On Vintage Fenwick HMG Fly Rods

Lewis Chessman

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I thought that the original USA-made Fenwick HMG fly rods would make a worthy topic for this forum. There's a lot I don't know so I appreciate any corrections and additions members may offer - and any photos!

The 'HMG' (High Modulus Graphite) by Fenwick was the first commercially produced carbon fibre rod, released to the market in 1973 in spinning and casting models, fly followed shortly after. Designed and built by Jim Green (GGACC) at Fenwick's factory in Westminster, CA., Jim and Don Green (no relation) used graphite cloth from (supplier unknown) with a tensile modulus of 30 million psi rolled around a fibreglass scrim to make fly and spinning rods which were far lighter yet more powerful than the cane and fibreglass rods which had preceded them.

A full-page Fenwick advert introducing HMG fly rods can be seen here in the March 1974 edition of Field and Stream.

According to Schwiebert, in 'Trout', the very first HMGs were considered way too stiff (but not in comparison to today's fast rods). The later versions were softer. And in 'The Technology of Fly Rods' Don Phillips wrote (p.21);
"Unfortunately, many of these initial offerings were premature; breakage rates were high and although these rods can cast a country mile, they were lacking presentation delicacy and general fishability."

While some early models suffered from breakages in use, the lightness and power of graphite rods saw them swiftly grow in popularity whilst their ease of manufacture and the rapidly falling cost of carbon fibre cloth made them popular with other tackle companies. By 1974, Gary Loomis, then with Lamiglas, was retailing their '96% Graphite' rods with J. Kennedy Fisher, Shakespeare, Scott, House of Hardy and others quickly following suit and the early problems were soon largely ironed out.

From what I read (please correct me if I'm wrong), the First Generation of Fenwick HMG fly rods were two piece rods with a reinforced tip-over-butt ferrule. They appear in two designations - 'GFF' (Graphite Fenwick Fly?) and 'GFL' (Graphite Fly) - the latter indicating a blank sold for personal or custom building.
There also appear to be two different length markings on the factory transfers - some rods are in inches, e.g. 108-6 for a 9 ft., #6 rod, or in feet as '906'.
I don't know if this indicates anything, like the year of manufacture, export blank, etc?

Factory models were built on grey-black, sanded blanks with a clear varnish. Some report the whippings as ''green with white tippings'' as can be seen here. Certainly, the photos on this Fibreglass Flyrodders thread shows grey wraps on the 1st Gen rods. The rings visible on the GFF-755 are Snakes with a ceramic stripper ring and it has a down-locking, all-cork handle with black reel fittings.

The Second Generation of Fenwick HMG fly rods were introduced towards the end of 1976. The Nov. 1976 Field and Stream states that Fenwick HMGs will now be 'Chameleon Brown', suggesting that '77 may be the year of introduction for 2nd Gen HMGs.

The 2nd Gen rods were varnished a dark-honey brown with spiral wraps still visible on the blank beneath and wrapped with a reddish-brown thread and gold tippings.


In 1978 Fenwick was sold by owner Phil Clock and purchased by Woodstream and 'HMG Woodstream' decals were added. In 1982 serial numbers were omitted with 'U' (1980/81) being the last (full list here on the FFRF, post #8).
I have seen a Woodstream HMG 7 1/2 ft with the serial number R414308 dating it as 1977/78.

Edit: Here is a brown GFF806 HMG, currently on eBay. It carries a serial number - P354896 ('76/'77). The metal tube is marked only as Fenwick, Westminster, with no mention of Woodstream. Note: 'Q' was not used.

So, all 'HMG Woodstream' models I've seen have been brown, 2nd Gen rods, but not all brown HMGs are marked as 'Woodstream'.
The action of these rods is said to be slightly slower than the original 1st Gen rods on several threads and there was also a short-lived, even softer rod sold briefly, the 'HMG Woodstream Traditional' series, with a decal designation such as 'GFF-806T'.

On the Fiberglass Flyrodders Forum, jgester writes (post #4): "After the Woodstream take over, in 1981 Fenwick marketed the Blackhawk graphite rod (an 8 foot, 6 weight) to mass marketing merchants. The Blackhawk was an unsanded HMG blank that was not finished out as nicely as an HMG. The specialty fly shops had a fit, so the next year (1982) Fenwick introduced the Eagle line of rods - essentially Blackhawks for fly shops."

On Speypages, Vic Cutter writes, "I worked as a Manager at Fenwick from 1980 until 2000 .... the only true Fenwick Rod blanks that would be available for purchase today were made and sold by Fenwick prior to 1985. The decision to discontinue sales of Fenwick blanks was made by Fenwick management in 1984 for several reasons ....."

