No employment, married and needing money to feed his first child, Kerry Burkheimer designed his first fly rod at his home along the Washougal River.
“This all started on a dinning room table,” said the 65-year-old lifelong fishing enthusiast. “I put two kits together with the money my dad loaned me, took them to a shop in Battle Ground and they sold within one week. The guy at the shop told me to build him two more rods, and so I did.”
The rest, they say, is history. Burkheimer was building 70 to 80 rods per year from scraps in his home. For extra income, he guided fishing expeditions on the same Idaho and Montana rivers he ventured as a child.
“That one rod saved my life,” he would say, time and time again.
By 1992, Burkheimer and his wife, Marianne, were about to have their fourth child. He desperately wanted to remain in the fly rod business, but needed to find sustainable income close to home. And then, fate struck again. Burkheimer came across a building for lease in Downtown Washougal. Immediately, he knew this would be the place to build his shop of dreams.
“The downtown reminded me of Livingston, Mont., where we used to fish,” Burkheimer said. “It was perfect.”
In the same Washougal building to this day, C.F. Burkheimer Fly Rod Design makes and ships close to 1,500 custom made fly rods to fisherman all over the world. Burkheimer’s full name is Carl Francis Burkheimer III. His parents and family members nicknamed him Kerry.
There are a total of nine people on staff who shape, cut, sand, paint and inspect each rod before it is given to a customer.
“Our motto is quality. Not quantity,” Burkheimer said. “All of our products are built out of materials from the U.S. Each rod is put together very meticulously. No two are alike.”
The assembly process begins by cutting and rolling carbon fiber into the shape of a pole. The rods are heated up to 275 degrees for an hour and then sanded smooth. On the other side of the warehouse, designers are cutting and gluing pieces of redwood, dark buckeye, splattered maple and black walnut together to make the handles. Once the wood is sanded and coated, it look almost marble.
“Our goal is to give them a custom gun stock type feel,” Burkheimer said. “It very exotic and unique.”
It takes about four hours for a rod to be completely built. The staff is working on up to six rods at a time.
“In that four hours, there are over 200 steps,” Burkheimer said. “It’s amazing all that get done.”
Burkheimer is living the dream these days. He said it wouldn’t be possible without his wife, children and his team.
“There’s a lot of passion in what we do,” he said. “This is a life’s work here. I never thought this would be possible.”