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2000-2003 Phil White

Bait Rods

I get a bit peeved every time I ask collectors if they have any bait rods for sale and they think that I am talking about short baitcasting rods. What I am interested in, and this page is devoted to, are rods that are similar to a heavy fly rod, but have the reel seat "in front of the hand". During the evolution of modern fishing tackle these rods were often used for fly fishing, with the reel under the rod. However, they were usually used for trolling or casting live bait with multiplying reels. These are the type of rods for which the famous Kentucky reels were developed. When George Snyder crafted the first Kentucky multiplying reel in Paris, Kentucky, the "Dowagiac" or casting plug was still 85 years or so in the future.  

Up until the 1880s when James Henshall promoted the shorter "Henshall Black Bass Rod" these rods were usually 10 to 12 feet long. They were commonly made from cane, ash (for butt sections), lancewood, and  greenheart, until the advent of the split bamboo rod in the mid-1800s. The Henshall Black Bass Minnow Rod was ideally 8'3" long, with tunnel guides. The Thomas Chubb version of the Henshall rod is shown to the left. These rods commonly came in the fitted form case as shown. It was quite common for these rods to have rattan wrapped handgrips and split cedar pieces in the grip area. These are extremely attractive rods, when made by a quality manufacturer. And most of the famous makers had almost as many bait rods in their selection as fly rods.

A Thomas Chubb bait rod from my collection is shown to the right and mounted on it is a B.C. Milam reel from the 1880s. This is the typical outfit of that period. It would be used for casting minnows for black bass. This Chubb rod is a two piece rod, 8 foot long, with tunnel guides, and a rattan wrapped handle. The fittings are all made of nickel silver.
An unusual outfit is the one shown to the left. This one is an 8 foot three piece rod with two tips. The butt cap is marked "Thos. J. Conroy, N.Y. Maker". It has a beautiful split cedar handle, with Conroy's patented reel seat. The hand grip area is rattan wrapped. This rod is pictured as it was found - with an early 1880s first model Yawman & Erbe Automatic Reel on it. The Y&E reel is a hard rubber version, and is set up with the spring brake placed for use on top of the reel. This 1880s outfit was probably used to troll spinners and minnows for bass and pike, or flies for trout. This outfit was found in an estate in upstate New York.
Shown in this photo is a Bait Rod outfit consisting of a rod with split cedar, rattan wrapped handle, and a New York style brass ball handled reel. This rod has a butt cap stamped "Conroy, Bissett & Malleson Makers, NY". This would date the rod to the late 1870s. This rod has a slide band reel seat, and all the fittings are nickel plated brass. The rod is wrapped with "tie guides" and has "tube tops". This rod has a split bamboo butt and mid section, with solid wood tips (probably lancewood). The ferrules are of the spike type. This outfit came in a form case, with sections fitted for each piece. This rod was only 7 foot in length - quite short for the period. This length rod was offered by the various Conroy companies as a "Trout and Black Bass Bait Rod". 
This bait rod has a reel seat that is stamped "Dame Stoddard Rd Co., Boston, Intervale". The later I assume is a model name. The lack of "Stoddard" at the end of the company puts this rod sometime after 1908. Dame, Stoddard Co. was sold in 1920, so the rod was manufactured sometime in that period. This was a contract rod, and probably made by F. E. Thomas, who was making many of the Dame Stoddard rods. This rod has nickel silver fittings, two ring guides, and agate butt and tip guides. The rod is 9 foot, and the tips came in the bamboo tip case. The ferrules have nicely knurled nickel silver ferrule plugs.  The whole outfit fits into a heavy cloth bag. This rod represents the end of the bait rod era by fine rod makers. Very few makers listed quality bait rods in their lineup after 1925. The reel is a beautiful hard rubber and nickel silver black bass reel by an unknown maker (probably Julius v Hofe). This reel probably dates into the 1880s. 
Probably a little more in line with the average fisherman's pocketbook was this early 1900s outfit. This is a Bristol Steel Bait Rod, and a Meisselbach Tri-Part Reel. Around 1910 you could purchase this outfit for $10-15 and have a high quality outfit that would last a life time. This Bristol rod is tubular steel, 8 long, and has a rattan wrapped handle. The fittings are nickel silver. The guides on this rod are two ring, but Bristol rods were available in a multitude of options. This rod and reel combination was probably quite a bit more popular than the more deluxe ones shown above.

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Bait Rods are not fly rods, nor are they the short bait casting rod. 

Read on to get an education on the history and development of bait rods.


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