The world of Spey gear is confusing. It’s unfortunate, because I think that more people would be less intimidated, and be more excited to get into the 2-handed game if it wasn’t for all the odd lingo, seemingly mismatched tackle arrangements, line choices, etc. Even something as simple as choosing the right reel to put on your new Trout Spey rod isn’t that obvious, because it turns out that putting a “4wt Reel” on a “4wt Trout Spey” IS NOT the right thing to do. Yeah. Annoying. With this post, I’ll hopefully clear up some of the confusion related to reel selection.
First, let me lay out a few facts about Trout Spey gear, as is compares to your typical single handed gear.
2-handed rods are longer and heavier than single-handed rods
Spey line systems are longer and bulkier/thicker than single-handed fly lines
For both single and 2-handed rods, a reel that “balances” the rod at or very near the point where you hold the rod for casting and fishing will make the rod feel “lighter in hand” and also reduce fatigue over a long day of casting and fishing.
The result of these facts is that a reel designed to pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt single-handed fly rod will NOT effectively pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt 2-handed rod respectively because the reel will not have enough line capacity to hold the longer/bulkier Spey line system, and will not be heavy enough to properly balance the longer and heavier 2-handed rod.
Like I said. Annoying.
But all is not lost.
Remember that the goal is to find a reel that is large enough to hold a modern Spey line system and that is heavy enough to balance your 2-handed rod comfortably, so that it doesn’t feel “tip heavy” while casting and fishing.
Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a huge variety of 2-handed rods, and have noticed that overall there are a some simple guideline that can help a person choose the right reel for their 2-handed rod on the first try. I’m not going to talk about brands, makes, models, arbor sizes, or drag mechanisms because everyone has their own preferences there. Finding a good quality trout reel with a smooth drag these days isn’t hard. I’m simply going to talk about the numbers – line capacity and weight. From there you can go and do your own research, or visit your favorite fly shop armed with the information you need to ask them the right questions.
Capacity Issues? “Add 3”
Finding a reel with appropriate line capacity is by far the easier of the two tasks. My rule of thumb for converting single-handed line capacity to Spey line capacity is to simply “Add 3”. An example will serve us well here. Lets say I have a 4wt 2-handed rod that needs a reel. I take the number 4 from the rod and “Add 3” and I get 7. So, a reel designed to hold single hand lines in the 7wt size should provide adequate line capacity for the 4wt Spey lines.
Many modern reels are listed as being good for multiple single-hand line weights with varying backing capacities. In those instances, I always refer to the smaller of the two numbers. So, a reel rated for a 7-wt or an 8-wt single-handed line is likely best for a 4-wt 2-handed rod. This is a conservative approach that results in the selection of a heavier reel (more on that very soon) and extra capacity can always be filled up with extra backing.
Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me.
Finding a reel (that isn’t huge) with the correct weight to balance your 2-handed trout rod is by far the trickier of the tasks, and often the deciding factor in reel choice. Some 2-handed rods are inherently lighter based on materials, while others require a heavier reel to balance them based on additional length alone. Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple rule-of-thumb here. That said, by casting and fishing a ton of rods, through trial and error, some math, and of course a spreadsheet, I’ve managed to come up with a table that summarizes reel weight and capacity pairings based on 2-handed trout rod weights and lengths. This table has greatly simplified my own process of reel selection and suggestions for both myself and our customers at Big Sky Anglers. I hope it helps you as well.
Spey Rod Rating
Spey Rod Length (feet)
Matching Single-Handed Reel Capacity
Matching Reel Target Weight (ounces)
10’6” to 11’6”
5.0 to 6.0
10’6” to 11’6”
5.5 to 6.5
10’6” to 11’11”
6.25 to 7.25
10’6” to 11’11”
6.75 to 7.75
7.25 to 8.5
*NOTE: This table is relatively simple because the modern 2-handed trout rods don’t yet come in a wide range of lengths. Modern 2-handed rods in weights from 6 to 9-wt come in lengths ranging from 10’6” to well over 13’, making the reel match even more complex. If you’d like to see some of that info, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Great! There it is, all in a simple table. You will see, however, that when you go out looking for reels that match the table perfectly the choices are actually rather few. If you have a favorite reel, or brand that you like to support, you simply may not end up finding a perfect match. That’s where tinkering can come into play. Generally speaking, the issue you will run into is a reel that has enough capacity, but is simply too light for a give 2-handed rod. The easiest way to add weight is to simply buy the next bigger size reel. You’ll achieve more weight from having more metal and from spooling it with more backing. There is no such thing as too much backing! Another way to dial in reel weight is to add lead-core trolling line like Cortland LC-17 onto the reel first, before spooling on backing. As a guide, LC-17 weighs 17 grains per foot, so, 25-feet of LC-17 weight approximately 1 ounce.
