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 best 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.
Envy Black by 13Fishing
- In a few years, 13Fishing has gone from industry upstart to serious tackle contender, offering an array of innovative rod designs. Envy Black is the newest series, sporting sleek looks and new actions. Among 13 casting and 9 spinning models, 'Crankenstein ' is a 7-foot 11-inch heavy-duty caster that fishes light for its size. Featuring a blend of glass and carbon fiber, this big stick matches outsize cranks and manhandles monster bass. Paired with a powerful reel and 12- to 25-pound line, Crankenstein wings plugs a mile, using its length to set hooks in deep water and keep bass pinned for the duration.
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.
Tactical Bass Rods by Cashion
- Upon receiving his Ph.D in chemistry, Dr. Matthew Cashion combined his flair for material science with an enthusiasm for fishing. His Cashion Fishing Rods are American made, catering to bass and inshore anglers. With a broad offering of tactically specific models, Cashion's Bass Series brings new features to the table. Cashion says the company tried to build a grip that would increase performance without dampening vibration. The high-density carbon fiber composite handle provides sensitivity but won't chip like cork or other materials. And its woven texture increases surface area for a better grip.
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.
Invicta Series by CastAway Graphite Rods
- Revitalized with light, powerful blanks and an impressive handle system, CastAway's Invicta rods feature fine-tuned actions built for specific applications. Their cosmetically striking grips were adapted from the golf industry. CastAway President Brett Crawford, previous designer for All-Star rods, added Winn Dry-Tac split golf grips, which retain their somewhat 'sticky ' composition in dry and wet conditions. I've fished the 6-foot 10-inch Spinnerbait model (INV-SBM610) and found the handle among the most comfortable yet. Although seemingly softer than many grips, it provides positive traction in your hand.
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.
Spiral Wrap Casting Series by Edge Rods
- Designed by Gary Loomis, Edge Spiral Wrap rods feature advanced rolled HM graphite composite blanks and sensitive custom carbon-fiber handles. Spiraled guides give the rod excellent balance and transfer torque across the blank. First used in saltwater to maximize pulling power against big, powerful marine fish, Edge spiral guides also increase casting distance by reducing line contact with the blank and by reducing friction. Weight has been minimized at all points. Nine casting models, $400 to $450.
HMG & Aetos by Fenwick
- In the 1970s, an exciting new material caught the imagination of rod designers. This material — graphite — was lighter, stronger, and stiffer than fiberglass. Fenwick became the first rod manufacturer to introduce an all-graphite fishing rod, the famous HMG. In 2013, the HMG is reborn, with a proprietary handle design that is more durable and tackier than traditional cork. Unlike conventional cork, the TAC handle material provides a solid grip when wet. Carbon Bound blanks are spiraled with carbon thread for strength and precise action. Titanium guides are ultra-lightweight and deep pressed to help eliminate pop-out and enhance durability. Comes in 17 spinning and 6 casting models, $99 to $109.
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.
NRX Bass by G. Loomis
- Proprietary NRX technology has allowed G. Loomis to build this bass-focused series with less material and weight, and with higher modulus blanks than ever before. Communications Director Bruce Holt says NRX rods employ light Recoil guides on the tip for precision and distance, and larger Fuji SiC Titanium guides in lower section to reduce noise and friction with lines of all sorts.
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.
Helium 3 by Kistler
- Founded 14 years ago by Trey Kistler, who learned the craft from his father Billy Kistler, former owner and designer for CastAway and All-Star Rods. This year, the company is honoring the tenth anniversary of its flagship Helium series, unveiling the new Helium 3. American made high-modulus graphite blanks have been chosen by Kistler and fine-tuned by Gary Loomis and his team of rod builders at North Fork Composites. The rod reflects what Kistler calls a 'raw carbon look. ' It's unlacquered exterior is polished instead of colored and coated, and which reduces weight and bolsters the blank's responsiveness. Helium 3 rods have Fuji tangle free K-frame Alconite rings and a patent pending stainless-steel hook hanger. A lineup of over 50 models highlight this series, finished with either a split-grip cork or traditional cork handle and a Fuji reel seat, $250 to $290.
ARMS Paraizo by Megabass
- Yuki Ito founded Megabass Japan in 1985, and by 1997, when Megabass USA came into being, the company had built an almost mystical reputation for innovative lures and rods. ARMS is the culmination of Ito's rod design ideology, with origins in martial arts, with arms used in battle.
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, [imo-slideshow gallery=148],000.
Destroyer X7 by Megabass
- Megabass retooled its Destroyer series, the company's most popular high-end rod, adding cosmetic touches. Destroyer X7 has a durable carbon cross-weave that envelops the blank, adding strength and durability. Engineered by Ito's design team, Yoloy is a new high-torque, elastic overlay that protects the rod's 7 axis micro-fiber blank.
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.
Cumara by Shimano
- Rebuilt from tip to handle, Cumara rods wear a metallic red facade over light and sensitive HM-1 carbon blanks. Cumara bass rods have Fuji's new KR-Concept guide train, a combination of micro guides in the top section and standard guides in the lower half to optimize casting performance, as well as hook-sets and lifting power. A sleek, minimalist handle and split grip use shaped EVA and a custom Shimano reel seat.
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.
LegendXtreme by St. Croix Rods
- In back to back years, the LegendXtreme series has taken Best in Show honors at ICAST, the freshwater version in 2012 for Freshwater Rod, while its Inshore counterpart won in Saltwater Rods in 2013. According to St. Croix Promotions Manager Rich Belanger, designing and building the Xtreme series has required more time and energy than any other rod they've produced.
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.
More Superlative Technique Rods
BASS >frog — St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass 7-foot 4-inch (TVC74HF) (stcroixrods.com) — Daiwa Steez Frog Rod 7-foot 4-inch (SVF-HDB) (daiwa.com)
BASS >Umbrella Rig — Cashion Umbrella Rig Casting 7-foot 11-inch (S956711u) (cashionrods.com) —iRod Genesis II 7-foot 10-inch Bama Rig Special ((IRG7104AB-H) (irodfishing.com)
BASS >Punch — St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass Punchin' 7-foot 9-inch (TBC79MF) (stcroixrods.com) — Powell Max TW Punch Rod 8-foot (powellco.com)
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)
TROUT —G. Loomis GL2 Trout Jig Series (gloomis.com) —St. Croix Trout Series (stcroixrods.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)