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Understanding Antique Fishing Rods

The popularity of antique fishing rods as a collectible has surged in recent years. Most of the rods being sought are made from split bamboo, but there are a few collectors seeking early fiberglass casting and spinning rods. Others enjoy collecting steel spinning and casting rods. Before you set out to add an antique rod to your collection, do some research and understand exactly what “antique” means in the world of collecting.

Fishing Rod Materials

Currently, split bamboo rods are hot with collectors, but they are not the oldest in existence. Early European antique fishing rods were often spliced together from different types of wood and were very long—up to 18 feet. With these early rods, one section might be lancewood, another made from ash, etc.

The tips of these early rods were made from different materials, too, such as greenheart and whale baleen. These early spliced-wood rods are difficult to find, and the majority of collectors don’t spend too much effort looking for them.

Bamboo’s the Thing

Fishing rod manufacturers started using bamboo for the entire rod in the late 1800s. Split bamboo was the material of choice for the majority of manufacturers. Several quality manufacturers produced split bamboo rods, so look for names such as Granger, Young, Hardy, Dickerson, Edwards, and Abbey and Imbrie.

Unlike the early European rods, bamboo rods are short. In fact, the shorter the fishing rod is (6-8 ½ feet) the more valuable it is. For example, a dealer offers two vintage rods to you, the collector. Both are made by a famous manufacturer, but one is a 7 foot rod and the other is a 12 foot salmon rod. The salmon rod is the rarer of the two, but the 7 foot rod is worth up to 5 times more.

Condition is Important

To be valued as a collectible, an antique fishing rod must be in good condition. You, the collector, see two split bamboo rods. One has been restored by a professional restorer to near its original condition. The other rod was also restored, but not so well. The first is incredibly valuable, the second practically worthless, so be sure to closely examine any rod you’re considering buying.

During your examination, make sure to look at the entire rod. Not all dealers and restorers are completely honest. There are those who will take an expensive handle, attach it to a poor quality bamboo rod and claim the “mutant” is the expensive rod.

Important Examination Details

Measure the rod and make sure it’s the length it should be. If the tip has been broken, the rod will be too short. In addition, measure the individual sections. They should be close to the same length. Check, too for cracks and curvature. Lay the sections on a flat surface and roll them around. There shouldn’t be any gaps.

Finally, check to see if the rod still has its accessories. The presence of the original cloth bag and rod tube, in good condition, increases the value of the antique fishing rod.

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