The evolution of fly fishing rods: materials and production

25th of April 2023

Fly fishing has been a beloved pastime for centuries, and the evolution of fly fishing rods has played a significant role in the sport's progress. Starting from humble beginnings, fly fishing rods have evolved into an art form, with a strong emphasis on material science and production techniques. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the history of fly fishing rods, the evolution of materials used in their construction, and the innovations in production that keep the industry moving forward.

The early beginnings of fly fishing rods

Humankind's love for fishing can be traced back to the dawn of time, and ancient civilizations developed innovative techniques for catching fish. However, fly fishing in Europe was only introduced in the middle ages, becoming popular as a sport in the 17th century.

Ancient civilizations and fishing techniques

The ancient Egyptians and Chinese used simple lines made of silk, horsehair or plant stems, with hooks made of bone. The Greeks developed lines from horsehair coated with resin and used lures made from wool and feathers to catch fish. In Japan, traditional fly fishing used a long, flexible rod made of bamboo, silk lines, and snelled hooks. These early rods were incredibly heavy and not suitable for widespread use.

Despite the limitations of these early rods, ancient civilizations were able to catch fish in large quantities. Fishing was not only a means of sustenance but also a source of entertainment and a way to connect with nature. Ancient civilizations believed that fishing was a way to connect with the gods, and it was often associated with religious ceremonies.

The birth of fly fishing in Europe

Fly fishing's popularity started to rise in the 17th century in the UK. During this time, fly fishing used wooden rods with horsehair or silk lines with artificial flies made of feathers or animal hair, which could mimic the movements of insects. This style of fishing became more common after Izaak Walton's book The Compleat Angler was published in 1653. The wooden rods were of variable length and stiffness, and they remained prevalent until the late 19th century.

As the popularity of fly fishing grew, so did the demand for more advanced fishing equipment. The first major innovation in fly fishing rods came in the early 19th century when rods made of greenheart wood were introduced. These rods were lighter and more flexible than their wooden counterparts, allowing for more accurate casting and better control over the fish.

By the late 19th century, split bamboo rods had become the standard in fly fishing. These rods were made by splitting bamboo canes into thin strips and gluing them together to form a sturdy, lightweight rod. Split bamboo rods were highly prized for their flexibility, accuracy, and durability, and they remain popular among fly fishermen today.

If you want to continue reading about the history of fly fishing, read our article: The History of Fly Fishing.

The evolution of fly fishing rod materials

The development of fly fishing rods into a sporting tool was the result of the industrial revolution. The introduction of metal and synthetic materials allowed for lighter, stronger, and more consistent rods whose properties could be closely controlled. The evolution of fly fishing rod materials can be studied by the different types of materials used over time, including bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.

From bamboo to fiberglass

Bamboo has been a popular material for fly fishing rods since the nineteenth century. Durable, lightweight, and flexible, it is still used today. However, in the 1950s, fiberglass rods took center stage in rod design. Fiberglass was cheap, durable, and easier to mass-produce. Fiberglass rods were also more comfortable to cast than their bamboo predecessors. Fiberglass rods dominated the market for over 20 years.

During this time, fly fishing became increasingly popular as a sport, and the demand for better rods grew. Manufacturers began experimenting with different materials to find a better alternative to fiberglass. They wanted a material that was even lighter, stronger, and more responsive, and they found it in graphite.

The Introduction of graphite and carbon fiber

In the 1970s, graphite and carbon fiber became popular materials for fly fishing rods. These materials offered even greater control and sensitivity, enabling more powerful and precise casts. Graphite's unique properties allowed manufacturers to create rods that were lighter, stiffer, and more responsive than ever before. As technology advanced, so did the quality and quantity of graphite and carbon fiber-made fly fishing rods.

Graphite and carbon fiber rods are now the most popular materials used for fly fishing rods. They are incredibly lightweight, making them easy to cast and maneuver. They are also incredibly strong, allowing anglers to catch larger fish without having to worry about the rod breaking. These materials are also highly sensitive, allowing anglers to feel every bite and movement of the fish.

The impact of material advancements on rod performance

The development of materials like graphite and carbon fiber allowed for the creation of rods with improved sensitivity, casting distance, and accuracy. Modern rods made of these materials are lightweight and well-balanced, providing a comfortable and productive fishing experience for anglers of all skill levels.

