St. Croix Rods

St. Croix Rods

Value and performance with a "Made in the USA" label

We're now into our fifth year of calling upon FR&R readers to select the winner of one of our annual awards, and each time we've done so, St. Croix-either the entire flyrod company, or one of its individual products-has been among the top three contenders. This year, St, Croix came out on the very top, and they certainly deserve it. This quiet Wisconsin company was among the first rodmakers to fill the formerly untrendy niche of producing a quality, handcrafted graphite fly rod for a reasonable price.Although the market has changed in recent years, and it now seems like everyone is jumping on the "value" bandwagon, many of us who have been around for a while will always think of St. Croix, which has been making rods since 1950, as the original "value" flyrod company. But history counts for little in the marketplace, and the company would not have fared very well if it had stood still while its high-end competitors expanded downward into the mid-price-point flyrod market. Fortunately, the brothers who own the company-Paul, Jeff and Dave Schluter-were savvy enough to continue growing, adapting and changing with the changing times. For one example, last year the company improved its extremely popular Legend Ultra flyrod series, which drew rave reviews when it was introduced in late 1997 at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show. (It was named one of the Show's Top 10 new products.) The new Legend Ultras are a bit faster, with nicer components and cork-and they still only cost between $300 and $340. If that moderate price is still too steep for your budget, try St. Croix's Avid series-also a Top 10 New Products trade-show winner (1998)-and a real bargain at between $170 to $250. In his 1999 review of the Avids, FR&R Equipment editor Ted Leeson called these rods "Impressively smooth, light and quite forgiving of those little casting errors to which many of us are prone." Another St. Croix adaptation is that, while other rod companies have pushed downward into "value" territory, St. Croix has pushed upward, into the premium-rod market. In 2002, St. Croix came out with its light, fast and powerful Legend Elite series of flyrods. These fine rods compare favorably with anybody's high-end stick-but at prices of between $500 and $570, they still seem reasonably priced compared to many rods approaching the $700 range. The company's practicality is well represented by an advisory pro staff that includes Bob Clouser, Bob Popovics and Bob Jacklin, as practical and down-to-earth a trio of anglers as you're likely to find. (And you'd be hard-pressed to find three more skillful fly casters.) Aside from the practical considerations of performance and value, there seems also to be a sentimental reason why FR&R's readers seem so fond of St. Croix: At a time when more and more of our less expensive fly rods are being manufactured overseas, St. Croix continues to produce even its Imperial Fly rods series ($140-$170) in tiny Park Falls, Wisconsin. Only the entry-level Premier rods ($80 - $110) are scheduled to be made offshore, starting with the 2005 season. Jeff Schluter says. "From $150 price-point on up, we're able to manufacture in the US and still compete very well. In fact, not only are we committed to our Wisconsin facility, but we're currently adding a 7,000-square-foot expansion that will include a new research-and-development center. We're very excited about that." Jeff adds, "Building our rods here, we don't make the same profit margin as the people who go overseas-but we've got a lot riding on our made-in-the-USA reputation. "