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Fishing and Collecting the Oldies
Goodwin Granger and Wright and McGill Rod Companies

By Tim R. Mullican

My interest in bamboo fly rods began as a result of being introduced to my brother's hobby of collecting old fishing lures. About 10 years ago, my younger brother showed me his collection of old Heddon lures while I was visiting with him during my summer break from teaching. "These are getting hard to find around here anymore," he said. "Keep an eye out for these when you go back home."

With those parting words, a virtual obsession with collecting old fishing tackle began. For a while, I had good luck with finding old lures for him. However, very quickly I too began to get hooked on the hobby. Because I had become a fan of fly fishing while attending graduate school in Idaho, I naturally was drawn to vintage bamboo fly rods.

The first bamboo fly rods I acquired were a pair of lower-end production rods made by Horrocks and Ibbotson. Their durability immediately became suspect when I noticed each of them had tips that had been broken. My reservations about using bamboo rods were reinforced when I broke a tip while false casting with a post-WWII Japanese rod that I had bought at an antique shop for $30. I later learned the bamboo used in these Japanese rods was not the Tonkin cane preferred by most makers after the turn of the century. Instead, the cane used was from a different species that is much more brittle than Tonkin cane.

My opinion of the durability of bamboo rods turned around 180 degrees after I traded my brother a couple of glass-eyed Heddon lures for a 9' model 9050 Granger Special fly rod made after the take-over by Wright and McGill. Even though the one tip was short by about an inch, I became enthralled by the rich brown color of its cane, the glassy finish, and its arrow-straight shafts. I could tell immediately by flexing its tip that the durability of this rod was vastly different from the cane used in the bottom-of-the-line rods made by companies such as Montague, Horrocks and Ibbotson, and even South Bend. [Authors note: this is not to say that these other companies did not make high quality rods, many of their higher-end rods were built just as well as any of the classic rod makers].

Today, I have no reservations about fishing any of my Granger fly rods, even for the large Rainbows in the tailwater fisheries of the Missouri River that can grow as large as Steelhead. Last summer, I landed two Rainbow trout weighing close to 2 pounds each in the Black Hills of South Dakota on an 8 ' Wright and McGill Granger Special that has numerous repair wraps as a result of abuse by a former owner. This rod, which I found lying under a heavy bucket of ice fishing tackle at an estate auction, came through without so much as a slight set.

As fishing instruments, Granger fly rods are considered by many to be superior to many of the rods made by famous eastern companies such as the H.L. Leonard Rod Company, E.W. Edwards & Sons, and the Devine Rod Company. Eight foot Grangers are in most demand with modern flyfishers, but their popularity has increased to the point where they are no longer affordable to the average angler. The most commonly found rods of the original Goodwin Granger Company are last generation models with the nickel-silver uplocking reel seat patented in 1938 (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Patented nickel-silver reel seat used on the majority of Granger rods found today. Earlier rods will bear the name of the original Goodwin Granger Company, whereas later ones will be stamped with the name of the Wright & McGill. Both companies stamped the reel seats with the Apr. 12, 1938 patent date, although Goodwin Granger actually began to use them several years earlier.

Somewhat harder to find are the chrome plated uplocking reel seats (fig. 2) that were sold just before the start of WWII and continued to be used later on only the Registered model. These plated reel seats were probably very nice looking when new, but cheapen the appearance of the rod after the plating starts to wear off with use.

Fig. 2. Chrome-plated metal reel seat found on rods made just prior to WWII. These seats were also used later on the Registered model only.

Their first generation rods, with a relatively plain nickel-silver sliding band reel seat are very hard to find, but are not considered to have as sweet an action as their later rods. Second generation rods having a full nickel-silver sliding band reel seat with the model name stamped between two knurled bands (fig. 3) can still be found, and are still somewhat affordable in the 8 'and 9' lengths. Indeed, these rods seem like a bargain compared to the price of a new Orvis or Loomis graphite rod.