As a final word, I would like to mention that some reel manufacturers have caught onto the popularity of Trout Spey and are now making reels designed specifically to pair with light 2-handed rods. These reels strike a balance between overall size, aesthetics, line capacity, and weight. Generally speaking they are mid-arbor designs with less porting in the frame and with full cage designs that keep thin shooting lines from inadvertently getting into places where you don’t want them. I’m personally looking forward to a time when more reel makers offer Trout Spey specific reels. It will make gear selection a lot simpler, for sure, and who doesn’t like buying a new reel from time to time!
A quick check of the West Yellowstone weather report is showing that we are in for some great fall conditions, but also a fair bit of wind over the next few days. Casting in the wind requires adjustments to technique, and Spey casting is no different. If you don’t set up your Spey cast correctly in the wind, there is a great change that you are going to hook yourself. So, this week’s Spey tip is about proper anchor placement and cast selection for Spey fishing on windy days.
What it all boils down to is this. Your anchor, and subsequently the D-loop you form to make your Spey cast, MUST BE ON YOUR DOWN WIND SIDE.
There are four situations you will need to be ready for to deal with wind. Take note that “river right” and “river left” are determined as if you are at midstream and looking downstream.
The four situations, and the safe/appropriate casts are as follows:
Fishing from river right, wind blowing from downstream.
Your anchor and D-loop must be on your upstream side
Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Snap-T with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snap-T with right hand on top.
Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Single Spey with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Single Spey with right hand on top.
Fishing from river right, wind blowing from upstream.
Your anchor and D-loop must be on your downstream side
Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Double Spey with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Double Spey with left hand on top.
Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Snake Roll with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snake Roll with left hand on top.
Fishing from river left, wind blowing from downstream.
Your anchor and D-loop must be on your upstream side
Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Snap-T with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snap-T with left hand on top.
Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Single Spey with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Single Spey with left hand on top.
Fishing from river left, wind blowing from upstream.
Your anchor and D-loop must be on your downstream side
Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Double Spey with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Double Spey with right hand on top.
Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Snake Roll with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snake Roll with right hand on top.
The following videos featuring Mr. Simon Gawesworth from RIO Products go over each of the casts in detail. Get out there, be safe, and fish on!
A big kid Spey rod with Trout Spey feel. Kerry Burkheimer enlisted the help of Big Sky Anglers’ own Matt Klara (author of this post) and others to dial in a unique, versatile, super-fun, forgiving rod that will change your opinion about what 4 and 5wt 2-handers for trout can and should do. For mid-sized to huge rivers, and fish in the 14-inch to 5-pound class, this is simply an amazing rod.
THE REST OF THE STORY
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a special place in my heart for this rod as I was deeply involved in the concept development and testing of this Burkheimer masterpiece over the past year. While the full story behind this rod may not be thrilling to everyone, I believe it is worth telling because it truly shows the roots of C.F. Burkheimer as a company, and Kerry’s philosophy surrounding rod design and creation.
The initial idea for this rod came along at the Big Sky Anglers 2019 West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days event. My close friend and guest speaker Brian Chou and I had been checking out all the rods and we noticed that there was a bit of a gap in the collective quiver.
Brian and I both cut our teeth on longer rods and longer lines than are represented in the modern Trout Spey game. We both love big water, fishing in any conditions that Mother Nature can throw at us, and fishing with special gear that not only brings us joy, but also allows us to present the fly with ease and efficiency while also not completely overpowering the quarry. Even with all the modern trout Spey offerings out on the market, we felt that something was missing. We felt that typical 4-weight rods were able to cast the bigger flies we wanted to fish, and also made fighting trout fun, but also that they were generally too short in our opinion to give us full command on the bigger water like the Missouri, Yellowstone, Deschutes, and Sacramento, and to efficiently cast some of the longer lines. At the same time, we felt that the available 5-weight and 6-weight 2-handers were long enough, but were a bit overkill in terms of the size of trout we most commonly pursue.
A few weeks after the event, Brian and I ended up separately chatting with our mutual friend and extraordinary rod designer Kerry Burkheimer about Trout Spey and the things we had been up to. We each independently told Kerry that we thought that a longer rod in the 4/5wt category would be really cool and extremely applicable to a lot of the fishing situations that we find ourselves in. Something with a lot of feel to make trout fishing super fun. And that was that. Life happened and the idea faded a bit in my own mind as winter took an icy grip on the Rockies and something called COVID-19 began to take over our collective consciousness.
