I REMEMBER more than a bit of head-scratching going on when St. Croix discontinued their Imperial line of fly rods several years ago. The rods consistently garnered solid reviews and were noted by many industry insiders for their quality/price ratio.
It turns out that the line was cut so that St. Croix could take a step back to reexamine and improve it. The Imperials have just been re-launched and St. Croix points out three significant enhancements:
- The rods are built with completely revised tooling (mandrels) and patterns
- New Imperials utilize a blend of high-modulus/high-strain SCIV and SCII graphites
- The new rods feature slim-profile ferrules and are 10- to 15-percent lighter overall
The new patterns have reduced mass in critical areas in order to provide improved transfer of energy from section-to-section and the new modulus/high strain materials have resulted in lighter weight and reduced blank diameter, all of which add up to one of the smoothest casting rods presently available. It can easily muscle out 60 feet of line with good tip control and still manage to retain an excellent level of sensitivity.
The 4-piece 5-weight that I field tested this fall revealed a moderate-to-fast action and offered up a satisfying degree of power. After a four-day mad dash of fishing for bass, trout, walleye, perch, pike and pompano (day four: surf-side on a calm day, admittedly not advisable for a 5-weight, but with satisfactory results nonetheless), I couldn’t help but be reminded that the revamped Imperial line bucks the trend: at a time when anglers are being encouraged to obtain species-specific rods, this rod just asks “What’s next?” Tackle that mid-size feisty bass? Done. Need some finesse for scrupulous trout? Done. This is a work-horse fly rod for the generalist angler, not a custom-tapered instrument for single-situation angling.
On the other hand, St. Croix has taken the cosmetic appeal and component design of the new Imperials very seriously. Notable upgrades include custom-designed reel seats, premium grade cork grips, and reel seats that fit intended use — rosewood and aluminum for freshwater, and anodized aluminum for salt. Again, these are probably features you’re accustomed to seeing on $500 rods but not often on rods under $200.
While I haven’t fished the larger rods in the series, my sense is that St. Croix — like anyone else trying to create a single design that covers an entire spectrum of rod sizes — has made a rod that performs best in freshwater applications. I was mildly disappointed in the diameter of the tip-top, for example, which in my opinion should err toward being oversized to allow knots and tangles an escape route. But all-in-all, this is a rod that proves you can now get premium performance in a fly rod without having to fork out the same amount of money as you would for a full set of new SUV tires.
St. Croix 2009 Imperial rod series at a glance:
- Gloss burgundy finish
- SCIV graphite blend
- 4-piece designs only
- Aluminum-oxide stripper guides and hard chrome snake guides
- 2-6-weight models feature machined aluminum reel seats with rosewood insert
- 7-10 weight feature machined aluminum reel seats
- Premium-grade cork handle
- Cordura rod case
- Multiple warranty options
Pros:Exceedingly versatile, responsive, light, cosmetics/finish
Con:Rod would benefit from heavier guides and larger tip-tops
Price:$150 – $200
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Full specs, including pricing, for the St. Croix Imperial Series Fly Rods can be found on the St. Croix Web site.