Choosing the Right Reel for Trout Spey

Choosing the Right Reel for Trout Spey

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)
2-weight10’6” to 11’6”5-weight5.0 to 6.0
3-weight10’6” to 11’6”6-weight5.5 to 6.5
4-weight10’6” to 11’11”7-weight6.25 to 7.25
5-weight10’6” to 11’11”8-weight6.75 to 7.75
5-weight12’+8-weight7.25 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.

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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!

Take care and Fish On,

Matt

Spey Tip:  Safe and Smart Anchor Placement and Cast Selection in Windy Weather

Spey Tip: Safe and Smart Anchor Placement and Cast Selection in Windy Weather

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Snap T How To Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4thaZs2umo

Double Spey How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGzoB1qVDzM

Snake Roll How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPOjxH3ROko

Single Spey How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXkg7u5ECJ8

Swinging Flies in Difficult Conditions: Low/Clear Water and Sunny/Warm Weather

Swinging Flies in Difficult Conditions: Low/Clear Water and Sunny/Warm Weather

Without a doubt, the weather this Autumn around here has been abnormally warm, sunny, and dry.  According to Accuweather.com, 21 of 30 days in September had above average temperatures, and the first 4 days of October have all been well above average temps as well.  The forecast is for more of the same for the next 5 or so days at least.  For those of us who enjoy fishing a swung fly in the Autumn for either migratory or resident fish, conditions have been a bit tough.  By tough, we mean conditions that are not typically conducive to good/great catching on the swung fly – low & clear water, and bright sunny skies.  Unfortunately, conditions will continue on this path at least for a bit.  The good news is that the fish are there in the river, and from what we have seen they are fat and plenty healthy.   

So what is an angler to do in this situation?  Of course, you can always put the Spey and single hand swing rods away for a few days and poke around with nymphs in the morning and evenings and maybe some terrestrials on top during the afternoon warmth.  But what if you prefer to keep on swingin’?  It’s a very fun and relaxing way to fish, after all, and we are fortunate enough to be out here for fun.  All is not lost, amigos!  Read on for a few of our best tips for swinging flies in difficult conditions. 

Fish During Low Light Periods

Trout, and especially migratory brown trout, respond best to the swung fly during periods of low light.  It is during those times that they are most active from a feeding and migrating sense.  They are also the least cautious during low light periods.  It’s far easier to show a fish your fly when it’s moving up the nice seam on the inside of the run than it is when that fish is hunkered down under a cut bank at midday.  The problem with extended high pressure periods like the one we are in right now is that the low light periods are short and most of the day is very bright.  Dawn and dusk provide the best windows of opportunity for those looking to swing up a few fish.  Make sure you focus your efforts during those times especially, even if it means setting that alarm extra early and wearing warm clothes to brave the morning chill, or trading a nice dinner for a couple of power bars so you can fish until dark.

Focus On Stealth

When the water is low and clear, and the light is high (or low), fish tend to be on high alert.  They are more exposed to predators, included the ones wearing waders and carrying flyrods.  Their survival instincts dictate everything about how they act in these conditions, including where they hold (more on that later).  During low and clear water conditions, it really helps to up your stealth game in every way possible.  Wade quietly, or stay on the bank if possible.  Wear drab colors.  Choose types of casts that create less ruckus on the water.  Make longer casts when possible. 

Upping your stealth game also means adjusting your gear.  Use longer leaders and lighter tippets at baseline.  If you are used to throwing T-tips or MOW tips on a Skagit style Spey line, consider switching to a Scandi head and long, mono leader like the RIO 12ft Salmon/Steelhead Mono Leader and adding 3 or 4 feet of your favorite fluorocarbon tippet.  Another great way to soften your presentation and still retain the ability to fish deeper than with a full mono leader is by using a sinking SA Sonar Leader.  We posted a review of them last week on the blog, and they cast great on both single and 2-handed rods.  They will mellow out the powerful WHACK of most Skagit lines, and, when paired with a line like RIO’s Trout Spey Shooting Head on the low end of your rods grain window provide a combo of stealth and sink tip that is tough to beat!

Fish More of the Right Water

As we alluded to earlier, low clear water conditions make for cagey trout, and influence where they are most likely to be holding.  Swinging flies is largely a game of probability, and the angler who swings the most “A+” water using the right tactics, will typically move more fish.  So, where should you fish when water is low and clear?  Think again about where the trout will feel most safe.  During low light periods, migratory fish will feel more inclined to move, and resident fish will likely move to feeding lies.  During these periods, the fish may be found in more exposed locations like inside seams, shallow tailouts, or wide flats.  As the sun gets higher and brighter, and also as anglers have fished through the more exposed lies, the fish will move to where they have more protection.  That means deeper water, places with lots of bottom structure like boulders and ledges, or areas where the surface is broken making the light diffuse. 