Then, one day, a message came in. It was Kerry. He had a prototype and needed my address. WHAT?! The first version of what is now the 5125 came my way in a reused cardboard tube. The prototype’s cork was pitted and barely even sanded. The guides were attached to the blank with masking tape. There was no butt end on the rod, so I fashioned one from duct tape. I dug through all the lines I had at my house, then called the flyshop and a couple of friends, and eventually cobbled together an assortment of line options that I thought would be worth a shot based on the intel I got from Kerry. After the first few casts I knew that Kerry had hit a home run. After the first full day fishing it I was even more excited. Each line I tried seemed good or great, and different styles and weights of line activated the rod in different ways. Everyone I know who cast it, loved it. If you didn’t look at the taped together pieces, you could tell it was a true Burkie, with a wide grain window, forgiving action, crisp recovery, and piles of feel. The first trout I lifted into with the rod was a solidly built Missouri River rainbow. As the rod flexed deeply, I felt every bit of power from that wonderful fish transferred straight to me. I quit thinking about my cold toes completely.
Some minor tweaks were made to the overall design through the winter and spring, but by June the project was complete. Our dream rod had become a reality in less than 10 months, and everything about it was distinctly C.F. Burkheimer. The production model ended up even better than the prototypes, in my opinion. With the components and construction refined, the rod seemed even lighter in hand. Flawless wraps replaced the masking tape, and my hastily fashioned duct tape butt end was now beautifully sanded composite cork. The foregrip was smoothly tapered, just as I had asked. A “Western Trout Spey” grip.
At some point I was on the phone with Kerry, catching up, sharing line recommendations, and promising to fish together soon. On a bit of a whim, I asked him how he started C.F. Burkheimer. I wish I’d recorded his exact reply, but to paraphrase part of the story, he said it all started to take off when some of the fishy folks that had gotten their hands on some of his original designs some 30-odd years ago came to him with new ideas for a rod that was a little different and with a little more feel than everything else out there. I instantly felt connected to the story. “Kerry”, I said, “that’s exactly how the 5125’s story started.”
There was a pause on the other end, then a little laugh. “Man, I guess you’re right. That’s pretty cool.”
Yeah, Kerry, that’s pretty dang cool. Thanks again for everything you do.
By now I’ve managed to tell a long story without saying much about the rod itself. Let’s change that now. Numerically, it is the 5125-4. A 5wt +/-, 2-handed rod, 12-feet 5-inches in length, that breaks down into 4 pieces. The rod strikes a rare balance between big water presentation ability and trout Spey feel, where the focus is perhaps a bit less on fish size and more on fun size. A quintessential Burkie, the 5125 has a wide grain window (300-420gr) depending on how you like your cast to feel and how you measure these things, which is alluded to in the rod being labeled as a 4/5/6wt by Burkheimer. It is a testament to Kerry’s rod design ability that a rod can so comfortably and beautifully cast such a wide variety of lines in such a wide grain window. This not only makes it easy to find lines that work well with the rod right away, but also allows super nerds like me to experiment endlessly and dial in combinations that perfectly fit my own casting style or mood. The rod is not stiff, but rather flexes progressively deeper into the blank depending on power application and line choice. While it can be flexed deeply, it is not a “slow” rod. On the contrary, it’s recovery is fast and crisp. In my mind, when compared to other rods across manufacturers and the fly lines that those rods comfortably throw, it rates as a 4/5wt. It feels like a true Spey rod, making long casts and line handling a breeze. The extra length also makes pulling sink tips much easier than with shorter rods. And for those willing to experiment, you can even find mid/long-belly line equivalents for the rod that cast like a dream.
Numerous customizations are available on the rod as well. C.F. Burkheimer is truly a custom rod shop, and Kerry and Co. will put whatever touches you want on a rod for you. I mentioned that I had mine made with a tapered style of top grip that we’ve started to call the “Western Trout Spey Grip”. For those fans of full wells style foregrips, that is also an option. Component packages fall into Burkie’s standard “Classic”, “Presentation”, and “Vintage” categories, with custom blank colors, wood reel seat inserts, inscriptions, titanium hardware, and even extra tip sections all possibilities for the angler who wishes to own a true one-of-a-kind fishing tool and piece of art.
As far as reel pairings, that is absolutely a matter of personal preference, and I won’t dare get into the aesthetics of fly reels here. That said, line capacity and weight (to nicely balance the rod in hand) are both important considerations when choosing a reel for any 2-hander. For the 5125, I’ve found that reels weighing in the 7.25 to 8 oz range balance the rod best. Also, reels designed for 7 or 8 weight single hand rods seem to have the appropriate line capacity to handle 100 to 150+ yards of backing, a typical 100-foot long running line, and a modern shooting head and tips system. Do your research, dig around in your gear cave, and feel free to reach out to us via email for suggestions that fit this category.
