Fishing takes us to all sorts of places we might otherwise never see. Park Falls, Wisconsin, is one of those places. Out-of-state plates usually belong to folks who know it's home to the St. Croix Rod Company. Their pilgrimage takes them up to this remote hamlet of North Country to see where IPC® technology was first conceived and refined. To stand near the place where St. Croix aligns the latest advances in technology with time-honored handcrafting techniques to build some of the finest fishing tools available. To feel the presence of the computer developed by St. Croix, to ensure our blanks are built to the highest standards in the industry. A standard that ultimately means the rods themselves cost less. In Park Falls, they also find what might be the only rod company that employs engineers to work alongside rod designers. And, finally, these mighty pilgrims find themselves aligned with the soul of fishing by simply breathing the same air that fuels the hand-assembly of nearly every St. Croix rod.
St. Croix's history reads as the straight definition of hard work and determination. In 1948, co-founders Bob and Bill Johnson, both avid fishermen, decided to construct and sell landing nets. Their quality nets (complete with cedar handles, ash hoops, and hand-sewn netting) proved too costly for most sportsmen.
A brainstorming session saved the then fledgling company. Perusing a display of cane fishing poles, the brothers decided to modify them to make them portable. They cut the poles into three shorter lengths and fitted them with brass ferrules. A local hardware merchant immediately ordered 500 rods, and the St. Croix Rod Company was born.
Brother Doug Johnson and cousin John Olson joined the new venture. It is not clear how they decided upon the company name, but since the St. Croix River bordered their stomping grounds of Minnesota and Wisconsin, it is surmised that this was how the namesake was chosen.
Efforts turned to expanding the product line and improving production equipment. Olson, an expert machinist, built much of the equipment that was used for many years. Originally based in Unity, Wisconsin, the busy company soon needed to open a second plant in the nearby community of Loyal. Within the first year the payroll grew from eight employees to 90.
A summertime fishing trip in 1953 introduced the St. Croix's owners to the Park Falls area. Once again St. Croix needed room to expand and the Park Falls Area Industrial Development Corporation courted the owners with friendliness and attractive incentives. The company celebrated its grand opening in Park Falls in November of 1954.
Over the years, there were a variety of goods manufactured that were essential to the development and success of the company. Solid and tubular rod blanks were sold to other companies such as Zebco and Waterking. Private brand rods were created for Orvis, L.L. Bean, Cabela's, South Bend, Cortland and many others. Sundry items such as Department of Natural Resources shocking rods and landing nets, pool cues and marine antennas all contributed to the company's longevity.
The Schluter Family Legacy
In 1960 a group of businessmen from Park Falls invested in St. Croix. The company was struggling financially and needed more capital to invest in growth. Key to this change was one of the new owners: Mr. Gordon Schluter, proprietor of the local radio station and an astute businessman.
The sales program was in a state of regression. To help rebuild sales, Schluter moved his family and took on the responsibility of Western Sales Manager in Boulder, Colorado. By 1965, he was back in his beloved Park Falls as the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer. To revive the top-heavy company, Gordon cut costs and employees. This was a difficult but compulsory action to help St. Croix regain its healthy status.
In 1967, the revitalized company was sold to Schaper Manufacturing of Minneapolis. Schluter stayed on for a year as CEO and then moved his family to New Mexico. Products such as reels imported from Japan and leaders, hooks and lures from Hong Kong were added to the product line. During the early 1970s, sales seemed to increase quickly; however, much of the accumulated volume was due to under pricing to maintain a competitive edge.
Low-priced foreign markets and higher costs at home left St. Croix in serious trouble by the mid 1970s. Schaper management decided to close the doors at the end of 1977. Once again, the Park Falls community leaders rallied together. They contacted Gordon Schluter in New Mexico and urged him to see if Schaper would sell the troubled company. Schluter and two partners, Norman and Leonard Hoefferle, ended up buying the company. Schluter noted: "We had put a lot into that company over the years. A lot of heart. Thinking about moving back and driving past a boarded-up building really bothered me." At this time, St. Croix remained the only major manufacturer of rods left in the United States.
With Schluter at the helm, the decision was made to discontinue the terminal tackle business and to direct all efforts toward manufacturing quality fishing rods for which the company was best known. In the early 1980s Gordon purchased the ownership interest from the Hoefferles. Son Paul Schluter was hired as St. Croix's first employee sales representative. Paul remarks: "When I started working, things were pretty desperate. During my first week in the field, I realized our product line was outdated and we'd have to make some significant changes. Our rod designs were outdated and we were about five years behind the times in materials. We were late getting into graphite from fiberglass."
Their rebirth can be credited to dogged hard work and determination. They began improving the quality of the products and sourcing new components. A large private-label contract with Zebco boosted their efforts. The company's survival is largely credited to Gordon Schluter's dedication, but other family members have become equally wrapped up in the St. Croix legacy. Paul recalls, "Getting the Zebco contract helped rescue the company but a lot of hard work went into it. I remember in spring of 1984 we were close to missing a delivery date with them so we rented a U-Haul truck and drove 24 hours straight to Tulsa to get one of their first shipments delivered on time."
