UNI PRODUCTS FLY TIERS CORNER
Taking the Long Way Around
Capt. Edward Michaels grew up and learned to fish in upstate New York around Buffalo. Today he makes his home just east of Apalachicola, Florida. But the intervening years of becoming a competent guide and talented fly tier have not been a direct course. His trip has covered a lot of ground in between.
Capt. Edward Michaels at the vise. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
“My father and grandfather were avid meat fishermen,” he explained. “They put a baitcasting rod in my hand as soon as I was big enough to hold it.” Additionally, catch-and-release was not in their vocabulary. “Several times my father and I argued loudly in a boat about killing fish. Specifically, one time in Cabonga Regional Park in Ontario, after filling the front of my dad’s 14-foot aluminum boat with walleyes, I lost a big walleye at the boat. I was fishing with my 7-foot Shakespeare fly Wonder rod and Medalist reel, but had a split shot, hook and worm. Dad was so mad to lose the biggest fish of the trip that he began screaming at me about using a silly fly rod, and blamed the lose on it. My argument was that we already killed more than enough fish and I was glad the big one escaped.”
None of that boded well, since Capt. Michaels considered his dad as his only mentor in fishing. “But I was quickly on my own and fished whenever I could, mostly in the terribly polluted at the time Niagara River, and other small streams in the area that I could ride my bicycle to,” he added. “I discovered trout fishing on Wiscoy Creek, an hour drive from Buffalo. Although not nationally known, Wiscoy Creek has the most prolific natural trout production of any stream in the state of New York.”
Although using a fly rod had stirred up a bit of family strife, it was another trip with his dad that turn Michaels into a real fly fisherman. “I discovered fly fishing when I was 11, while camping in Yellowstone Park with my dad,” the captain recalled. “Dad and I were dunking worms on the bank of one of the rivers, and I watched a gentleman wearing a cowboy hat wading and spin-casting a water filled plastic bubble, with a fly dangling about 18 inches from the bubble. He caught what seemed to be two huge cutthroat trout, probably 16-inchers. I followed him and asked a lot of questions. He was kind enough to indulge me and from there on I only thought about fly fishing, reading every article I could find in monthly outdoor magazines
Coincidentally, a stop at the Billings, Montana fairgrounds on that same trip for the annual thoroughbred horse races was impetus for Michaels other passion and future vocation of raising thoroughbreds.
It was not long before Edward also discovered fly tying. “A classmate in high school showed me flies he tied and that made me yearn to do the same,” the captain said. “A rugby teammate at Clemson, a few years later, fished his hand-tied flies when we explored the trout streams of northwest South Carolina. I knew then I would tie flies as soon as I could assemble equipment and materials and find a book to teach me.”
That endeavor proved to be a self-taught venture. “Unfortunately, in my earliest years, I had no one to teach me. Ed Koch in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania did show me a few things in his shop during the early 1970s.
“I had been tying for about 15 years before I discovered the Florida Keys and bonefish,” he continued. “That was when Tim Borski was working in Randy Towes shop in Tavernier, and I befriended him. My life completely changed then. Tim inspired me to work with epoxies and tie semi-realistic crabs and shrimp.”
The captian with a bonefish.
The next turn in Capt. Michaels’ journey came a decade later when his wife passed away, he sold their horse farm in Saratoga and he moved to Sugarloaf Key. “I fished everyday for a couple of years, and then decided to guide full-time. It was great for 10 years, but then father time caught up with me and left me with a compromised body, incapable of poling a loaded skiff for 8 hours a day.”
These days Michaels concentrates on tying saltwater and warm water patterns. “Redfish patterns are what I tie most of the time now,” he noted, “especially crabs, shrimp and finger mullet patterns. I also continue to tie tarpon and bonefish patterns. In the summer I mostly fish for bass and pike in upstate New York and Wisconsin, so I tie for those fisheries as well.”
When it comes to materials, he has spanned the spectrum. “I have collected roadkill and collected material whenever and wherever I have been able. Back when I had my farm, I even negotiated to buy the Darbee Dun flock (created by Harry Darbee through cross breeding of roosters and hens during the Great Depression). Natural materials are my favorite, but I have used several gallons of epoxies and Solarez resins, as well as synthetic materials.”
But he does draw a line. “I do not use pre-made claws, tails, bodies or other such materials, as I feel that is cheating the artistic process.”
Over the course of his career, Edward has honed in on a favorite pattern. “My signature fly for more than 20 years has been the original Chewy Crab, made from the hide of unborn calfskins,” he offered. “I do tie it additionally now substituting the calf with foam strips.”
After tying commercially for catalogs for two decades, he now only ties for retail sales. Capt. Michaels also is available for teaching tying classes and making group presentations.
For more information you can contact Capt. Edward Michaels via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text him at 850-653-6161. He also expects to have a new website up and running this spring.