Fig. 3. Nickel-silver sliding band seat used on middle era Goodwin Granger rods from the mid-1920's to the late 1920's. This seat was retained on the Champion model right through the time Wright and McGill dropped the model from their line.

The Wright and McGill Rod Company began leasing the Goodwin Granger Rod Company in 1946 and later took over complete ownership of the company*. Wright and McGill's line of rods was basically the same as that of the Goodwin Granger Rod Company when they turned over operation of the company. Starting with the most expensive model, their line included the Registered, Premier, Deluxe, Favorite, Aristocrat, Special, Victory, and the Champion. In 1947, Wright and McGill replaced the Champion with the Stream and Lake model*. This bottom-of-the-line model is the most affordable fly rod for the person wanting to fish a Granger, but still has the same quality bamboo and hardware as their more expensive models. In fact, with the exception of minor differences in the evenness and density of the grain of the bamboo, the only major difference between their models was in the color of the wraps.

Fly fishers and collectors looking for a bargain should keep an eye out for rods marketed under the name of the Old Faithful Rod Company. I first learned about their rods when I found one in a group of three rods that I bought from a person I met at a collector's market. The only marking on the rod was Challenger. The address on the original tube that came with the rod was 4th & Grant, Denver, Colorado. The cane had a vaguely familiar rich brown hue that was reminiscent of the Granger rods. I figured that with the address, I might be able to find out more about the company. After spending a short amount of time at the library, I was able to obtain an excellent book by Dick Spurr and Michael Sinclair titled Colorado Classic Cane*. From this reference, I discovered my rod was actually made by Wright and McGill. These rods were made from sections that had not passed the stringent quality control used with their regular line. They were usually fitted with the same high quality nickel-silver ferrules, but less expensive anodized aluminum down-locking reel seats were used along with cheaper cork grips. The wraps used on these rods were also plain with no tipping. Three different models were sold in this line with the names Challenger, True Action (fig. 4) and Thoroughbred. Although they were not of the same high quality as the name brand Granger rods, they are still excellent fishing sticks.

Fig. 4. True Action rod marketed under the name of the Old Faithful Rod Company. These rods were actually seconds that were produced by Wright & McGill.

One factor that makes Granger rods so popular with collectors and fisherman alike is the special treatment of their bamboo. Beginning with the Goodwin Granger Company, ammonia was applied to the bamboo strips, which gave the bamboo a rich dark color. This process also added great strength and resiliency to the strips. As a result of this, it is relatively uncommon to find a Granger rod that has taken a set due to normal use.

One exception to this ammonia tempering process occurred between 1926 and 1931.* During those years, two models with light colored cane were marketed by Goodwin Granger. These were lower priced models, and were named the Denver Special and the Colorado Special. These middle era Granger rods are still occasionally available on the used rod market, but are hard to find in pristine condition.

I have not attempted to completely enumerate all of the lengths and models produced by the Goodwin Granger and the Wright and McGill Rod Company down through the years, as readers who want to do more research can seek information from Dick Spurr and Michael Sinclair's excellent work*. Unfortunately, their book is currently out of print. However, a second edition is scheduled to be released by Centennial Publications sometime in 2000. For fans of production cane, this book is a must read.

Regrettably for those who like to fish vintage bamboo rods, the price of Grangers is going up fast along with the rest of old collectible tackle. Compared to the price of new bamboo fly rods made by contemporary makers, the old ones are still a bargain. If you are lucky enough to find one at a price you can afford, don't be afraid to go out and catch a few fish and reminisce about the "good old days." ~ Tim R. Mullican ~

Reference: *Spurr, Dick, and Michael Sinclair. 1991. Colorado Classic Cane: A History of the Colorado Bamboo Rod Makers. Centennial Publications, Grand Junction, Colorado. 166 pp.

2000, Tim R. Mullican

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