Jimmy Green, one of the great pioneers of our sport, passed away in March. The following is an interview with this remarkable man.
Ever since I was a young man I have always been fascinated with the history of modern Rodmaking. I became acquainted at a very young age with names like Shakespeare, Fenwick, Berkley, Garcia and many others. Since then, every chance I get I devour any information that I can find about the design and manufacture of the rods I grew up fishing with. However unlike Bamboo, there just isn't a whole lot of written information about the people responsible for producing these more modern but no less complex angling tools. So when the opportunity arose to conduct a series of interviews with those who shaped this industry, needless to say I jumped at the chance. I felt that it was time for some of the people that I knew to be instrumental in this field to be recognized for their accomplishments. After having compiled a list of those who I thought should be paid tribute, one man's name topped the list …Jim Green.
To those who do not recognize the name…allow me to introduce you. Milton J. Green was born July 24, 1920 in San Francisco California. Jim was introduced to angling at a very young age, and showed an affinity for the sport right away. As a young man in his early teens, Jim became heavily involved in competition casting. He quickly became a member of the famed Golden Gate Casting Club, where he honed his casting skills to a razor sharp edge. During the course of his casting career, Jim went on to win several National and International titles. In addition to many other distinguished accomplishments he also set the World Record for the longest cast in 1947 with an astounding 206' cast made with a two handed R.L. Winston Bamboo Rod.
Throughout his casting career, Jim also worked for various Fishing Tackle manufacturers. He was employed for a short time at the R.L. Winston shop, as well as the Sunset Line Company where he did some very innovative work with various types of fly lines. Not only did he develop some of the first sinking lines and tapered lead core shooting heads, he was also paving the way for the manufacture and use of vinyl coated floating lines. After leaving Sunset, Jim went on to start his own business, which was eventually bought out by a company called Sevenstrand. Shortly after acquiring Jim's company, Sevenstrand also purchased a small Fishing Rod company called Fenwick where Jim was offered employment. Jim was employed at Fenwick as Production Manager where he developed the first tip over butt ferrule known industry wide as the Fenwick Feralite Ferrule. Incorporating the Feralite Ferrule, Jim and renowned blank designer Don Green (no relation) worked together making many contributions to the modern fishing rod. Jim and Don are also credited as the men who designed and produced the first Graphite fishing rods; Fenwick's famed HMG series. Eventually Don green left Fenwick and went on to start Sage. After retiring from Fenwick in the late 1980s, Jim once again teamed up with his long time friend Don Green at Sage.
Recently I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Jim Green. I was truly amazed at the depth of this man's knowledge and the generosity with which he shares it. Be it design, manufacture or casting, Jim is a veritable wealth of information when it comes to the subject of the Fly Rod. Extremely fortunate are the only words I can think of to describe the way I feel about being able to hear his story first hand. I consider it an honor and a privilege to bring this interview to the pages of Rodmaker Magazine.
AD: Jim, First of all, I sincerely want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
JG: Sure that's no problem.
AD: I was wondering if you could tell me a little about how you came up with the idea for the Feralite Ferrule?
JG: Well, You're gonna laugh! One of my jobs at the Woodland Plant was that I did a lot of ferruling of the blanks. Of course in those days they used metal ferrules, and working with ferrules like that, well I kind of got tired of ferruling rods. And they weren't the best things on earth because in time they would work loose. Not only from the blank, but also just from taking them apart they would wear. Of course they added weight to the blank also. I just kept thinking to myself “there must be some kind of a better way to ferrule a rod”. One day I was looking at a blank as I recall, and I wanted to change the butt of it because I felt it was too stiff. So I took one of the blanks that I had to make this two piece fly rod and I thought, “well if I could move the tip further up the blank, why it would be softer of course”. So for some reason or another I stuck the butt section inside the tip, which moved the lesser power further up the blank. I was doing it just to try to get an idea of just what the rod would do. I wanted to cast it because I felt it would be a better rod, it was just too powerful before. So as I said, I put the butt section in the tip, then I took it down to one of the girls who was a wrapper there, and she wrapped it and put a handle on it for me. Then I went out and fished with it in the Lewis River and I was pleased. The action was good, the butt had softened up, the rod just felt better. Then it dawned on me, I said to myself, “What would be wrong with this being the ferrule on the rod”. And gosh I was excited! You can't believe how much this saved in time and effort, to be able to make a blank that you would not have to use metal ferrules and have problems. If anything wore with the Feralite Blank, it just slipped in a little further and it always kept tight. And it also took a lot of the weight out of the blank.
