Testing a graphite rod circa 1978. Photo July/August issue of The Lunker Hole magazine.

Over the last couple years, we’ve done a few articles on the history of graphite rods – mostly based on Fenwick, the first company to utilize the material. Today, in Graphite Rods – 1978, we’ll look at an article I found in the July-August 1978 issue of the Lunker Hole, that discussed graphite rods, their positives, negatives, and the industry that had been built with them.

The article, “Facts You Should Know About Graphite Rods,” was written by Steve Wunderle and printed in the May-June and July-August issues of The Lunker Hole magazine. Unfortunately, I’m missing the May-June issue and therefore have not read Part One of the series.  As stated in the introduction of part two, part one was about how graphite rods were made at the time.  I’d really like to read this so if any of our readers happen to have a copy of the May-June, 1978 issue and are willing to loan it to us, please contact us at terry@bass-archives.com. We’ll scan the issue and get it back to you.

Before we get into this article, a little background on graphite and how it found its place in the fishing industry.

Back in February 2021, we posted an article, Graphite Rods: From Aerospace to Bass Fishing and talked about how the material became part of the fishing industry.  At that time, we documented that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the aerospace industry was on the decline and fiber producers were looking for new outlets to sell their goods.  The fishing and golf industries were the first on the list of commodity producers they targeted.

In talking with Larry Hopper, a retired NARMCO  chemical engineer involved with epoxy matrix development, Fenwick introduced the first graphite rods at the 1973 AFTMA show.  By early 1974 their new graphite rods were being marketed to anglers.

In that first year, rod costs were high, about $150 per rod, but worse yet, breakage was higher.  It was obvious the new space-age material was a winner, the problem was figuring out how to lay the material on a mandrel so its properties could be best exploited without breakage.

By 1976, nearly all rod manufacturers were working with graphite.  Some were producing rods for the market, while others were perfecting the layup process.  By 1978, if you didn’t have a graphite rod to offer anglers, you were missing out.

Now, back to Wunderle’s article.

In Part two of Wunderle’s 1978 article, he took advantage of all the rod manufacturers being at the AFTMA show held in Kansas City, MO that year.  He asked each of the representatives about their rods, what made them better, and how long they had been involved with the new product.  Some of the answers you’ll find quite interesting.

The list of people he interviewed is a who’s who of rod construction.  Don Haggard (Skyline), Al Jackson (Lew Childre and Sons), Robert Barrie (Garcia Conolon), Gary Loomis (Lamiglas), John Marsman (Heddon), Ben Hardesty (Shakespeare) and lastly, Dave Myers of Fenwick.

What industry had to say at the time was they were getting past the breakage issues with graphite, but each company was going about it differently. Some companies, like Skyline, were against placing any form of glass in their blanks saying, “glass insulates the feel and slows down the response.”

Al Jackson’s (Lew’s) comments were quite humorous on another front. In his first few sentences he stated that Lew Childre purposefully stayed out of the graphite race “until the graphite smoke screen settled down.” His thoughts, and rightfully so, were that the industry would go through three stages – high cost, a marketing race where companies would be putting sales in front of R&D which would lead to an unsatisfactory product and then third, prostituting the word graphite to sell rods by virtue of being graphite. Looking back, Childre was absolutely right about the events that would happen.

By 1978, though, Childre and Jackson had figured out the graphite riddle and not only started manufacturing graphite rods but had started developing graphite pistol grips and collet systems.

Robert Barrie (Garcia Conolon) started out by saying, “Conolon, Garcia’s rod producer, was the first rod maker to introduce graphite in a fishing rod. This was exhibited at the AFTMA tackle show five or six years ago.” That would mean that Garcia would have introduced the rod in the 1972-73 time frame – nearly a year before Fenwick.

Barrie went on to say that those first rods were only made to highlight the R&D efforts being conducted at the rod factory. Instead of being built on a tapered steel mandrel as used in glass rod construction, they were made with a wood core. From a historical point of view, I had never heard this story before.

Probably the best comment that Barrie made, though, was at the end of his talk with Wunderle where he said “Glass-graphite blends are exactly that – a blend of two dissimilar materials that result in neither a good glass rod nor a good graphite rod but a poor compromise of the two.” Maybe that was true of the day but since about the mid-‘90s, some of the best rods made have been of a glass/graphite combination.

The next section was Lamiglas’ view on the subject and was represented by Gary Loomis. Loomis talked about Lamiglas’ “deflection computer program” and that they were the first company to make straight unidirectional graphite tubing on a production basis.

If you’ve ever had a chance to talk with Loomis about this effort, he’ll tell you it was how he solved the problem of the early graphite rods breaking. By making thousands of these tubes and testing them to breakage, they figured out how to properly lay graphite on a mandrel.  Here is a two-part article I did back in 2013 about Gary Loomis and his career in the rod manufacturing industry.  It shed a lot of light about the early days of graphite.  Part One and Part Two

The other sections of the article continue to give a good history of what companies were doing at the time. We’ve provided the full article below for you to check out. Believe me, it’s informative and provides a good bit of humor.  To read the entire article, click on the first image in the gallery and scroll through the images.