My first question: When do you think the revival started? Mid 1990’s? Seems like a number of highly regarded rods date from that period (Steffen Brothers, the black Scott F, Hardy Perfection Glass, et al.).
The 80s were the dark days for glass. The only major companies still making glass fly rods were Lamiglas, Shakespeare (Ugly Stix), and Wright & McGill (my first glass fly rod was a yellow Eagle Claw bought for $10 in the late 80s). Graphite dominated the US market. For a short time, even Scott stopped making glass.
In the early 90s Dennis Franke learned about glass from the best mentor possible - Russ Peak. But Franke did not have the equipment to make his own blanks. One blank maker he worked with was Mark Steffen. Steffen had made and sold his own graphite rods for a decade, but Franke got him to roll S-glass fly rod blanks (which eventually became Steffen's material of choice). Franke's Glastech company was short lived, but his rods (and catalogs) brought excitement back to fiberglass.
Second question: What do you think started the revival? Tom (jgestar) submitted that it was Dennis Franke’s catalogs. I might suggest that it was the rise of the internet, which enabled the creation of demand (e.g., through the rise of online communities like this one) and the supply (e.g., by enabling easy online person-to-person sales of vintage and new rods).
Fly rods are tangible objects. Without a supply of fiberglass fly rods no revival could have occurred. In the late 90s/early 2000s the supply of glass increased due to three main sources:
- First a few established rod companies still sold glass. Lamiglas factory rods and rod blanks were available at reasonable cost. New Eagle Claw yellow glass fly rods could be purchased for small money. In addition, Fenwick marketed a line of Feralite knock-offs in the late 90s and REC/Diamondback began selling DiamondGlass around 2000. The Fenwicks were less expensive than the classic Feralites, but they were mostly decent rods. The DiamondGlass rods were excellent. However, both Fenwick and DGlass overproduced, resulting in a flood of glass sold at deep discount in the early/mid 2000s.
- Second, eBay became the 24-7-365 discount vintage fly rod shop. Sellers happily listed a wide range of collectibles at low prices, including fishing rods and reels. As luck would have it, in 1996 Vic Johnson Sr. & Vic Johnson Jr. published Fiberglass Fly Rods, which became the de facto vintage rod collector's bible. With readily available Fenwick/Dglass/vintage rods there were many options for a curious angler to try glass on the cheap.
- Third, custom rod builders and small rod companies once again began designing glass rods because they felt fiberglass was the best material for the job. The leading names on that list would be Mark Steffen, Mike McFarland, Hardy, and Scott. For custom fly rods, Steffen and McFarland were available at a nice price. The Scott Fibertouch and Hardy Perfection were a bit more expensive, but still sold for less than high end graphite or cane. Fly fishermen with a longing for the best gear now had viable fiberglass options.
Final question: Is there a vintage/modern dividing line? I have a handful of rods that I think of as modern (black Hardy Perfection, black Scott F, and LLBean/Timberline), but may have become (like me) vintage when I wasn’t paying attention.
I draw the vintage/modern line in the mid 80s. Going into the 80s, all fishing rod production was based on technology perfected for fiberglass materials in the 60s/70s. Since the 80s, the widespread adoption of graphite continues to push composite material manufacturing in new directions. The new technology developed for graphite production became the new technology for fiberglass too.