AD: I guess it took out any of the stiff spots created by the Metal Ferrule as well.
JG: Yeah, right…So I tried it out on some other rods like Spinning Rods, of course Fenwick made all kinds of rods. Anyway, trying to make a rod using the Feralite Ferrule, I started looking at all the blanks and I would choose a tip, then from another blank I would take a butt, until I had a spinning rod or whatever I was trying to make. So I started designing rods by touch and feel you see. Using the Feralite Ferrule made the manufacturing of the blanks a little different. You couldn't just make it out of a one piece blank, because the butt had to slip inside (the tip), so you had to make two blanks. But at the time of course we weren't making blanks we were ordering them. So I just chopped up a full one piece blank. I would take a one piece blank and take the tip and cut it off. Then I would take another blank and match it up until I had a power close to what I wanted. So I designed a lot of rods that way. Of course many of the rods we were making were made from a one piece blank, fly rods, casting rods, spinning rods.
So then the Clock family bought Fenwick, and I showed them the Ferrule, and they suggested we get a patent.
Then the gentleman who was making our blanks at the time, Don Green showed me how to develop a certain blank, how to make the patterns and that sort of thing.
AD: Sure, Don Green, this was when he owned Grizzly correct?
JG: Yes, so they (Fenwick and Grizzly) merged together. He is a fantastic rod designer too. He built lots of machines, and he is still with Sage today. He and I worked together quite good, I taught him how to cast. In the afternoon we would go out in the parking lot and I would teach him how to cast, and of course becoming a good caster that helped him understand what a Flyrod action should be. It was about that time when Graphite started to come out for making Golf Shafts.
AD: This would have been around the late sixties early seventies.
JG: Right, From the Golf shaft material we started experimenting with it for fishing rods. Its amazing you know, Fenwick made a very fine Glass Rod. To this day I have always said that the worst thing that ever happened to Fenwick was the development of the Graphite Rod.
JG: I know it sounds strange, but you see with the Graphite material it is much easier to develop and make a rod than with Glass. The technical aspects of making Glass Rods are much more complicated than with Graphite because Graphite inherently has the qualities that make a good rod. It is light, it has the right stiffness, you could put it on a mandrel and make a blank out of Graphite and even though the design might not be quite perfect, it was still a pretty good rod. If you tried to do that with Glass it was lousy! So you had to do a lot of work and a lot of designing with mandrels and materials, the patterns have to be done correctly. In my eyes it was much more difficult to make a good glass rod than a graphite rod. So, the bottom line was that when Graphite came along why it seemed like a lot of companies discovered it. It seemed like anybody could develop a graphite blank on a mandrel and just because of the characteristics of Graphite, it would turn out pretty good. Of course we were the first to do it, but it was because of Graphite that we developed a lot of competition.
AD: Do you have a preference between the two materials Jim? Is there one that you enjoy working with more than the other?
JG: Well, I have worked with them all. In fact I have worked with Bamboo. I was with the Winston Rod Company for a while. I have worked with Glass, Graphite and Boron. Boron is a fantastic material but it is very difficult to work with. I have Boron Rods that are much stronger than Graphite. But as I say it is difficult to work with, it splinters very easily and would get into the employees fingers. In fact a Boron fiber could go right through your hand and you wouldn't even know it, it was so stiff and small and sharp, and it's always breaking off into pieces. It is an amazing material and it is extremely stiff, about 60 million modulus. But it is a stronger 60 million modulus than Graphite.
