I had never made the trek. This year I decided I was well overdue in experiencing what many have called “one of the greatest events in fishing” so I packed up the truck with my two eldest daughters, ages 15 and 16, and we hit the road for a weekend in Park Falls, Wisconsin. A four-hour drive, we traversed the gorgeous Wisconsin countryside, crossing rivers, streams, and lakes on our way. At about the mid-point we pulled over at a riverside park, I made a few casts with my St. Croix Triumph travel rod (which I always keep under the back seat) and we snacked on chips, iced tea, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with homemade rhubarb/blueberry jam. I could think of no better way to spend Father’s Day weekend.
We checked into our hotel late Friday afternoon and then drove over to the St. Croix factory to peruse the aisles of St. Croix Factory Store. St. Croix VP of Marketing, Jesse Simpkins, met us, and I was able to return a half-dozen broken St. Croix Rods I had been holding onto for years for repair/replacement. You’ve got to love St. Croix’s warranty service. It’s the best in the business.
Simpkins noted, “You’re in for a great time at Customer Appreciation Day. Besides deals on rods and reels, we’ve got seminars from some of the most knowledgeable anglers in the field including Jeremy Smith and Jim Lindner from Lindner Media Productions, St. Croix’s own Dan Johnston with ‘Bass on a Budget’, to must-know info from guides and St. Croix Pros like Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, Dan Gropengiser, and Blake Tolefson. There’s also a tent where the entire family can learn about St. Croix’s unique manufacturing processes, free brats, a casting pond for instruction, and to top it all off, some rockin’ in the afternoon from musky angler Joe Bucher and his band, the Top Raiders, along with Nashville singer/songwriter Kassi Ashton. There will also be giveaways throughout the day so make sure to enter the raffle!”
With the kids tugging at my shirt with rumbling stomachs, Jesse recommended we check out Northern Pines restaurant for their renowned fried walleye, perch, or bluegill. Following his lead, we did just that and had a fantastic meal. Located on the beautiful shores of nearby Butternut Lake, the restaurant/resort is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. They also rent cabins should you bring a group to tour the factory at St. Croix or take part in next year’s Customer Appreciation Day. There are also options to camp at nearby National and State Parks to stay well within a travel budget.
Saturday, July 18th, Customer Appreciation Day
With a two-lane highway of cars and trucks waiting to pull into the parking lot as early as 6:30 a.m., Customer Appreciation Day didn’t officially start until 7 a.m. There were already lines of people queued to register for raffle prizes throughout the day. The big attraction to showing up so early? A tent full of superstar deals on St. Croix Rods—from retired models like the Reign, to B-stock Victory, Bass-X, Legend Elite, Legend Xtreme, Mojo Bass, Mojo Cat, fly rods, saltwater sticks, and much, much more. The tent was also surrounded by tables with sweatshirts, hats, t-shirts, stickers, banners, and other apparel all marked down significantly.
Speaking of discounts, all retired rods were marked down between 20-50%, which is just unheard of in this industry. St. Croix staff roamed the rod aisles answering questions, including my own about which presentations I should be fishing on specific Victory casting rods, my current favorite bass rod family from St. Croix Rod. Made in the USA and featuring super high-modulus hybrid carbon fiber SCIII+ blanks matched with Fortified Resin System (FRS) technology, Victory models offer maximum power and strength with a significantly reduced blank weight. With most Victory models retailing at $200 or below, the deal cannot be matched in the world of bass rods—and all that with a 15-year warranty backed by St. Croix’s legendary Superstar Service. So, like a lot of other anglers and their families enthusiastically roaming the plentiful lines of rod racks in the retail tent, I grabbed a Victory Rip N’ Chatter model for bladed jigs and a Mid Flip’N model for fishing football head jigs.
Another thing that makes Customer Appreciation Day so unique is the fact that all their employees are there… including top brass like Simpkins and St. Croix Brand Manager, Ryan Teach. Teach helped me understand what makes the Victory so awesome in today’s market of overpriced and underperforming rods (my opinion, not his).
“The history of Victory is deep,” Teach told me. “The series really solidified our development team. At the start of COVID and through COVID when everyone was experiencing shut-downs we were able to keep an engineer in the building so we could do 3D printing and keep the development of Victory moving forward while the rest of us worked remotely. Victory is unique because it was the best of everything we had at the time of development—it has a little bit of Xtreme in it, a little bit of Tournament Bass in it, and it’s made up of everything that makes St. Croix Rod St. Croix Rod. It’s built in Park Falls, Wisconsin, USA, and features a 15-year warranty.
