Silaflex

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Silaflex and Browning Silaflex Fly Rods

Early History of Silaflex

In 1947, Pacific Laminates hired Herb Jenks away from NARMCO (Conolon). Presumably Jenks was hired to develop the manufacturing of tubular fiberglass products. By 1948, Pacific Laminates was making the Silaflex line of fiberglass fishing rods [1] (later called the Standard series). These were conventional, tubular fiberglass rod blanks. In the early 50s, Pacific Laminates developed a high pressure lamination technique. The method wrapped the resin impregnated cloth around a tapered steel mandrel and sealed the combination inside a pressurized bag during the heat curing step [2]. The result was a strong, smooth, thin walled blank that did not need sanding. Similar high pressure processes were the key to Phillipson's Eponite rods (1955) and Fenwick's Feralite rods (1959). The high pressure process was used to make the Medallion rod blanks, which were added to the product line in 1952 [2]. In the late 50s, the Perfexion and Magnum rods were added to the product line. The Magnum rods were claimed to have a "progressive taper" that originated with the steel mandrel. The mandrels did not have linear tapers, but instead were tapered in a gentle curve. The 1960 catalogs and price sheets continued to list Standard and Medallion rods along with the newer models.

Purchase of Silaflex by Browning Arms and Subsequent History

In 1962, Browning purchased the company "1962-1963 Acquired Silaflex and Gordon Plastics, makers of bows, rods and vaulting poles" [3]. Browning continued the Silaflex trade name and marketed a reduced line of fly rods with Sizematic aluminum ferrules (the ones with the rubber O-ring). Browning retained four of the Medallion rods, one of the Magnum rods, and dropped the Standard and Perfexion rods altogether. With time, the model line expanded to seven or eight fly rods. In 1970, Browning developed a new line of Silaflex rods that incorporated a fiberglass ferrule sleeve instead of a metal ferrule. In my opinion, these were the best Silaflex rods produced. The new rods were lighter and crisper than the earlier Medallion rods series. Browning brought their first graphite fly rods to market in 1976. In 1977, Browning marketed an economy line of Silaflex II rods with glass spigot ferrules and black EVA foam grips. By 1980, the Browning was selling boron fiber fly rods labeled with the Silaflex tradename. Also, Browning owned the US rights to Mitchell fishing reels in the early 80s. Browning continued to make Silaflex glass rods at least through 1989. Interestingly, even through the 80s, Browning literature describes their "Hi Density" pressure curing technique, the same method developed by Pacific Laminates in 1952. According to Vic Johnson's Fiberglass Fly Rods book [2], Browning sold their rod making operation to Zebco in the early 1990s. As of 2008, the Browning tradenames on fishing tackle are used by Bass ProShops. Bass ProShops currently uses the Silaflex name on a line of fiberglass spinning and casting rods, but not on fiberglass fly rods.

Listings of Silaflex Fly Rod Models from Various Catalogs

In the listings below, I have given the model number, length, number of pieces, and recommended line weight(s) for the rod models I can confirm were produced or cataloged. In my opinion, the early Medallion Silaflex rods are nice, full flexing rods. They are soft, but not overly so as they were not designed for light lines. The longer rods are certainly heavy by today's standards. They are not distance casting rods, but inside 50/60 feet they are pleasant to fish. The early Browning fly rods are basically still the earlier Medallion rods, although they are cosmetically superb. The glass ferruled Silaflex rods developed in the 70s are the best casting rods produced with the Silaflex name. They are crisp, surprisingly powerful, and fun. The worst thing most people say about these Silaflex rods is that the stock cork grips are too large. After 1977, Browning's top product lines were made on graphite and boron rod blanks. While fiberglass rods were still cataloged, they had EVA foam grips, inexpensive reelseats, and simple thread wraps. The attention to detail and quality of these later rods does not compare with the earlier models. Still, the Silaflex II rods cast fairly well, although they are not the equal of the top glass rods from the 70s.

Early Fly rods:  The earliest Silaflex sales material I have is a small, single page pamplet from around 1950. On one side, the pamplet states "FLEXIBLE SILICON FISHING ROD BLANKS AND KITS" and shows a nice drawing of Samson the Sea Horse fishing with a Silaflex blank. The other side has testimonials from famous fishermen. Mixed in with the sales claims are mentions of the RF-75-4 kit for building a 7½ foot, 4 piece pack rod, and the F75 and F90 fly rods. The details in the pamplet are pretty sparse, but the "better fishing through science" flavor of the advertising comes through loud and clear.