As technology continues to advance, it is likely that even more advanced materials will be developed for fly fishing rods. These materials will likely be even lighter, stronger, and more sensitive than their predecessors, providing anglers with even better tools for catching fish.

Innovations and changes in fly fishing rod production

In addition to advances in materials, innovations in fly fishing rod production have played a vital role in the evolution of the sport. Once a craft predominantly performed by hand, fly rod production has now moved into automated factories and advanced customization. These innovations have made fly fishing more accessible to a wider range of people, allowing for the sport to grow and flourish.

The development of split cane rods

Split cane rods were the original fly fishing rods, and they were crafted entirely by hand. This process was both labor-intensive and expensive, leaving fly fishing as a sport for the elite. Split cane rods require a high level of skill, from crafting the individual rod sections to bending and curving the bamboo joints into place. Despite their rarity and value, split cane rods are not commonly used in modern fishing practices.

However, the art of crafting split cane rods is still practiced by a small group of dedicated artisans. These craftsmen take pride in their work and often spend countless hours perfecting each rod. The result is a beautiful and functional piece of art that is highly sought after by collectors and avid fly fishermen alike.

The rise of mass production and factory-made rods

The use of fiberglass and graphite in rod building made fly fishing more affordable for those beyond the elite. The production of rods rose substantially, and many companies started producing them on a large scale. The output rate of rods and reels increased dramatically, allowing for more affordable, widespread use of fly fishing equipment.

Today, there are countless companies that produce fly fishing rods, each with their own unique style and design. From lightweight graphite rods to sturdy fiberglass models, there is a rod for every type of fisherman and fishing situation. These factory-made rods are often more affordable than custom rods, making them a popular choice for beginners and experienced anglers alike.

Custom rod makers and the art of rod building

However, while mass production is widespread, custom rod builders still thrive. Custom rod builders work with individual customers to craft their perfect rod, integrating preferred grip, guides, and blanks, making each one unique. These rods are often made of bamboo or natural materials, and the process of customization requires skill, patience, and a deep understanding of the craft of fly fishing.

Custom rods are highly sought after by serious fly fishermen who are looking for a rod that is tailored to their specific needs and preferences. These rods are often more expensive than factory-made models, but the level of customization and attention to detail is unparalleled. The process of building a custom rod can take weeks or even months, but the end result is a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment that is both functional and beautiful.


The evolution of fly fishing rods is closely tied to the evolution of materials science and manufacturing. From ancient bamboo rods to modern materials, the history of fly fishing rods is a testament to human innovation and desire to improve upon existing technologies. With a focus on sustainability and advancements in materials science, fly fishing enthusiasts will no doubt continue to experience new and exciting developments in the rods of the future.

Share the link to this post

Save this post in your favorites

Stay up-to-date about new fly fishing content

Create an account and be the first to know about new tips, tricks, stories and fly fishing adventures. FlyFish Circle is run by fly fishing enthusiasts and is completely free!

More from the library

Fly fishing photography tips


Fly fishing photography tips

Discover professional tips for capturing stunning fly fishing photos. Learn about the right equipment, perfect angles, and how to respect the fish in your shots.

Articulated flies: design, benefits and tips


Articulated flies: design, benefits and tips

Explore articulated flies in fly fishing: their design, benefits, types, and fishing tips.

Overview of fly fishing hook sizes and types


Overview of fly fishing hook sizes and types

Fly fishing hooks come in different sizes, types and materials. In this article we cover everything there is to know about fly fishing hooks.

Fly fishing with indicators


Fly fishing with indicators

In this article, we'll discuss what a strike indicator is, the different types of indicators, and how to properly use them while fly fishing.

A guide to fly fishing for pike


A guide to fly fishing for pike

The ultimate guide to fly fishing for pike, covering essential gear, effective fly patterns, techniques, and safety tips for a successful catch.

3 easy flies to tie for beginners (with videos)

Fly Tying

3 easy flies to tie for beginners (with videos)

Three easy flies for beginners to tie, providing a solid foundation to build upon as your skills progress.

View all content

More fly fishing information

Caddisflies (Trichoptera)


The study of insects. Our entomology library is focussed on the information relevant to fly fishing.

Brown Trout

Fish Species

Discover different fish species. Learn about their habitat, feeding patterns, the flies that work best, and more.