Wisconsin town home to top-of-the-line fishing rods
Hundreds are drawn to the small Wisconsin northwoods town of Park Falls every year for recreational activities on the scenic Flambeau River. Thousands more come to visit a small factory near the edge of town where a small group of workers turns out the best fishing rods in the world.
St. Croix isn't the only tackle company to market quality rods. Cadillac, Lincoln and Lexus all have devoted followers too. The special thing about those special wands which bear the St. Croix logo is that these implements of fish destruction are made right here in the Land of Cheese.
We are certainly more vocal and ostentatious over our Green Bay Packers. Packer garb and jeans are the official state uniform. Passion for St. Croix rods is more subdued but every bit as strong.
You'll never see a journeyman carpenter with a 16-ounce wooden-handled Wal-Mart hammer holstered on a job site. Pro anglers are just as serious about their tools, with the fishing rod the tip of their vocational spear.
My wife just rolled her eyes when the Fed-Ex driver dropped off another long, cardboard tube last week. The contents of that tube were comfort and fear. Comfort in the knowledge of what a craftsman can do with a good tool. Fear that when I die, my wife will sell my fishing rods for what I told her I paid for them.
The latest delivery brings my total of St. Croix rods up to 11. Enough to get the job done. Pretty much. I could still use another 7-foot, medium light, fast tip for pitching senkos.
Eleven rods? How many carpenters do you know with just one hammer? Fishing rods are tools. When fishing is your work—or you merely work hard at fishing—a good tool enriches the experience.
St. Croix offers a lifetime guarantee on their rods for a mere $50. Adding another 50 bucks to putting another much-needed Croix in the rod box is like adding a gratuity to the dinner check for a hard-working waitress.
Even in today's androgynous America there are very few things that make a real man cry. Breaking an Avid series rod is unabashedly tear-worthy. The guarantee helps assuage deep sense of loss.
Cardboard rod tubes that deliver new tools should be burned with respect, the way one should treat Old Glory when she begins to tatter. Broken rods also demand dignity.
There is nothing wrong with delivering a shattered old friend that has faithfully served for many years back to the place of birth. Transportation costs to return a broken rod to the factory in Park Falls and hand deliver it to a highly trained St. Croix grief counselor is much more expensive than express shipping via private carrier.
Large picture windows allow the grieving angler to see new rods being born on the factory floor. The catharsis from this experience is overwhelming. Some anglers visit the factory outlet store while waiting for their replacement rod to be delivered to the service desk.
The factory store has essentially every St. Croix rod on display to test-fish and visualize the dream.
In one corner of the store is a stack of B-stock rods. These rods have some kind of small defect or blemish but are available for purchase at pennies on the dollar compared to retail prices.
B-stock rods only carry a one-year guarantee, a reasonable trade-off for character and individuality. Leaving Park Falls with just one B-stock rod is like leaving Las Vegas without one more pull on the dollar slots. Maybe a couple more pulls.
Close inspection is required to tell B-stock rods from the A-team product. My wife couldn't tell a B-stock rod from a brand new Avid series St. Croix. She probably couldn't tell a St. Croix rod from one made by Loomis or Lamiglas.
Rods that aren't already in the boat or nearby in the pole barn shed are on display in the den. Did I say I had 11 St. Croix rods?
Fishermen aren't born liars, but they learn this despicable trait faster than most folks. My rod and staff, they comfort me.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.