Hurricane Ian was a near-Category 5 storm with 150-mph winds and a large storm surge when it made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast last September. Officially recognized as the fifth strongest hurricane in US history by measured sustained winds at landfall, Hurricane Ian took a devastating toll on people, property, and natural resources in Florida. One of those people was Steve Maillakakis, and one of those properties was his restaurant Plaka, a beloved 43-year-old Greek food institution that sits near the foot of the Fort Myers Beach pier.
Raised in the Bahamas in a strong fishing family by a career restaurateur, Maillakakis, his parents, and brother moved to Fort Myers when he was 9 years old in 1987. “We fished a lot growing up, both in the Bahamas and after we moved. to Florida,” says Steve. “My family bought and ran two restaurants: one in St. Petersburg and The Plaka in Fort Myers Beach. Like just about everything else in the area, Ian completely swept the restaurant last year.”
Maillakakis, a resident of nearby Cape Coral with his wife and two children since 2006, says he made the difficult decision not to rebuild The Plaka. “I started building custom rods about ten years ago and made the decision after Ian to turn my hobby into a full time career,” he says.
“All my friends and I fish together in tournaments,” Maillakakis says. “I started out just fixing our broken rods at first, then a friend helped me build 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 bits and bought a chuck from Grainger. This is how I started to shape the cuffs. I won a pretty high profile custom bar 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 come largely from Florida tournament captains. “I’m a Greek by decency,” says Maillekakis. “My dad was born there. My brother and I were baptized there, and growing up we always went 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,” she says. “It’s so far away!”
Maillakakis feels lucky that his business has grown organically, thanks in large part to word of mouth. Today, he is one of the most popular and well-known blacksmiths 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 a dialogue about how I perform according to the constructions. I will always be an angler first and a custom rod builder second, and all my clients see that.”
So how has the transition from part-time to full-time custom rod building been going so far? “I’ve built 67 rods in the last three months and I’m on track to build close to 200 rods this year,” Maillakakis says. “I am quite efficient. I won’t do anything but grips for 3 days then guides then wraps. I have seven dryers, so there are really no bottlenecks.”
Maillakakis builds all types of rods, but maintains a main focus on the most popular ones, mainly inshore rods for bass, redfish and trout, as well as shad competition rods. “You can catch everything here around Pine Island Sound, Sanibel, and the Captiva Islands,” she says. “We have large schools of red fish over 30 inches, large snook, and of course Boca Grande is ground zero for tarpon migration. Cobia fishing is also excellent, and pelagic and reef fish can be caught just three to four miles offshore. The fishing is always amazing here; there really is no downtime, just days when the wind is blowing and you can always work it out.”
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 a technician first and an artist second,” he says. “I have an artistic streak and I know what looks good, but things like blank selection, lead train design, reel seat, front grip and rear grip placement and design are keys. to build a technically excellent rod that can perform. better than a standard rod in its intended applications.”
Maillakakis believes that many of these technical aspects are ignored or at least not sufficiently considered by most builders, especially when it comes to track selection and placement. “A lot of times, they just take someone’s advice about which guides to use and where to put them. They don’t experiment and look for things like longer casting distance or how to take the slap off the line. I customize everything based on how the client likes to fish and what they will be fishing for, and my designs are honed and tested on the water.”
When choosing the blanks that form the base of his builds, Maillakakis relies on 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 is no variation; I can order 12 of the same blanks and they will all have the exact same features,” says Maillakakis, who often draws on blanks from the Rod Geeks X-Comp and Carbon 2 Inshore series.
“Beyond the fundamental considerations of length, power, and action, durability is extremely important when building any saltwater rod,” says Maillakakis. “And when you consider that my clients are paying anywhere from $500 to three times as much for one of my rods, durability becomes even more important. Extremely high modulus carbon blanks are more brittle and less forgiving. The Rod Geeks Carbon 2 blanks strike an excellent balance between sensitivity, power, and durability. The material is softer and a bit thicker than the Carbon 4 blanks, which I build on in some cases.”
Maillakakis is also a fan of Rod Geeks’ X-Comp blanks. “These are moderate to fast acting blanks ranging from 7’3” to 8′ long and ultra-light to extra-heavy power,” he says. “They are actually a hybrid mix of carbon fiber and glass that produces a more forgiving and slightly softer action while offering lightweight performance and extreme durability. They are an excellent base for almost any saltwater rod.”
While technical design considerations are his favorite part of the rod-building process, Maillakakis also enjoys marrying the performance fundamentals of any build with his artistic skills. “That’s the fun part that creates a completely unique rod for each client,” she says. “Aesthetics are generally driven by a clear concept determined by each client and brought to life through my creativity. We could match his boat, his equipment, whatever… I don’t turn a client away from any idea”.
Maillakakis is very skilled at wrapping custom threads, but says designing and spinning grips is his favorite. “I’ve invented a couple different grip styles, and foam is my favorite material,” she says. “I never just put together store-bought pieces. Custom grips make a rod look and work amazing, and mine are always unique to what the client wants.”
When asked what advice he has for others looking to improve their building skills, Maillakakis says the most important thing is to be open to, and even seek, constructive criticism. “Everyone is different and has different opinions, so never pigeonhole yourself thinking you have it all 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 is something that is true in any aspect of life and it is something that we have worked hard in my family to always remind our children of. Falling has been the thing that 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! On the contrary, you always remember when you mess something up, and that’s how we really learn.”
Contact Steve Maillakakis or learn more about Spartan Stix at spartanstix.com.
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Leveraging the people, knowledge, and experience at St. Croix of Park Falls, Inc., Rod Geeks has been delivering handcrafted, high-performance fishing rod blanks to custom rod builders since 2014. Backed by nearly With 75 years of experience designing and building the world’s best fishing rods, we own and operate state-of-the-art, modern fishing rod factories in Park Falls, Wisconsin and Fresnillo, Mexico, where we combine the best raw materials, equipment, technologies , experience 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 is worthy of your talents.