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Pretty Is As Pretty Does


"Iconic" is a word that’s thrown around all too frequently these days, but for those who’ve rightfully earned the label, no word better captures what Merriam-Webster describes as "widely known and acknowledged, especially for distinctive excellence". Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik fishing rods have undoubtedly earned that distinction. For 40 years Ugly Stik has been the "go-to" for those seeking durability, reliability and affordability in a fishing rod. Now, after four decades with little change, the Ugly Stik is undergoing a significant evolution. Fortunately, the hallmark characteristics that made it the undisputed leader in its class since its inception will remain.

The Ugly Stik built it's reputation as being an affordable, durable rod well suited for tough fish like northern pike

The Ugly Stik built it's reputation as being an affordable, durable rod well suited for tough fish like northern pike

The Ugly Stik was conceived and born in 1976 during a watershed time in the development of fishing rods. Graphite had been recently introduced in golf club shafts and the race was on to incorporate the material in fishing rods as an alternative to fibreglass. One of the challenges manufacturers faced was cost - at the time, graphite traded at about $400 per pound, while fibreglass was about $0.50 per pound. Shakespeare’s development team came up with the idea of building a rod with a graphite core wrapped in fibreglass. The prototypes amazed their engineers, as the rods were stronger than anything they’d developed previously, in fact they were near unbreakable. They rushed their discovery up to the marketing team and were immediately criticized; while the rods were undeniably strong, the marketers, who were ultimately responsible for selling the rods to the public, believed they fell far short of expectations on the cosmetic front. In fact, they described the new rods as being the ugliest they had seen.

The engineers left the meeting discouraged. The marketers, however, put their heads together and made what would become an industry-changing decision - they would file patent applications and trademarks under the name Ugly Stik. Just that quickly, a legend was born. By their own admission, Shakespeare’s first production efforts were truly ugly. The blanks weren’t pigmented, the graphite showed through the clear fibreglass, and the wraps were black with white pinstripes, but they were strong like fishermen had never before seen. At that year’s fishing trade show in Chicago, the Ugly Stik was demonstrated lifting heavy weights and buckets of water, or being shown off in tug-of-war competitions with competitor rods, many of which ended up broken and discarded.

Over time, the cosmetic appearance of the Ugly Stik was improved, including the retention of a clear tip which quickly became a signature feature of the rods. The rods were supported by an aggressive advertising campaign that showed them being bent by models or caught in car doors or boat docks. They never looked back and the Ugly Stik became the best-selling rod of all-time, a strong and affordable rod that would serve the average angler for many years.

Ugly Stik product manager Michael Welsh shows off the new Ugly Stik Elite and GX2 rods

Ugly Stik product manager Michael Welsh shows off the new Ugly Stik Elite and GX2 rods

The Ugly Stik remained virtually unchanged for nearly forty years. In 2014 Shakespeare introduced a second generation Ugly Stik, the GX2 . Still retaining graphite and fibreglass as its core while featuring new cosmetics and construction methods, including the introduction of a blank-through-reel-seat design and one-piece stainless steel guides, the GX2 boasted improved sensitivity and balance when compared with its predecessors, without sacrificing its renowned strength. Of course, not forgetting who brought them to the dance, the GX2 retained the characteristic clear tip of the original.. Development didn’t end there, however. 2015 saw Shakespeare launch the Ugly Stik Elite, which features 35% more graphite than the GX2 to create an even lighter rod with a crisp action and increased sensitivity. The clear tip remained, naturally, as did the company’s commitment to rod strength and affordability.

Ugly Stik GX2

Ugly Stik GX2

The Ugly Stik Elite is available in a wide range of models, from one and two piece rods in both casting and spinning styles to a series developed specifically for salmon and steelhead anglers, who require longer rods and increased power. I recently had the opportunity to fish both the GX2 and the Elite on Manitoba’s Winnipeg River system. This productive fishery offers a broad diversity of species that would truly test these rods, from smallmouth bass to walleye, sauger, perch and pike. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with how they performed.

Ugly Stik Elite Gord Ellis with a chunky bass landed on the new Ugly Stik Elite rod

Gord Ellis with a chunky bass landed on the new Ugly Stik Elite rod

Pike was a no-brainer, falling into the wheelhouse of the Ugly Stik’s reputation for being tough and durable, if not particularly sensitive. The group I was fishing with caught literally hundreds of pike over four days, ranging from hammer handles to mature females in the 15-pound class and up. The rods performed beautifully and controlling fish proved to be an easy affair but the real test would be how they handled situations requiring increased control and sensitivity.

If there’s been a perceived shortcoming of Ugly Stik rods over the years, it’s been their performance when precise casting or jigging is required. Targeting smallmouth bass on the Winnipeg River generally means casting plugs, spoons, spinners or baited jigs toward shore and retrieving them back to the boat. Over-cast and you’re liable to get hung up on shoreline rocks or vegetation; toss your offering short and you’re missing the fish that hug the near-shore rocky contours. Of course, each cast is a little different from a boat being pushed by both current and prevailing winds.