AD: So are you still building rods and going strong?
JG: Well not what you call strong (laughs), But if I get an idea, I'll go try it. I have some Mickey Mouse Machinery in my garage. I am able to make a graphite blank and play around with it. Right now I am developing some solid two-handed rods. First let me say that the average person wouldn't like'em because they are too heavy, but I like them. You see I am an old Bamboo man, I have always had a love for Bamboo. It's amazing when you think about it, you take all these materials, Bamboo, Glass, Graphite in some cases Boron. The most important part of a rod is not what it is made of. What's more important is the action of the rod. If you take a good Bamboo rod with the correct action, they might say it's a Bamboo action, but there is no such thing as a Bamboo action. It might be a Bamboo feel, but not a Bamboo action. The action of a rod is just the way it happens to bend under stress. So you can make a bamboo rod that will bend under stress a certain way, and you can make a glass rod that will bend under stress a certain way, and then a graphite rod, they all are going to cast good you know? Sure one is going to be lighter than the other, of course that's what seems to be a big selling point, people like them light.
AD: Do you feel like your ideas about blank design and rod design have changed over the years? Have they changed at all since you were at Fenwick?
JG: No not really, I just got through writing an article for the Japanese about Rod action, and gosh it was one of the hardest things I have ever tried to write! It's hard to talk about because rod action or how to make a rod is kind of strange. I think most of it is about your ability to cast. If I couldn't cast, I couldn't make a rod. If I build a rod, it has to match up with the way I cast. When I develop a rod, I make up a blank, because you have to start some place. A lot of people would ask me “Well how do you design a rod?” For fun I'd say, “I do it with a file”. They'd say “What do you mean you do it with a file?” I'd say “Well I take a blank and I file it. If it's not bending where I want it, I take it and file it until it bends where I want it to” Of course you can't do too much of this because you'll go right through the wall! You can on a Bamboo Rod though. You have heard of Ritz haven't you?
AD: Sure, Charles Ritz.
JG: Well that is how he used to make Bamboo Rods. He'd have one made, then he'd go out with a piece of sandpaper, and he'd sand the blank down where he wanted it to bend. I have designed some rods that way. But like I was saying earlier, these new rods I'm making are some of the best rods I have ever made, but I don't think you'd ever get them on the market though, because like I say, they're just too heavy. There are lighter than Bamboo though. I make them solid, the entire rod is solid. No mandrels were used in the production of these rods. They have a wonderful feel to them. But the average person today that has grown up with Fly Fishing in the last 15 years, they wouldn't understand it, because they have no idea what kind of feel a Bamboo Rod has. The feel is there because it has weight and swing. They call that a Bamboo action, it is not an action, it is a feel. The action like I said before is the way a rod bends. You can take all three: Bamboo, Glass and Graphite, and if they have a good action, they will all cast very well, but Bamboo will feel different because it is heavier. If you want to duplicate the action and feel of a Bamboo rod you have to build it solid, so it will have a different kind of swing to it. The amazing thing I have found about these solid graphite rods is that they are still lighter than Bamboo. I took one and compared it to a friend of mines 13' two handed Bamboo rod that was just unbelievably heavy and didn't have a very good action, it was too slow and just terribly heavy and too soft. It seems like some of these Rodmakers that make Bamboo rods, they are afraid to make them fast.
AD: Yeah, I have noticed that…
JG: I don't know why? Some of the best Bamboo rods I ever had as a kid, I used to have a Heddon, and a Grainger. Some of them are very fast, and they made great rods. And of course old man E.C. Powell, he made some super fast Bamboo rods. In fact he made them so fast, I think they were as fast as any Graphite rod I have ever cast. So any rod made out of any kind of material, if it has the correct action, they will all perform quite well. Of course Graphite is faster and it loads quicker you see. You can bend a graghite rod so far and it becomes stiffer and stiffer and stiffer until it doesn't bend anymore then it breaks. That is why these high modulus graphites are very dangerous to work with. They make a great rod, but they are very brittle.
