T he Andy Griffith was a favorite of mine when I was a kid during the early ’60s.
I still recall the opening credits, when Sheriff Taylor and young Opie are walking along a road to a wooded lake. I remember watching the spinning rod held over the sheriff’s shoulder. The fiberglass blank seemed awfully soft, wobbling and bouncing as they walked.
Geez, Andy, I thought, decent looking rig but it needs a little more backbone.
The other day, on one of the cable networks, the old black-and-white show was introduced again. I watched the opening stroll, hoping that during the past 60 years maybe the sheriff had given the wet noodle rod to Barney and gotten a stick with a bit more starch.
Nope, same, lame, wobbling and bouncing. But, in fairness, Sheriff Taylor probably didn’t have many options as to actions. The hollow glass blanks of yesteryear were much slower than today’s graphite blanks. Some would flex all the way into the handle.
I know this for a fact because I have an old Heddon Pal fiberglass-spinning rod. I bought it several years ago for pocket change at a garage sale, as a reminder of “the way we were.”
You tend to forget.
The two-piece rod is 6 1/2 feet in length and probably dates to the late ’50s or early ’60s. I sanded the grime from the cork handle and cleaned the two sliding-band rings and had the guides rewrapped.
The rod is fitted with the Garcia Mitchell 308 spinning reel I proudly wielded as a boy. The little reel is spooled with six-pound mono and still more-or-less works.
The setup is a faithful rendering of top-end tackle during the period. And, occasionally, when I am suffering from a case of the quaints, I use it for panfish or TPWD-stocked rainbow trout in ponds around Houston.
Rigged with the tiny payload of a 1/8-ounce spoon or spinner, the rod flexes deeply and waggles limply during each arcing lob. The action is excruciatingly slow.
To put it kindly, the old rig is marginal in performance.
This is a reminder of how far the casting/spinning rod industry has progressed during the past 50 or 60 years. I do not presume to be an expert on rod construction, but I can offer some observations based on growing up in Texas during the glory years of fiberglass.
The spun fiberglass technology was cutting-edge stuff, a major advancement for the general market over bulk (opposed to custom) spilt bamboo rods. Fiberglass was durable and forgiving, impervious to heat and saltwater. And it was inexpensive, at least compared to the finer cane rods.
But, slow actions aside; the glass rods were heavy and bulky.
Most plug casting rods were short, usually 5 to 5 1/2 feet, and aimed at the bass fishing market. And most were of the one-handed “pistol grip” design. The reduced length helped stiffen the rod for casting typical 1/2- to 3/4-ounce payloads and snubbing fish from heavy cover.
Spinning rods were bit longer, maybe 5 1/2 to 7 feet, allowing more flex for lighter lines and smaller lures. The exceptions were the so-called “ultralight” spinning rods. Most dainty ultralight sticks were four to five feet in length and terrible casting instruments, but they were trendy and looked cute.
Most two-handed “popping rods” intended for inshore saltwater use were seven to eight feet. Many were soft and whippy, but the slow action worked well for opening the casting arc and lobbing a popping cork with a dangling live shrimp far across open bay water.
The long, fiberglass popping rods could handle heavy spoons and sub-surface plugs reasonably well, but they were poorly suited for the short, snappy cadence of jiving a dogwalker across the surface. This might explain the lack of popularity of topwater plugs for shallow specks and reds during the era.
Nor was the soft action of the extended blank particularly desirable for jigging a soft plastic. Of course, since nobody back then knew what a shrimptail was, the shortcoming wasn’t a big issue.
Most glass casting and spinning rods were of one-piece construction. For practical purposes, breakdown rods (including fly rods) were available only in two-piece models. This is because the metal ferrules used at the time were heavy and dead. Not to mention unreliable. I recall more than once having to stuff a tiny strip of tissue into a wide ferrule mouth to help secure the connection.
During the end of the fiberglass reign, several manufacturers semi-perfected the use of integrated fiberglass ferrules. This was a significant advance that trimmed-down the blank and allowed a better transfer of energy during a robust “chunk.” Usually, when seated properly they held together.
By the mid ’70s, whiz-bang high-modulus graphite rods were hitting the shelves, and by the late ’70s glass was obsolete. Fast, trim, light graphite blanks revolutionized fishing, and few people bothered to look back.
A few fiberglass rods are still available. I mean new rods, not old “beaters” from granddad’s closet. In some specialized circles, the material is enjoying a bit of a rebirth.
For example, serious crankbait anglers often prefer long two-handed glass rods because the slow action allows a striking fish to get a firm grip on a fast-moving plug. The limber blank offers a measure of “drop back.”
On the subject of drop back, glass rods remain effective for heavy offshore trolling—less apt to blow up on a big marlin or tuna.
I am mainly concerned here with the evolution of light-tackle rods.
The peak days of fiberglass are long gone. But, as Sheriff Taylor and young Opie surely would agree, the waggling sticks served their purpose. Regardless of cost or construction, the best endorsement for any fishing rod is when it points the way to a fun day on the water.
Email Joe Doggett at
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]