Angling entrepreneurs Bob and Bill Johnson were so enthralled with their home along the St. Croix River that they named their fledgling rod company after the Wisconsin-Minnesota border water in 1948. Sixty-five years later, the close-knit organization lies in the capable hands of the Schleuter brothers. It’s only right that the base for St. Croix Rods lies a few casts from another famed river, the Flambeau.
It seems we do our clearest thinking—and dream up innovative, often extreme ideas—while near the water. If you study the levels of creativity, artistry, and imagination currently entering the rod-building equation, you might be hard pressed to think of a better explanation for the extraordinary fishing wands we wield today.
Of course, new technology or novel cosmetics often produce loftier price tags. But with great fishing rods, as with sportscars, you often get what you pay for. These select rods represent angling artistry—visually stunning, but more importantly, efficient and functional in new and often extreme ways.
Built with J40T Japanese Tory Carbon composite blanks, Envy Black rods offer strength and minimal weight. Radical reel seats and cork grips by Evolve give them a modern, edgy look. Guides are wispy Titanium Black Pearl Recoils that match the cosmetics. Rods have a flexible hook keeper for securing lures, hooks, or drop-shot weights, $225 to $260.
Carbon-fiber blanks carry Fuji Microguides for sensitivity and increased casting accuracy and distance. The Cashion F9047b is a 7-foot 4-inch heavy-action rod that’s become a favorite for fishing frogs over matted vegetation. Paired with a Shimano Curado 200G spooled with 30-pound Power Pro, the rod’s fine-tuned tip allows for intricate walk-the-frog retrieves. The blank and extended split-grip also boast ample leverage and power for winching hawgs from thick grass, $180 to $200.
According to CastAway general manager, Adam Murray, the interior handle contains dense material that improves bite transmission, while its ALPS TexTouch Triple-Exposed reel seat provides three contact points with the blank for amplified sensitivity. The double-locking aluminum reel hood is another great feature, keeping reels solidly in place.
Invicta rods are made with 40-ton, 12-toe carbon fiber blanks, purported to be among the lightest available. ALPS Bronze SS316 guides have zirconium inserts to reduce line friction and extra hardness to withstand coarse braided lines. A wide range of tactic-driven spinning and casting rods are offered in both fresh- and saltwater models, $250 to $260.
Striking blue Aetos rods are the lightest Fenwicks ever made. Twenty-six artfully crafted rods (13 casting and 13 spinning) sport TAC handles, Fuji 5K reel seats, and lightweight and strong Ti titanium frame guides. $179.
Two new series augment the proven NRX line, including Mag Bass and Umbrella Rig rods. Six Mag Bass models have fast-action, magnum-taper blanks for presenting lighter jigs and soft plastics. Rated for 6- to 12-pound test, the 7-foot 842S is a delightful tool for fishing shaky heads and heavier drop-shot rigs. Mag Bass rods retail for $525.
Holt reports that two new Umbrella Rig rods have softer tips that allow heavy rigs or swimbaits to load the blank, limiting backlashes. These rods also have extra power and stiffness in the butt to control big lures, as well as big, powerful fish. Both 7-foot 7-inch casting rods are rated for 50- to 80-pound braid and 3- to 8-ounce lures, $650.
If that sounds ethereal it’s meant to. With a G-note price tag, a little implied magic goes a long way. And as any angling conjurer knows, a fine wand begins with a beautifully built handle. Custom carved from red maple, the ARMS Ergonomic Natural Wood Gripping Handle can be custom ordered to fit your hand. The reel seat, too, is an object of intrigue, constructed with “Triple Spiral Bone Architecture.” Made of three skeletal aluminum monocoque frames that are center-wrapped over the rod’s blank, the reel seat transmits vibration especially well.
Built around Hi-Impact Multiplex graphite blanks, ARMS rods provide exceptional power-to-weight ratios. Blanks are ultra slim for minimal heft, yet operate with surprising strength and torque. Fuji SiC Titanium Frame Guides use ARMS Tight Wrapping Thread to maximize blank action and casting distance. Cosmetically and functionally, the 6-foot 5-inch ARMS Paraizo is impressive. Rated medium fast, medium power, this extreme rod matches 10- to 25-pound test, $1,000.
Beyond exotic graphics and technologies, the rod’s Super Metacompo Stealth Reel Seat minimizes bulk and weight. Its skeletal structure locks the reel to the blank to maximize ergonomics and bite transmission. Available in 12 casting models with split cork or EVA, Destroyer X7s carry such names as Diablo Fastmove (for fast crankbait retrieves) and Western Flip, around $500.