In 1985 Fenwick ceased rod blank production in the USA and transferred it to Mexico (?) and the Far East (? - requires further evidence). Woodstream sold Fenwick to Pure fishing in the late '80s (?) but by this time the brand had lost its identity, its innovators and much of its prestige. Today it is a subsidiary company owned by Pure Fishing and was recently sold once more, this time by parent company Newell Brand to private equity group, Sycamore Partners. As I write, they still sell a Fenwick HMG range of rods.

Don Green left Fenwick in late '78 to create the Winslow Rod Company which became Sage. He was joined there by Jim Green some years later when Fenwick was sold by Woodstream and Jim 'retired'.
Thankfully not. :)

I am sure there are errors and matters which can be contested in the above. Please feel free to correct and add what you can. I may look to making a list of the models later.
Cheers, Lewis.
 
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Rip Tide

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At some point (early 1990s?) Fenwick ceased rod blank production in the USA and transferred it to Mexico and the Far East but by this time the brand had lost its identity, its innovators and much of its prestige.
I have one of the last USA Fenwicks made
Not a HMG though, a CoFi, which replaced the "top of the line" Iron Feather for the last 2 years.
It's actually a very nice rod.
I bought it in 1998
 

Lewis Chessman

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I have just sniped what I think is a 1st Gen HMG custom-built GFL 108-5 (9ft, #5) on eBay. I bid 2 pence more than a rival! :starwars:
Never bid a round number! :p

There's a link here but the photos aren't great. I'll post some when it arrives. I've wanted to cast this blank for some time, just out of historical curiosity really, and may strip it down and rebuild if it's gnarly. I do like slower rods so we might actually get on nicely. :)
 

Lewis Chessman

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Thanks, Rip Tide, I'll edit the op to 'late '90s'.

I have an Iron Feather which I only fished once many years ago. I found it too much of a poker at the time but should probably take another look at it next season. It was nicely built, iIrc, and I might be able to use it better now, after all these years 'practicing'. ;)
 

Lewis Chessman

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My thanks to silver creek who posted this video on the 'Celebrating Jim Green' thread in 2017. As silver creek points out there, Mr. Green is casting a Fenwick Ferralite fibreglass rod in this instructional film from 1975 but I thought it worth reposting on this HMG thread, if only to put a face and voice to the man.


I've discovered that I've been pronouncing 'Fenwick' incorrectly all my life!
There are several English place names where one does pronounce the 'w' - Keswick is 'Kessik', Warwick is 'Warrick' and Alnwick, the home of Hardy tackle, is 'Annick' so I've always said ''Fen-ick'' not ''Fen-wick'' as Jim Green does here.

Anyway, it's a very clear lecture and great to see a Master and former casting champion at work.
 

sweetandsalt

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Yes, Lewis, us Yanks pronounce the 'w' except in Alnwick (which we don't, to my knowledge, have a town of this name here). We pronounce it without the w in respect for Hardy.

Here is a lead for you to follow; back in the 70's Fenwick had a School just south of West Yellowstone, Montana on Rt. 20 with casting ponds and guest cabins. The likes of Jim Green, Bob Jacklin (a great caster/angler) and David "Dutch" Schultz were instructors. To this day, Dutch sometimes fishes a prototype Jim Green rod that, sit down, Lewis, is solid Boron. It is slow, slender and dense and one-of-a-kind. The school is long gone but the buildings and ponds remain as a condo of some sort.
 

Lewis Chessman

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You've whetted my appetite, s&s.:)
I drove along Rt. 20 on my travels and may have unwittingly passed the school then. I've just re-visted the Island Park area on Google Earth for the memories and found the spot where I watched a wolverine while wading in the Buffalo River. A very special moment.
Was the Fenwick School by Henry's Fork, I wonder? It would figure.

Thanks for the Boron Warning - I was sat down but still came over faint. ;)
I'm just reading 'The Technology of Fly Rods' by Don Phillips whose very early boron rods (1974!) had a permanent boron mandrel at their heart .... I wonder how Mr. Green rolled his?

Good on you for getting 'Alnwick' right, it's a tough one with its silent 'l' and 'w', certainly not intuitive! I noticed in the 1974 HMG ad above that they (Fenwick) tipped their cap to the RAE, Farnborough, as inventors of the c-f process, which was decent of them given the context - a rod advert.

I reposted the Jim Green casting film on the UK forum and it's been well received as 'clear and straight-forward instruction', not bad for a 45 year old tutorial.
 

ifitswims

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The great old Exploding HMG. I am not sure if this was an industry standard but for me I broke both of mine, on fish, and decided that Fenwick was not the rod for me. I have fond memories of them though, especially when I purchased my first one and still use pieces of my last one in my rod repair bin.

Maybe like my old James Scott waders...There was a time.

Fenwick was a pioneering company in graphite for Fly Fishing.
 

