Two-Season Field Test — St. Croix Victory Series Casting and Panfish Series Spinning Rods

The author field tests two St. Croix rods during 2022 and 2023 — one heavy-power Victory Series casting model, and one Panfish Series spinning model.

Two-Season Field Test — St. Croix Victory Series Casting and Panfish Series Spinning Rods

I’ve owned several St. Croix fishing rods during the past 35 years, everything from extra-heavy-power muskie rods to ultralight panfish rods. Since the company’s inception in 1948, St. Croix has focused on building great rods for a fair price — those are my words, not some marketing lingo.

For 7 years (long before I became an outdoor editor/writer) I worked at Thorne Bros. retail store near Minneapolis, Minnesota, and this fishing shop is well known across the Midwest. Not only does Thorne Bros. sell a wide selection of top-notch fishing gear, but it also has a custom rod building business under the same roof. Many of North America's best anglers have relied on Thorne Bros. custom fishing rods through the years, and that trend continues today. Fact: Thorne Bros. has built many of its best-performing and top-selling custom rods on graphite blanks manufactured by St. Croix Rods.

Some of my favorite custom rods still in use today were built on St. Croix blanks in the mid- to late 1980s. That’s not a misprint. After 30-plus years, these fishing rods work as well today as they did when I built them. I also own — and still use — a few factory-built St. Croix casting and spinning rods from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I mention my history with the St. Croix Rods brand as a primer for the text below, which details my experience during Minnesota’s 2022 and 2023 open-water fishing seasons with two popular offerings from the company.

St. Croix Victory Casting Rod — Model VTC74HF

The St. Croix Victory Series of casting and spinning rods was introduced in July 2021. During early spring 2022 I got my hands on casting model VTC74HF, which has the following specs: 7 feet 4 inches, heavy power, fast action, 14- to 65-pound test line, 3/8- to 1 1/2-ounce lures, rod weight 4.2 ounces, MSRP $210.

I own a wide selection of casting rods for bass, but my favorite one for frog fishing has been commandeered by my 20-year-old son Elliott, who rarely misses a day on the water during spring and summer. I hoped the VTC74HF would become my new favorite frog rod.

You can visit the St. Croix Rods website to read all the features of the VTC74HF. Instead of restating that information here, I’ll discuss my top takeaways.

Correct tip flex. It’s not difficult to find a frog rod that has a stiff midsection and stiff butt section for setting the hook of a hollow-bodied frog and then winching bass out of heavy cover. The trick is finding one that does these tasks while also having a light enough tip section for casting a lighter frog a decent distance. Many times the name of the game in getting numerous strikes on a frog is covering water, so casting distance is critical. A rod with a tip section that’s too stiff won’t launch a frog — especially a lightweight one — far enough from the boat to cover massive shallow-water flats. The VTC74HF has an outstanding tip for casting frogs of all sizes and weights to “way out there” distances. The lighter tip also aids greatly in casting accuracy, which is critical when targeting fallen trees, docks, etc. It’s worth noting that the tip section of this rod isn’t too light, which would increase the percentage of times you’d fail to hook a bass after it blows up on a frog. Call it the Goldilocks of frog rod tips: It’s not too stiff or too light, it’s just right. 

Midsection beef. As I stated earlier, a top-notch frog rod must be stiff enough in the midsection and butt section to drive home hooks and then winch bass from thick cover. Again, the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF delivers. Many times I was able to haul Minnesota largemouths from a jungle of lily pads, milfoil and cabbage. The smaller bass I could drag across the matted vegetation after setting the hook. The bigger ones wouldn’t cooperate quite so nicely. At times I could get them coming across the surface, but then they’d “find water” and the battle would intensify. Sometimes when I brought these bass to the side of the boat I’d have a collection of weeds at the end of my line so thick that I couldn’t even see the bass. When I suspected the bass was especially large, I’d simply net the entire mess and sort it out later on the floor of my boat.

The author’s son Elliott with a couple of big Minnesota largemouths taken with the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF.
The author’s son Elliott with a couple of big Minnesota largemouths taken with the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF.

Strong and versatile reel seat. During my rod building days at Thorne Bros., we relied on Fuji reel seats because they were basically bulletproof. The VTC74HF features a Fuji SK2 reel seat, which is tremendously comfortable when palming the reel during the retrieve. I was also happy to discover that the SK2 worked well with a couple of different casting reels. It’s not uncommon on casting rods to have a reel seat work well with one casting reel model but not with others. And it’s tremendously frustrating when setting the hook on a good-sized bass only to have the reel pop off the rod. Elliott lost a giant bass this way a few seasons ago. The base of a reel is called its “foot,” and the SK2 clamps down tightly and stays secure regardless of casting reel foot size.

