We’ll pick up the story of Paul Young when he became a professional taxidermist in Detroit in the early 1920’s. It’s enough for this article to say that he grew up a hard working farm boy & outdoorsman, becoming a very skilled hunter & angler. In the early 20’s he worked as a taxidermist for a while in J.P. Eppinger’s taxidermy factory. He was so good that customers would request him specifically. The job at Eppinger’s didn’t work out so Paul & his wife Martha decided to open their own taxidermy operation in their Detroit home. Many of his customers from Eppinger’s followed him to his own business – a testament to how good he was.
In his home / taxidermy shop Paul & Martha had many photos of their fishing trips & catches on display. Many of his customers would ask questions about rods, flies to use, where to get them, etc. Soon Paul opened a tackle shop next door. This gave him access to many different types of fly rods. It wasn’t long before he was designing his own rods. He specifically wanted to lighten rod weights. His main focus was on two piece rods, using a node spacing similar to that of Payne & hand flaming his cane. Mostly, Young wanted his rods to have both delicacy & power. The compound tapers he developed to accomplish this were a true innovation to fly rod design.
By 1927 Martha had issued their first catalog. In it they listed four models of rods ranging from 7 ½ to 9 feet long made to his compound tapers. They proved to be a hit. Anglers across the nation, thanks to the catalogs distribution, were crazy for these new rods. Within two years Young became a major name in the tackle business. Demand for his rods quickly out paced his ability to fill orders from his small shop. The solution for Paul was to contract with Heddon & Wes Jordan at South Bend to build blanks to his precise specifications & tapers. These blanks were then finished at Young’s shop.
Through the 1930’s demand for his rods & his low prices enabled Young to do alright during the Great Depression. For example, he offered a model called “prosperity rod” for about $10. While $10 was no small sum during the depression, this rod was a bargain when you consider the quality of Young’s rods. As demand for Young’s rods continued to grow, so did his catalog. He began to offer lines, leaders, flies, & many other types of tackle. By 1935 he also began selling rods by other makers like Payne, Thomas, & Edwards all selling for $50. He also sold reels by Hardy, Pflueger, & Bristol-Meek.
Perhaps the rods Young is best known for came about after WWII. The midge, Perfectionist, Martha Marie (named after his wife), & Parabolic series were introduced onto the market with great success. In the early 1950’s Bob Summers would begin working in the shop along side Paul’s son Jack who joined his father in the late 30’s. Bob & Jack would carry on together after Paul died in 1960. Summers stayed in the shop until the early 70’s, eventually striking out on his own, as Summers has become one of the few rod makers who could truly be called a master rod maker.
Throughout the years, the Paul H Young Company made all its own reel seats & ferrules. They also sold blanks & hardware for those that wanted to build their own rods at home. So, along with finished rods, they also catered to amateur rod builders.
After WWII all rod sections were glued with a phenolic resin that water couldn’t penetrate. The blanks were dipped in a coating of Bakalite, rather than traditional varnish as well. This is no doubt because of Wes Jordan who invented this process of rod finishing & had been making blanks for Young. It was believed that this process would allow the rods to hold up much better over the years than traditional varnish.
It’s believed that the total production of Paul Young rods is somewhere around 6,000. This makes them somewhat scarce. However, you can still find them on the collectibles market if you’re looking. Overall his rods were of excellent quality that, when combined with there being fewer of them, makes for some high prices today. It’s little wonder why some collectors lust after these rods. Perhaps the most collectible Young rods are those later rods with compound tapers like his parabolic series (Para 15, Para 16, Para 17). All the later Young rods have flame treated cane, serial number, & as well marked in ink. Of course, Bob Summers has carried on the Paul Young influence in his incredible rods as well. Maybe for many anglers wanting a Young rod today, their most economical route would be to employ a competent rod maker. No matter how you get your hands on one, many anglers agree, the rod tapers by Paul Young make some of the best casting & fishing rods you can find.
The main source for this article is the book “Classic & Antique Fly Fishing Tackle” by A.J. Campbell. Lyons Press. 1997.