Rod models listed in the 1956 Catalog:  This catalog contained 15 pages of illustrated text and 75 different rods, plus rod blanks. Each model line had a general description followed by specific descriptions of each rod in the line.

Medallion Rods, lightweight rods with Foulproof guides and tip-tops, “Armor plated” thread wrapped ferrules, brown spiral wraps with white trim, and a high grade, screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. These rods were packaged with an aluminum case and cloth bag and sold for $60-$75. For the mid 50s, this was a very expensive fly rod - the comparable Phillipson Eponite rods were selling for $40-$50. Apparently, by 1956 the classic Silaflex guide wraps were in place.

Standard Silaflex rods with Foulproof guides and tip-tops, “Armor plated” unwrapped ferrules, brown wraps with white trim, and a screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. These rods were packaged with an aluminum case and cloth bag and sold for $37.50-$45.

Presentation Rods were Medallion rods with 24 karat gold plated Foulproof guides and tip-tops, ferrules wrapped with “rich harmonious color“, and a velour lined, luggage style, hard case. These rods sold for an astounding $225! (I've never seen one of these for sale.)

In addition, Medallion rods were offered as kits with a pre-mounted ferrule, reelseat and grip. An “A” precedes the model number, i.e., AMF80-2 (This explains the occasional Silaflex Medallion rods with goofy multicolored thread wraps). While the kits sold for less than the factory wrapped rod, the kit prices were still $40-$50. Standard fly rods were offered as kits with a pre-mounted ferrule, reelseat and grip. An “A” precedes the model number, i.e., AF80-3. The Standard kit prices were $22.50-$24.50. These rods were also offered as ferruled blanks priced from $14.75-$18.00. A “B” precedes the model number, i.e., BF75-2.

Note: by this catalog, Sampson had gained his familiar top hat and was fishing with style!

1956 Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
Medallion Fly Rods
MF65-26½'2HEH silk or HDH nylon
MF70-27'2HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon
MF75-27½'2HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon
MF80-28'2HCH silk or GBG (GBF) nylon
MF85-28½'2HCH silk or GBG (GBF) nylon
MF90-29'2GBG (GBF) silk or GAF nylon
MF90SH-29'2GAF silk or GAF nylon and 2A and 3A shooting heads
MF95-29½'2GAF sinking lines and 2A and 3A shooting heads
Standard Fly Rods
F75-27'8"2G or H level HEH silk or HDH (HDF) nylon
F75-47'8"4F or G level HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon (the Backpacker)
F80-28'2HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon
F80-38'3HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon
F85-28½'2F or E level HCH (HCF) silk or GBG (GBF) nylon
F85-38½'3F or E level HCH (HCF) silk or GBG (GBF) nylon
F90L-39'3E or D level GBG (GBF) silk or GAF nylon
Presentation Fly Rods
P-MF75-27½'2HDH silk or HCH (HCF) nylon
P-MF85-28½'2HCH silk or GBG (GBF) nylon

Rod models listed in the 1960 Catalog Sheets:  By 1960, Pacific Laminates had expanded the Silaflex line with the Magnum and Perfexion rods. The Medallion line was slightly expanded, but only two Standard models remained. The cosmetics of the Medallion and Standard lines changed also. The Foulproof guides were gone. The Presentation rods were gone, replaced by Medallion Executive Sets (combinations of 2 or 3 multipiece rods in travel cases).

Medallion Rods, lightweight rods with snake guides and conventional tip-tops, thread wrapped ferrules, brown spiral wraps with white trim, and a high grade, screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. The line added a 5½ foot rod and a 7½ foot, 4 piece rod. Medallion rods were packaged with an aluminum case and cloth bag and still sold for $60-$75.

PT Magnum rods, were promoted as "Progressive Taper" rod blanks versitile enough to handle several line weights. Big and beefy would be the operative term as these were heavy line rods. The rods were made with snake guides and conventional tip-tops, wrapped ferrules, and a screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. Magnum fly rods were packaged with a Cal-Air aluminum case and cloth bag and sold for $65-$100. Pacific Laminates was never shy about charging top dollar!

