There has been a need for a good book covering the history
of cane rods for some time. With the seemingly increase in
folks wishing to fish cane, or just to know more about the
history, many had hoped such a book would appear.
It has. That's the good news. And indeed there is a lot
of wonderful information and over nine hundred very good
photos covering the time period from 1843 to 1960.
The bad news is the text is poorly written, choppy, awkward
and unedited. In fact, it is the only book in our collection
of a couple of thousand which has a disclaimer by the publisher
reading, "Interior design, lay-out, and editing supplied by the
author Jeffrey L. Hatton." There are also many typos which
really detract from the otherwise excellent research the author
I understand the author has a second book in the works covering
from 1960 to current makers, and I certainly hope he finds a
professional editor to improve the quality of his work.
The following is an excerpt from the first section of the book,
the introduction to the smith age:
"The smith age is considered to be the time period up to 1870.
Any and all tackle made previous to that was handmade and
generally by gunsmiths and fletchers and bow makers and even
going back as far as Waltonian times the fishing tackle was
made by lance makers. Hallmarks of the smith age include
seamed metal work, Generally the rods were made of hardwood
sometimes even up to three or four different types were used.
The oldest and first rod shown in the book is the "Porter's General Rod," the
text and photos are shown below.
They include Bethabara, greenheart, white ash, Cuban lancewood
or lemonwood, hickory, Ironwood and even whalebone / baleen and
in the early 1800s you start to see spliced tips of Calcutta
cane, usually consisting of 3/4 bamboo and 1/4 hardwood. The rods
were generally very large ranging from a short rod of 8 or 10
feet up to and exceeding 18 feet on occasion. The very first
complete six-strip bamboo rod by Samuel Phillipe is made during
this era. The guides on rods from this time frame were usually
just a tube or a double ring soldered to a flat base or a hanging
ring. Ferrules from the smith age were very plain usually not
having a welt and if they did it was usually next to the wood
not at the end of the ferrule. They were made of brass or the
better ones were made of nickel silver. Most were doweled or
spiked, in the later part of the smith age. Some very modern
style ferrules were used by C.F. Orvis, Thaddeus Morris and a
few others used what the modern Bamboo rod maker uses. You also
see the appearance of complete rods of split bamboo by C.F.
Murphy and several other makers. Reel seats in the later part
of the smith age era usually consisted of a fixed band and a
sliding ring. Usually very plain. The earliest reels from the
smith age came not with a foot but with a clamp similar to a
hose clamp to attach the reel or winch, as it was known then.
Some of the rods from that time had hollow butts that you could
carry your spare tips in, and one of the most unusual items that
was sold with a fishing rod was the sandspike or spear it was
used to plant your rod in an upright position allowing you both
hands free to land your fish. It is extremely rare to find rods
from the smith age in any degree of completeness. Rods from that
time period came in as many pieces as a 5/5-rod that is a five-piece
five-tip rod. And even a rod put up in the following configuration
made by J.C. Conroy five piece three tips and a four-piece three-tip
rod. The smith age was exemplified by the work of men Like Samuel
Phillipe and his son Solon Phillipe of Eaton Pennsylvania. And C.
F. Orvis and Hiram L. Leonard. Many of them built rods into the
expansion era and beyond. You do see an overlap of the smith age
and the expansion era. 1870-1885 is the gray area of the change
from handmade by smiths to mass production of the expansion era."
"John Conroy N. Y. "Porter's General Rod" Ash & Lancewood 1/3/3 circa 1843-1860
"John Conroy was one of the earliest known American rod
makers. He was located in New York City. The "Porter's
General rod" pictured here is one of the least seen of
American angling's earliest multi-purpose rods. This rod
is capable of making different lengths and actions of rods.
It consists of 1 butt, 3 mids and 3 tips. 2 of the tips are
stored in the hollow butt section. The rod can be made up
into a 15' salmon rod or a 12' heavier rod. A.J. Campbell
in his book "Classic and Antique Fly Fishing Tackle"
said he had seen one of these rods and he described the butt
section as " Heavy enough to bludgeon a beaver to death with it.
I would concur; the butt section is very stout. Some of the
notable features of the rod are the 2-part rolled and seamed
female ferrules; the female ferrules are also straight and not
welted. The male ferrules are rolled and soldered and are open
at the bottom. All of the hardware is nickel silver and hand
made. I am basing my identification of this rod on its 2-part
female ferrules and its classic smith age style of construction.
This rod is from the Author's collection."
Rod Crafting is an excellent resource for cane rod
enthusiastics and for those who wish to increase their
knowledge of the makers of the past. The author has
classified the rods into what he calls the Smith Age
(Introduction above), the Expansion Era from 1870 - 1900
and the Classical Era from 1900 to 1960. The list of
makers and rods is staggering, as are the photos - which
do include the 'marks' of the makers, some advertising and
even the tubes and bags.
The book has excellent features, and I do recommend it to
anyone with a real interest in cane/bamboo rods and their
history. I do hope when the author does the next one he
will keep in mind that books are forever. ~ DLB
Rod Crafting - A Full-Color Pictorial & Written
History from 1843 - 1960
By Jeffrey L. Hatton
Published by Frank Amato Publications
P.O. Box 82112
Portland, OR, 97282
Dimensions: 8.5" X 11"
Softcover, 305 pages
Full color photos
Hardbound: 1-57188-357-6, $65.00
Limited Edition Hardbound: $150.00