On Vintage Fenwick HMG Fly Rods

Lewis Chessman

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Isle of Lewis, UK.
Hi, GoWest, thanks for clarifying about the grip and whippings. Compared to today's rods there's a helluvalot of thread and varnish on many older rods, possibly a hang over from cane rod building. This adds unnecessary weight to a rod and can impact on how it bends, deadening it.

Sure you can just replace the guides and keep the grip & seat, no problem.
The NAFFF's Rod Building Sub-Forum can be found here.
There is also the UKFFF Rod Building Sub-Forum here if you want to widen the net and see more of members' work. Your log in here works on this 'sister site' if you wish to comment/post there.

Changing the guides on a rod isn't that tricky at all. If you can tie a fly you can build a rod! There are dozens of vids on YouTube which will walk you through the whipping process. All you'll need is a steady hand with a razor to remove the old eyes and varnish, some Wet&Dry sandpaper (800 & 1200 will be fine) to clean the area of detritus, some masking tape, thread and guides of your choosing and, in this case, some rod varnish. Total cost around $20. Modern rods tend to use epoxy resin but with this 'antique' I'd stick with rod varnish, like the originals have.

Don't worry too much about ruining it - you won't. These old custom blanks carry little value today despite still being perfectly good tools for the task in hand - I personally prefer the medium action of these early rods for the kind of fishing I do. You may too. Reworking an old rod like this is a great entry point for the whole building game, especially as you don't want/need to change the seat and grip.

My internet is tortuously slow today so I can't find examples of originals to share - but if you pop ''Fenwick HMG'' into Google Images you'll soon find examples of original factory models to inspire you. If you can find a pic of your model then you'll know how many guides and what kind originals should have.
Personally, I would remove all the old whippings/guides and that peculiar winding check (at the top of the cork). I'm UK-based so not best placed to advise on component suppliers in the States but I know Mudhole are pretty reliable as a starting point. To replace the w/c with one which fits properly you'll need a pair of calipers to measure the outside diameter of the blank where the cork ends and the rod starts. Digital calipers cost a few dollars on eBay these days.

I have a digital copy of Fenwick's builders' catalogue from 1981 which includes guide sizes and spacings for the FL 102-7. Not exactly the same rod as yours but it may be a starting point. If you get serious pm me and I'll send you the relevant page and explain how to find the best position for each guide on your rod - it isn't rocket science, honest!

Hope that's some help and encourages you to give it a go. All the best.


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New Zealand
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.
I have just ran over my fenwick fly rod that served my well for the last 10 years bugger


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The HMG Woodstream of course was built by the company that bought Fenwick from Don and Jim. Fenwick was not their most famous brand, Victor Mouse Traps were.