I would hate to venture how many rod companies are out there today – it seems every small town across America has at least one. I’m not knocking this surge in rod companies by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s actually opened up a lot of different rod building concepts and, which in turn have had a big impact on the way rods are made today.
Back in the 60s and 70s, though, that wasn’t the case. At that time you had Browning who made the Silaflex, the Garcia Conolon line of rods, Heddon (who would actually make custom rods to order, and a couple other players. Factory rods were just that, factory rods and not too impressive. Many of these companies offered their blanks to the numerous custom shops that dotted the United States and the serious angler generally went that rout instead of purchasing some off the shelf.
But the benchmark for rods was a company out of Washington state called Fenwick. Not only did the company make the best available fiberglass fly rods, they made the best bass sticks too. Like the other companies, thy offered their blanks to the custom builders and if you were really serious about bass fishing, you had your custom rods built on Fenwick blanks.
In the late 60s, Fenwick moved operations from Washington to southern California and set up shop in Westminster. The building was U-shaped, each leg of the U approximately 100 yards in length. Production was on one side, operations at the bend of the U and R&D the warehouse and shipping in the other leg. In between the legs, though, was a 100-yard casting pool – the set-up of the facility was simply amazing and I always enjoyed going there to pick up rods or blanks for the shop.
Not only was Fenwick the leader in fiberglass rod construction, they were the first to produce the graphite rod and also the first to incorporate the use of a telescoping rod into the bass market with the Flippin’ Stik.
They also took handle technology to a different level. They were the first to develop a ferruleless pistol grip where the end of the blank fit into a collet that then slid into the handle. No more metal ferrules to weigh down the rod and suck up sensitivity.
In all, if the name of your rod company wasn’t Fenwick, you were playing catch-up.
Attached to this article are three Fenwick ads from the early- to mid-70s. The first one is an early HMG Graphite ad touting the sensitivity of the high-modulus material along with what would become their most popular rod the GF555.
The second ad features Dave Gliebe hot off his 1977 rampage of the south where he won three events in a row over the course of a month. The events were held by American Bass Fisherman, American Angler and B.A.S.S. Gliebe won all the events with Fenwick’s new Flippin’ Stik and really showed the bass fishing world the technique was valid.
The last ad is also from 1977 and featured Fenwick’s new Lunker Stik 2000. Made of Fenwick’s top-of-the-line high-modulus Fenglass material and the ferruleless handle, the rods were the highest quality glass rods money could buy. And, with the cost of graphite, these rods sold by the millions.
Today, with so many rod manufacturers, it’s really difficult to say who builds the best rods. All the manufacturers make high-quality rods at varying price points. What I’ve found is I need to use rod company X’s rod for this technique or rod company Y’s rod for this bait. That’s a good thing because it spreads the revenue across the board but more importantly, it means us as customers have more to choose from and we can find the perfect rod for everything we do.
That wasn’t the case for the serious angler in the late 60s and 70s, though. There pretty much was only one rod company and that was Fenwick.