The History of the Fishing Rod

who invented fishing rods

When did a human use a fishing rod for the first time?

If we had fossil records documenting the evolution of fishing, this ancient rod would be its “Lucy” – the missing link.

However, ancient fishing is extremely difficult to study.

Humans probably used perishable materials like plant fibers, bamboo, and wood to create the first fishing rods.

For a modern-day human, it’s impossible to envisage trying to catch fish with such fishing rods.

So, how did our ancestors do it?

Let’s dig deep into the history of fishing rods.

Where & When Did Fishing Rods Come From?

The Evolution of Fishing and the Creation of the First Fishing Rod

Prehistoric humans practiced subsistence fishing.

They used bare hands and rudimentary tools to fish in shallow waters.

Once populations moved near lakes and rivers, this method of fishing wasn’t practical anymore.

To fish in deep waters, they invented fishing hooks and lines.

  • The furthest back we can track the use of fishing hooks and lines is approximately 12,000 years ago (10,000 BCE). Early humans in Israel used tools that are shockingly similar to modern hooks. They were made of wood, stone, bone, or shell.
  • Spears, nets, lines, and fishing rods were invented next almost simultaneously around 3500 BCE in Egypt. Stone encryptions (dating back to 2000 BC) from China, England, Greece, Rome, and Trinidad & Tobago also depict the use of fishing rods.

By now, fishing with fishing rods was a common practice in many civilizations across the world.

What materials did these ancient people use to create fishing rods? Primarily wood & bamboo. Bamboo is a naturally slender material. It has a tapered hollow cylindrical structure.

These features make bamboo poles ideal for fishing. Both bamboo & wood were also easily available materials for our ancestors.

Simple wooden poles with lines tied to their ends were called “cane poles.” By now, fishing was a popular profession in many civilizations.

  • Next, running rings were invented. These rings lead the lines along the fishing rods, allowing fishermen to use longer lines. The longer your line, the more you can tire the fish you catch. Since longer lines are prone to knots, reels were invented next.

These inventions happened during Graeco-Roman Antiquity.

Halieutika, one of the world’s first treaties on sea fishing was written during this period.

Up until now, small-scale fishing was normal so fishing rods were very important tools in society. This was about to change.

Decline and Rise of Fishing Rods 

During the Middle Ages, feudalism became the norm in many parts of the world. Feudal lords had total ownership over all major rivers and lakes.

Small-scale or individual fishing was strictly regulated. Thankfully, the artificial construction of ponds in the 11th century changed this trend.

  • Fish farming gained popularity. Fishing with rods, lines, and hooks was extremely popular again by the 15th century. The average 15th-century fishing rod was wooden and 4 meters long. In the 18th century, jointed rods with bamboo tops & wooden bottoms were invented.
  • These fishing rods were very flexible but not light enough. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Nations started importing lighter wood from South America and the Caribbean to make lighter fishing rods. These split-bamboo rods are still used in fly fishing events.
  • Since then, people have used stainless steel, composite bamboo, boron, graphite, and synthetic materials to manufacture fishing rods. Synthetic materials (e.g., fiberglass) are cheaper, more weather-resistant, and flexible.

In the 21st century, we use synthetic composite materials like glass-fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to make fishing rods.

A modern, ultra-light fishing rod can easily last for several decades.


The history of fishing rods is fascinating.

Learning about new and old fishing rods can make us appreciate something our ancestors loved – conquering the waters!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What were old fishing rods made of?

Bamboo and various woods.

Who made the first fishing rod?

It’s hard to credit one person or even one civilization from history with this title. The earliest uses of fishing rods have been documented on stone inscriptions (some dating back to 3500 BC) in China, Egypt, England, Greece, Rome, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Why are steel fishing rods not used anymore?

Fiberglass is cheaper, more durable, and more flexible. So, since the early 1950s, the fishing industry has stepped away from steel.