The trout Spey game can be a tough one to navigate, and an extensive trout Spey rod review requires a good bit of work on and off the water. Matt Klara of Big Sky Anglers in Montana spent some time with the C.F. Burkheimer 5125-4 trout Spey rod and put together a great detailed review:
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.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org 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,