1978 Fenwick Rod Builder’s Handbook and Blank Catalog. Many anglers learned how to custom wrap a rod from this small catalog. Photo Terry Battisti.

Today’s anglers are spoiled when it comes to rods. Today we have rods for spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, crankbaits, and any other technique you can think of. There are even multiple rods available for certain techniques. It’s so vast that for the beginning angler, the task of buying a new rod is more than confusing. Old school rods, on the other hand, were at the other end of the spectrum.

In the decades of the 60s through the 80s, rod selection was merely what the major rod companies offered. For casting gear, it was primarily a 5-foot 6-inch rod fitted with a pistol grip offered in a few actions and powers.

Here’s an example. Fenwick, one of the leading rod companies of the time, offered eight models in their Lunker Stik lineup. Five of these rods were 5-feet 6-inches and varied in power from a 3-power to a 7-power. The other three rods were all 6-feet in length and varied from a 4-power to a 6-power. Mind you, these rods were their stated lengths after the pistol grip was attached.

Their spinning rods, on the other hand, offered a lot more in the way of versatility. They had one rod dedicated as a “bass spin” rod that was 6-feet in length, but they also had another 10 rods ranging from 6-feet 6-inches to 7-feet 6-inches in various actions and powers up to medium-heavy.

Not one of the rods listed above was a bait or technique-specific rod.  They were just rods.

In fact, the first rod to come out for a specific technique was the Flippin’ Stik in the 1975/76 timeframe. If you’d like to read more about that rod and its genesis, click on the link here.

So, what did anglers do back then if they needed a rod with a little more backbone or a couple of inches shorter than what was in the rack? The answer to that is they either made it themselves or they had it custom made. But where would you find the components back then to have such a rod custom made?

In the days before the big-box store, nearly every town near water had their own serious tackle shop. You knew it was a serious shop the minute you walked in the door as the waft from the bait tanks would hit your olfactory system. Plastic worms were sold in empty coffee cans as were jigheads, spinnerbaits hung packageless from pegs behind the counter and 100-boxes of worm hooks could be bought for under three bucks.

1975 version of How to Wrap a Rod with Gudebrod. Photo Terry Battisti.

Rods were stored on makeshift rod racks and amongst those rods were a large selection of rod blanks. If you walked into a store like this, you knew they knew what was going on.

It was a shop just like this that started me down the road of custom building my own rods at the age of ten.

So, you’re a bass fisherman in the early 70s and you want a heavy-power casting rod, 5-feet 10-inches long, to fish jigs on. You talk with the owner of the shop, and he suggests a blank or two. The blanks are longer than what’s needed so they’re going to have to be chopped – some off the butt, some off the tip. Working with the angler, the shop owner cuts a bit here and a bit there until the action of the rod is what’s desired.

Now that the blank has been decided on, you need to pick guides, thread, and a handle. For guides, depending on the year, you had a choice of carbaloy, stainless steel, or the new Fuji guides that were recently introduced. Handles were a different story. All there was were heavy pistol grips made from metal, like Featherweight. By the mid-70s, Lew’s had introduced the Lew’s Fuji Handle made from composite, rendering the old metal grips obsolete.

Now you have everything to build a rod, what are the next steps?

The shop you bought the components from would gladly put the rod together, but that’ll cost extra. What many anglers did was build it themselves. And for direction they looked to one of two booklets. Either the “Fenwick Rod Builder’s Handbook and Blank Catalog,” or “How to wrap a rod with Gudebrod.”

How to wrap a guide on a rod. instructions from How to Wrap a Rod with Gudebrod. Notice the Aetna Foulproof guides – state of the art at the time. Photo Terry Battisti.

Both publications were free at the local shop and provided ample information and instruction on how to make your first custom rod. They are the guides that taught me to wrap and helped me get a job at that tackle shop when I was 14 years old, as the rod builder.

These guides have been out of circulation for many years but for the budding custom rod builder, there are more resources today than ever. A quick internet search will reveal videos on YouTube, companies that specialize in rod components and more books on the subject than have ever been available.

With all the great rods that are available today, there seems to be little need for custom building a rod. But for those who want to learn the craft, once you get past the learning curve, you can build a rod tailored to your fishing style and any technique under the sun. The other plus from learning to build a custom rod is you’re now able to repair a rod yourself. I can’t count how many crushed guides I’ve replaced on rods I’ve stepped on or tip-tops that have broken. To me, it’s just a good skill to have.

I hope you enjoy looking through these old booklets from the past. Maybe they’ll spark an interest and get you into making a custom rod like they did to me back in 1974.

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