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Custom Rod-Builder Spotlight:Steve Maillakakis of Spartan Stix

Hurricane Ian was nearly a category 5 storm with 150-mile-per-hour winds and a towering storm surge when it made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast last September. Officially recognized as the fifth-strongest hurricane in U.S. history by measure of sustained winds at landfall, Hurricane Ian collected a devastating toll from Florida’s people, properties, and natural resources. One of those people was Steve Maillakakis, and one of those properties was his Plaka Restaurant, a beloved 43-year-old Greek-dining institution sitting near the foot of the Fort Myers Beach Pier.

Raised in the Bahamas in a strong angling family by a career restauranteur, Maillakakis, his parents and brother moved to Fort Myers as a 9-year-old in 1987. “We fished a lot growing up, both in the Bahamas and after we moved to Florida,” Steve says. “My family bought and operated two restaurants – one in St. Petersburg and The Plaka at Fort Myers Beach. Like pretty much everything else in the area, the restaurant was totally wiped out by Ian last year.”
Maillakakis, a resident of nearby Cape Coral with his wife and two sons since 2006, says he made the difficult decision not to rebuild The Plaka. “I started building custom fishing rods about ten years ago and made the decision after Ian to turn my hobby into a full-time career,” he says.

“All my buddies and I fish tournaments together,” Maillakakis says. “I started out simply repairing our broken rods at first, then a friend got me into building rods that would support our competitive fishing. I built a lathe before I could afford to buy one. I made it out of old drill parts and bought a mandrel from Grainger. That’s how I started shaping grips. I won a pretty high-profile custom rod-building contest in just my second year of building, met a lot of other really good builders, and my business took off from there.”
Maillakakis’ business is called Spartan Stix, and its exponential growth has largely come from Florida tournament charter captains. “I’m Greek by decent,” Maillekakis says. “My dad was born there. My brother and I were baptized there, and growing up we’d always go back every summer. Our family was originally from Crete, and I was always intrigued by the ancient Spartan civilization.” Steve’s wife suggested the name. “Yeah, my wife came up with Spartan Stix and my tattoo artist did the logo,” he says. “It’s pretty far out!”

Maillakakis feels fortunate that his business has grown organically, largely by word-of-mouth. Today, he’s one of the most popular and well-known rodsmiths in Florida. “It really helps when other captains see me winning or placing well in so many tournaments,” he says. “They notice and ask about my rods, and that opens up a dialogue about how I go about by builds. I’ll always be an angler first and a custom rod-builder second, and all my customers see that.”
So how has the move from part-time to full-time custom rod-building gone so far? “I’ve built 67 rods in the last three months and I’m on track to build somewhere close to 200 rods this year,” Maillakakis says. “I’m pretty efficient. I’ll do nothing but grips for 3 days, then do guides, then wraps. I have seven dryers, so there aren’t really any bottlenecks.”

Maillakakis builds all kinds of rods but maintains a primary focus on those most in demand – primarily inshore rods for snook, redfish and trout, as well as tournament tarpon rods. “You can catch everything here around Pine Island Sound, Sanibel and Captiva Islands,” he says. “We’ve got big schools of 30+ inch reds, big snook, and, of course, Boca Grande is ground zero for the tarpon migration. The cobia fishing is excellent, too, and just three or four miles offshore you can catch pelagics and reef fish. Fishing is always amazing here; there’s really no down time, just days when the wind blows and you can always work around that.”

Maillakakis’ rod-building philosophy follows his angler-first mentality. “Because of my skill and knowledge as an angler, when it comes to building rods, I’m technical first and an artist second,” he says. “I have an artistic streak and know what looks good, but things like blank selection, guide-train layout, and reel seat and foregrip and rear-grip placement and design are the keys to building a technically excellent rod that can be made to perform better than a stock rod in its intended applications.”
Maillakakis believes many of these technical aspects are ignored or at least not given enough thought by most builders, especially when it comes to guide selection and placement. “Many times, they’re just following someone’s advice about what guides to use and where to place them. They don’t experiment and look for things like increased casting distance or how to eliminate line slap. I customize everything for how the client likes to fish and what they will fish, and my designs are perfected and proven on the water.”

