1978: Graphite – That’s so 1974

Phenix Rod ad from circa 1979 featuring 42 different rods models and the infamous trucker hat.

Phenix Rod ad from circa 1979 featuring 42 different rods models and the infamous trucker hat.

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.

Jan Detzel, wife of Phenix owner Charlie Detzel, holds up the IGFA womens' world record largemouth bass caught at Lake Casitas in 1981. The fish weighed 15-05 and was caught on a live crawdad with 6-pound line.

Jan Detzel, wife of Phenix owner Charlie Detzel, holds up the IGFA womens’ world record largemouth bass caught at Lake Casitas in 1981. The fish weighed 15-05 and was caught on a live crawdad with 6-pound line.

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.

Phenix Rod ad circa 1981. Now they're up to more than 50 rod models but the trucker hat is missing.

Phenix Rod ad circa 1981. Now they’re up to more than 50 rod models but the trucker hat is missing.

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.

  • I had a Browning boron rod (pistol grip, ‘medium’ action) that I used as a grub rod with 6 or 8# test mono for years. Liked the rod well enough, but didn’t care for the fuji handle.

    Couple browning execs brought a 100% boron rod on a Mexico trip once. They knew it wouldn’t hold up, but wanted everyone’s opinion on its sensitivity. After one of us (not me, HONEST) exploded it on a hook set, they put it in the campfire at night to burn the resin off and show us the boron construction.

    • Rich, I think the funniest thing about that is there was a purpose for burning the rod. 🙂

  • I have a couple of the Shimano Canis rods, all short rods as well, I think they had some Boron as well? Pretty sensitive but brittle

  • paul wallace

    Never heard of the Phenix Rod?? I do have Shimano Magnumlite, Fightin Rods and Speedmaster Rods that some supposedly contain Boron?? I will say this. There is no better rod than those mentioned above in the straight handled 1653 and 2702 models!!! Those being the 6 1/2 ft and 7 ft models. I can and still do use them for 80% of everything I do….lol Best rods ever.. they go for more now on e-bay than they did new in the 80’s???I do have a closet/rod locker full of them…Unfortunately I’m golfing all the time and don’t use them as often I should…
    Paul

    • fish_food

      Paul,

      Do you have a 1653 you’d care to part with or maybe a thrashed beater that I could salvage the trigger/reelseat from? The reelseat hood finally cracked on mine. It’s one of my favorite rods and I was heartbroken when the hood cracked. I actually had the guides replaced with SiC equivalents (wrapped with minimal thread and epoxy) and reduced the diameter of the foam handle a bit. Such a great rod–I even took it to the Amazon for peacocks. Would love to get it back in action!

      If you have one to sell, please let me know.

      • paul wallace

        I will take a look. I do have some beaters…lol. On a side note, I have one 1653 with cracked [slightly] hood, that I tape with good electrical tape after my reel is on it and no problems?? I will take a look and let you know.
        Paul

        • fish_food

          Ok–let me know. Thanks!

          • paul wallace

            fishfood, send me your mailing address and or email me at wallacekq@aol.com
            I have a sm1653 that is missing about 8 ” of rod tip. I will never use it. It does have a tip on it and is usable, but you can have it for fixing yours. Cover the shipping and you can have it. I can ship it in 6 ft tube or chop handle off and save some on shipping…lol…just let me know
            Paul

  • fish_food

    What does a good boron rod feel like? I bought a 1982 era Fenwick Boron X rod (5’6″ pistol grip, 3 power) when I was teen and caught lots of fish with it. It didn’t strike me as being any more sensitive than the equivalent BPS Graphite 96 I had at the same time. The Boron X feels slow by today’s standards–very much like a contemporary crankbait rod.

    I like the Fuji spinning handle in the Phenix ads. Always wanted a spinning rod with that handle when I was a kid but never had a chance to fish one. It still looks like a very clean design to me.

    • Fish,

      Those handles were awful!!!! Heavy as heck and about as sensitive as Archie Bunker. and, once the o-ring started to wear a bit on the ferrule, you often cast the rod out of the handle. 🙂

      I have to concur with you 100% that the boron rods were slow. And, if I really think about it, they weren’t any more sensitive. At least with the Phenix rods, they were much better balanced and that leads a lot to feeling more sensitive.