Paul's brother, Jeff, joined the family business in 1984 as a St. Croix factory sales representative in the upper Midwest. Jeff was met with a sense of nostalgia about St. Croix rods, but little interest from retail store buyers. Equipped with the newly redesigned Premier series rod (originally introduced in 1964 as a tubular fiberglass rod, it was re-introduced in 1984 as a graphite rod), the gifted salesman increased sales 15 times over between 1984 and 1990. He was promoted to Vice President of Sales and Marketing and continues to focus on advertising and working closely with the design team in the development of new products.
Brother David Schluter joined St. Croix in 1992. He completely redesigned the shop and restructured the management information systems. He was also integral in implementing an incentive program that rewarded employees for their efforts to help accomplish company goals. David is now Vice President of Manufacturing.
Sister Pam Schluter Smylie is not involved in the daily operations of the company, but is essential when it comes to organizing special events. She initiated the efforts to commemorate the company's 50th anniversary in 1998.
In January of 1990 the four younger Schluters bought the company from Gordon. They continue to honor his deep sense of commitment and dedication to deliver top-quality products for fishing enthusiasts. Today, St. Croix is recognized throughout the world as a pioneer in the development of high performance fishing rods.
St. Croix Milestones
1948 1st Multi-Section Bamboo Fishing Pole: How it all started! St. Croix Rod Company was founded when the Johnson brothers applied innovative thinking to the vexing problem of transporting long poles. Bamboo fishing gear is no longer a part of St. Croix, but innovative thinking has remained the cornerstone.
1955 Dedicated Salmon/Steelhead Rods: The replacement of bamboo with fiberglass was seen by St. Croix engineers as an exceptional opportunity. Rods dedicated to increase success when fishing for specific species or in unique environments (such as the rolling surf) were soon coming off the production line. In 1955 St. Croix had only two salmon/steelhead models but there would be twenty-four by the following year.
1956 "Whip-Out" telescopic, tubular, fiberglass rods: Simplistic by comparison, St. Croix Whip-Out and, later, Flip-Out rods were cherished by generations of fishermen and women. Whip-Outs and Flip-Outs collapsed for storage and transport but extended to as long as twenty feet, depending on model, when it came time to fish. Originally marketed in 1956, multi-section, telescopic rods were last seen in St. Croix catalogs in 1993; a phenomenally long run in the world of manufacturing fishing rods.
1956 Fly Travel Rod: 3-piece: Long ago, St. Croix appreciated the need for fly rods in travel models. Introduced in 1956, the 978-3 personified another St. Croix tradition; the balance of quality, convenience and price, when it loaded and cast well, disassembled into three sections and listed for just $15.00. And that included a cloth sack and rigid tube. By the way, use D, HDH or HCH line if you have a 978-3.
1957 Color Impregnated Glass: Color bonded into and not painted on the fiberglass of a fishing rod may not sound like a big deal but it was indicative of the extra effort common in St. Croix products from the beginning. Management has always felt that our rods needed to be a source of pride for you and us beyond the showroom.
1957 Dedicated Musky Rods: Available in 4'6", 5' and 5'6", the Premier® Model 200 was intended specifically for musky hunters of the day. Made of solid fiberglass for the stoutest of freshwater fish, old-timers dug into their wallets for $14.95 to hit the water with one of these bruisers. The number of muskies caught proves the Model 200 was worth it.
1957 1st Ultra-Light Rod: Remember the 8100-L? Not many do, but it was the great-granddaddy of a flourishing family of St. Croix ultra-lights. Built in four lengths with a Tennessee handle for hands and reel, rods ranged in weight from 3-1/2 oz. for the 78" model to just 2-1/4 oz. for the 48" version. Not bad for fiberglass and 1950s technology, even if we say so ourselves.
1959 Ice Rod/Reel Combo: For decades fishermen of the frozen north have looked to St. Croix for ice fishing needs. The first "combo" consisted of a 40", solid glass, Model 40-C mounted with a #66 casting reel secured on a spin/cast, offset handle. A dollar was a dollar back then and a 40-CR (reel included) retailed for only $3.60.
1961 Triple-Fiber Content: An ultra-thin glass cloth blended with superior phenolic resins and an exquisite nylon elastomer allowed St. Croix to introduce the Imperial "XL" line of casting, spin/cast, spinning and fly rods. Included was the 7080-XXL, the first full-length (6') spinning rod to weigh under two ounces.
1963 Micro-Cell Foam-Filled Tubular Fiberglass: Readily recognizable by the 14K gold-plated guides, it was what was inside St. Croix Magna-Flex spinning, spin/cast and fly rods that truly set them apart. Filled with a urethane foam, flex strength was increased by more than 25% while impact resistance experienced at least a 50% gain, with little increase in weight. Each rod was packaged in a padded, steel rod-reinforced case for just $50.00.
