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Rod Crafting

By Deanna Birkholm

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 has done.

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.

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."

The oldest and first rod shown in the book is the "Porter's General Rod," the text and photos are shown below.

"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
ISBN: 1-57188-356-8
Price: $45.00
Hardbound: 1-57188-357-6, $65.00
Limited Edition Hardbound: $150.00

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