Perfexion Sila-flex rods were marketed as a more economical line of rods. These rods had snake guides and conventional tip-tops, unwrapped ferrules, green wraps with white trim, and a screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. Perfexion rods were packaged in either a fiber case or an aluminum case (for an extra $4-5!). The rods sold for $33.50-$43.50. These rods were not offered as kits and blanks.

Standard Silaflex rods with snake guides and conventional tip-tops, unwrapped ferrules, brown wraps with white trim, and a screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. Only two rods remained in the line, although all six earlier rods were still offered as kits and blanks.

Note: Sampson is fairly conspicuous on the catalog pages, but only behind the word Silaflex (see the top of the page, for an example).


1960 Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
Medallion Fly Rods
MF55-2 "Mite"5½'2HEH nylon
MF65-26½'2HEH or HDH
MF70-27'2HDH or HCH
MF75-27½'2HDH or HDF
MF75-47½'4HDH or HDF
MF80-28'2HCH or HCF nylon
MF85-28½'2HCH
MF90-29'2GBG
MF90SH-29'2GAF and 2A and 3A shooting heads
MF95-29½'2GAF sinking lines and 2A and 3A shooting heads
Magnum Fly Rods
PT2007'9"2HEH - HDH - HCH - GBG
PT2108½'2HDH - GBG - GAE
PT2209'2HCH - GBG - GAF - 2A or 3A shooting heads
PT2309½'2HCH - GBG - GAF - 2A or 3A shooting heads (same as PT220 with Gaspe butt)
Perfexion Fly Rods
2017½'2Nylon HDH or HDF
2067½'4Nylon HDH or HDF
2118'2Nylon HDH or HDF
216-Lt.8½'2Nylon HDH or HCH
216-Med.8½'2Nylon HCH or GBG
Standard Fly Rods
F75-27'8"2G or H level HEH silk or HDH (HDF) nylon
F85-28½'2F or E level HCH (HCF) silk or GBG (GBF) nylon

1963 Browning Silaflex Fishing Rods Pamplet:  After Browning bought Silaflex from Pacific Laminates, they greatly reduced the number of rod models offered and gave all the rods new catalog numbers. The general aesthetic look of the Medallion rods was maintained. Unlike most of their early 60s competitors, Browning only indicated AFTMA line weights for their rods. Four of the five models were continued from the previous Medallion rod line. The other rod was claimed to be a PT210 Magnum, although this may be a typo in the catalog. The model 12910 is the same length as the PT200, but the 12910 is an odd three piece rod with a removable 18" section that gave the fisherman a 6'3" rod or a 7'9" rod. The suggested line weights were the same for both lengths.

Note: Sampson is now only seen as part of the Silaflex logo AND he has lost his fishing rod!


1963 Browning Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesPrevious Model Number / Line Weight
129106'3"/7'9"3PT210 (5,6) or 7,8,9!
229747'7¼"4MF75-4 (6 or 7)
229757'7"2MF75-2 (5,6) or 7
229808'1"2MF80-2 (6,7) or i
229909'1"2MF90SH-2 (8,9) 10 or 11

The most suitable line weights given in parentheses.

mid60s Browning Silaflex Fishing Rods Pamplet:  By the later 60s, Browing had expanded the line of flyrods and added an extra digit to all the model numbers. The cosmetics remained excellent. The fly rods had conventional snake and tip-tops with a chrome stripper, sizematic aluminum thread wrapped ferrules, brown spiral wraps with light yellow/tan trim, and a high grade, screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. These rods sold for $40-$50. (I've seen a model 222960. However, I don't have catalog listings for it.)

mid60s Browning Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
12910/1229106'3"/7'9"35 (6,7) 8
2229707'2(5) or 6
22974/2229747'7¼"4(6) or 7
22975/2229757'7"2(5,6) or 7
22980/2229808'1"2(6,7) or 8
22990/2229909'1"2(8) or 9
2229919'1"2(8) or 9 with Gaspe butt

The most suitable line weights given in parentheses.

The 1970 Browning Silaflex rods had conventional snake and tip-tops with chrome stripper, newly developed glass sleeve ferrules, brown wraps with white spiral trim, and a screw locking, anodized aluminum reelseat with two lock nuts. Interestingly, the rod blanks were painted, a trait all subsequent Browning rods would share. The 1973 price list has the rods from $32-$44. Browning also offered these models as blanks. Without a doubt, these were the best of the Silaflex rods, particularly by today's standards. They are lightweight, well made, and they have a nice crisp, almost fast, action. These would not be my first choice for quiet water, technical trout fishing. But for general stream fishing, panfishing, and bass bugging, these rods are an excellent choice. The 7 foot, 7½ foot, and 8 foot rods are my favorites of the bunch.  Interestingly, the entire fishing tackle product line had only 36 rods (and a wading staff), yet all of them that I have handled were pretty nice, especially for the early 70s.