Lewis Chessman

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I have one of the last USA Fenwicks made
Not a HMG though, a CoFi, which replaced the "top of the line" Iron Feather for the last 2 years.
It's actually a very nice rod.
I bought it in 1998
Hi, Rip Tide. After editing the op following your post, I found a quote by Vic Cutter, ex-manager at Fenwick, saying USA blank production ended in 1985 and edited that in instead. There's quite a gap between 1985 and your 1998 CoFi. Was it new when you bought it?
I took a look at my Iron Feather yesterday but did not see a country of manufacture on the rod decal so that doesn't help.
 

Rip Tide

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Hi, Rip Tide. After editing the op following your post, I found a quote by Vic Cutter, ex-manager at Fenwick, saying USA blank production ended in 1985 and edited that in instead. There's quite a gap between 1985 and your 1998 CoFi. Was it new when you bought it?
I took a look at my Iron Feather yesterday but did not see a country of manufacture on the rod decal so that doesn't help.
Yes I did buy it new but it was a close-out, which is how I know that it was one of the last USA rods produced.
In a quick perusal of my collection of Fly Fisherman magazines I found a full page ad for the Fenwick Cofi 57 in the September 1996 issue. Page 25

Theses American made rods feature our exclusive 57 million modulas.....

...backed by Fenwick's Lifetime Limited Warranty and are priced from around $400 - $480
 

Lewis Chessman

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Thank you, Rip Tide, that's not very helpful of you. ;)
There's obviously a contradiction here so I'll edit the doubt into the op.

One possible scenario I can imagine is that the blanks were foreign Fenwick-designed imports but the rods were built in the USA, so warranting 'American-made' - but I really don't know how US law works regarding this. More research required .....
 

Rip Tide

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I suspect that you'll find that Fenwick stopped producing fiberglass rods sometime in the mid '80s
The second generation E-glass Feralites ended production in 1988

The Fenglass rod line started up again around 2000
 

spm

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Good discussion, Lewis. I have a Fenwick Eagle Graphite E80-6F. Not sure where it falls in the history or quality level of Fenwick rods. I believe I bought it late 80s-early 90s. I doubt it was an expensive rod, as I didn't have a lot of discretionary money, back then.

Edit: My wife drove over it in her car. Broke the plastic tube, but didn't hurt the rod.

Thanks,
steve
 

Lewis Chessman

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Here is a lead for you to follow; back in the 70's Fenwick had a School just south of West Yellowstone, Montana on Rt. 20 with casting ponds and guest cabins. The likes of Jim Green, Bob Jacklin (a great caster/angler) and David "Dutch" Schultz were instructors. To this day, Dutch sometimes fishes a prototype Jim Green rod that, sit down, Lewis, is solid Boron. It is slow, slender and dense and one-of-a-kind. The school is long gone but the buildings and ponds remain as a condo of some sort.
I have found a 1976 Field and Stream article about fishing schools by Ken Schultz (any relation to 'Dutch'?) which mentions that Fenwick, in '76, were running 49 schools in 21 locations nationwide! West Yellowstone is mentioned along with Spruce Creek, PA., and Gold Beach on the river Rogue, OR. It's essentially an advert for the schools and even includes prices but does say that they don't push Fenwick tackle on their clients.

An Orvis school gets a mention, as does the Leonard Rod Co. and Garcia Corp who may have owned ABU by then? I mention ABU as they are the only UK school from the '70s I can recall, and were based in Aviemore, Scotland, near the Spey.*

This earlier, '73 F&S article more gives locations - Fenwick at Gallatin Gateway and at Fenwick, MT. Orvis at Manchester, Vermont. Garcia's schools, supervised by Joan and Lee Wulff, were held in Fishkill, NY.
''For a few years Cortland Line also ran a fly fishing school .....", it reads.

Nice work if you could get it! :)

* I've since remembered that Hugh Falkus and Arthur Oglseby ran a Spey-casting school in Grantown on Spey in the '70s, but they were writers rather than tackle companies.
 
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Lewis Chessman

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My homebuilt HMG GFL 108-5 has arrived. 'Custom' would be a little grand for it but it is actually better made than I expected. It has lost the keeper ring and the varnish is showing its age but I may just replace the k/r then leave it as it is/for what it is. The cork handle shape and whipping colours differ from a factory rod's but I bought it to see how HMG feels compared to later rods, not for the cosmetics.

I've yet to put a line on it but first impressions are that it is crazily soft compared to modern rods - I wouldn't even say 'medium action' as this must be amongst the deepest flexing graphite I have held. The 'wiggle test' demonstrated a fair amount of reverb reminiscent of a Mexican wave! :)
Compared to this the LCI Striker II (8' 6'', #6), '96% Graphite' (Loomis circa '81, pre-IM6) feels positively pokeresque!