Correct handle length. While handle length when working a frog is largely a matter of personal preference, the handle length on the VTC74HF is ideal (at least for me). I want a handle that’s long enough to help with two-handed long-distance casting, but not so long that the end of the rod is smacking me on the back with each twitch of the rod tip. (On my boat’s raised casting deck, I retrieve a frog with the rod tip pointed toward the water.)

Correct rod length. Again, rod length preference differs among anglers, but I prefer a frog rod of 7 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 6 inches. The VTC74HF at 7 feet 4 inches is right in my sweet spot. A frog rod that’s too short is marginal for long-distance casting and high-percentage hooksets; one that’s too long can touch the water during a retrieve (of course, this depends on your technique).

Made in the USA. Will you catch more bass with a rod made in the USA? Of course not. But I believe buying a made-in-the-USA product helps American workers, so to me it’s important to mention in this review. St. Croix Victory Series rods are handcrafted in Park Falls, Wisconsin.

Excellent 15-year warranty. As someone who has examined at least 100 broken rods during my several years working in a custom rod building shop, I can tell you that if a rod blank is defective, it will break soon in its life when placed under a load. By “under a load,” I mean fighting a fish, making a long cast, pulling against weeds, etc. The 15-year warranty on the St. Croix Victory Series is outstanding, and it should provide you with peace of mind.

Anglers can choose from 17 different St. Croix Victory casting models. I tested only the VTC74HF, but I have checked out several of the other models in various sporting goods stores through the last few years. The rods are well-balanced, and the build quality is top-notch.

I used the VTC74HF extensively in Minnesota during spring, summer and fall of 2022, and spring and summer in 2023. It quickly became my go-to frog rod, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

St. Croix Panfish Series Rod — PNS73MLXF

In addition to testing the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF casting rod during 2022 and 2023, I used a spinning rod from the company’s Panfish Series, specifically model PNS73MLXF. The specs on the PNS73MLXF are as follows: 7 feet 3 inches, medium-light power, x-fast action, 4- to 12-pound test line, 1/8- to 1/2-ounce lures, 3.6 ounces, MSRP $140.

While I had a very specific lure presentation in mind (frog fishing) when choosing the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF casting rod, my reason for settling on the PNS73MLXF spinning rod was quite different: a good friend of mine who guides for panfish during spring, summer and fall in Minnesota recommended it as his favorite all-around panfish rod. That was good enough for me!

The author loves casting small jigs for sunfish and crappies. During 2022 and 2023, he caught numbers of big fish with the 7-foot 3-inch Panfish Series model from St. Croix.
The author loves casting small jigs for sunfish and crappies. During 2022 and 2023, he caught numbers of big fish with the 7-foot 3-inch Panfish Series model from St. Croix.

As I did with my review of the St. Croix Victory VTC74HF casting rod, I encourage you to visit the St. Croix Rods website to read all the features of the PNS73MLXF spinning rod. Click here to access the info specific to the Panfish Series. Instead of restating that information here, I’ll discuss my top takeaways.

Ideal rod balance. When trying to detect the light strikes from panfish, you don’t want a spinning rod that is tip heavy; it should balance well in your hand. With a size 1000 spinning reel mounted on the 7-foot 3-inch St. Croix Panfish Series rod, the combo balances 1 inch in front of the handle, which in my opinion is ideal. While casting and retrieving lures, I grip a spinning rod with three fingers above the reel support arm and my pinky finger below it. I place the tip of my index finger forward of the cork, on the rod blank itself. When gripping the combo this way, the rod weight (which at 3.6 ounces is next to nothing anyway) simply disappears, especially the tip weight. This allows you to feel the lightest of strikes.

Flexible tip. If you read the first paragraph of this section carefully, you noticed that this 7-foot 3-inch St. Croix Panfish Series rod isn’t an ultralight; the power is medium-light. That said, the tip is light enough for me to cast a 1/32-ounce jig with my reel spooled with 4-pound mono, specifically Trilene XL. It’s not a problem to cast this lightweight jig 60 feet, which is the distance I often hold my boat from the drop-off when targeting summer sunfish or crappies. Of course, if I increase the jig weight to 1/16 ounce, then I can cast it into the next county.

Extra-fast action. This rod flexes easily in the tip, as I’ve just explained, but then the rod’s midsection takes over, making it easy to quickly pop a jig free from a cabbage leaf, or set the hook on a fish. Stated another way: This rod isn’t a wet noodle that flexes evenly from tip to handle. The power is there when you want and need it.

St. Croix offers 10 different models within its Panfish Series, so if you want an ultralight or light power, you have that option. Note: I chose the extra-fast-action, medium-light-power PNS73MLXF because I already own a “super soft” 7-foot ultralight rod. This 7-foot 3-inch St. Croix Panfish Series rod is tremendously versatile, and it has enough strength to handle the incidental bass that attacks your crappie jig. Like my friend said, it is a wonderful all-around panfish rod.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.