As an avid fly angler, I’m always on the lookout for rods that will improve my casting and help me hook more fish.
So when I heard about the new St. Croix Imperial, I knew I had to get my hands on one. With St. Croix’s reputation for making some of the smoothest, most sensitive rods in the industry, I had high expectations for this top-of-the-line model.
After spending the last few months fishing intensely with the Imperial, I’m ready to share my thoughts in this in-depth St Croix imperial fly rod review.
Overview of the St. Croix Imperial Fly Rod
The Imperial is the flagship fly rod from St. Croix, proudly handcrafted in their world-class rod manufacturing facility in Park Falls, USA. Building on their decades of experience crafting high-performance rods, St. Croix loaded the Imperial with innovative features to create a fly rod that casts with precision, fishes with versatility, and simply feels fantastic in your hand.
This premium rod features a blank constructed from a combination of SCIV carbon and SCII carbon, blending St. Croix’s most advanced carbon technologies. The result is a blank that delivers exceptional strength and sensitivity for its weight. Yet it retains the smooth, fluid bend that St. Croix rods are so well-known for.
The Imperial is available in a wide range of lengths and weights, from a 2wt trout wand to a 10wt big game cannon. With both 4-piece and 2-piece models offered, you can choose the configuration to meet your fishing needs. I opted for the 9′ 5wt 4-piece, a versatile rod equally at home on small creeks and big rivers.
What Makes the Imperial Stand Out?
So what sets the Imperial apart from other premium fly rods on the market? Here are some of the key features that make this rod so special:
1. Advanced Rod Guides
The guides are where the Imperial really shines. It starts with the stripping guides – top-quality Kigan Master 3D stripper guides with zirconia inserts. These have a smooth, corrosion-resistant finish and evenly distribute the friction of the fly line.
The snake guides feature lightweight Sea-Guides with a black PVD coating. The result is guides that are durable and weather-resistant while adding minimal weight. This keeps the rod responsive and lively.
2. Premium Cork Handle
The grip and fighting butt are crafted from premium-grade cork with a wood insert at the bottom. It offers a super lightweight yet solid feel in your hand. The grip diameter and taper provide hours of fatigue-free casting. Even during all-day fishing sessions I never find my hand getting tired or sore.
3. Machined Aluminum Reel Seat
The machined aluminum reel seat is lightweight and extremely durable. It’s finished with a smoked black PVD coating that is both handsome and rugged. The uplocking design keeps the reel locked in place even under heavy drag pressure. Paired with a high-end reel, the Imperial is perfectly balanced.
4. Flex Coat Finish
St. Croix rods are known for their flawless finishes, and the Imperial is no exception. The rods are hand-sanded and finished with two coats of Flex-Coat. This results in a smooth, durable finish that’s easy to keep clean. After months of fishing, my Imperial still looks as good as new.
Casting Performance and Fishability
Those are some of the standout components that make the Imperial unique. But how does it actually perform once you string it up and take it fishing? In a word – exceptional. Here are some of my experiences:
Precise, Effortless Casting
The first time I picked up the Imperial and made a cast, I was amazed at how effortless and accurate it was. The rod loads smoothly throughout the cast, and has a nice lively feel as it snaps forward to deliver the fly right where you aimed.
The impressions of that first cast have only been reinforced over several months of fishing. Whether making short flicks under overhanging branches or launching a 60+ foot cast, the Imperial delivers the goods. It allows me to cast accurately and delicately even in tight situations.
Handles All Kinds of Flies
No matter whether I was tossing bulky streamers, weighty nymphs, or tiny dry flies, the Imperial handled them with precision. This versatility lets you adapt your rigging to match the fishing conditions, instead of having to choose flies to match your rod.
Light in Hand, Strong When Hooked Up
Despite its lightweight feel, the Imperial has all the backbone and lifting power you need when a strong fish is on the line. I’ve landed hard fighting trout up to 20 inches as well as feisty smallmouth bass on this rod, and it had no trouble bringing them in quickly. The responsive tip and smooth action allow you to put the right amount of pressure on fish.
Durable and Dependable
Any angler knows rods take a beating during a season of fishing. Despite subjecting it to the normal bumps, scrapes, and falls, my Imperial still fishes smooth as silk. The PVD coated guides shrug off sand and saltwater with ease. It takes serious abuse in stride – this rod will serve you season after season.
Ideal Anglers for the St. Croix Imperial
The Imperial is a premium rod with a price tag to match. It’s best suited for dedicated fly anglers that spend serious time on the water perfecting their craft. Here are some specific types of anglers that will get the most from an Imperial:
The Trout Purist
Stalking selective trout on small creeks and spring creeks requires pinpoint casts and perfect drifts – areas where the Imperial excels. For the angler obsessed with fooling even the wariest trout, the Imperial offers the performance to make the subtlest presentation.
The Bass Buggywhipper
Bass tearing into surface lures gets any fly angler’s heart pumping. The Imperial’s fast action helps you quickly pick up slack line and set the hook on surface strikes. And it has enough backbone to control bruiser largemouth or smallies making screaming runs towards cover.
The Aspiring Winston Aficionado
Winston rods are often considered the pinnacle of fly rods, but come with a staggering price tag. For anglers seeking top-tier performance without the astronomical price, the Imperial offers Winston-like performance at a fraction of the cost.
The Traveling Angler
The Imperial conveniently breaks down into four packable pieces – critical for anglers that trek to remote waters near and far. Its durability also means you can confidently take it on airplanes, rafts, horses, and all manner of transport without worry.
The Saltwater Junkie
Built with advanced materials designed for the rigors of saltwater, the Imperial is a perfect match for inshore species like bonefish, permit, and redfish. And it has the power for tossing bulky flies at a distance when chasing offshore quarry like sailfish and tuna.
Final Verdict on the St. Croix Imperial
Over the course of testing, the Imperial has only reinforced what I felt in that very first cast – this is one special fly rod. It pairs cutting-edge technology with flawless craftsmanship to achieve a new pinnacle of fly rod performance.
The Imperial represents the culmination of everything that St. Croix has perfected over decades of rod manufacturing. Is it worth the premium price? For serious anglers that spend significant time perfecting their fly fishing, absolutely.
The Imperial will instantly improve your casting accuracy and distance, built flawless presentations, and give you the performance to land fish of any species from panfish to billfish. This is a rod you’ll fish with joy for many seasons to come.
For anyone looking to take their fishing to the next level, the St. Croix Imperial deserves a spot at the top of your wish list. Once you pick one up and make that first cast, you’ll quickly realize why the Imperial is in a class all its own.