Words by Judith O’Keefe
Photos courtesy of Burkheimer Rods
I love casting a fly rod.
That used to be all I’d have to say. It was generally assumed I was referring to my single hand rod, and I was. I learned to fly fish on the Deschutes River, casting a sink-tip fly line as far as I could, hoping to entice a steelhead to the fly. Six months later, just months into my initiation, I was comfortable with larger rods and longer casts. Why would I want to learn to cast a double-hand rod? I’m not what some would refer to as a “gear-freak.” I don’t need a lot of stuff. In fact for me, less is usually more. I’m not one to follow the latest craze either, so I really didn’t see any reason to put down the trusty nine and a half foot, 7 weight.
“Here was a stretch of eighty-three days without catching a fish. I know quite well it cannot be beaten. Here is a record that will stand.” — Zane Grey.
I have not beaten Mr. Grey’s record, and as far as I know, it still stands, but a few years back I was in a steelhead slump. The frustration set in and the more I tried, the worse it got. Was it the wrong fly, the wrong fly color? Was I fishing too deep, not deep enough? And that back-cast seemed to hang up in the weeds more often than not! I needed a new strategy, an attitude adjustment and a double-handed rod, or as they are commonly called, a spey rod.
Some of my closest friends are spey casters. A few even hold national and world records. Some people never learn to cast a single-hand rod, they just use that double-hand rod in every situation. Not I. I don’t aspire to break any records and most of the time, my single-hand rod will do the job nicely. But when it comes to many larger steelhead streams, my spey rod and I are going to become fast friends.
This past fall I was fortunate to fish with the owner of the C. F. Burkheimer Rod Company, Kerry Burkheirmer and his son, Carl. Not only was I impressed with the way those guys could cast, I was equally impressed by the rods they were casting. And I was quick to accept Kerry’s invitation to take a tour of the rod shop and take a spey casting lesson on the beautiful Washougal River. A few months later, I drove past the fallow wheat fields of northeastern Oregon, crossed the mighty Columbia River into Washington state and eventually found my way west to the town of Washougal and the C. F. Burkheirmer rod shop on Main Street. All Burkheimer rods are designed and built “in a little shop, in a little town, along the banks of a very big river.” That afternoon made a believer out of me. Each of their five rod builders brings that old world, craftsman frame-of-mind, into that shop every day. I’ve handled my share of fly rods and toured more than one factory, and I have to say that their attention to detail and finish quality, border on the obsessive. They say they strive to make only the most exceptional fly rods, and I have to agree, they are truly outstanding.
I am now the proud owner of not only a CF 8128-4 (12 foot 8 inch #8) Classic double-hand rod, but also a CF 795-4 (9 foot 6 inch #5) ST, single-hand as well. I’ve had a few lessons, and I need to get in some serious practice time, so as soon as my pond thaws, you’ll know where to find me. Then it’s North Umpqua River, here I come.