Ugly Stik rods handle the pinpoint casting smallmouth demand

Ugly Stik rods handle the pinpoint casting smallmouth demand

Both the GX2 and the Elites proved themselves reliable and accurate. In short order I was pinpointing my casts exactly where I wanted them. If I had to adjust the distance, it was a simple matter of "feel" in my casting motion, that hard to describe internal adjustment that an angler has to continually make. Success means a reliable response from your rod, and these Ugly Stiks were more than up to the task. As to jigging for walleye, where sensitivity is all-important? Well, let’s just say I won the group award for landing the smallest fish of the trip, a 9-inch walleye I pulled out of 18 feet of water on a ¼-ounce jig tipped with a minnow. Experienced anglers know just how sensitive your rod needs to be to hook one of these notoriously light-biting fish, especially one so small in a river current situation. Fortunately, for the benefit of my ego at least, I landed many more walleye on the trip, including a 27-inch beauty. Most importantly, at no time did I feel my rod wasn’t up to the challenge.

Gord Ellis with a beautiful Winninpeg River walleye

Gord Ellis with a beautiful Winninpeg River walleye

Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik line-up has been a mainstay of budget-minded anglers since its inception in the 70s; based upon my recent experiences with the latest rods, I’d suggest they’ve got many more years of angler satisfaction ahead of them.

Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator

(2) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(3) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(4) There’s No Place Like Home

(5) A Golden Opportunity

(6) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(7) Un-matching the Hatch

(8) Alberta Super Bugs

(9) Glass is Back

(10) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(11) Speed Kills

(12) Entering the Twilight Zone

(13) Old Man River

(14) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(15) Small stream BT fishing

(16) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(17) In The Walleye Zone

(18) Zoo Trout

(19) Fly Selection for Beginners

(20) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(21) New Waters

(22) Big Bad Burbot

(23) Looking Back

(24) Out of Africa

(25) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(26) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(27) The Browns of Autumn

(28) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(29) Walleye Town

(30) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(31) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(32) Going With The Flow

(33) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(34) Swinging The Fences

(35) A View From The Aerie

(36) Dixieland Delight

(37) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(38) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(39) Montana's Cool Missouri

(40) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(41) Toothy Critters

(42) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(43) Top Ten Flies

(44) Northern Exposure

(45) Home Water Lessons

(46) Chicken Of The Sea

(47) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(48) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(49) Keep It Up!

(50) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(51) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(52) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(53) Hawg Holes

(54) Saltwater Salmon

(55) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(56) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(57) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(60) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(61) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(62) Fall Walleye

(63) Wet Flies

(64) Versatility the Key to Success

(65) Grayling of the Boreal

(66) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(67) Size Matters

(68) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(69) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(70) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(71) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(72) The Point Of It All

(73) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(74) Fall Fly Fishing

(75) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(76) Big River, Big Fish

(77) Bottom Bonanza

(78) Fishing Small Flies

(79) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(80) Four Seasons of the Bow

(81) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(83) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(84) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(85) Edge Walleye


(87) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(88) Four Corners – Four Waters

(89) Chasing Pothole Trout

(90) Springtime Stoneflies

(91) The Torrents of Spring

(92) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(93) Bust Them With Bait

(94) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(95) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(96) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(97) Terrestrials

(98) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(99) Rocky Mountain High

(100) Reading the clues

(101) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(102) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(103) Fly Fishing 101

(104) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(105) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(106) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(107) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(108) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(109) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(110) Trust Your Electronics

(111) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(112) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(113) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(114) Walleye can be Humbling

(115) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(116) Winter Flyfishing

(117) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(118) Hot Fall Pike Action

(119) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(120) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(121) Frequently Asked Questions

(122) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(123) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(124) Deep Water Perch

(125) Post Spawn Brookies

(126) A Fisher's Life

(127) The River's Last Stand

(128) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(129) Coho on the Coast

(130) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(131) Summer in the Mountains

(132) Peak Walleye Season

(133) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(134) Last Ice Rainbows

(135) The Burbot Event

(136) Tackle Matching

(137) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(138) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(139) The Lure of Brook Trout

(140) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(141) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(142) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(143) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(144) The Vesatile Plug

(145) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(146) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(147) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(148) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(149) Daily Fish Migrations

(150) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(151) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(152) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(153) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(154) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(155) The Fun in Ultra Light

(156) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(157) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(158) Never Stop Learning

(159) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(160) Jigging through the Ice

(161) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(162) Rainbows on Ice

(163) The Season of Ice Begins

(164) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(165) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(166) Facts On Cats

(167) West Coast Adventure

(168) June Walleye Frenzy

(169) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(170) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(171) "Northern Exposure"

(172) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(173) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(174) Man Overboard