If you are targeting migratory fish during the day, consider the fact that the fish you are after will likely just hunker down during the midday periods and not move much.  Conversely, the same fish might be moving all day long when the weather is dark and gloomy and the water a bit higher.  So during tough conditions, rather than letting the fish come to us, we like to cover A LOT of water in search of the fish that want to join in on our silly game.  This is also the approach we take when searching for resident fish on the swing.  Cover more of the right water, and you will cover mover fish.

Downsize Your Flies

We all dream of the days when the browns are out hunting and giant streamers elicit savage, visible grabs from the biggest fish in the river.  Those days do happen, but not typically during the type of conditions we’ve been dealing with lately.  When you are dealing with low and clear water and high skies, smaller and sparser is often better.  In large part, we believe this has to do with the stealthy approach we discussed earlier.   Try landing that articulated, dumbbell eyed beast of a fly softly enough to not spook every fish in the run.  It’s difficult.  Maybe impossible.  For streamers, if you want to fish bigger stuff, they should be light enough to land softly.  Smaller streamers are another great way to go – both weighted or not.   While they might not be that exciting, small variations on the iconic Woolly Bugger are a great option.  So are small, drab bunny patterns like the Sculpzilla.  Of course, soft hackles and nymphs, presented stealthily, are a terrific choice to swing at all levels of the water column.

Last Cast

No matter how you decide to approach the water during tough conditions, we hope that you will do so with an open mind, and enjoy not only the process of angling and appreciate the incredible opportunities we have, but also take some time to treasure the total experience.  As always, if this post triggers thoughts or questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by swinging by the fly shop, or dropping us an email to jspence@bigskyanglers.com or mklara@bigskyanglers.com

Take Care and Fish on,

Matt and Justin

Product Spotlight – Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders

Product Spotlight – Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders

This year several of us here at Big Sky Anglers have absolutely fallen in love with Scientific Anglers’ Sonar Leaders for trout Spey (and other applications).  They have become our go-to “sink tip” option for 3wt and lighter Trout Spey rods, and for converting the RIO Trout Spey shooting heads and light Skagit heads into super smooth casting and fishing tools.  They have even found a place in our stillwater angling bag of tricks.  Check it out!

So, what is a Sonar Leader? Simply put, it is Scientific Anglers take on the “coated, tapered leader” concept.  If you are familiar with RIO Versileaders or Airflo Polyleaders, these are similar, with what we feel are a couple of advantages worth noting.  SA’s Sonar Leaders come in 7 and 10-foot long versions (35 and 50 grains respectively), include a welded loop on the butt end, and feature a 25lb test monofilament core.  They come in six densities, including Floating, Hover (1 inch per second sink rate), Intermediate (1.25 inch per second sink rate), Type 3 (3 inch per second sink rate) and Type 6 (6 inch per second sink rate).  Especially cool is the fact that they are labeled with text identifying each one.  For example, the 10ft, 50 grain, Intermediate Sonar leader is labeled with “ SA SONAR LDR 10FT 50GR INT”.

Taper Profile of the 10-foot Sonar Leader

Pros and Cons

As far as what we really like about these Sonar Leaders, let’s just start by reiterating that they are individually labeled with text, right on the leader butt, identifying which leader is which.  No more trying to remember which color leader is which.  No more having to look up which leader has a red loop.  And best of all, no more having to unroll the whole leader just to find out it’s the short one, when you wanted to use the longer one.  Another thing we really like about these are their durability.  They really seem to be holding up to the abuse, with the loops staying intact and the core bonded to the coating nicely.  Lastly, we really like the 25lb test core strength, so that even after a bunch of use, and potential for nicks and scrapes down at the tippet end, there will still be enough extra beef to pull hard on 1x or 2x tippets.

In terms of things we don’t love about these leaders, there really isn’t a whole ton to say.  They do have  the inherent rigging and tippet attachment issues associated with all coated leaders, in that attaching tippets with a blood or surgeons knot is essentially impractical because it quickly uses up the little bit of exposed mono end on the leader.  That said, we hope that the following section on how we like to rig these leaders will help demystify that potential issue.  Other than that, we just wish that SA would add a 12-foot long Sonar Leader option to the 7 and 10-foot long options.

