Wednesday, July 29, 2009

John Conroy's Groundbreaking 1840 Rod

John Conroy's Groundbreaking 1840 Rod

A recent thread on The Classic Fly Rod Forum on the subject of the Porter General Rod got me thinking about groundbreaking events in the history of rodmaking. Certainly the Porter General--the rod designed by Spirit of the Times editor William Trotter Porter in the late 1840s--was just such a watershed moment. But there were others, that pre-dated it.

One such development in 1840 sent the ebullient editor Porter into a veritable apoplectic fit. The great rod and reelmaker John Conroy of 52 Fulton Street in New York City made a rod for Porter that was such a leap forward that the editor wrote a feature article on it in his journal, dated 09 May 1840. Entitled "Trout and Bass Rods" it began:

Mr. Conroy...has just presented us with the most splendid rod we ever beheld, and if we do not send him a thirty pound salmon caught with it before the month of June is over, it will be because there is not a sockdollager of that weight in Lake Pleasant.

What kind of rod was it? According to Porter, Conroy built it on an "improved plan." This improved plan was described in maddeningly short detail:

It has double hand-joints with rings on each for a reel, and the joints are so contrived that a rod may be put together for fly, brook or bass fishing. It has been on exhibition during the week at our office, where we shall be happy to show it to any of our piscatorial friends. The tips and sockets of every joint are German silver, and the materials of the very best description. As a piece of workmanship nothing of the kind we ever saw at the annual Fair of the American or the Mechanics' Institute is comparable with it.

Porter declared that he owned two rods by rival New York rodmaker John Lentner, three English-made rods, and but was "confident that this chef d'ouevre of Conroy's is so superior to either..."

Porter was a huge proponent of Conroy, and constantly pumped him up in print. As he noted:

There is not in the Union, probably, so extensive an assortment of fishing-tackle, and we know from ten years' experience that at no establishment in town can a spring supply be had in at so little expense. Conroy's German Silver Reels are the best we ever used, and his assortment of imported and domestic trout and salmon Flied is complete to the last degree. Lines, hooks, and rods of all kinds, and indeed all the paraphernalia for brook, pond, or salt-water fishing, he has an infinite variety. Ever obliging and attentive to his business, and never selling a poor article at any price, we conceive him eminently worthy of patronage, and therefore commend him to the attention of the disciples of old Izaak Walton generally, and of the readers of the Spirit in particular.

The article is a neat bit of information about one of the earliest--and arguably the most important--tackle maker in America, John Conroy. However, if the rod was so revolutionary, why did Porter feel the need to invent his own rod a few years later? Or did he borrow from Conroy's 1840 rod in making his Porter General? If so, how much?

It's unlikely we'll ever get an answer.

-- Dr. Todd

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