New Superior-based company aims for lightest, most sensitive fishing rod on the market
The business brains who grew Field Logic and Ravin archery equipment hope to hit home run with Trika fishing rods.
SUPERIOR, Wis. — Back in 2018, when the business team that built, ran and then sold Field Logic and Ravin archery brands found themselves with a little time on their hands, they decided to dive into a new market: fishing.
The first fruit of their efforts is a new carbon fiber fishing rod they hope will revolutionize the angling world.
Superior-based Trika rods (pronounced try-ka) hit the market on Sept. 1, but you may not have heard much about them yet. Rather than sell them through distributors and retail stores, the new company is selling directly to consumers. The rods are only available at trika.com .
“We’ve reassembled the team of people here that we have had a history of success with,” said Michael Weinkauf, executive vice president and part owner of the company.
It wasn’t a quick jump from archery to fishing.
“We’ve been talking about getting into the fishing industry for maybe 10 years or more, but we wanted to make the right move,” Weinkauf said.
So they looked hard at where they might find a niche and eventually realized that there has been little new in the world of fishing rods since graphite rods stormed the market nearly 50 years ago.
They didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but the Trika team thinks they have a much better mousetrap.
“Our goal has always been to never build a me-too product that others are already building,” said Weinkauf, who has experience in the fishing industry from his 13 years as president of Brainerd-based Babe Winkelman Productions. “We want to come in with something that disrupts the industry.”
Trial and error, then success
That something for Trika is a fishing rod the company says is more sensitive, lighter and stronger than any other rod on the market. But it took them awhile to get there — two years of experimenting, testing and comparing rod prototypes with dozens of other rods on the market. It took months just to develop their perfect reel seat and handle — all carbon, no cork or foam.
“It took a lot longer than we expected. But we think we got it right,” Weinkauf said.
That included buying and testing — and often breaking — hundreds of their own rod blank prototypes but also “probably thousands of our competitor’s rods right here in Superior,” said Tyson Owens, Trika marketing and sales representative. “The UPS guy was delivering other companies' rods here for a long time.”
If a rod is durable and lightweight, that's good. But if it can transmit nibbles to your hand, that's best.
“If you can feel the fish before it feels you, you have a head start,” Weinkauf said.
The secret was not just the recipe of their carbon used in the rods, but also a “proprietary weave and layering process” that rolls the material into blanks at a factory in Woodland, Washington, the capital of U.S. rod manufacturing.
When they figured they had the right product, they sent it off to an independent engineering testing laboratory in Georgia along with five of the best rods made by their competitors. When the results came back, the Trika team didn’t believe them. So they sent more rods to the lab for a retest. They got the same results.
“They found our rods are twice as sensitive,” Weinkauf said. Trika also claims to be 7% lighter than competitor’s rods and cast up to 26% farther.
“These are materials that haven’t been used before; nobody else has this,” said Ron Hedberg, vice president of marketing.
On Sept. 1, the company began to sell rods online, while also sending rods to a bevy of pro anglers and guides, as well as hardcore weekend anglers, so they could be field tested by neutral parties.
“So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Owens noted.
The company offers a no-questions-asked guarantee. If for any reason you don’t like the rod any time in the first year, send it back for a full refund. (The rods also have a 5-year limited warranty against nonconformity in craftsmanship and materials.)
“Try it for a year of fishing. If you don’t agree it’s that much better, send it back,” Weinkauf said.
But be prepared to dig deep. Trika rods — there are five spinning models and seven casting models — each cost $349.99. Shipping is included. (You can also buy a Trika rod blank for $199.99 to make your own rod.) While that might sound expensive, note that current top-end rods from famous makers like G. Loomis, St. Croix and Shimano can sell for $300, $400 or even $750 at places like Bass Pro Shops.
“If we were going to sell these through big-box sporting goods stores, they would probably cost $699 each,” Weinkauf said. “But we wanted a rod that more people could afford. By selling directly, we bring that price down to that price point we think is reachable.”
The rod is entirely built and assembled in the U.S., starting with the rod blanks from Washington. The reel seats are made near Milwaukee. And the various parts are assembled into a rod and shipped out of a facility in Houston, Texas.
Owens said the new rods already have been featured by several independent outdoor gear testers, social media influencers who offer their reviews on YouTube and can have millions of followers. Those reviews are already generating sales, he noted.
Charlie Nelson, a Duluth-based fishing guide ( stlouisriverguy.com) who specializes in walleyes, was one of the first local anglers to get a Trika rod in his boat.
“I gotta say, they are everything they said it would be,” Nelson said. “You can feel the minnow swimming.”
Nelson, who fishes a lot on the St. Louis River Estuary, said the rods are especially good for jig fishing and casting lures. He also said the rod casts farther than any rod he’s held.
“I’m not sure why, but the line just flies off those things. … I think part of it is the smaller diameter guides maybe? But they cast like crazy,” Nelson said.
So far there have been no issues.
“My brother David lifted a 22-inch walleye into the boat with it, no problem,” Nelson noted of the rod’s strength.
The Midas touch?
If his past efforts are any indicator, Trika should do well for Larry Pulkrabek, the president of and major investor in Trika who previously built an archery industry empire in Superior that included Rage Broadheads, Ravin Crossbows, IQ Bowsights, Block Targets and GlenDel 3D Targets.
Pulkrabek attended high school in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a degree in business and marketing in 1983, he began making Field Logic targets from his garage in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and brought them to market in 1997. He moved the company to Superior in 2001 making archery targets and broadheads. He eventually sold Field Logic to FeraDyne Outdoors in 2015.
In 2017, Pulkrabek and partners founded Ravin Crossbows, which revolutionized the industry, and then quickly sold that company in 2018 to Compass Diversified, a private equity firm.
Now, Pulkrabek is back with Trika and a business team compiled from his archery days, including Weinkauf, Hedberg and Phillip Mattson, vice president of operations. Trika has eight employees in their Tower Avenue office in Superior, including engineers, sales reps and the company officers.
Their goal is to capture just a fraction of the North American sport fishing industry market.
The American Sportfishing Association says there are some 49 million active anglers in the U.S. Those anglers generate almost $50 billion in retail sales, which translates into a $125 billion impact on the economy. Sport fishing equipment sales alone in 2022 is estimated to hit $4.6 billion and are expected to top $5 billion annually in the next decade. Rods are the biggest component of that market.
“Worldwide there are hundreds of millions of fishing rods sold every year,” Weinkauf noted. “If we can get 1% of that, or a fraction of a percent, we’ll be doing very well.”