Over the last few years, we’ve done a few articles on the history of graphite rods – mostly based on Fenwick, the first company to utilize the material in production fishing rods. Fenwick first introduced their rods at the AFTMA show in 1973 and by early 1974 they were being marketed to anglers. In that first year rod costs were high, about $150 per rod, but worse yet, breakage was higher.
It was obvious the new space-age material was a winner, the problem was figuring out how to lay the material on a mandrel so its properties could be best exploited without breakage.
By 1976, that hiccup had been somewhat worked out and more and more companies were producing rods with graphite. That brings me to the article presented in this latest piece. “Facts You Should Know About Graphite Rods,” was written by Steve Wunderle and printed in the May/June and July August issues of The Lunker Hole magazine. Unfortunately I’m missing the May/June issue and therefore have not read Part One of the series, which, as stated in the introduction of part one, was about how graphite rods were made at the time. (Editor’s note: If any of our readers happen to have a copy of the May/June issue and are willing to loan it to us, please contact us at email@example.com. We’ll scan the issue and get it back to you).
Part two of the article, though, provides an interesting look back into how the industry was not just dealing with the new material but how they’d accepted it and started competing. Wunderle had attended the latest AFTMA show and interviewed the heavy hitters of the graphite rod industry to get their take on the new material and the rods they were producing. He interviewed Don Haggard (Skyline), Al Jackson (Lew Childre and Sons), Robert Barrie (Garcia Conolon), Gary Loomis (Lamiglas), John Marsman (Heddon), Ben Hardesty (Shakespeare) and lastly, Dave Myers of Fenwick.
What industry had to say at the time was they were getting past the breakage issues with graphite but each company was going about it differently. Some companies, like Skyline, were against placing any form of glass in their blanks saying, “glass insulates the feel and slows down the response.”
Al Jackson’s (Lew’s) comments were quite humorous on another front. In his first few sentences he stated that Lew Childre purposefully stayed out of the graphite race “until the graphite smoke screen settled down.” His thoughts, and rightfully so, were that the industry would go through three stages – high cost, a marketing race where companies would be putting sales in front of R&D which would lead to an unsatisfactory product and then third, prostituting the word graphite to sell rods by virtue of being graphite. Looking back, Childre was absolutely right about the events that would happen.
By 1978, though, Childre and Jackson had figured out the graphite riddle and not only started manufacturing graphite rods but had started developing graphite pistol grips and collet systems.
Robert Barrie (Garcia Conolon) started out by saying, “Conolon, Garcia’s rod producer, was the first rod maker to introduce graphite in a fishing rod. This was exhibited at the AFTMA tackle show five or six years ago.” That would mean that Garcia would have introduced the rod in the 1972-73 time frame – nearly a year before Fenwick.
Barrie went on to say that those first rods were only made to highlight the R&D efforts being conducted at the rod factory. Instead of being built on a tapered steel mandrel as used in glass rod construction, they were made with a wood core. From a historical point of view, I had never heard this story before.
Probably the best comment that Barrie made, though, was at the end of his talk with Wunderle where he said “Glass-graphite blends are exactly that – a blend of two dissimilar materials that result in neither a good glass rod nor a good graphite rod but a poor compromise of the two.” Maybe that was true of the day but since about the mid-‘90s, some of the best rods made have been of a glass/graphite combination.
The next section was Lamiglas’ view on the subject and was represented by Gary Loomis. Loomis talked about Lamiglas’ “deflection computer program” and that they were the first company to make straight unidirectional graphite tubing on a production basis.
If you’ve ever had a chance to talk with Loomis about this effort, he’ll tell you it was how he solved the problem of the early graphite rods breaking. By making thousands of these tubes and testing them to breakage, they figured out how to lay graphite on a mandrel.
The other sections of the article continue to give a good history of what companies were doing at the time. We’ve provided the full article below for you to check out. Believe me, it’s informative and provides a good bit of humor.