“The blank is a combination of SCIII and SCVI, which blended together we call SCIII+. Every rod is custom. Let’s be honest, most of the time we’re on the water we’re operating on that top 10% off the rod—we’re casting—we’d love to catch a fish every cast but we need that rod to be soft in the tip but transition to backbone really quick. That’s the perfect example of a heavy, extra-fast rod. You can be really accurate with that extra-fast tip but when you need hook-setting power or need to get that fish away from a dock, the combination is there.
“One of my favorite things to do with this specific Victory rod – the Full Contact Finesse – is to flip finesse jigs – I also love to throw swim jigs and swim worms with it. It’s also great for throwing swimbaits in heavy vegetation. It has the ability to be super accurate but also has a business end to it. That’s how SCIII and SCVI work together so you get SCIII+ combined with IPC mandrel technology in the tip and then you have SCVI in the back end which is very rigid and stiff—but very sensitive—that’s what creates that really solid backbone.
“Handle ergonomics, too, is something we paid very close attention to with the Victory lineup. We paid special attention to balance and the diameter of the rod behind the reel seat. It’s got a set of guides that are built for durability. They’ll get you to the party and you’ll go home with ‘em too!”
While I appreciated the tech talk greatly, the kids were getting restless. Old hat to panfish and bass fishing, we’re just starting to fish walleyes as a family. That said, we went and looked for new walleye rods. I bought my girls each an Eyecon Jig-N-Rig as a dual threat for jig fishing and Lindy rigging and the two of the longer Eyecon 7’ 6” Slip-N-Rig sticks for evening slip bobber outings. At $100 each, I was able to spend some garage sale money on top-tier fishing tools that will help make memories for a lifetime.
With so many apparel designs to choose from, the girls also had a great time picking out a sweatshirt and t-shirt. St. Croix even threw in a couple of hats for them to flat-brim like the cool kids do these days.
St. Croix Customer Appreciation Day also featured deals on Daiwa BG2500 reels. These are some incredible reels at full retail, but for just $75 apiece, they made a really nice pairing to the new walleye rods. As an extra bonus, any rod and reel purchase at St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day came with free line winding of premium Daiwa J-Braid or Trilene XT monofilament. The line for the free reel spooling was practically out into the parking lot—that’s just how many rod and reel combos St. Croix sold. It was unreal. Line winding stations were staffed by members of the University of Wisconsin’s college bass team—also sponsored by St. Croix Rod—and the kids did a great job of making sure everyone was taken care of. The machines used were professional grade and it was fun to watch them work their magic on purchased reels.
Waiting in queue to get my reels spooled gave me the opportunity to chat with other anglers and their families doing the same. I soon learned that some St. Croix customers had travelled from as far away as Washington and Oregon just for the yearly event. Many have attended for many years and say they wouldn’t miss it for anything.
One couple I talked with was Paul and Kris Twardy of Madison, Wisconsin, two diehard St. Croix musky rod customers. Although Twardy said he started muskie fishing with St. Croix Triumph Musky Rods, it wasn’t long before he progressed to the premium line of St. Croix Legend Tournament Musky models. With an armful of St. Croix Legend Tournament Musky rods and big Daiwa muskie reels, Paul was in line for spooling some heavy Daiwa braid.
“When it comes to picking St. Croix for my rods, I really like the quality. And it’s a really good value. They also stand behind their rods with unbeatable warranties. I’ve been using them for years and wouldn’t think of fishing anything else. That’s now extended to getting my 15-year-old grandson into muskie fishing and set up with the right gear,” remarked Twardy.
Twardy continues: “I’m a member of Capitol City’s Muskies Inc. Chapter #8 and I’m here at St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day to hopefully find some deals that we can use with our youth tournaments and give away to the kids after they’re done fishing along with increasing my supply of rods. We’re enjoying the day and glad we came up! CCMI is part of Muskies Inc. and the Musky Alliance in the state of Wisconsin and we promote research, stocking, and getting youth involved in the sport. All of the money we raise either goes to any of those programs and we have been stocking the chain of lakes in the Madison area for over the past 12 or 15 years and it’s paying off. Last year, opening day, one of our members caught a 52-inch muskie. The web site is www.capitolcitiesmuskiesinc.com if you want to learn more or get involved.”
I also talked fishing and St. Croix with four young anglers from Watertown, Wisconsin – Dawson, Mason, Zach, and Nathan – who were jazzed at the deals to be had in the rod tent and each had chosen four or five new sticks for summer fishing—everything from Bass-X, Victory, Avid-X, Legend Glass, to Legend Tournament Bass and Eyecon models. With $5.00/gallon gas, it was awesome to see St. Croix do their part to help young anglers purchase quality equipment at really special prices.