When you grip one, such as the Medium Drop Shot (CUSDX72MA), you get maximum blank exposure and contact with the rod. This 7-foot 2-inch rod fishes with medium power and extra-fast action. Its semisoft tip is exceptional for working dainty drop-shot baits and keeping big fish pinned. I pair this rod with 6-pound mono and it stays in my rod locker all season. Cumara’s lineup of technique-driven models include 20 casting and 10 spinning rods. Tactical matches range from Shakey Head Spinning to Punching and Umbrella Rig Casting, $250 to $260.
It’s hard to miss LegendXtreme’s handle. Belanger says that at St. Croix’s factory, an entire temperature and humidity controlled room has been set aside for building the Xtreme Skin handle. This design, he explains, is so intricate that it takes nearly six days to build one. “We found a rigid handle material that perfectly matches the angler’s hand and the way they grip the rod. It’s machine under-laid with a rigid polymer that transmits the slightest signals from lures and fish.” When wet, it grips, forming a somewhat tacky surface that gently adheres to your hand.
“We worked with a team of engineers to conceptualize the rod using 3-D computer models. We designed each component on screen, built complete models that our product team evaluated and fished, and eventually came to a consensus.” Three other St. Croix technologies give the rod blank a light feel and fine fishability. Integrated Poly Curve tooling smoothes its action, eliminating any inconsistencies in the blank. Taper Enhancement Technology boosts sensitivity, while Advanced Reinforcing Technology improves hoop strength, preventing the rod from ovaling under severe loads, such as a powerful hook-set.
LegendXtreme blanks feature high-modulus/high-strain SCV graphite built with a carbon-matte scrim for strength, durability, and sensitivity. Fuji K-R Concept Tangle Free guides with SiC Titanium rings work seamlessly with braid, mono, and fluorocarbon. The sloped guide frames shed tangles before they become a problem. Casting rods feature extra micro guides, which maximize line-to-blank sensitivity, minimize tip mass, and improve performance, $340 to $420.
BASS >Mag Crankbait • Fenwick Aetos 7-foot 4-inch (A741MHFC) (fenwickfishing.com) • Lew’s David Fritts Speed Stick (DF70MHC) (lews.com) • CastAway Skeleton DD22 Special 7-foot 10-inch (SKXMHC710) (castawayrods.com)
BASS >Drop Shot/Finesse • Quantum Tour Tactical Spinning 6-foot 9-inch (quantumfishing.com) • Fenwick Elite Tech Smallmouth 6-foot 9-inch (ESMS69ML-F) (fenwickfishing.com) • Edge Rods Bass Drop Shot 6-foot 10-inch (6100-1(HM)-Spin) (edgerods.com)
WALLEYE >Rigging/Jigging • Wright & McGill Tony Roach Micro Honeycomb 6-foot 8-inch (WMTRW68ML) (wright-mcgill.com) • St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye Jig-N-Rig 6-foot 6-inch (LTWS66MLF) (stcroixrods.com) • Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Rigging 7-foot 2-inch (EWS72M-F) (fenwickfishing.com)
WALLEYE >Trolling • Daiwa DXW Trolling Rod 7-foot 6-inch (DXW76TMHFB) (daiwa.com) • Wright & McGill Tony Roach Micro Honeycomb 8-foot 6-inch (WMTRW86C1T) (wright-mcgill.com) • St. Croix Eyecon Trolling 8-foot (ECT80MM2) (stcroixrods.com)
PANFISH • St. Croix Panfish Series (stcroixrods.com) • B’n’M Poles IM7 Crappie Wizar (bnmpoles.com) • B’n’M Poles Sam Heaton Super Sensitive (bnmpoles.com) • Berkley C-Series Crappie Rod (berkley-fishing.com)
PIKE/MUSKIE • Fenwick Elite Tech Muskie (fenwickfishing.com) • St. Croix Legend Tournament Musky (stcroixrods.com) • St. Croix Mojo Musky (stcroixrods.com) • G. Loomis Muskie Rods (gloomis.com) • Musky Mayhem Avaio Series (muskymayhemtackle.com)
CATFISH • Rippin Lips Super Cat Series (rippinlips.net) • Team Catfish Thunder Cat (teamcatfish.com) • Team Catfish iCat (teamcatfish.com) • Tangling With Catfish Extender (tanglingwithcatfish.com) • Tangling With Catfish Extreme (tanglingwithcatfish.com)