In 1974 Fenwick introduced the fishing industry to graphite as a material to replace fiberglass in rod construction. The difference was remarkable in more ways than one. First it was significantly lighter than glass but even more important, it was much higher in modulus thus creating a much faster rod. The other attribute that made graphite superior was its sensitivity. The old saying was “you could feel a fish breathe on your worm from a foot away.”
But before graphite finally took hold of the rod market around 1977 there was another material being touted as the new wonder material. That was boron.
Boron rods were first introduced towards the end of 1976 when a small company in southern California jumped on the high-tech bandwagon. That company was Tack’L Mark Corporation – the makers of Phenix Boron Rods.
The first time I ever saw a Phenix rod was early in 1977 while shopping at a place called Reuben’s Sporting Goods in Cypress, California. Charlie Detzel, the owner of Tack’L Mark, was in the store trying to make his sales pitch on why boron was so much better than plain graphite. His reasons were higher modulus and more sensitivity.
Picking a graphite rod out of the rack he had all of us interested in listening hold the graphite rod and one of his new boron rods. Then, with a business card he’d touch the tip of the rod ever so slightly and ask which one we could feel better. The answer was the boron rod seemed more sensitive. I had to have one.
When the material was first introduced to the market, though, it was a bit misleading. Nowhere in the early ads was it mentioned that boron was the replacement for glass scrim in the blank construction. In fact, most of the rods were only about 6-percent boron and that boron was the first layer placed on the mandrel and used for rigidity. In other words, it was there to make the rod less prone to breakage.
By 1979 Fenwick and Browning had come out with their line of boron rods but compared to the Phenix line, they both felt like clubs. At least in the southwest, Phenix was the only rod company out there. The first couple of years they offered about 10 models which consisted of a couple spinning rods and the rest casting rods – all 5-1/2 feet in length. By 1980 they were offering 54 different rods, many of which were pro models designed by well-known western pros such as Larry Hopper, Don Iovino and Mike Folkestad.
In the early 90s the Phenix rod company was suffering from low sales and the emergence of some guy named Gary Loomis. Loomis was turning out amazing all-graphite rods that were lighter and much more sensitive than boron ever could be. It didn’t help Phenix that they’d stayed with the old Fuji pistol grip and spinning handles – which weighed a ton compared to Loomis’ Weibe-designed cork grips and through-handle pistol grips.
Detzel sold the company in the early 1990s to Hollywood lighting man and bass angler Larry Howard. Howard would bring the company back from near death by incorporating more modern handle designs but more importantly he embraced the newer lighter graphite, steering away from boron all together. He also started a tackle line which sold soft plastics and many other terminal tackle items.
Today Phenix is still around making rods but if you compared them to the first-generation boron rods, the only thing that’s the same is the logo. Is that good or bad? Well from a nostalgic standpoint, it’s a bummer. Looking at it from a technological viewpoint, though, it’s a good thing for both angler and company.
I still have a dozen or so original Phenix Boron Rods in the garage. In fact I regularly use one of them in my daily fishing. Model 53M – it’s 5-feet 3-inches in length, medium power, and although I’ve rewrapped it a couple of times (with the original BNHG Fuji guides) and replaced the pistol grip at least twice it’s been my underhand spinnerbait rod for over 30 years.