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Classic Cane History: Paul Young

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  • Classic Cane History: Paul Young

    This is the seventh installment in the NGTO classic cane history series. This week, we head to Detroit of all places to learn about Paul Young. Paul Young rod's are highly prized by collectors and carry a premium price on the used rod market.

    The following information was originally written by Dick Spurr and has been maintained on Fishnbajo's site for those who wish to learn more about bamboo rods and their makers. Information below was also obtained from the Fly Angler Online site:


    The Paul Young Rod Company

    Paul Young was born in Arkansas, he and his family moved to Minnesota for a brief period and settled in Michigan in Detroit. Paul always had the outdoors in his heart as hunting and various sporting habits, which included fishing of course, had him learning taxidermy and opening a shop in Detroit where he had great success mounting hunting and fishing trophys for his fellow sportsman.

    Around the early 1920's Paul acquired a set of "V" blocks and from reading a book on rod making began a career of more than 40 years as maker. The rod makers task was aleays a slow and methodical one employing the use of "V" blocks and planes and since Paul would not rush the process to simply cut corners while making his rods he sought alternatives to supplying his demanding customers needs. Paul made contractural commitments with the South Bend Rod Company, E. W. Edwards & Sons and Heddon Rod Co.

    Paul H. Young was a natural craftsman who mastered the art of fly tying and taxidermy before turning his attention and efforts to building legendary bamboo fly rods. His love of angling had involved him in all these endeavors at various times. During the early 1920's he opened a small shop on Grand River Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, that specialized in taxidermy, fly tying and fishing tackle. As he developed an expertise in fly rods he began modifying large unwieldy bamboo rods into smaller rods suitable for trout fishing. Finally he decided he could build better bamboo rods than those generally available to anglers, and in 1925 began crafting his own line of bamboo rods for sale to the fishing public, and by 1927 had developed his first compound taper rod.

    Young issued his first catalog in 1927, listing four models in sizes from 7-1/2 feet to nine feet in length, built on his concept of compound tapers. He was a dedicated fly fisherman and an excellent caster, and the rods he produced reflected his conviction that fly presentation was the most critical element of success. Even his early rods displayed a lightness and delicacy that became a hallmark of all Young rods. He was continually changing and improving his various rod models in a constant search for perfection. The response to his rods was phenomenal and he was continually behind on orders. For several years during the late 20's he had blanks for his rods produced to his specifications by Heddon and by South Bend, which at that time was managed by Wes Jordan. During this era Paul produced all of the hardware for his rods.

    Under Paul's guidance the company grew and prospered; it survived the Depression and the lean years of World War II. During the prosperous years after the war, Young expanded his rod line to meet the demand of a new generation of fishermen. By 1946 he offered 29 two-piece models and 27 three-piece models. This was also the era when he began naming his various models, with such well-known names as the Ace and Prosperity, as well as lesser-known models such as the Little Giant, Sweetheart, Standby and Texan. During the early 1950's Young introduced the legendary Midge and his Modified American Parabolic rods, including the famous Parabolic 15.

    Other well-known rod models that Young designed and developed include the Driggs, the Perfectionist, the Martha Marie, named for his wife; and the remaining models of the Parabolic series, the 14, 16, 17, 18 and 19, each named for the size of the ferrule use on each particular model.

    In 1956 Paul moved the Paul H. Young Co. into a new store and production facility on Eight Mile Road in the outskirts of Detroit. Fiberglass rods were capturing much of the fishing market and Young consolidated his vast offering of some 80 different bamboo models and concentrated on producing quality fly rods. There was a good market for quality rods since many other rodmakers had either gone out of business or switched to producing the popular fiberglass rods.

    After Paul Young's death in April, 1960, the company continued under the guidance of his wife Martha Marie and their son Jack who had apprenticed with Paul for many years. Mrs. Young retired in 1969 and Jack assumed control of the company.

    Jack Young has been the driving force behind the Paul H. Young Co. since Paul's death in 1960. As a youngster Jack began learning the bamboo rod business during the late 1930's under his father's watchful eye. After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II he returned and went to work building rods full time with Paul. During the next 15 years his involvement in the business was instrumental in development of the production equipment and rod actions that established the company's reputation as a leader in high quality fly rods. The post-war era was the time that saw the introduction of the company's most famous models; the Midge, the Parabolic 15, the Perfectionist, the Martha Marie, and the Driggs, named after one of the Youngs' vorite rivers on the Upper Peninsula.

