Phenix Rod ad from circa 1979 featuring 42 different rods models and the infamous trucker hat.

In 1974 Fenwick introduced the fishing industry to graphite as a material to replace fiberglass in rod construction. The difference was remarkable in more ways than one. First it was significantly lighter than glass but even more important, it was much higher in modulus thus creating a much faster rod. The other attribute that made graphite superior was its sensitivity. The old saying was “you could feel a fish breathe on your worm from a foot away.”

But before graphite finally took hold of the rod market around 1977 there was another material being touted as the new wonder material. That was boron.

Boron rods were first introduced towards the end of 1976 when a small company in southern California jumped on the high-tech bandwagon. That company was Tack’L Mark Corporation – the makers of Phenix Boron Rods.

The first time I ever saw a Phenix rod was early in 1977 while shopping at a place called Reuben’s Sporting Goods in Cypress, California. Charlie Detzel, the owner of Tack’L Mark, was in the store trying to make his sales pitch on why boron was so much better than plain graphite. His reasons were higher modulus and more sensitivity.

Picking a graphite rod out of the rack, he had all of us interested in listening, hold the graphite rod and one of his new boron rods. Then, with a business card he’d touch the tip of the rod ever so slightly and ask which one we could feel better. The answer was the boron rod seemed more sensitive. I had to have one.

When the material was first introduced to the market, though, it was a bit misleading. Nowhere in the early ads was it mentioned that boron was the replacement for glass scrim in the blank construction. In fact, most of the rods were only about 6-percent boron and that boron was the first layer placed on the mandrel and used for rigidity. In other words, it was there to make the rod less prone to breakage.

Jan Detzel, wife of Phenix owner Charlie Detzel, holds up the IGFA womens’ world record largemouth bass caught at Lake Casitas in 1981. The fish weighed 15-05 and was caught on a live crawdad with 6-pound line. It was surpassed by Terry McAbee's 16-09 caught in March 1998 at Lake Isabella, CA on a 6-inch R&R Stroker worm.

By 1979 Fenwick and Browning came out with their line of boron rods but compared to the Phenix line, they both felt like clubs. At least in the southwest, Phenix was the only rod company out there. The first couple of years they offered about 10 models which consisted of a couple spinning rods and the rest casting rods – all 5-1/2 feet in length. By 1980 they were offering 54 different rods, many of which were pro models designed by well-known western pros such as Larry Hopper, Don Iovino and Mike Folkestad.

Some of the rod models I remember are:

  • 50UL – 5’-0” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 4-8lb line.
  • 55UL – 5’-6” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 4-8lb line.
  • 53M – 5’-3” in casting. Rated for 8-17lb line.
  • 55L1 – 5’-6” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 6-12lb line.
  • 55L2 – 5’-6” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 6-12lb line.
  • 55M2 – 5’-6” in casting.  Rated for 8-17lbs line.
  • 55H1 – 5’-6” in casting.  Rated for 10-20lb line.
  • 55H2 – 5’-6” in casting.  Rated for 12-25lb line.
  • 60L1 – 6’-0” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 6-12lb line.
  • 60L2 – 6’-0” in casting and spinning.  Rated for 6-12lb line.
  • 60M2 – 6’-0” in casting.  Rated for 8-17lbs line.
  • Mike Folkestad Jig Stick – 5’-6” in casting.  Rated for 10-20lb line.
  • Larry Hopper Jig Stick – 5’-6” in casting.  Rated for 10-20lb line.
  • Don Iovino Doodlin’ Rod – 5’-6” in casting and spinning. Rated for 6-8lb line.
Phenix Rod ad circa 1981. Now they’re up to more than 50 rod models but the trucker hat is missing.

There were more of them so if you remember some of the rods I’m missing, please drop a line in the comments below.

In the early 90s, the Phenix rod company was suffering from low sales and the emergence of some guy named Gary Loomis. Loomis was turning out amazing all-graphite rods that were lighter and much more sensitive than boron ever could be. It didn’t help Phenix that they’d stayed with the old Fuji pistol grip and spinning handles – which weighed a ton compared to Loomis’ Weibe-designed cork grips and through-handle pistol grips.

Detzel sold the company in the early 1990s to Hollywood lighting man and bass angler Larry Howard. Howard would bring the company back from near death by incorporating more modern handle designs but more importantly he embraced the newer lighter graphite, steering away from boron all together. He also started a tackle line which sold soft plastics and many other terminal tackle items.

Vintage Phenix Boron Rods patch from the late 1970s. Photo Terry Battisti.

Today Phenix is still around making rods but if you compared them to the first-generation boron rods, the only thing that’s the same is the logo. Is that good or bad? Well from a nostalgic standpoint, it’s a bummer. Looking at it from a technological viewpoint, though, it’s a good thing for both angler and company.