When choosing the blanks that form the foundation of his builds, Maillakakis trusts Rod Geeks blanks, designed and handcrafted by St. Croix Rod.
“With Rod Geeks, high performance comes standard with every blank, and consistency is always there. There’s no variation; I can order 12 of the same blank and they’ll all have the exact same characteristics,” says Maillakakis, who most often builds on Rod Geeks X-Comp and Carbon 2 Inshore series blanks.
“Beyond the fundamental considerations of length, power, and action, durability is extremely important when building any saltwater rod,” Maillakakis says. “And when you consider that my clients are paying $500 to three times that for one of my rods, durability becomes even more important. Extremely high-modulus carbon blanks are more brittle and less forgiving. Rod Geeks Carbon 2 blanks strike an excellent balance of sensitivity, power, and durability. The material is softer and a bit thicker than the Carbon 4 blanks, which I do build on in some cases.”

Maillakakis is also a fan of Rod Geeks’ X-Comp blanks. “These are moderate-fast action blanks ranging from 7’3” to 8’ in length and ultra-light to extra-heavy power,” he says. “They’re actually a hybrid blend of carbon fiber and glass that produces a more forgiving, slightly softer action while delivering lightweight performance and extreme durability. They make an excellent foundation for almost any saltwater rod.”
While the technical design considerations are his favorite part of the rod-building process, Maillakakis also enjoys marrying the fundamental performance aspects of any build to his artistic abilities. “That’s the fun part that creates a completely unique rod for every client,” he says. “Aesthetics are usually driven by a clear concept determined by each client and brought to life through my creativity. We might match their boat, their team, whatever… I don’t push a client away from any idea.”

Maillakakis is highly skilled at custom thread wrapping but says designing and turning grips is his favorite. “I’ve invented a couple different grip styles, and foam is my favorite material,” he says. “I never just put store-bought parts together. Custom grips make a rod look and function awesome, and mine are always unique to what the customer wants.”

When asked what tips he has for others looking to improve their skills as a builder, Maillakakis says the biggest thing is to open yourself up to – even seek out – constructive criticism. “People are all different and have different opinions, so never box yourself in by thinking you have everything figured out!” he says. “You can learn something valuable from anyone.” He also emphasizes not being afraid of failure. “Fall on your face 100 times, because you never learn without failing. That’s something that’s true in any aspect of life and it’s something we’ve worked hard in my family to always remind our boys. Falling down has been what has helped me the most in my life. Even when you do something right the first time, it can be hard to do it again, because it was usually an accident! To the contrary, you always remember when you mess something up, and that’s how we truly learn.”
Contact Steve Maillakakis or learn more about Spartan Stix at
Come Visit Rod Geeks and St. Croix Rod
If you’re ever going to be in Northern Wisconsin, or want to make a dedicated trip here, we encourage you to arrange to visit our Park Falls factory and witness the care and craftsmanship that goes into the rods and blanks you choose and trust. Schedule your tour by emailing [email protected] or calling 800-826-7042.

About Rod Geeks
Brought to you by the people, expertise, and experience of St. Croix of Park Falls, Inc., Rod Geeks has delivered handcrafted, high-performance fishing rod blanks to custom rod builders since 2014. Backed by nearly 75 years of experience in designing and building the best fishing rods in the world, we own and operate modern, state-of-the-art fishing rod factories in Park Falls, Wisconsin and Fresnillo, Mexico where we combine the best raw materials, equipment, technologies, expertise, and experienced craftsmanship to produce thousands of uncompromising fishing rods and blanks every week. Whatever your next adventure or project, trust Rod Geeks to provide a foundation for your passion and creativity that’s worthy of your talents.

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(Originally posted by HLNews)


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