We’ve talked about Lew Childre and the effect he had on bass fishing – fishing in general really – here on the Bass Fishing Archives many times before. The first piece we posted back in the first weeks of this venture was on his development of Speed Gears. Then we posted a piece on his revolutionary reel, the Speed Spool. Following that, we posted a piece on his “Speed Merchant” custom rods that never made it but still made an impression on the industry. Today, I’d like mention some other Childre innovations, one that worked and another that didn’t quite hit the mark, in Lew Childre More Forward Thinking.
Lew Childre left a lasting impression on the industry and we have him to thank more than 50 years after he came on the scene.
The Ceramic Guide
Even though Childre didn’t design or come up with the concept of the ceramic guide, he was the person who put it on the map in the U.S. and arguably the world. In this 1975 ad Childre talks about why aluminum oxide is far superior to carbide (also known as carboloy) and chrome-plated guides, which were the standard of the day.
The test, which we would perform daily at the tackle shop I worked at, was to simply take a section of monofilament line, and run it back-and-forth through the guides. Invariably the mono would break after a few iterations through the carbide and chrome guides, whereas the line wouldn’t break when run through the aluminum oxide guides for even three or four times the amount of time.
Childre didn’t only claim the fact that line wear was a thing of the past, he touted that your casting distance would be improved immensely. This was a fact he didn’t have to prove as casting contests were already being won in Japan at the time using the new technology.
Also, in typical Childre form, he also invented the single-foot guide along with the standard guide used on nearly all bass rods today – the BNHG style 3-footed guide.
Even though most anglers would scoff at the use of aluminum oxide guides on a rod today, all guides that reside on today’s bass rods came from these humble yet brilliant beginnings.
The next Lew’s innovation didn’t hit the mark for its intended purpose, the telescoping rod. Lew Childre saw a need for a collapsible rod that was lighter, stronger and more sensitive. Although Lew states in the ad that he designed it off of the way bamboo grows, I wonder if he got the idea from Japanese rod makers of the day.
It’s already been stated that Childre spent a lot of time in Japan looking for high-quality bamboo for his cane pole business. So, it’s without doubt he knew the science behind bamboo. But also, during this time, the Japanese had started making collapsible, telescoping rods. Rods in the 12- to 16-foot length are still common in Japan for certain techniques and species of fish.
The rods the Japanese designed for these applications were initially held together with multiple ferrules but someone had the idea to make the rod so it would collapse upon itself. I believe Childre saw this technology and thought it would be great for anglers who needed a bass casting rod they could decrease in length for travel but still have the same qualities as a one-piece rod.
As Childre pointed out in his 1975 ad, a telescoping rod adds little weight to the overall rod but adds a tremendous amount of strength. It also allows the rod to bend in a more natural fashion than metal ferrules. Childre also included his new Speed Marchant ceramic rod guides in the design as well as his new Lew-Fuji Live Action spinning and casting handles. The concept was great but unfortunately it didn’t catch on. These ads were only around for a year or two before they were never seen again.
But there is one place the concept of a telescoping rod did catch on. That was with the 7 1/2-foot Flippin’ Stik Fenwick debuted in 1976. At first, Fenwick’s Flippin’ Stik was a one-piece rod, which gave anglers fits on how to store it in the day of the 15-foot bass boat. The rod was sold in that manner from 1976 through 1978. Then in 1979 Dave Myers redesigned the Flippin’ Stik with a telescoping handle section. In an interview I conducted with him in 2011, he said he borrowed the concept from the Japanese and that allowed the rod to be reduced from 7-1/2 feet to nearly 6 feet in length. Now anglers could store the rod in their rod lockers of the day. This one change in the rod design increased sales 10-fold. So, there was a need for a compact rod, it just wasn’t the standard 5 1/2-foot casting rod.
I can’t say for certain that Myers first saw the concept from Japan or from Childre, but Childre debuted his telescoping rod in 1975, four years before Fenwick utilized it. I’m sure Childre debuted the Telescoping Speed Stick at the 1976 AFTMA show, but who can say whether Myers saw it there or not. What is certain is, from that point on, nearly every rod made for bass fishing that was over 6-feet long was made with a telescoping handle.