Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grilse Rods

Grilse Rods by C. F. Burkheimer and Trey Combs 

Twenty years ago a friend and I were fly fishing for fresh run grilse steelhead (one-year ocean steelhead) along a long gravel bar on northern California’s Klamath River. I was casting a 4-weight rod and fishing #10 flies, mostly Night Dancers. The chrome bright steelhead ran mostly from 18-23 inches; our largest was an ancient 25 inch buck that was probably ascending the river for the fourth or fifth time—hardly a grilse. Many thousands of the steelhead were in migration and hooking a dozen from a single casting station was possible.

A lot of thoughts ran though my head. The fish were as beautiful as any angler could wish for, indeed, were I enjoying such fishing in Montana, there’d be a “Blue Ribbon” on every fence post. But the overriding thought was what it would be like to fish a 4-weight two-hand rod for the same fish? The Klamath and Trinity rivers offered hundreds of miles of this fishing. In the fall, southern Oregon’s Rogue above Grant’s Pass offered grilse and older steelhead in the four to five pound range. The Grande Ronde and Idaho’s mighty Snake were both one-year ocean steelhead waters. I thought, too, about some of the rivers I’d fished in Montana, the Madison, of course, but also the Big Hole and Big Horn. What advantages could I bring to my fishing if working a Muddler, or streamer, or a hopper pattern with a 4-weight two-hand rod of 11 feet or so?

Years later during several seasons I fished a number of Russia’s salmon rivers in the Kola Peninsula. The Varsuga that led to the White Sea in the southern Kola had a dominant grilse run of 4-7 pound salmon. Every two-hand rod I had was overkill; even my 7 weight single hand rod was more rod than necessary. I thought of a 4-weight or even 5 weight two-hand rod, and I knew that something was wrong with this picture.  Given the need, I was amazed that these rods didn’t exist.
As I detailed in the description of the Grilse #5 in the section on Burkheimer rods, I discussed this grilse series with Kerry Burkheimer in critical detail late in 2010. Scandinavian grilse can run 7-8 pounds and more; the fast growing Skeena steelhead can produce a grilse steelhead of 8 pounds; the average free rising steelhead on the Bulkley is usually well under 10 pounds. A grilse #6 would be more than enough rod to skate a Telkwa Stone, or #6 Grease Liner.

I recall hosting fly fishers on the Babine’s famous Silver Hilton Lodge during the last week of the season, a few days in October and a couple days in November. To my complete astonishment, after several days of hooking trophy Babine steelhead, a large run of grilse came in, very bright steelhead of 5 to 6 pounds. No one in camp had a rod to properly take in all this fun.
Kerry Burkheimer and I decided that a three rod grilse series, 4 through 6, all in 4-piece, would satisfy domestic and Canadian steelhead needs, and would have equal application for Atlantic salmon grilse in the Canadian Maritimes. The rods would be designed and produced in one-inch increments starting with an 11’ 4” #4 rod. The first rod would be the 11’ 5” #5 rod.
As the idea took hold, Kerry expanded the series to first include a #7, and then added a #8 and #9. Why? No one needs an 11’ 9” #9 two-hand rod to fish for a 6-pound steelhead or Atlantic salmon. The answer is that the series meets the increasing demands by fly fishers for shorter, fast action rods to cast Skagit and Scandi type lines. There is also the mentioned convenience of the grilse series being built as 4-piece models. This advantage cannot be over stated. You carry the rod with you inside a floatplane or helicopter (no need to strap the rods to the skids), or easily tied down to a raft. For the weak caster, casting a heavily weighed Bunny Leech overhead for a trophy Alaskan rainbow is a pleasure rather than an effort in futility.             
Each rod features a pewter reel seat, comes in a forest green finish, and offers refinements not found in stock models.  
As these additional models become available, I’ll discuss their application in greater detail.

Hope to see you Saturday at the Drift in Klickitat,

Trey Combs  

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