Graphite Rods: Only for the Wealthy Angler?

Figure 1. Click on image to view larger version.

In today’s bass scene, anglers complain about the high cost of nearly everything associated with the sport. Twenty-dollar crankbaits, $400 reels and $60,000 bass boats seem the norm. Everyone complains that in order to stay competitive, like the pros, they too need the high-dollar gear. Recently I was leafing through the 1974 March/April issue of Bass Master Magazine and came across this little gem of an article on the “new” graphite rods that were soon to be debuted. I thought it was interesting – not only because of the nostalgia but because the same was true back then. Equipment costs were beginning to skyrocket for those who wanted to stay competitive.

Fenwick introduced the first graphite rods in 1974, and if you read Figure 1, you’ll see that they were introduced at the hefty price of roughly $150 each. Those are 1974 prices folks. In today’s market, that would be worth more than $711 (Megabass might need to raise their prices after they see this).

The other cool thing reported in this article, as can be seen in Figure 2, is the cost of a bass boat (with motor), trolling motor and depth finder. What got me was the fact that if you outfitted yourself with 10 graphite bass rods, your rod cost would be roughly half the cost of your boat!

Figure 2. Click on image to see larger version.

By the beginning of the ’80s, nearly every bass angler was using graphite rods exclusively – by then the price had dropped significantly but they were still much higher than their fiberglass counterparts – and the fiberglass rod was out of the picture for the most part. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that fiberglass would make a comeback for techniques such as crankbait fishing.

Does this mean we shouldn’t complain about the high cost of gear?  No. But we shouldn’t say things were so much cheaper in the “olden days” of bass fishing. New technology costs money – it doesn’t matter what decade it is.

The last figure shows the first ad Fenwick placed in Bass Master (same issue) touting their new line of graphite rods. Check it out.

Figure 3. First Fenwick HMG ad in Mar/Apr 1974 Bass Master Magazine. Click on image to view larger picture.

  • DEW JR

    I noticed in figure 2 of this article the mention of an oxygen meter. Does anyone use or heard of anyone using oxygen or PH meters today?

    • Hey Dew Jr. I sure haven’t heard of anyone using either of them. Oxygen meters and pH meters were hard to keep calibrated and they were also fragile. Who knows, there’s probably someone out there still that swears by them.

      • DEW JR

        Terry, I’m still a non-boater and a newbie when it comes to technology. As far as locating bass, do you think it even matters now that the latest sonar systems are so advanced/efficient at locating them?

        • Dew, I don’t think it mattered then and I don’t think it matters now. The only thing I think “might” make a difference is an oxygen meter but they’re so sensitive and unreliable in the hands of an untrained individual to be a moot point. The best thing that was ever developed – to this day – is the depth finder, and I call it that for a reason. It’s just that today’s depth finders show you a lot more than just depth
          ‘There’s a reason no companies are marketing O2/pH meters today. They didn’t work or they were too hard to keep calibrated. That’s my opinion.

  • Watt

    Agree with the can’t keep calibrated point! Man do I ever! I used to have a Combi-C-Lector mounted with the probe on a winch reel through the transom. I could push a button and drop the probe to whatever depth I wanted and watch it on my through hull flasher. I would take the reading and fish the exact opposite of what it told me! Worked like a charm! 😮

    Those Fenwick HMGs were the real deal and forerunner to all of today’s hi-mod rods. Fenwick was always on the cutting edge back then. Plus they had the coolest jackets!

    • LOL. Yes their jackets were darn cool. As were the hats and – dare I say it – patches. 🙂 The rods were awesome and light-years ahead of glass. I bought my first one around 75 – a trout rod – that I still have today. I bought the blank and wrapped it myself – at 11 years old.

      I’m working on another piece regarding the graphite rod. Here’s a trivia question for you. Who is responsible for taking the “space-age” material from the aerospace industry and putting it to use in the fishing industry? I won’t answer the question until the piece comes out and I think you’ll all be pretty surprised. 🙂

      • Watt

        Hmmmmm, got me on this one. I remember Lew’s being one of the original frontrunners with composities. I know they were the first with a graphite reel seat. Remember those? They had a screw through the seat to hold the reel on and invariably it broke every time I stuck a big fish. Cost me Seminole one year. Heh! Man I miss pistol grips. NOT!

        Guess I’ll just have to wait to see the answer. Time to go clean up my Hawaiin Wiggler to do some buzzbait fishin’! 😮

  • fish_food

    Wow–I had completely forgotten about Fenwick’s Lunker Gazette. Wish I hadn’t thrown away my copies around the time I started college…

    When did Boron-X become popular (and then fade to obscurity)?

    • I wish you hadn’t either fish_food. That’s a big loss! I would have used them on here!

      As for Boron-X – that gawd awful brown abortion of a rod. Let’s think back. Phenix was the first rod company to utilize boron in their rods. They came out in 1976 (for the price of $69.95). They had the market share for about two years before Fenwick came out with theirs. I remember those old rods as I used to sell them at the tackle shop. They were so stiff you could put a 1oz jig on them and they wouldn’t bend – and that was on a 4-power. LOL. Phenix was the shiz back then rod wise. And I still have about 10 of those originals in my basement. Pistol grip and all. 🙂

  • fish_food

    Thanks for the history lesson–I do remember hearing about or seeing the Phenix boron-composite ads. Around the age of 16 (early -mid 1980s), I shelled out $40 for what must have been a last-of-the-production-run era Boron X 5’6 pistol grip rod. I assume last-of-the-production-run because the Fenwick logo was just a stick on decal that wasn’t epoxied over (versus the water transfer type decals or silk screened logos) and the rods were all displayed in a garbage can near the register for quick sale.

    It was a 2 power with a really slow action and it didn’t fish anywhere near as nice as a neighborhood kid’s glass Lunkerstik 2000 that I really coveted. I still have the rod, actually…

  • I could be wrong, as us old bass anglers are just that, old…but I have two Skyline Graphite Rods which I believe I got new in 1971, and as I recall they were the first graphite rods made. I later bought my first Fenwick HMG Boron rod in Long Beach (traded silver coins for it), and even had Phenix Rods for a tournament sponsor in the early 1980s. I used to love going to the Phenix shop to pick up my tournament entry checks from them, and talking tackle.
    Marc Marcantonio

    • Hey Marc,

      Skyline was actually #2 in the graphite rod business. They came out after Fenwick did in 1974. Skyline’s rods were introduced in late 74 and their ads didn’t start showing up in the magazines until 1975. I did an article with Larry Hopper ( a few months back and he went through the whole history of the graphite revolution with me. Larry actually played a major role in introducing graphite to the fishing industry.

      I was given a Fenwick HMG531 spinning blank for my 10th birthday in 1974. It was one of the first graphite blanks made by Fenwick. I still have it to this day!


  • Yea, like I said it is hard to remember dates and the age of stuff. I just went through a lot of my tackle boxes and pulled out all my old lures. I didn’t realize I still have so many of the original Bagley’s, and other old lures that have become “collectible.” Somehow none of this seems possible as I still use this stuff and it seems like I just bought it! I still use my old Ambassador 4600 CA, although now it sports a graphite handle, ceramic bearings, and carbon drag.