In my library I have several semi-old Heddon catalogs dating from the early 50s through the late 60s and have been pouring over them to see what the technology of the day was. There are a lot of familiar faces in the catalogs such as the Zara Spook, River Runt, Meadow Mouse, and Lucky 13 – to name a few. But what caught my eye this time were the Heddon casting rods. Let’s look at bass rod technology from 1950.
The earliest catalog I have is from the year 1950 and is the subject of this piece. It’s 81 pages long and doesn’t only have a listing of all their tackle, it has pages on how to fish their gear, who was fishing their gear (Homer Circle was one of the more well-known by today’s standards), how they made their gear, and so on. It’s no wonder Heddon was the powerhouse of tackle manufacturing of the time.
One thing that got my attention was the number of rods and reels Heddon had in their tackle line-up. They were making casting rods, fly rods, musky and pike rods, and even saltwater rods out of several materials that included bamboo, steel and solid fiberglass. At the time, bamboo and steel were the go-to materials with glass only having been recently introduced. By the 1960s, though, that had all changed, and you couldn’t find a bamboo or steel casting rod in their catalogs, the material being replaced by tubular glass.
That 1950 catalog, though, really showcased their bamboo line of casting rods. The overall layout was five pages that included a cover page, introduction page and then three pages describing their bamboo bait casting line-up.
The introduction page gave an in-depth description of how to choose a casting rod based on length and action. You’ll notice that the rods ranged in length from 4 1/2-feet up to the longest at 6-feet. Actions available were extra-light, light, medium and heavy. Line ratings ranged from 10-pound or less on the extra-light to 25-pound on the 5-foot heavy-action rod. They also gave a range of lure weights for each rod model along with what they recommended the angler use the rod for.
At the bottom of the introduction page was a description of types of rods they offered – this time with respect to handle configuration and whether it was one piece or two piece. It’s obvious they wanted the prospective customer to be knowledgeable of their products.
The next page they got into describing the different models they offered with the No. 2550 Deluxe “President-Expert” rods as their flagship. Priced at $30, the rods came in three sizes. They used the most select bamboo for the blank, walnut for the fore grip and reel seat, nickel silver reel mounts, choice cork for the rear grip and carboloy guides.
The next rod offered was billed as “Jim Heddon’s Favorite.” This rod at the time had been in manufacture for over 25 years and had become their best seller. Originally designed for fishing, the rod had apparently become one of the most sought-after rods for tournament casters. Priced at $25, the rod featured many of the components that the President Expert featured.
The second page of rods featured two of their “reliable series,” the only difference between the two rods being one was one-piece while the other broke down at the handle. You’ll also notice the handles on these rods had a trigger on the reel seat. The rods were priced between $12 and $15 and came in 4 1/2-, 5-, and 5-1/2-foot models.
So far all the rods presented had been built on a straight handle platform. The third page of rods, though, were all based on an offset, pistol grip, rod handle. Models for these rods included No. 851 “Jim Heddon’s Favorite,” the No. 551 “Stalwart” and the No. 451 “Reliable.” Priced from $15 to $25, these rods offered the same hardware as the straight-handled cousins.
One thing that caught my eye was the cost of these rods. In today’s money, these rods ranged from $141 to over $350. These rods were expensive even compared to today’s rod prices. I’m sure most anglers from the middle class couldn’t afford them.
The rods were also heavy in weight, but compared to the steel rods of the day, these were state-of-the-art back in the 50s. No one knew they were heavy until glass was released a few years later.
Another thing that is missing from the catalog was the classification of rod power. Starting around the 1960s, rods were classified not only by action but by power. Looking at this catalog, Heddon describes their rods by action, but I wonder if they really mean power.
For example, they list Rod Action as Extra Light through Heavy. These are terms generally reserved for Power in today’s rods. Where action is known as the bend of the rod from slow to extra-fast.
The above question makes me wonder if power was introduced after the advent of tubular glass rods and the way they’re manufactured. Tubular glass rods are made by laying a pattern of glass (or graphite) fabric over a tapered mandrel. The pattern is normally shaped like a triangle with the second longest side being taped to the mandrel. The shape of this triangle will define how much glass is placed on any portion of the mandrel. Because of this manufacturing method, you can produce many different action rods on the same mandrel.
When it comes to power, that has to do with the amount of glass (or graphite) fabric wrapped around the mandrel. The thicker the layer is, the heavier the power will be. Again, you can use the same mandrel and vary the power of the rod just by wrapping more fabric around the mandrel.
With bamboo, on the other hand, you’re stuck with the thickness of the material you make the rod out of. Light rods use less material while heavy rods use more. It’s much harder to shape different tapers into the individual pieces used to form a split bamboo rod. That’s my guess as to why the terminology changed over time. If someone has a better, more accurate answer, I’m all ears.
Although today’s gear may be a lot more efficient, you can’t argue the beauty and finish of these works of art. No wonder there are still anglers out there today who covet these rods from days gone by.