The following are a few of the fly line pairings that we’ve found to work well on this rod, along with some comments on the best fishing/casting situations for each. My two personal favorite line pairings are noted accordingly.
RIO Scandi Short, 360 grains, 31ft – Matt’s Pick for Floating Line and Small Wets
If you come from a Spey background of dry lining for summer steelhead and want to get into swinging wets for trout on big water, this could be your line. This line enables dreamy, Scandi-style casting with a crisp high rod stop. In addition to our local trout scene, this line would be glorious for the folks who swing out on the coast for half pounder steelhead.
To get the most performance out of this line, we like a 15 or 16 foot mono or flouro leader. Build your own with 40, 30, 20, and 10lb mono, or go for the easy button option by adding 4 feet of your preferred tippet material onto a 12ft, 12 or 16lb RIO Steelhead/Salmon Mono leader.
This is my current favorite line for fishing soft hackles with this rod.
NOTE: For a slightly lighter, “tippier” casting feel, drop down to the same line in 330 grains.
RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head, 305gr, 22ft
This is a sneaky option that we felt cast like a dream and could be a sort of “One line quiver” for this rod. The 305 grain weight seems light at first, but the secret here was to add SA Sonar Leaders (10ft and 50gr) to create essentially a 32ft Scandi head of 355 grains (see RIO Scandi Short 360 grain, 31 feet) with a sort of interchangeable tip.
Varying the Sonar Leader density and tippet length allowed us to fish from near surface (using the Intermediate sink rate leader) to the depths (using the Type 3 and Type 6 sinking sonar leaders).
This line system is for folks who like Scandi-liscious crisp casting that will handle soft hackles and even smaller streamers like a Thin Mint or even a Sculpzilla! If you like a light feel and don’t want to mess with multiple lines or big heavy flies, this is a great option.
RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head, 350gr, 22ft – Matt’s Pick for Streamer Fishing
The RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head is truly a versatile line. Up-lining with the Trout Spey Shooting Head from 305 to 350 grains allowed us to throw sink tips and larger streamers a-la Skagit lines, but the length and taper of this line made for really clean loop formation and turnover for casters who prefer to cast with a bit more velocity and performance than typically associated with classic Skagit casting.
This line handed a 12ft T8 tip and a medium sized weighted streamer with ease, and is my preferred line system for streamer fishing with this rod.
RIO Skagit Max Short, 375 grains, 20ft
If your game is medium-to-big flies, hucking weight, and worrying less about style points than getting your fly into the zone, this is a great line option. No messing around here. This will get it done on big water and cold conditions or when you just need/want to throw the junk.
This line is able to throw T8 and T10 tips of 10 or 12 feet with relative ease.
NOTE: For a slightly lighter feel, the Skagit Max Short in 350 grains is also a great pairing.
RIO Scandi Body 400gr, 23ft
Justin wanted to try this after using the same line with Jon Hazlett on the Sage X 12ft 5wt. It cast fine on this rod as well, but resulted in a completely different feel vs the much stiffer SAGE.
On the 5125 Burkie, this line gave the rod a very deep load, and a heavy (not necessarily in a bad way), Skagity feel to the cast using SA Sonar leaders or T-tips and streamers. The result was definitive, Slow-mo, easy button bomb lobbing. A nice option for all you Perry Poke fans who like a longer Skagit head. If you are super mellow, and want to worry more about the soaring eagles and majestic mountains than your casting, this is the setup for you.
This line choice definitely takes away a lot of the lively feel of the rod, but definitely gets it done, and highlights the insanely wide grain window that Kerry builds into all his rods.
It’s been an absolute pleasure for me working with CF Burkheimer on this project and getting to see this rod come to life. I’m happy to share as much as I discover about this wonderful fishing tool. If my writeup here spurs any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me via email – email@example.com And, if you’d like to take it our for a cast, swing by Big Sky Anglers, as we have a demo model on hand.
The days are long now, and often warm. Runoff wanes. Water levels drop and water temperatures climb into the optimal range. Everything is green. Streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds all explode with life. Wild rose blooms on the banks and cottonwood fluff is in the air. Everywhere you look there are colorful songbirds, herons, sandhill cranes, and osprey. Gophers scatter in the fields as you bounce down the gravel road to your favorite stream. The deer are finding places to give birth to the next generation, or fattening up in the alfalfa fields. It’s quite a contrast to the short, chilly days of winter.