1966 EFT (Extra-Fast Taper): Coping with the muscle applied on one end by the angler and the other by an obstinate fish, St. Croix rod engineers developed the Extra-Fast Taper (EFT) concept. Employing a design that encouraged a progressive flexing action from end to end, EFT was but one step in a continual study of rod behavior and improvement.
1970 Rhino-Flex Action: The introduction of the Criterion Series of
St. Croix rods brought with it another adjustment in rod design. Each advancement in material, every revelation in rod research, enabled mechanical engineers to tweak St. Croix rods for state-of-the-art performance.
1979 Ferrule-S: Handmade metallic ferrules for bamboo rods gave birth to St. Croix Rod Company over thirty years ago. Over time bamboo had gradually given way to fiberglass and now it was time for the old-fashioned ferrules to follow. Known as Ferrule-S (pronounced "ferrule-less"), this latest innovation provided a more secure fit, removed the opportunity for metal components to deteriorate, and streamlined the manufacturing process. Molding the ferrules on precision steel mandrels made sense. And better rods.
1983 100% Graphite: Destined to replace fiberglass for a variety of reasons, St. Croix brought graphite to angling in the 4300 Series. Known as Imperial Graphite, they led the way for hundreds of graphite models in
St. Croix's current lineup.
1991 Cork Tape Handle: Surf fishermen told St. Croix they needed a handle surface that would withstand the effects of saltwater, sun and significant muscle. Enlisting the experience of Ben Doerr, renowned Cape Hatteras surf fishing master, St. Croix Surf System and Elite Surf System rods came to be. Sporting comfortable and durable cork tape handle and foregrip, St. Croix surf rods made waves with waders of the frothy foam.
1999 SCIV, SCIII, SCII, & SCI Graphite: "The finest graphite and resin systems the world has to offer. Each material is ours alone. . ." So reads the 1999 St. Croix catalog. Still in use today, these exceptional St. Croix materials, with refinements, have brought hours of fishing pleasure and success to anglers the world over.
2000 SCV Graphite: Reaching for new heights of performance, the engineering department at St. Croix began using SCV Graphite. Possessing the highest modulus of any St. Croix graphite, SCV also put high-strain capabilities in the hands of fishermen. Introduced in the Legend Elite® Series, the word "elite" describes both the rods and the graphite.
2000 Carbon-Matte Scrim: Scrim is a material that reinforces the rod and reduces breakage. And a carbon-matte scrim does it with less weight than the traditional fiberglass used since 1955. Combined with resin and graphite, St. Croix's carbon-matte version provides exceptional strength, both longitudinally and laterally. And that pretty much covers it.
2000 IPC® Technology: A string of letters may not mean much until their meaning is revealed. The letters, "IPC," represent "Integrated Poly Curve." Developing a proprietary software at St. Croix gave computers in the engineering department the wherewithal to redesign the contour of rods. It's all about St. Croix doing everything possible to eliminate stress in the rod so you don't have any when you and your St. Croix are on the water.
2001 SCI Fiberglass, SCII and SCIIW Blend: It only makes sense that the biggest fish should be in the biggest water. Precision casting isn't a necessity here but plenty of power to bring up monsters of the deep is mandatory. For pure brawn, nothing exceeds the strength of SCI Fiberglass combined with SCII and SCIIW graphite all blended into each Premier® Saltwater Conventional rod.
2003 IPC® Fly Rods: In 2003 IPC® made headlines for St. Croix again, this time in the new Legend Elite® fly rods. It is obvious that a rod has to taper from butt to tip but, for optimum performance, that taper cannot be in a straight line. Called on to make the most delicate of presentations at great distances, St. Croix Legend Elite® and Legend Ultra® fly rods display the advantages of Integrated Poly Curve® Technology. Over and over and over.
2003 SCIIW Woven Graphite: Surf fishing is a demanding sport as not all reefs are underwater. The reef to set the hook in a belligerent behemoth can be considerable but so is the strength attained by combining an SCIIW woven graphite with SCIII grade as evidenced by two new St.Criox series: Avid and Premier™ Surf Rods. Just ask any beached behemoth.
2005 ART™ Technology: Advanced Reinforcing Technology™ (ART™) is the latest innovation to come out of our engineering department and go into our rods. Beginning with Legend Elites and Ultras, St. Croix has perfected the process of adding strength at critical points without sacrificing weight or increasing rod diameter. The secret? Wrap an exceptionally thin layer of graphite fibers around the rod to increase hoop strength. The last thing you want on the water is for your rod to go flat.
2011: NSi Technology: Developed by St. Croix using the 3M™ Matrix Resin, NSi uses “nano-silica” particles to uniformly distribute and densely pack in the resin that binds the individual graphite fibers, which reinforces them during compression when the rod is flexed. This significantly increases the fibers’ compression strength by resisting micro-buckling – for improved hoop and flex strength of the blank. The result is a 30% (or more) stronger blank without any change in the weight, action or power of the finished rod.