Roughly a year ago, we posted a piece here on the Bass Fishing Archives regarding the “new” graphite rods that were just appearing in tackle store rod racks in the 1974 time frame. In that article we mentioned that Fenwick was the company introducing the new material and that the cost of these new space-age rods would be around the $150 price point. In today’s dinero, that’s roughly $900.
Well, as with most new things, someone else gets on the bandwagon, finds a way to make it for less, and then the competition begins. That’s exactly what happened a couple years after the introduction of graphite to the rod industry.
By 1976, companies like Skyline, Heddon, Bass Pro Shops, and even Ray Scott through his Out House mail order catalog, had entered the graphite rod market. Skyline rods were high-end rods and their prices reflected that of Fenwick. Heddon, on the other hand, was making rods they claimed were graphite, but the only graphite in those rods may have only been the pencil writing on the tag. Their rods were strategically priced at roughly 50 percent of what the Fenwick and Skyline rods were selling for.
Bass Pro Shops, in what would become typical Johnny Morris business 101, entered the market with a rod that may not have been as good as Fenwick’s or Skyline’s but it was head-over-heals better than the Heddon. The Bass Pro Shops Graphite 96 was touted as being 96-percent graphite construction and cost less at full retail than the Heddon rod at $45.95. Although the BPS rods couldn’t hold a candle to the Fenwick or Skyline with respect to weight and balance, they were light, sensitive and decent quality for the time.
Then you had Ray Scott and his Ray Scott 100% Graphite Rods, touted as being 100% graphite for the price of $49.95. I never had the opportunity to handle one of the Ray Scott models so I can’t give an opinion on those rods or blanks. Looking at the picture in the 1976 Out House catalog, you see some familiar traits of the blank – which is not sanded down to a smooth finish like Fenwick’s blanks. To my knowledge, there was only one company selling raw rods like this at the time and that was Skyline. It makes me wonder if Ray was buying his blanks from Skyline.
So how were Bass Pro and Ray Scott able to sell rods cheaper than Fenwick and Skyline were wholesaling their rods for? My guess is they had more glass in them than Fenwick and Skyline, which the Bass Pro models alluded to in their name.
This brings up the question of how Ray could say his rods were 100% graphite.
Back in the day, the marketing of graphite rods came down to word play, and a lot of companies got in trouble for it. For example, 100% graphite came to mean not that the rod was made with nothing other than carbon fiber but that the carbon fiber within the rod was 100% graphite. This meant that some manufacturers were making rods with way less than 90% carbon fibers, the rest being glass. Fenwick had a field day with this word play and filed suit against a number of manufacturers for the misleading advertisements.
Another way companies could produce cheaper rods was in the components they used. For example, Johnny Morris and Ray Scott used cheaper guides as well as not as many guides as Fenwick used. Other than the blank, the guides are the number-one cost associated with building a rod. The same can be said about handles, although Bass Pro and Ray Scott were both using Lew’s FUJI handles on their rods.
By the start of 1976 I already had two graphite rods (Fenwicks) in my arsenal. But when Bass Pro Shops came out with the Christmas ad shown in this article, I had to drop down the $36 to buy one. I ended up with the 6-foot medium action MB-60G. The rod was definitely heavier and not as balanced as my Fenwicks, but at the same time it was 6-inches longer and had a pistol grip. That rod served me for a number of years even after I started down the dark path of Boron that same year. That’s another story for another time.
Past Reader Comments:
Banks Pope: I purchased my first graphite rod in 1976, a Skyline, pistol gripped 5-1/2 foot black with orange wrapped baitcaster. I threw anything from ‘blades, buzzers, small cranks to worms and top waters with it. That ole rod helped me catch many big bass. In 1981 a thief decided he needed my Skyline rod as well as 75% of my other rods and reels more than I did. I had paid about $75.00 for that rod, which was twice or more than any of my other rods cost. That was a lot to spend on one rod back then. I did not buy another high-end rod until 2010, when I purchased a Kistler z-bone. Sometimes I think back to that era of catching big bass and that Skyline rod and a smile comes on my face because of the joy it gave me. Graphite has come a long way since then, but it can’t replace those wonderful memories of that Skyline rod.
Terry to Banks Pope: I hear you on the memories Banks. 🙂
Paul Wallace: I had one of BPS’s early graphite spinning rods. Kind of heavy and stiff. That being said I used it for quite a while and then the tip broke. Which made it even stiffer. Had to give it up after that. Bought my first Shimano Magnumlite? Fightin rod. 5 1/2-foot pistol grip. Have purchased many of these in various lengths over the years. I still use the 6 1/2- and 7-foot models to this day. They cost twice as much now as they did in the eighties, on e-bay…lol
Terry to Paul Wallace: Paul, I had one of those BPS spinning rods too and you’re right, it was a club. 🙂