AD: Most of the fibers that you are working with. are they of a much lower modulus' than that?
JG: Well I play around with high modulus, 55 is what I like. That is still quite high, but it is much stronger than 60. Of course the strongest Graphite is the 30 million, and that is because it stretches more.
AD: That is what the original Fenwick HMG was made out of correct?
AD: When you set the World Record at 206” was that with a Bamboo Rod or a Glass Rod?
JG: That was with a Bamboo Rod. That was when we used silk fly lines. Today of course they have Graphite Rods and Lines with extremely small diameters. Tournament casters today can buy a distance line and a two handed rod and there is hardly any reason to do any experimenting. You know we used to have a lot of fun between tournament casters. In the old days with silk lines we used to have to make our own lines. We would splice the pieces together and make our own tapers. It was a constant experiment, you never stopped, you always wanted to make a better line or a better action for a rod. Fly lines were a lot of fun. Everybody had their secret line! (laughs)
AD: You know that is one of the things I did not know about you. You did a lot of pioneering work with fly lines as well.
JG: Oh yeah, I probably did more pioneering work in the beginning with Fly Lines than I ever did with rods.
AD: You were experimenting with Vinyl Coatings and tapering techniques, and mono running lines…
JG: Right, yeah I had one of the early sinking fly lines that cast well, but they were very costly to make. We put a very fine lead wire through the inside of the line. So yeah, we developed some of the first sinking lines.
AD: You mentioned E.C. Powell and Charles Ritz earlier. I was wondering, was there a lot of exchange of ideas and camaraderie between guys like you and Russ Peak and Ferdinand Claudio back in those days?
JG: I sure did with Russ Peak…and Claudio too, I used to make them blanks.
AD: That seems like it would have been a neat time to be involved in the industry. Everything was new and nothing had been duplicated yet.
JG: Well you know that was what I said in that article in Japan. I don't know what the perfect action is. I continue to look for it. I suppose I am close to what I feel is a pretty good action. There is always something new and different that you can try. I would design a rod and try it and say “well that's too stiff” and then go back and try again until I got it. It may take four or five times. In other words you can't go to school to learn how to make fishing rods. You can take a computer and put in all the mathematics that are necessary to give you your patterns and all, but there is no way it can tell you how to get the best action. It might tell you where to put the material or what type of material to use to get the most strength, you can do that with a computer. When it comes down to “How should the rod bend to make a good cast” no computer is going to tell you that.
AD: Sure, because it is such a subjective thing that everybody feels differently.
JG: Sure, you can have lots of fast rods but every rod designer has a different idea about what a fast rod should be. There is no such thing as one fast rod action.
AD: Well, it sounds like you love this business just as much today as you did 40 years ago.
JG: Well I was very fortunate you know. I never made a tremendous amount of money, but I don't think of it that way. I think the people who design things and build things are the luckiest people on earth. Like myself, I was making almost a new rod everyday. I could hardly wait to get back to work the next day to try that new rod as it came off the line. I'd tape some guides on it and go try it. It was the kind of job where I wanted to go back to work. When I developed a fly rod, there was a fondness about it and a love about it. To me it wasn't an item that you mass produced. In other words, it was something that I really enjoyed, a great item to me, something I could be proud of. Every rod meant something it to me, I didn't treat it as just an item to be sold.
AD: Jim, on behalf of myself and the readers of RodMaker Magazine, I sincerely want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It has really been an honor to get to speak with you and hear your story.
JG: Sure, it was nice talking to you Andy
Thank you, Andy and RodMaker Magazine for kindly allowing Sexyloops to publish this article.
For further reading on Jim Green and his accomplishments the Author recommends the following:
The History of the Fiberglass Flyrod by Victor R. Johnson & Victor R. Johnson Jr. Published by Centennial Publications,1996
Profile/Jim Green by Chris Korich published in The Creel Magazine, The official publication of the American casting Association, 1980