1970 Browning Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
3229606'25 or 6
3229707'25 or 6
3229757'6"26 or 5
3229808'26/7 or 8
3229858'6"27 or 6 or 8
3229868'6"28/9 or 7
3229909'28 or 7 or 9
322991*9'29/10 or 11
332971**7'56 or 5

The most suitable line weights given first.

(*)A 6 inch Gaspe detachable fighting butt was optional.

(**)Spin/fly rod with 4 rod pieces and a reversible handle/grip.

Late 70s brought big changes to the Browning tackle lineup. By the 1976 catalog, Browning had added two “affordable” model STD fly rods. They are similar to the 322xxx series, but with simple orange wraps, white trim, and a more slender reelseat (I don‘t feel a big difference in the rod actions - and I have no idea what STD was supposed to mean!). The STD line also had two spincast rods, two light spinning rods, and three saltwater spinning rods. The standard 322xxx series were still offered, but they now had a cork skeleton reel seat on most of the models.

The biggest change was the introduction of graphite rods. Browning offered two Silaflex labeled, graphite fly rods. The sales literature indicates they were 92% graphite and made with the same pressure lamination technique as all other Silaflex rods. The glossy black blanks had conventional snake guides and tip-tops, black wraps with white trim, a ceramic stripper, a short graphite sleeve ferrule, and a black, screw locking, anodized aluminum, cork skeleton reelseat with two lock nuts.

The 1977 catalog brought the most shocking change, the 322xxx series rods and STD series rods were dropped! They were replaced by the Silaflex II line of rods. These rods had a suggested list price of $23.95 for all three models. That's right, over the thirty year history of Silaflex rods, the price had steadily dropped! The Silaflex II rods had "shadow grey" blanks, conventional snake guides and tip tips, a ceramic stripper with a white ring and black shock ring, black wraps with white painted trim, black aluminum reelseat, and black Pow-R-Grip foam rod grips (ick!). These had more than a little resemblance to the early Ugly Stiks! Also gone was the Silaflex sleeve ferrule. The Silaflex II rods had a white spigot ferrule instead.

By the 1980 catalog, the top rods in the Browning lineup were boron fiber. These rods were also called Silaflex, and interestingly, they were assigned the 322xxx model numbers. Unfortunately, I do not have a listing of the boron rods. They had orange/brown painted blanks, conventional snake guides and tip tips, a ceramic stripper, matching orange/brown wraps with black trim, a cork Superfine style grip, and cork skeleton reelseat of anodized aluminum that matched the rod blank color. These are powerful rods, and the one I have is an 8 foot rod for a 7 weight line that whistles the line past my ear. It is not a gentle casting machine.

1976/1977 Browning Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
STD Silaflex Models
0229757'6"25, 6
0229858'6"26, 7 or 8
Graphite Silaflex Models
5229808'25, 6 (or 7)
5229858'6"26, 7 or 8
Fiberglass Silaflex II Models
8229757'6"25, 6
8229808'26, 7 or 8
8229858'6"26, 7 or 8

By the 1988/1989 catalogs, the Silaflex fiberglass rods were almost an after thought “We use the most advanced, woven fiberglass manufacturing techniques to duplicate popular graphite rod actions” (say WHAT?! I doubt it! Even graphite never felt this clunky!). The rods had black EVA foam grips, plastic reel seats, a ceramic stripper, thin black snake guides, and dark wraps with a painted light yellow trim. These rods have tip over butt ferrules. Compared to the generations of Silaflex rods that came before, these things were brutally cheap. When you read a sportswriter's comparison of a new wonder stick to "other companies" fly rods, THIS is the comparison rod.