“We fish both bass and walleyes every chance we get and use nothing but St. Croix. They fish like nothing else and St. Croix stands behind their products with a great warranty. After all, rods do get damaged or broken whether you like it or not. That’s just the nature of the beast if you’re out there really pounding the water,” remarked Dawson.
Gordon Schluter purchased St. Croix Rod almost 50 years ago, and his kids, David Schluter, Paul Schluter, Jeff Schluter and Pam Smylie (along with husband John Smylie) still own the company today. Treating customers well, Being totally angler driven, working hard and treating employees like family have been at the core of the Schluter Family’s mission since day one. Customer Appreciation Day is just an extension of that mission.
I hooked up with David Schluter and son Hunter in the St. Croix Factory Store and Dave summed up Customer Appreciation Day into a few choice words.
Schluter noted, “We’re focused on anglers 365 days a year and this is one day a year when we get to actually meet them face-to-face and express our appreciation. We get to stop worrying about internal business for this day and solely focus on getting to know customers. After all, that’s what we’re here for.”
That’s the other great thing about St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day. For those of us lucky enough to work in the fishing business it’s a great opportunity to see friends and industry partners who are typically nose-to-the-grindstone much of the year whether in the office or on the water.
Jim Lindner of Lindner Media Productions and Angling Edge TV had some interesting things to say about St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day, including a very memorable analogy.
“Well, you know what it is, it’s sort of like old home week. We’ve been coming to the event for the last three or four years and it’s interesting how far people come in from to attend and not only get really good deals on rods and reels, but you’ve got lots of different events. There are speakers, fishing seminars on cutting-edge techniques, info on cutting-edge rods and reels, so it’s just a really fun time. You get everyone together and it really becomes a meeting of the minds. You have all of these people who show up year after year—from as far away as Washington to Ohio—all different types of anglers converge into Park Falls, Wisconsin, to eat some free Wisconsin brats and have kind of a fishing rumpus. You’ve got your St. Croix Rod groupies too. It’s a bit like following the Grateful Dead or something but in the fishing world!” remarked Lindner.
Angling Edge’s Jeremy Smith added: “We’ve worked with St. Croix Rod for a number of years now and their rods are just amazing tools to have in the boat. It makes life so much easier and the way fishing is now everything is so hyper-specific and St. Croix has addressed every presentation anglers have asked for, from very specific panfish techniques all the way up to big muskies. So it makes life a lot easier to be able to fish with St. Croix products. I’ve been giving seminars at St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day for seven or eight years now. Today we’re talking River Muskies. In a nutshell, what anglers need to know about river ‘skis is how to read water and knowing that rivers can be some of the most productive waters to fish muskies anywhere. And it’s a lot of fun. You’re always close to them and they can be very predictable. To learn more, check out Anglingedge.com and our YouTube channel is a great resource, too. We’ve also got Angling Buzz which releases a ton of timely content. We’ve also got a web site and YouTube channel for that. Lindner Media Productions is our parent company and we’ve got a lot of great brands underneath it.”
For those of you who couldn’t be at St. Croix’s Customer Appreciation Day and attend the seminars, Jeremy summed up his talk “River Musky: Don’t Overlook a Backdoor Fishery” with a few pointers on gear to get started with river muskie fishing across the country.
“When it comes to rod choice, it depends on the size of the river but I’d recommend something shorter. A rod I use pretty much every time I’m on a smaller river is the St. Croix Legend Tournament Musky Downsizer Bantam Bait rod. Match it with a 300-size reel like the Daiwa Lexa HD TW and the other one I like a lot is the Tatula 300 which has double paddles on the handle, which is great for fishing jerkbaits.”
Minnesota guide and all-around fish whisperer, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, was also on hand at CAD 2022, chatting up anglers from all walks and delivering a seminar encouraging walleye anglers to “Think Beyond the Bait Bucket.” “It’s no secret that live-bait walleye techniques can be deadly,” Bro told me. “But hard and soft lure presentations that eliminate some of the extra prep-work and headaches surrounding live bait often work just as well, or even better at times. Whenever I can forget the bait and just focus on targeting walleyes with what’s in the tackle box, I’m all about that. For times when bait isn’t necessary or helping, these techniques simplify things and just make catching walleyes more fun, which I’m also all about!”
I also ran into St. Croix Rod Vice President of Research and Development, Jason Brunner, just outside the factory tour manufacturing tent on site at the event. For those interested in just what goes into handcrafting the Best Rods on Earth® on USA soil, the tour was mind-blowing.
