For “The February Room’s” 20th episode, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Marty Johanson, founder of Composite Developments. Marty was instrumental in the development of carbon fiber technology in fishing rods
“The February Room” hit a bit of a milestone with the 20th episode, so we thought we’d take a look at some of the milestones relevant to fly rod technology, dating back a millennium or two. The first references to luring fish to line using wool secured to a wooden hook date back to Roman times, but for all intents and purposes, fly rod construction began in the 17th century. Angling craftsmen hollowed out heavy wooden branches to reduce weight and began to experiment with ferrule systems and various types of wood. This paved the way for the utilization of bamboo as the standard material for fly rod construction in the 18th century.
An American violin maker named Samuel Phillipe is credited with creating the first split cane rod in the mid 1850’s. Based on this technology, H.M. Leonard began manufacturing split cane rods and the Hardy and South Bend companies soon followed suit.
The story goes that in the 1940’s, a scientist named Dr. Howald broke his split cane rod and repaired it using a piece of fiberglass. This development was the genesis for the Shakespeare Rod Company, which launched the first commercial fiberglass rods. Shakespeare is credited with being the first company to create a blank by wrapping glass fibers around a steel mandrel. Though bamboo maintained a strong following, this material dominated the scene for 3 decades.
Graphite first came onto the scene in the mid 1970’s, and depending on who you ask, either Fenwick or Hardy introduced the initial graphite rods in America. However, at this same time, Richard Kanter was working with the US military on the development of a revolutionary aircraft, the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane, which was capable of attaining unprecedented altitudes. Marty Johanson, a Kiwi, and Richard were fishing buddies, and as fishing buddies do, they began talking shop on the water one day and brainstormed the notion of utilizing this new tech in fishing rods. The carbon fiber used in those initial rods was light, strong, and responsive, and Marty knew that he was on to something big. Composite Developments was founded in 1981, and many American rod companies contracted CD to build their blanks. In 1989, the CD rod brand is born…and the rest, as they say, is history.