I'll post a shot of the curve under stress another day and have a grass-cast when its dry(ish) out but for now, a few shots.

.......................1-P1030104.JPG

.........................................................1-P1030103.JPG

.......................1-P1030102.JPG
 

Lewis Chessman

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I haven't cast this rod yet but did a decidedly unscientific stress test today - handheld camera with a wide angle, didn't mark the ladder feet with deads, inaccurate scales ..... but the rods were held at the same angle and with equal weight applied.
I decided to compare it to an LCI Striker II, 8' 6'', #6 made circa 1981 from Loomis's '96% Graphite', the same cloth as that which made his earlier Lamiglas graphite rods, '74 on, and contemporary with the HMG. Both rods are two piece. It might interest someone else and I'd be pleased to know what, if anything, others make of it.

1st Gen Fenwick GFL (custom) 9 ft, #5, with approx. 4 oz on the tip + 1 oz on the line.

..........................1-HMG 905 with 5 oz c.JPG

LCI Striker II 8 ft 6'', #6, with approx. 4 oz on the tip + 1 oz on the line.
...........................1-LCI Striker II 8.5 ft 6 wt with 5 oz a.JPG

On the Fenwick home-built rod - that's quite a flat spot on the reinforced joint (which narked Ard back in the day, I've read!) and it looks like there's a bridge between 4 & 5 (counting butt up) that Brunel would have been proud of. Moving 4 up half an inch might help even things out.

The LCI is 6'' shorter and one weight heavier and demonstrates much more rigidity in the middle third as well as in the tip.

I have a #7 Ironfeather which might make an interesting 3rd comparison ..... ;)
I fished this LCI a fair bit in '16, often with a sinking line, and it's still a pleasant rod to use. It has enough backbone to lift a sunk line to the surface easily and yet is sufficiently responsive in the tip for bite detection and reasonable accuracy. I'm looking forward to trying that with the Fenwick!
 

mikew1959

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Back in like 1978 to 1980 I worked all summer and saved all my money and finally had enough to buy Fenwick 905T
The “T” stood for traditional. It was advertised as the graphite rod with the traditional bamboo feel.
I got to fish it one summer and then it was stolen.

I loved that rod and I would love to find another. I’ve watched eBay for years and can never find one.

Anybody remember this line of rods?
 

Lewis Chessman

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I think that's the 'HMG Woodstream Traditional' series, with a decal designation such as 'GFF-806T', as mentioned in the o.p., Mike.
Your dates are interesting as I've not accurately pinpointed the Woodstream take over. Late '70s and before '81 is the the ball park and your purchase is right on that mark.
Good luck finding a replacement. They were a short-lived species, I read. May be worth your while looking for a 'normal' 2nd Gen brown HMG 905 as they'll be more common. After all these years you may not notice the difference in softness, especially if you are now used to stiffer modern graphite - the original 1st Gen HMG feels incredibly whippy to me, for instance.

Btw, on closer inspection my top section is noticeably crooked. I've read this was not uncommon on these early rods.
 

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In 1979 I was living in New Jersey and decided to get back into fly fishing. My only fly rod back then was a four piece Eagle Claw Trailmaster 7 1/2 foot six weight fly rod that I used in the Sierras and shad fishing around Sacramento in the 60s when I was a kid. A guy I knew where I lived in Jersey shared a Cabelas catalog with me and I bought a kit to build an 8' 6 weight HMG fly rod, GFF 806. I finished this rod in 1981. By then, I was living in Elko, Nevada. The following year, I built a 9' 6wt. HMG for my dad, GFF 906. He never fished with it, and I got it back following his death. I haven't fished with it either -- but I'm glad I have it -- it was the prettiest wrap job I ever did. So, with these dates in mind, and following this discussion, these must be original Fenwick HMG blanks. They are a rich brown.

I've got a fishing story about the 8 foot rod. I moved to Montana in 1994. In Dec of 1999 my RPL six weight broke and I had to send it in for repair. In Jan of 2000, I was invited to do a float on the Missouri with a couple of friends. My only other six weight at the time was the HMG 806. I hadn't fished it for years. I had grown accustomed to the actions of the Winston IM6, Orvis Western, and Sage RPL rods that I regularly fished with at the time. The HMG felt like a noodle. I was okay nymphing with it until I had hooked a fat rainbow in an run with a strong current. The rod was almost bent double and I still could barely move the fish. I had to move downstream and find some slower water to land the trout. One of my friends was unamused by my difficulty in landing the heavier fish and wanted to know what I was doing on the river with a rod like that. I admit, I was happy when my RPL was repaired and returned to me. I haven't attempted to fish the 8 foot HMG since -- and I really should take the nine foot 6 weight I built for my dad and see how it casts.
 
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