I recently procured a number of semi-old Heddon catalogs dating from the early 50s through the late 60s and have been pouring over them to see what the technology of the day was. There are a lot of familiar faces in the catalogs such as the Zara Spook, River Runt, Meadow Mouse, and Lucky 13 – to name a few. It’s really cool to go back and see some of the history of these world-class baits in their original design.
The earliest catalog I have is from the year 1950 and is the subject of this piece. It’s 81 pages long and doesn’t only have a listing of all their tackle, it has pages on how to fish their gear, who was fishing their gear (Homer Circle was one of the more well-known by today’s standards), how they made their gear, etc. It’s no wonder Heddon was the powerhouse of tackle manufacturing of the time.
One thing that got my attention was the number of rods and reels Heddon had in their tackle line-up. They were making casting rods, fly rods, musky and pike rods, and even saltwater rods out of a number of materials that included bamboo, steel and fiberglass. At the time, bamboo and steel were the go-to materials with glass only having been recently utilized. By the 1960s, though, that had all changed and you couldn’t find a bamboo or steel casting rod in their catalogs, the material being replaced by glass.
That 1950 catalog, though, really showcased their bamboo line of casting rods. The overall layout was five pages that included a cover page, introduction page and then three pages describing their bamboo baitcasting line-up.
The introduction page gave a pretty in-depth description of how to choose a casting rod based on length and action. You’ll notice that the rods ranged in length from 4 1/2-feet up to the longest at 6-feet. Actions available were extra-light, light, medium and heavy. Line ratings ranged from 10-pound or less on the extra-light to 25-pound on the 5-foot heavy action rod. They also gave a range of lure weights for each rod model along with what they recommended the angler use the rod for.
At the bottom of the introduction page was a description of types of rods they offered – this time with respect to handle configuration and whether it was one piece or two piece. It’s obvious they wanted the prospective customer to be knowledgeable of their products.
The next page they got into describing the different models they offered with the No. 2550 Deluxe “President-Expert” rods as their flagship. Priced at $30, the rods came in three sizes. They used the most select bamboo for the blank, walnut for the fore grip and reel seat, nickel silver reel mounts, choice cork for the rear grip and carboloy guides.
The next rod offered was billed as “Jim Heddon’s Favorite.” This rod at the time had been in manufacture for over 25 years and had become their best seller. Originally designed for fishing, the rod had apparently become one of the most sought after rods for tournament casters. Priced at $25, the rod featured many of the components that the President Expert featured.
The second page of rods featured two of their “reliable series,” the only difference between the two rods being one was one-piece while the other broke down at the handle. The rods were priced between $12 and $15 and came in 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-foot models.
So far all the rods presented had been built on a straight handle platform. The third page of rods, though, were all based on an offset, pistol grip, rod handle. Models for these rods included Jim Heddon’s Favorite, the No. 551 “Stalwart” and the No. 451 “Reliable.” Priced from $15 to $25, these rods offered the same hardware as the straight-handled cousins.
One thing that caught me was the cost of these rods. Compared to today’s rod prices, these rods were expensive – meaning not every angler could afford them. Not only were they expensive, they were heavy in weight and action compared to today’s graphite or glass counterparts.
But, although today’s gear may be a lot more efficient, you can’t argue the beauty and finish of these works of art. No wonder there are still anglers out there today who covet these rods from days gone by.