Outdoors: USA-made rods still the best

Photo by Jay Anglin A close-up shows details of one of the St. Croix graphine rods owned by the Herald-Argus outdoors columnist.

When it comes to fishing rods, make no mistake — any rod is better than no rod at all. Some of the best fishermen you will ever meet get the job done with what most anglers would consider junk. If you know what you are doing, the rods and reels are basically an afterthought. That said, once a cheapskate fisherman uses the good stuff, it’s a good bet a fancy “pole” will be worked into the budget sooner rather than later.

I was lucky. I grew up just down the street from Dick’s Trading Post in Wabash, Indiana. I doubt there was another place that had a selection of rods and reels so complete anywhere in Northern Indiana at the time. We’d ride our bikes over and walk up and down the aisles of gear daily. The owner and his father were good family friends. Every so often we’d come home with a new rod “on the house.” Which, by the way, amounted to more stuff being added to my father’s account.

Once my brother and I proved ourselves on the water, our father took notice. He figured we could use better stuff. This was fairly remarkable considering his major exposure to fishing was hand-lining perch along the Lake St. Clair shoreline in Detroit while he was growing up.

I’ll never forget my first trip to Jorgensen’s in Fort Wayne. I still own, and regularly use, my first truly special rod that was purchased there. It’s a 9-foot, medium light action St. Croix Imperial Graphite XL. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of steelhead and salmon that rod has landed, but it’s never failed me. And, if it ever does, it still has a lifetime warranty despite the fact that it was manufactured in 1987.

Things got quite interesting once I discovered how much better the USA-made St. Croix rods were. When we moved to Lake Tippecanoe my fishing world was all about largemouth bass. This was at the beginning of the tournament craze and pretty much everybody that fished the circuit was slinging baits with some high-speed graphite. I was so jealous. I wanted those sleek, charcoal-and-black rods in my quiver so badly it practically drove me crazy.

Then I got my first job and had enough money to buy a few things. I bought a medium action 6-foot, 6-inch St. Croix Premier Graphite rod. I remember my buddy’s dad told me, “You can feel a fish breath on that rod." I learned how to jig for largemouth and it was amazing. I took that rod to the Maumee River in Ohio and caught more walleye than everybody else because of how sensitive the rod was. I took that rod to Canada and caught all kinds of fish on it.

I still have that fishing rod and several other St. Croix sticks that I bought shortly thereafter. They are practically ancient relics now but they still work great. I hear they fetch a good price on eBay now but I’d never sell them, they mean too much to me. You couldn’t pay me enough for one of them.

As you can imagine, having been a fishing guide for more than 20 years, and an avid fisherman for nearly twice as long, I have quite a few fishing rods. I would guess that annually I have 10 to 20 new, state of the art rods at my disposable. But, you know what? I fish those old rods just as often. I guess it’s mostly a case of nostalgia for me. That said, they sure do work good despite the fact that the newer stuff works way better.

I suppose I’m just as guilty of jumping on a good deal at the discount store. Some of the “off-shore” manufactured rods are pretty darn good and cost a fraction of what the really good stuff does. But, in the long run, they pale in comparison. When they break I don’t feel bad and throw them in the garbage whereas a good American-made rod not only lasts, when it breaks there’s a darn good chance the company will back it up with a warranty. You can beat that deal can ya?

Support hard-working Americans and buy a better rod. Sure, you may pay more but in the long run you’ll be much happier. I guarantee it!

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