The biggest difference (to the flyrodder, at least) is the bugs. In winter, a calm day might produce a smattering if tiny midges and kindle the hope of finding a couple fish rising in the slowest currents. Now, on a calm afternoon or evening the space above the water is filled with a veritable smorgasbord. Mayflies. Stoneflies. Caddis. I’m talking about the drakes, PMDs, giant salmonflies, golden stones, smaller yellow and bright green “sallies”, Rhyacophila, Hydropsyche, and the list goes on.
The angler isn’t the only creature that takes notice of the bugs. The birds and garter snakes are snapping up the clumsy fliers and those that linger too long in the grass and willows. And the fish are “looking up” in expectation that their next meal has a high likelihood of coming off the surface.
It’s a dry fly paradise.
I hope that you spent some time this winter dialing in your fly boxes, because this is hatch matching season. Even if you don’t see fish actively rising, this is the time of year where searching the seams and riffles with your favorite dry fly can really produce. The fish have the feed bags on, and the surface takes are often startling in their aggression. On top of that, the fish seem to be in peak physical condition. With the exception of the cutthroats up in the highest country, the spawn is well behind them and the trout have had all spring to regain their fitness snacking below the surface. The water is cool, and well oxygenated. At this time of year, when your fly disappears in a swirl and you come tight, don’t be surprised if the fish goes airborne instantly. And if your barbless hook comes free on that leap, or during the following run, take solace in knowing that you at least got a good look at your prize, and that the next drift of the fly might raise another trout, even fatter and more lovely than the last.
It’s Autumn here in the Rockies, and that means there is a war going on between Summer, and Winter weather. This war happens every year. We all know that Winter wins this war every year, eventually, but we never quite know how each battle will play out. Weather can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. This year has been particularly polarized as we’ve bounced back and forth between full on multi-day winter storms with big snows (September 29th and October 9th) and glorious Indian summer sunshine! The complex interplay among high and low pressure systems, cold and warm fronts, bright blue and gray overcast skies, and larger precipitation systems makes picking clothes feel complicated, and making fishing plans feel nearly impossible at times.
Ask any experienced angler about the effects of weather, wind, and changing barometric pressure/water temperature on fish and fishing, and you will surely get an answer. You might get 10 different answers even! You may hear that a falling barometer is a disaster for angling, or that wind can ruin everything. You may also hear that an incoming storm front can trigger a feeding binge of epic proportions. Others paint a more nuanced picture, citing rates of change in barometric pressure, the effect of sunlight on creatures that lack dilating pupils and eyelids, and maybe even throwing in something about solunar tables for good measure.
I have my own theories about weather and how it effects fishing, and sometimes I feel like I am able to effectively apply my opinions to a situation, resulting in great fishing. But I’ve seen a sure thing turn into a bust plenty of times too. I’m pretty confident that extreme weather and pressure changes can put the bite off on a lake, but I also feel like it effects river fish less. But subtle changes are still a mystery to me, perhaps because other factors end up coming into play in a way that makes patterning more challenging. One thing I do know is that if I have the chance to get out fishing, I never cancel the chance because I think a weather pattern will put the bite off. I might switch plans to fish one water to another because I think that I might have an insight as to which will fish better (or which might be less miserable given extreme wind or weather), but I still would rather be outdoors getting skunked than home wondering what might have been.
I will leave you with a final observation that may or may not be relevant to angling. I have three pet goldfish in a tank in my home. I’ve had them for many years, and have spent a lot of time watching them, because I find it both interesting and relaxing. During the summer, my goldfish are active nearly all of the time, swimming around in what I assume to be a happy state. When you walk into the room, they will often crowd into a corner and “freak out”, which I have come to translate as them “begging for food”. During the summer around here, high pressure systems and stable weather patterns are the norm, and my goldfish rarely change in their behavioral patterns. But in the spring and autumn, when we have more tumultuous weather patterns with often rapid changes in pressure, outdoor temperature, and cloud cover, there are times when my goldfish just aren’t their normal happy selves. Some days I catch them sulking, lying motionless with their bellies on the stones. Approaching the tank might make them wiggle a bit, but they don’t bother “begging for food”. I know they are healthy and that there has been no appreciable change in water chemistry/quality in their tank. I can only assume that, at those moments, the weather is having some sort of effect on their mood, as the sulking events typically coincide with the onset of significant weather changes. Sometimes they sulk for half a day. Sometimes it only seems like they sulk for an hour or so. Whenever I see them doing it, though, I wonder if the fish at the lake or down at the river are in a similar foul mood.