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Reel Seats on the Bamboo Fly Rods
of the South Bend Bait Company
Tim R. Mullican


Identification of South Bend reel seats is complicated by the fact that they didn't use consistent terminology. Terms such as thread locking and screw locking reel seats were used seemingly interchangeably. This is unfortunate, as it leads to confusion when modern day collectors try to describe a rod to another collector. It is the purpose of this article to shed some light on the terminology used by South Bend Bait Company to describe their reel seats.

One example of how South Bend changed their terminology was in 1939 when South Bend first introduced their "Lite-lock" reel seat. In their description for model series 23/24/323 and 46/47/346 in 1939 through 1941, they refer to this new reel seat as follows: "Newly designed light weight thread-lock maroon and chrome reel seat." It wasn't until 1942 however, that they coined the term Lite-lock reel seat.

Early Years:

The first type of reel seat found on South Bend fly rods was an all nickel-silver sliding band reel seat. These rods were supposedly made by the Hendryx factory which was bought out by Winchester in the 1920's. These rods are rather scarce, and I have only seen them in pictures.

Middle Era:

The rods made during the 1930's and early 1940's were some of the most elegant rods made by South Bend. Indeed, many collectors erroneously refer to some of the doublebuilt rods of this period as Cross-built rods. South Bend's Cross rods were a completely separate line of custom-built rods however, and were usually listed in a separate catalog.

Fig. 1. Thread-locking reel seat on South Bend model 27 fly rod.

The reel seats on their high-end rods from 1931 through 1937 were very beautiful down-locking aluminum seats with hard rubber or tenite spacers that they referred to as thread locking (fig. 1). Many of them have the South Bend logo stamped into the aluminum just below the grip (fig. 1). Beginning in 1938 with virtually no comment, South Bend reversed the reel seats on these high-end rods to make them up-locking (not shown). This continued until 1941, and they continued to refer to them as thread locking. Many of their lower priced rods during this period had nickel or chrome plated screw locking bands which they referred to as screw locking. Their screw locking reel seats were usually down locking and had coarser threads than their thread locking seats.

Fig. 2. Typical South Bend Lite-lock reel seat on a model 47 rod.

Modern Era:

South Bend rods made after World War II are much more common and took on a much cheaper looking appearance. Gone were the very fine silk signature wraps and beautiful down-locking reel seats. One of the major innovations that first appeared in 1939 was South Bend's Lite-lock reel seat (fig. 2). The first of these had plastic spacers, but later on some of their higher grade models had much nicer looking anodized aluminum spacers (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Lite-lock reel seat with red anodized aluminum spacer on South Bend model 53 fly rod.

Another commonly seen reel seat, especially on their inexpensive models, was the chrome-plated screw locking reel seat (fig. 4). These were found on rods that sold for as little as $2.75 each.

Fig. 4. Well used Chrome-plated screw locking seat on model 57 rod.

Fig. 5. Positive screw locking reel seat on model 359 fly rod.

The last type of reel seat introduced by South Bend was the positive screw locking reel seat (fig. 5). These were introduced in 1951 and continued to be used on certain models until they ended bamboo rod production in 1953. In 1952 and 1953, they also used this type of reel seat with a cork spacer on their model 24 and 323 rods to reduce weight. This may have also been an attempt to emulate some of the more expensive rods made by other classic makers such as F.E. Thomas and the House of Hardy.

Regardless of the quality of the hardware or lack thereof , the South Bend Bait Company sold countless rods to both the budget minded and the rich. Just the fact that many of their rods survive in such good shape today is a testament to the above average quality of their rods. Indeed, South Bend split bamboo fly rods are some of the most commonly found rods today, behind only the rods mass produced by the Montague Rod Company and Horrocks & Ibbotson. Like many of the more common older vintage items, the rods of the South Bend Bait Company make a "fun" group to collect and are only likely to appreciate more in value as more collectors discover them. ~ Tim R. Mullican

2000 Tim R. Mullican

If you enjoyed this article, read Tim's previous Fishing and Collecting the Oldies article.

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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