Bamboo Fly Rod Vintage Harnell Fishing Rod Blank 7.6 Foot Saltwater Striped BassOld Hardy Monogram Bamboo Fly Rod Rare Hardy's 4 Pcs. Plus Vintage TubeWright And Mcgill 8' Fiberglass Fly RodVintage Garcia Conolon 5 Ft 4 Inch Light Action Fiberglass Spinning Rod 2 - 6 LbWow Vintage 6' Orvis Fullflex 2 Piece Fly Fising Rod No Reserve Sweet!Vintage Fenwick Ultra-lite Spin Cast Rod Fs60 1-4 Lb Test Line Two Piece W/tubeVintage Heddon # 10 8 ½’ Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodSouth Bend No.24 Bamboo Fly Rod , Wow Ex Cond! LqqkVintage Montague Bamboo Heavy Deep Sea Fishing Rod. Stone HarborOrchard Industries Action RodVintage Heddon Bamboo Spinning / Casting Rod 66 1/2" Kunnan Graphite Advantage Spiraltech 10' Noodle Fishing RodVintage Fenwick Fs80 ~ Feralite 8' 7 7/8 Oz Fly Fishing Rod - Ser. # G160340