Fishing rods have been in production for centuries, dating back to the days of bamboo rods. Manufacturing has since been modernized and improved for durability, aesthetics, and performance.
Robert Brooks grew up in the sporting goods industry, as his father owned several sporting goods stores in the Philadelphia area. His stores were the go-to fishing tackle stores in that market. Bob has the scoop on the pioneers of rod building like Fuji, MudHole, and Shimano.
In the early 70's, Bob's dad sold his stores and became a fishing tackle rep.
Around 1976, he started to represent Lew Childre and Sons fishing tackle. They were based in Foley, Alabama.
Lew was an entrepreneur in every sense. He was an early importer from Asia, but was not pleased with the quality of products. Cane pole fishing was a huge business in the south, however, Lew was not pleased with the bamboo coming from Asia. So, he decided to grow his own.
His displeasure with the current style of casting rods led to the development of a new design of bass casting rods under the name Lew's Speed Stick.
These rods included new and unique components: pistol grips, Fuji reel seats, and Fuji guides.
By using these Fuji components, Lew was able to develop an exclusive relationship with Fuji which led to Lew Childre and Sons becoming the North American distributor for Fuji.
Lew’s and Fuji introduced some classics like Fuji’s speed lock reel seat, Fuji V frame guides, Hardloy guide rings and many other items that revolutionized the rod building and fishing rod industry. Rod wrapping techniques have been refined over the years, and Fuji's guides have helped.
In those days, custom rod building was just beginning to become a hobby and a cottage industry. One of the leaders was Dale P. Clemens from Allentown, PA. Dale was actually an insurance broker, however, he loved rod building. He took his love of rod building and built it into one of the largest rod building catalogs and mail order businesses in the world.
He also wrote multiple books on rod building techniques.
Another of the pioneer retailers was and still is Mud Hole, originally from New Jersey, named for a great tuna fishing spot on the Jersey coast. The company has since moved to Florida and MudHole rod building remains prominent - from MudHole rod blanks to gear and other components.
Lew Childre’s love for bass fishing also led him to begin to source a new style bass casting reel for the U.S. market.
He developed a reel called the BB1. It was the first tear drop shaped reel and it was an instant success. So much so that Lew went after the salt water market with a larger model named the BB2.
The Most interesting fact about those reels was that they were manufactured by a company named Shimano.
Unfortunately Lew Childre died in an airplane crash in 1977.
With Lew’s passing and Shimano recognizing the strength of the North American fishing market, Shimano brought their own brand to America.
Needless to say, Fuji and Shimano continue to be power houses in our fishing tackle industry.
Thanks and appreciation to Bob for his wisdom and insight into the history of the fishing tackle industry.
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