Tucked into a beautiful part of northern Wisconsin along the Flambeau River is a unique place–a place where state-of-the-art technology has merged with tender loving care. All for the goal of making quality fishing rods for all types of anglers.
If you are lucky enough for a tour of the St. Croix Rods facilities (like I was a few years ago), Rich Belanger, head of promotions, will introduce you to the folks on the production floor by name. And he’ll tell you how long they’ve worked there. Their corporate culture embraces the people that build rods. And they make a lot of them: fly rods, bass rods, walleye rods, ice rods, and trolling rods to name a few. Just last week in Las Vegas, St. Croix Rods won the coveted ICAST best in new product category award for their Legend Xtreme Saltwater rods.
This little company in a small town in Wisconsin ships rods all over the world. Russia is their number-one country for exports, but France, the U.K., and others also rank high on that list. Grown dramatically since 1948 from a bamboo pole company in Minnesota, St. Croix Rods now employs over 150 people. They are the largest manufacturer of fishing rods in North America.
My back-of-the house tour in Park Falls, Wisconsin was a phenomenal experience. What struck me was the attention to detail and the mingling of high-tech computer-generated production with dedicated and skilled hands.
“We’ve made leaps of progress in our engineering with 3D modeling and custom software to really see how things fit,” shared Jason Brunner, a 16-year employee with the company and director of engineering. “Our people in the plant rose to the challenge, too, to match the quality of production with the quality and technology of our engineering.”
Don’t be lulled into a blah, blah, blah message that all rods are made the same. “There were three different types of carbon fiber and one epoxy years ago. We now use 17 different carbon fibers with multiple epoxy combinations,” added Brunner. “Our constructions are much more complicated now and we can tailor materials for different applications.”
Laser technology plays a big part in making sure finished rod blanks are straight and the guides and tip all perfectly in line. “Prior to using lasers a person visually eyeballed it,” shared Belanger, talking about quality control inspection. “Now we use four different steps that utilize laser technology. The first three confirm the straightest line in the rod and line up the handle assembly, tip, reel seat, and guide alignment. The fourth places the decal in just the correctly aligned spot.”
St. Croix is a family-owned business. Perhaps that creates a different environment–one that thrives on best-in-class and providing jobs in their community. When a family business grows like this one, they can afford to bring in some of the brightest minds to help fashion new products and make improvements in production.
“We have a product development team of seven that meets weekly,” shared Belanger. “The group consists of three owners [Paul Schluter, Jeff Schluter, and David Schluter] plus Jeff Crockett in sales and Brad Billman from the plant, and myself and Jason Brunner. Innovation is our continual focus within the company.” They juggle power, strength, sensitivity, and weight to bring the consumer many choices for the right rod at the right price point. The company manufactures more than 800 unique products.
Think St. Croix rods are too expensive for you? No way. They have several brands in the value category that are still very nice rods: Triumph, Mojo Bass, or Icon. Most of these brand names in the St. Croix Rod family will come in under $100 with a few of the rods up to $130 or so.
But why do some serious anglers spend several hundred dollars more than that for their top-of-the line rod? “The ultimate tool comes at a higher price point,” shared Belanger. “When you need the ultimate in flexibility, sensitivity and durability you move into Legend Elite, LegendXtreme and Legend Tournament brands.” You can spend north of $300 and $400 (and even above $500 in the fly category) for the high-end models.
Like they say at St. Croix Rods: Fish Now—Do Everything Else Later.
Editor’s note: For another perspective on St. Croix Rods, check out WAOW-TV’s video tour of their facility.
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.
Featured image courtesy St. Croix Rod