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Renowned fisherman demonstrates the lost craft of fly-tying

By Staff | Mar 24, 2010

Norm Zeigler can tie one of his best-selling flies — called Norm's Crystal Schminnow — in less than 90 seconds. His shop also offers fly-tying classes for beginners.

One of the greatest things about the hobby of fishing, unlike many other pastimes, is that anybody can do it. Your needs are basic and simple: a rod and reel, some bait or lures and a little bit of patience.

However, a tad amount of know-how goes a long way, too.

Norm Zeigler, one of the world’s top fly fishing angler and renowned international travel/outdoor journalist, moved to Sanibel with his family back in 1994, a year before he invented the best-selling fishing fly – Norm’s Crystal Schminnow.

The author of two books dedicated to the sport, “Rivers Of Shadow, Rivers Of Sun: A Fly Fisher’s European Journal” and “Snook On A Fly,” Zeigler spends most of his free time – when he isn’t working at his year-old business, Norm Zeigler’s Fly, Bait and Tackle Shop (2242 Periwinkle Way, Unit 1) – fishing the waters of Southwest Florida and sharing his love for fly fishing with anyone who will listen.

“I don’t believe in keeping any secrets about the kind of tackle I use or my favorite fishing spots,” said Zeigler. “If I know where the best places are to go, when the best time to fish is, the tides and time of day, I tell people that information. The more people that are successful in this sport, the more passion they’re going to have for it.”

Zeigler's hands most swift and steady when producing one of the 75 varieties of flies sold at his Sanibel business.

Norm stated that his popular Crystal Schminnow – although developed primarily for snook fishing – has been successful in landing some 54 species of fish, including many species prevalent in Southwest Florida waters. They include redfish, juvenile tarpon, pompano, cobia, bluefish, spotted seatrout and Spanish mackerel.

According to his book, “Snook On A Fly,” there are six major categories of snook flies: streamers, weighted streamers, spoon flies, poppers, gurglers and sliders. Zeigler also noted the old adage “Bigger is not always better” when it comes to snook flies.

“Beginning snook anglers, particularly avid striped bass fishers, are sometimes skeptical about this axiom, especially when pursuing large snook,” he explained. “But as a guide friend of mine likes to remind them, elephants love peanuts.”

Seated at a small table in the middle of his Sanibel shop, Zeigler often will tie several varieties of flies – including a coppercupper woolybugger, hothead deceiver, brown-and-white clouser, redfish muddler and, of course, his Crystal Schminnow – as a way to both replenish depleted stock and relax on a lazy afternoon.

“There have been studies that show that working with your hands on crafting projects or fly-tying can be therapeutic and calming,” said Zeigler, who noted that most of his flies can be tied on 60 to 90 seconds. “The thing I like about it the most is the sense of accomplishment you get when you catch a fish using something you made with your own hands.”

A pegboard displays some of the colorful and intricate flies sold at Norm Zeigler's Fly, Bait and Tackle Shop.

In a typical week, Zeigler estimated that he ties more than 100 flies, some of which employ the use of epoxy and can take up to 20 minutes to produce.

“The pinfish fly is the most difficult one to make,” he added. “The trouble with that one is getting the fibers to do what I want them to do – lay flat.”

While his store sells more than 75 different varieties of flies, Norm also stated that they offer a fly-tying instruction class that meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. The cost to attend the session is $10 plus materials. Calling ahead of time to reserve space is suggested.

And like his passion for the sport of fly fishing itself, Zeigler is equally excited when he hears that others would like to learn how to tie their own flies.

“The most important thing I tell them is don’t be intimidated by it,” he said. “Nobody was born knowing how to tie them. Anybody can learn how to do it and do it well.”

Some flies come in a wide assortment of colors, shapes and sizes.

For additional information about Norm Zeigler’s Fly, Bait and Tackle Shop, products, services or their fly-tying classes, call 472-6868.

Cutting off the end of the line, Zeigler finishes another Crystal Schminnow.