Labeled right on the leader!

Rigging

We mentioned earlier that an inherent issue with coated leaders is adding and replacing tippet over and over again without quickly whittling away at the short, uncoated, knotable section of the leader itself.  We’ve seen many folks adding a loop (like a perfection loop) to the end of the leader, and then loop-to-loop connect their tippet to that.  While effective, we’ve seen that connection fail on more than one occasion, especially with tippets finer than 0x.  What we have found to be equally or more effective, and certainly less prone to wear and failure, is using either a tippet ring or a micro barrel swivel, attached rather permanently to the leader using a 4 or 5 turn clinch knot.  With that securely in place, tippets can be added, removed, changed, and modified many times without shortening the leader.  We have had great luck with both RIO’s 3mm diameter Steelhead Tippet Rings, and with SPro brand Power Swivels in size 8 or 10.  To keep things as light as possible on the Floating and Hover leaders, we tend to use the tippet rings on those Sonar leaders.  On the Intermediate, Type 3, and Type 6 sinking Sonar Leaders, either the SPro micro barrel swivel or the tippet ring will work great. 

Keep in mind that, over time, any rigging will begin to wear, and replacing the tippet ring or micro swivel will be necessary.  So, keep an eye on it, and replace when things are looking warn.  The good news is that the 25lb test mono core can take a ton of abuse before it needs to be re-tied.

When rigging these for Spey applications, we tend to prefer at least 4-feet of added tippet, and often as much as 6 or even 8-feet of added tippet on the floating and hover versions with soft hackles.  For those extra long applications, it can help to actually add a tapered tippet using 3-4 feet of 0x, 1x, or 2x and then blood knotting or surgeons knotting on another 3-4ft of your choice terminal tippet of 2x, 3x, or in some cases maybe even 4x (though we have rarely if ever found 4x necessary while swinging).

Applications

Our favorite application by far for the Sonar leaders has been for trout Spey applications.  In particular, the 10-foot long Sonar Leaders, weighing in at 50 grains, has proven itself to be a fantastic, light sink tip option to attach to Skagit heads that match 3-weight and lighter trout Spey rods.  We’ve found that Skagit heads weighing 300 grains or less have a much easier time turning over a 50 grain Sonar sinking leader than a level sink tip of T-8 (80 grains at 10 feet, or 100 grains at 12 feet).  The tapered front 3 feet of the leaders also seem to smooth out the turnover and take a bit of the clumsy “WHACK” associated with Skagit heads when used to throw lighter flies like small buggers and soft hackle teams.  We’ve also found these leaders to be absolutely dreamy when paired with RIO’s  22ft Trout Spey Shooting Heads.  By adding the tapered Sonar leader it essentially allows the angler to create a sort of multi-tip, 32-foot long Scandi line that is able to smoothly and sweetly turn over soft hackles and smaller streamers with relative ease.  For those who love fishing soft hackles throughout the entire water column, and occasionally throw a small bugger, this could be your dream line/tip kit.  For Spey applications, our most popular Sonar Leaders are the 10-footers in Intermediate, Type 3, and Type 6 sink rates.

Another application that a couple of our staffers have found for these Sonar leaders is on the lakes.  Adding a sinking Sonar leader to the end of a standard floating fly line creates a type of sink tip or “midge tip” that can be very effective for presenting emerging nymph and pupa patterns in an upward curving ach path that exactly imitates the behavior of naturals.  They are also a great option for your slow creepin’ nymph and leech presentations right above the weeds in water less than 6 feet deep.  On stillwater, we tend to gravitate to the 7-foot sonar leaders and definitely have found that looping them to flylines with shorter, more aggressive front tapers results in easier casting, but the 10-footers also have a place.  Adding 6 to 8-foot long, level tippets or tapered fluorocarbon tippets as described above creates necessary separation and invisibility required to fool sometimes fussy stillwater beasts.  For stillwater applications, our favorite Sonar Leaders are the Hover, Intermediate, and Type 3 sink rates.

Rod Review – CF Burkheimer 5125-4 Trout Spey (12′ 5″ 4/5/6wt)

Rod Review – CF Burkheimer 5125-4 Trout Spey (12′ 5″ 4/5/6wt)

THE SHORT VERSION

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.   

The original prototype in action, complete with taped on guides and duct tape butt end.

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.

A perfect brown on the finished 5125-4.

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.
Three amigos of the CF Burkheimer 5125-4.

Last Cast

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 – mklara@bigskyanglers.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.

Take Care, and FIsh On,

Matt