    There is no doubt Paul Young was one of the nation's most creative bamboo craftsmen but Jack Young had a tremendous influence and was almost equally responsible for much of the later development of the Young line of rods, although he has received little personal recognition for his contribution to the Young legacy. He was involved throughout the era that saw the change from animal glues to modem adhesives and the switch to flame tempering bamboo that is possibly the most distinguishing feature of Young rods, not just from a cosmetic perspective but also from the resilience the flame tempering imparts to the cane: Young rods are known for their responsive power and light weight. Jack was also involved in the continuing evolution of the reel seats in a constant search for the lightest functional fly rods that could be built.

    It was mainly during Jack's tenure that Bob Summers worked for the Paul Young Co. Summers had been hired by Paul several years before he died and remained with the company until 1972 when he left to start his own rod building operation. After Paul Young's death the company was managed by Jack and Paul's wife, Martha Marie, until she retired in 1969. Shortly thereafter Jack moved the entire Young operation north to Traverse City. Bamboo production had slowed down after the introduction and explosive growth of fiberglass rods but Jack continued Paul's philosophy of producing quality bamboo rods for the selective fisherman. Soon after the move Jack built a marina at Bowers Harbor.

    This venture consumed much of Jack's time and the production of Young rods dwindled during the 70's after Bob Summers left and well into the 80's, although there never was a year when no Young rods were produced.

    The marina was sold in 1987 and the rod shop was eventually moved to a downtown location in Traverse City. Jack and his son. Todd, have gradually put all of the equipment back into operation and the Paul H. Young Co. is again producing bamboo rods. Todd has worked with Jack since the mid-70's, has learned all aspects of rod production and has plans to carry on the Young tradition of quality rods. One new rod was recently added to the standard line of Young rods. It was designed by Jack and Todd and named the Smidgen, a wispy 6-footer for a #2/3 line. All other models remain relatively intact from the Paul Young era and the company is still using cane purchased by Paul before the embargo.

    And finally, we have an indirect NGTO connection to a Paul Young classic. STrutta who now lives up in Michigan won a Paul Young Martha Marie in a raffle. Rich eventually sold the rod to a collector as it was just to rare and nice to fish and had AJ Thramer build him a rod with the Marie Taper that he could enjoy fishing! Here are a few shots of the Martha Marie (hope you don't mind me using a few of your pics Rich!):





    And here is Rich fishing with his AJ Thramer built MM taper rod:

    Last edited by Buck Henry; 04-13-08, 07:31 AM.
    Message sent from your mom's bedroom during pillow talk

    Buck Henry
    Simple Goat Herder
    Former NGTO President
    Hall of Fame Member

  • #2
    Very cool Clark, a great tribute to one of the greatest rodmakers of all time. Paul's rods have a very unique feel to them, especially the true parabolic rods. They flex all the way into the cork.....but have ALOT more power than many people realize. Slowing down the casting stroke and allowing the rod to do the work is the way to truly get the most out of the PHY rods.

    The first rod pictured with the bright hardware is a good example of Paul's early rods. As he gained popularity and built more rods he developed his own style, which is evident in the Martha Marie I had. Darkly flamed blanks, blackened hardware, chunky grips with cork fillers etc. He used only 3 wrap colors....antique gold, tan, and black. When I had AJ build me my rod on the Martha Marie taper, I had him switch the wraps to black and put in a nice dark walnut filler. The taper is dead on and feels amazing in hand, a strong 5wt that can throw a DT 5 or a WF 6 70+feet with ease, yet still loads in close and can deliver dries delicately. Paul's rods are very versatile, and his powerful tapers were designed to fish the small brushy streams in Michigan that have some very large resident browns.

    The Driggs, a 7'2ft 5wt, and one of Paul's most difficult to find rods, is named after a lovely little brook trout stream in Michigan's wild Upper Penninsula. I had the chance to fish there a few years ago and had a blast catching 5-12 inch brookie on small caddis patterns. We will be heading up that way this summer for a week of fishing adventures, and I will absolutely be fishing my Martha Marie to pay tribute to a wondeful builder.

    If any body on the board owns a Paul Young I'd love to see some pics....his rods are so rare and cherished by collectors that you dont get to see many pics. I have been asked several times if I regret selling the rod, and my answer is that I think I did the right thing. I got a ridiculous amount of money for the rod, a price that would make me terrified to take it fishing.....and i believe these rods should be fished (I just dont have the guts to do it!!!!!) I was able to get a replica of the rod so I can enjoy the taper and remember the maker, a new Hardy Featherweight, fly fishing in Montana for a week, pay my parents back some money I owned them, and still have plenty left over to be well on my way to my Oyster that I have on order. And, just as importantly, I know the guy who bought it from me is using and enjoying the rod....which gives me enjoyment knowing its not collecting dust in a glass case somewhere!!!

    "Fish hard or go home!!!"