The 1988/1989 catalogs had the largest fishing rod lineups in company history. The boron fiber rods were gone. But there were 20 Waterton VI graphite fly rods, 11 Spiral Plus IM6 fly rods (1988 only), 12 Diana Grade graphite fly rods (1989 only), 11 Midas Touch graphite (1988 only), and 3 Gold Medallion graphites. The line had about 150 other casting, spinning, saltwater, and specialty rods in both graphite and fiberglass. There were dozens of different spinning reels, waders, vests, float tubes, and creels. Many of the classic Browning tradenames were visible too; Medallion, PT Magnum, Silaflex, Diana, and Hi Power (the last two were pinched from classic Browning guns). Alas, the all out market push was not successful and Browning soon sold the rod production facilities to Zebco.

1988 Browning Silaflex Fly Rods
Model NumberLengthPiecesLine Weight
F229757'6"25, 6
F229808'26, 7
F229858'6"26, 7
F229909'27, 8

I also have two 922xxx series glass rods with black foam grips. One has a white spigot ferrule, the other has a tip over butt ferrule. I’m not sure when these were produced or how many other rods were in the product line.

Browning Fly Reels

While Browning wasn't especially known for fly reels, they did make/market a few models over the years. In the 1973 catalog, Browning listed their first two fly reels, the non-adjustable, click pawl, Fly-R reels. These reels are a perfect cosmetic match to the 222xxx series and 322xxx series Silaflex rods. Functionally, the reels are rather primative. The drag is not adjustable, there is no palming rim, and the pawl spring is NOT easily adjusted to obtain left hand wind. However the line guard is easily moved! (Both reels have a small medallion with a cute little image of Sampson). In the early and mid 80s, Browning marketed the Mitchell line of spinning reels and fly reels. By the late 80s, Browning no longer marketed the Mitchell reels, but instead had two lines of single action fly reels, the 2100 series in brushed aluminum and the 2000 series in black powder coat.

I unfortunately do not know when the Browning Strata reels were first marketed, but I suspect it was the mid 90s. These reels were manufactured by Martin with either a dual pawl adjustable drag or a disc drag. While the line had five models listed, I have only actually seen the MZ34 model. In my mind, this reel is the epitome of a truly functional fly reel design. While the reel is only listed for a WF4 line, it will squeeze a DT5 on the spool with just a little backing. Another Browning reel from the same time frame is the Packer BPF1, a Martin made, single pawl design. The instruction booklet does not indicate if the reel was part of a larger model line, or if this was a stand alone product.

As of 2008, Bass ProShops uses the Browning name on a line of lightweight fly reels.

Browning Fly Reels
Model NumberWeightLine Capacity
1973 Fly Reel Models
Fly’R-4, model 12304 ozDT5 with 30 yards of backing
Fly’R-5, model 52305 ozDT6 with 50 yards of backing
Late 80s Fly Reel Models
21453.4 oz#4 or #5, click pawl drag
21676.0 oz#6 or #7, center disc drag
20565.5 oz#5 or #6, shoe type drag
20786.5 oz#7 or #8, shoe type drag
20899.5 oz#8 or #9, shoe type drag
Browning Strata
MZ343.6 ozWF4 with 50 yards, dual pawl drag
MZ564.1 ozWF6 with 100 yards, dual pawl drag
MZ787.6 ozWF8 with 200 yards, disc drag
MZ9108.5 ozWF9 with 200 yards, disc drag
MZ10119.6 ozWF10 with 300 yards, disc drag
Browning Packer
BPF14 ozWF4 with 100 yards, single pawl drag

20# backing

References

[1] Biographical data about Herb Jenks was obtained from the National Sporting Goods Association website (note: the website states "In 1948, Jenks developed for his own company, Pacific Laminates (Sila-Flex), Costa Mesa, California, the first tubular fiberglass fishing rod." This isn't correct, tubular glass rods were developed several years earlier by NARMCO. (www.nsga.org)

[2] Vic Johnson Sr. and Vic Johnson Jr. "Fiberglass Fly Rods" 1996, Centennial Publications, Grand Junction, Colorado.

[3] Browning historical data on the purchase of Silaflex was from an earlier incarnation of the Browning website, however that weblink has since been broken.

[4] Browning catalogs and pamphlets very early 50s, 1955, 1959/1960, early 60s, mid 60s, 1970, 1973 (with price list), 1976, 1977, and 1988.

For the true, trivia freak, in the July 14, 1963 episode of “What’s My Line”, the second contestant was Herb Jenks - Makes Poles For Pole Vaulters - "Salaried; he is an engineer for the Browning Arms Company; his innovative vaulting poles are made from fiberglass and their trade name is Browning Silaflex Sky Pole". For what it’s worth, he stumped the panel.