Brunner shared, “It’s great to see everyone here at this event for 2022. We have a tour tent outside and we’ve brought parts of our manufacturing process out here. Given the sheer size of our factory inside we decided to bring certain aspects of our manufacturing outside, like how we make the tubular parts, basic handle assembly, thread finishing, and how we put the line guides on blanks by hand with thread, and then to top it off. Isabella is demonstrating how we finish over the thread work which bonds the line guides to the blank, which is one of the final steps of the rod-building process. It’s just a good representation of our process and a representation of how we produce the Best Rods on Earth.”
Brunner continued, “I’ve been here for 26 years and I think about 15 years ago we started Customer Appreciation Day and we had one little grill outside the front door. We didn’t advertise or market it—it was just for those anglers who stopped in our Factory Store that day. Then it was as simple as ‘here’s a hot dog’ and showing appreciation to those customers. After that first event it really snowballed. We thought maybe we should do this or that and really it’s led into what you see today with thousands of attendees from all over the country. You’ve got free brats, free factory tours, a casting pond, deals on rods, seminars, and then to top it off we’ve got a concert at the end of the day.”
In the manufacturing tent several of St. Croix’s day-to-day assemblers and expert rod-finishers were on hand to display and discuss just what—and how—they do what they do to build such legendary rods.
Look closely at any St. Croix Rod and its finish is immaculate—practically a work of art. To give St. Croix rods of all shapes and sizes their brilliant finish is St. Croix employee, Isabella – also known as “Bella” – who works on the factory floor’s finishing department.
Price County resident, Bella, is responsible for giving each St. Croix Rod its immaculate and artful finish.
“I work on all the rods and multiple orders each day. I am a finisher and apply epoxy to the lines. Working for St. Croix Rod is awesome—I really enjoy it. I’ve worked here three or four years and Customer Appreciation Day is a great opportunity for me to demonstrate my part of the rod-building process for those anglers interested in just how we produce the Best Rods on Earth. Working in finishing, I really feel like I’m producing a work of art for our anglers to use on the water and take pride in.”
Also on hand at the event was Ferguson Keller’s Brad Olson, Daiwa representative for Wisconsin. As the recommended reel brand for St. Croix Rods, Brad was stationed in the Factory Store in front of a large display of Daiwa’s latest reels and poised to answer questions about the brand’s technologies and what reels are best paired with specific St. Croix Rods.
Olson noted, “Daiwa has partnered with St. Croix to sell their reels to anglers in the St. Croix Factory Store. It’s a great relationship. I work all of their events and we do some joint promotions once in a while. The combination of a St. Croix Rod and Daiwa reel cannot be beat. The balance and fishability is just unreal.”
A Day to Remember
St. Croix Rod Brand Manager, Ryan Teach, summed up the event—and St. Croix’s overarching mission—nicely.
“Our goal is to better connect St. Croix with anglers from all over the world – from the panfish angler in Price County, Wisconsin, to the pike angler in Europe. That’s our job, to give anglers the promise of an upper hand on the water. The other thing we do is look at what our products are doing right now and then work on future product. We’re currently getting ready to launch some incredible new 2023 rods at ICAST and right now we’re finishing up 2024 product—and then in July we’ll be going full-speed ahead on 2025 products. We’re always working ahead. To be honest, I have one of the best jobs here. I get to work with engineering, manufacturing, finance, marketing—every team in the building works with brand management. And I also get to hang around in places like this and ask everyday anglers questions about what they think of our rods and what they think we need to do going forward.”
VP of Research and Development, Jason Brunner, concluded: “Customer Appreciation Day started with a grill and a pack of hot dogs. It’s now become an annual reason to come to the home of The Best Rods on Earth and over time it gained a lot of traction and has become one of Wisconsin’s premier fishing events with people not only coming for the deals but to enjoy the lakes, rivers, and atmosphere of the surrounding Price County.”
And the surroundings are beautiful. My advice? Plan a trip to St. Croix Rod any chance you get—whether it’s for a factory Tour or next year for the 2023 St. Croix Customer Appreciation Day events. Look into a cabin on a lake, trailer the boat, take in some fishing, or camp at one of the nearby state or national campgrounds. There are angling opportunities galore and plenty of opportunities to fish those St. Croix rods you own! My only regret in attending this year’s event is that I missed the concert from Kassi Ashton and Joe Bucher & the Top Raiders because one of my daughters wasn’t feeling well and we left early, but I heard it was spectacular.
If you are coming to northern Wisconsin, the staff at St. Croix Rod would love to meet you and provide you with the opportunity to Meet Our Machinery. Call them at 800.826.7042 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a factory tour. Shop in person or online anytime at the St. Croix Factory Store. Keep up to date with Customer Appreciation Day and other St. Croix news and events by subscribing to the St. Croix Newsletter.
- Story and photos by Jim Edlund