I was reading through the 1973 Bass Master Fishing Annual and came across an article that piqued my interest about Lew Childre. Of course he’s primarily known for the Speed Spool but he also developed a line of rods, known as the Speed Stick, that was very popular in the 70s and 80s.
This article, though, was about a product I’d never seen in full – the Speed Stick concept. Evidently Lew’s mind never stopped working. He was dissatisfied with the way rods were built and the fact that custom rods took a long time to make. He also felt there had to be something better with respect to rod guides than the heavy carboloy, agate and stainless guides that were put on rods of the day.
Hearing about a new guide material being used in Japan, Childre started working with Fuji Kogyo LTD. and its president Rintaro Ohmura. Ohmura had recently taken polished aluminum oxide, a material used in the space industry for re-entry tiles, and made guide rings out of it. Placing the material in a stainless steel frame, he developed a guide that he used to win Japan’s national surf casting championship.
The material was not only lighter than the contemporary materials, its smooth surface coupled with its heat dissipating properties allowed for further casts and less wear on the line. Not only did line wear decrease, these properties gave the feeling the line was not being slowed down by the guides resulting in longer casts.
With the ring concept proven to Childre, he took it one step further. As stated above, Childre wasn’t happy with the time it took to make rods. He was all about speed. Speed of casting, speed of making rods.
He took the aluminum oxide ring concept and came up with the idea of making a guide that didn’t need to be wrapped on a blank with thread. Instead, he designed a guide that would slide on a blank and fit exactly where you wanted it by friction.
Again, he didn’t stop here.
Unhappy with the old collet system, he designed a new handle and collet, all made by Fuji, that required no glue. According to Lew’s advertisements, anyone could make a custom rod in 3 minutes using his Lew’s Speed Merchant components.
I remember seeing the old Lew’s Speed Guides as an early rod builder but never had a chance to use them. It didn’t matter because of all the ideas Childre had, this is one of the few that didn’t make it long. He did end up designing a standard line of Speed Sticks, made the old fashioned way by wrapping normal guides on the blank with thread. This line of rods was a hit through the 70s and mid 80s.
The Fuji handle and collet system, though, lived for a number of years becoming the standard rod handle on all rods until Ken Wiebe designed a new through-handle design in the mid 80s. Shortly after that, long trigger-grip style handles and longer rods led to the demise of the pistol grip.
Still, Childre’s legacy lives on in the rod and reel industry. If not for him, it could have been a couple decades before the U.S. embraced the Fuji guide (Americans still considered Japanese-made products junk in those days). His new pistol grip collet design was light years ahead of anything previous and, of course, we owe him for changing the reel industry.
Childre was all about making the angler’s life easier. Either by letting him or her build a rod faster or cast faster. It’s no wonder he chose the word Speed to name his products.
Ref: Bass Master Magazine 1973 Annual Issue, John Abersheen, pgs 88-89, 96.
Past Reader Comments:
RichZ: All of this talk of Lew Childre doesn’t seem complete without a mention of Shag Shahid, who travelled the country promoting Speed Sticks and Speed Spools and just about anything else that Childre brought to market at his trick casting demonstrations. Unfortunately, Shahid passed away earlier this year.
With the “trolling motors of the past” series running concurrent with this on the Archives, it brings to mind an unusual trolling motor that the Childre/Shahid brain trust came up with in the wayback. It consisted of a pair of “above the waterline” motors — one amidships on each side of the boat — with a flex shaft in a bent tube connecting it to a propellor. The motor didn’t turn to steer. Instead, the foot pedal controlled how much power was applied to each motor in each direction, so that it steered much like today’s “zero turn radius” lawn mowers. I’m not sure it ever made it to market, but it was featured in at least a couple of the major mags. back in the 70s. Biggest problem was that the bent shaft motor arrangement only shed weeds going forward, and to steer, one of them had to be pulling backwards.
joebarrett to RichZ: I worked as rep for Lews back then. They called it the Magic Carpet. Cool concept.
RichZ: I had a rod built with the slip on guides. It was not good. Guides didn’t stay put very well unless they were “tapped” into place, and eventually (after a couple months of use) it broke where one of the guides was. I figured that the guide needed to be too tight a fit and damaged the rod blank when being ‘tapped’ into place. As far as the handle and collet, I must’ve broken 8 of those pistol grip handles setting the hook. I did like the spinning rod handle though — except it was way heavier than a cork tennesee style handle.
Terry to RichZ: Rich, that was the first thing I thought of when doing this piece – the guide would break the rod. As for the Fuji handle, I broke a number of them too and had to replace a countless number of them during my tenure at the tackle shop. I still have 3 of the last “all graphite” ones, though, that were a lot stronger than the earlier versions. I never liked the spinning handle – too heavy and I’d rather tape my reel on a cork TN handle.
I still believe there’s a need for this type of handle. The way it positioned the reel lower on the rod axis made it really comfortable to fish.. The problem will be convincing anglers today they can use a 5-6 rod for something. I still use them for underhand blades, for example.