With all the fantastic advances in fishing tackle technology in recent years, is it really worth buying a fishing rod from a bygone era? This is the question that many anglers have asked themselves, particularly fly fishers. Is there value in seeking out and purchasing an antique or vintage rod?
The short answer is that it depends on the type of fishing you do. There is no doubt that cf (carbon fiber) has revolutionized the fishing rod industry, and is much, much better than fiberglass. So buying an old fiberglass rod would be a waste of money. Also, many old rods that have been used extensively have invariably sustained damage of one kind or another, and such damage may have compromised the strength and integrity of the rod. So basically a damaged rod is useless for fishing.
However, when it comes to bamboo rods, and in particular split cane fishing rods, the answer is not so clear. There are many anglers that say that even with the latest progress in modern fishing rod manufacture, a state-of-the-art carbon fiber rod cannot match the action, flexibility and durability of a split cane fishing rod. In particular, where accurate and long casting of light weights is paramount, cane rods seem to have the edge. Also, there is the aesthetic value of a bamboo rod, which lends it to be seen as more of a work of art than a tool for fishing.
Suitability for Fishing
So it seems that if you are into fly fishing or spinning, especially in estuaries, rivers, lakes, ponds and streams, or even from coastal shorelines, a quality vintage split cane fishing rod could be a worthwhile investment. Of course, the same rule applies: a damaged rod is no good for fishing. Therefore you must check the bamboo sections carefully. Be on the lookout for water stains, discoloration, dents, splits, cracks or anything else that seems suspicious. If the bamboo is sound, and the price is right, the rod could well be worth purchasing. Most of the other fittings on a cane fishing rod can be restored to their original condition for a modest sum, so do not panic if the whippings are frayed or the ferrules are a little loose.
One of the most renowned brands of bamboo rods is Milwards of England. Vintage Milwards split cane fishing rods are sort after due to their exquisite craftsmanship, superb action and quality fittings. The fittings were bronze, brass, silver, agate and silk, while the bamboo was usually Tonkin cane. Milwards manufactured both fly fishing and spinning rods that were often specially designed for certain fishing niches. For example, the FloatMaster was perfect for casting float rigs, while the SpinVersa was magnificent at casting extremely lightweight baits and lures. Milwards split cane fishing rods are highly valued but occasionally come on the market. Your best chance of locating one is to check periodically online auction sites like eBay or the online inventory of vintage rod dealers.
Collecting Vintage Rods
Most of what is written above concerns the use of a vintage fishing rod for fishing. But how about collecting? Well, from current trends we can see that antique and vintage rods are increasing in value year by year. However, for collectors, the vintage rod must be in pristine condition, which makes collectible rods quite scarce and hard to come by. Not only does the fishing rod itself need to be in very good condition, all the extras it was originally sold with need to come with it too. For example, Milwards split cane fishing rods usually came with an extra tip section, and also came with a custom cloth bag. They also had various transfers or engravings on them. So for a rod of this kind to be considered a collector’s item, it would need to include all of these additional things. But if you were to come across a vintage rod in original condition and kit, it would be well worthwhile buying, as it would no doubt increase in value over time.
In conclusion, while fiberglass rods have been surpassed by carbon fiber rods, bamboo rods are still very effective pieces of fishing gear that are unbeatable in their particular fishing niche. They also have considerable value as collector’s items and as pieces of art. A good vintage split cane fishing rod is definitely worth buying!