Long rods then and now 6

Our intrepid columnist Rob Brown continues his saga of the long rod this week, bringing us closer to home

Mike Maxwell, who left the river in 2004, probably contributed more to the Renaissance of two handed rods in British Columbia than any single individual, and, I suspect, since he was waving his long rods at tackle shows throughout the Pacific Northwest when every other steelheader was casting flies with single handed rods, his influence may have extended south of the border too.

Though he had his own style, Mike was satisfied with the traditional method of casting he’d learned in his homeland. Reading his method leaves the unmistakable impression that he was less concerned with casting prodigious distances than with what to do with the fly when it was in the water. Art Lingren, having come from the tradition of float fishing, by far and away the most popular, way to fish steelhead on the rivers of BC at that time, also read rivers as float fishers do and knew that few steelhead were caught at the end of really long casts. For Mike, Art, and me, the emphasis was how best to cover choice steelhead water.

While Mike was spreading the Spey fishing gospel, and Art was sharing the fruits of his explorations into hybrid sinking lines and fly design with the steelheading fly fisher cognoscenti, I was applying lessons gleaned from both of them and combining them with my own ideas in an effort to catch Skeena steelhead 10 months of the year. Meanwhile, unknown to us, a ferment was brewing south of the border that revolutionized steelhead flyfishing, and steelheading in general.

Kerry Burkheimer and John Hazel, employees of Randall Kaufman’s Streamborn Fly shop in Tigard Oregon, got their hands on a fibre glass two hander made by Hardy. There being no internet then, the two casting instructor/guides managed to get some rudimentary information from old books on salmon fishing. With typical American enterprise, Hazel began butchering brand new heavy fly lines and going through the tedious and toxic process of splicing them in an effort create the ultimate line for two fisted fly rods. Burkheimer, who had served his rod building apprenticeship under the famous American rod builder Russ Peak, beavered away at building a spin on the traditional salmon rod more suitable for steelheading on his beloved Deschutes River.

The Deschutes is a big river, a smaller version of our fabled Thompson where, Hazel and Burkheimer realized, a long rod capable of heroic casts and able to pitch a large fly in a stiff breeze would be a distinct asset.

It took all of a decade, but the  duo attained their goal when they demonstrated that Hazel’s expensive custom built lines matched with Burkheimer’s rods could do all those things and made Spey casting easier as well.

While Burkheimer and Hazel were teaching their take on the art of casting for steelhead with both hands to neophytes on the Deschutes, Jimmy Green and Al Buhr were independently pursuing a similar path on the Snake River. Green, working at a fledgling rod manufacturer by the name of Sage, began producing prototypes of the rods that eventually became the most famous double handers in the world.

At around the same time, the venerable Orvis Company of Vermont, whose business predates that of the House of Hardy in Britain, (and who had been producing a 15 foot rod for the overseas market) began manufacturing a 13 foot rod for a 9 line. With news of the advantages of two handed rods spreading along the steelhead telegraph, other rod manufacturers began producing shorter Spey rods.

One day while fishing the Trapper’s Run on the Zymoetz. Doug Webb complained of a sore right shoulder. Doug was fishing a 9 weight, 9 foot single handed graphite rod built by Reg Sieben on a heavy J. Kennedy Fisher blank. When I suggested he should put aside that rod in favour of a double hander, Doug was skeptical, to say the least, but he had a enough trust in my judgement to buy a 15 foot Orvis with a matching reel and a 40 yard double taper line.

After a few outings, he was casting a decent line and, as I predicted, his shoulder pains disappeared. To this day, Doug fishes a two handed rod for steelhead exclusively.

Now there were two of us fishing double handed rods on the lower Skeena. We knew nothing of the Spey revolution in the US, but we began seeing the odd fisher packing a two handed rod in the Fall, and a few two handed flyrods made by Sage and Loomis began appearing on the racks of the local tackle shops.

Lines were still a problem. Our long double tapered Hardy lines served us well when angling summer steelhead, but the home made sinking tips we used in the winter were a hardship. Jim Vincent changed all that.

…continued next week…