Capt. Mike Holliday

Uni Products Fly Tiers Corner

Tying by Necessity

May 2021

For Capt. Mike Holliday, the love of fly fishing overtook him early, but creating his own flies came later as a practical venture. Mike grew up in Miami until he was 12 years old, but then his family moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey for the rest of his formative years.

“My cousin Frankie took me fishing all the time when I was young, and played a big role in developing my passion for fishing,” the captain recalled.

At 18 the young Holliday headed back to Florida for college, rekindled a love for the area, then settled in Stuart, just north of Palm Beach, and never left. By then, he brought with him a love for the long rod.

Capt. Mike Holliday on the water. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

“I started fly fishing when I was 14,” Holliday recounted. “I had a friend whose dad fly fished and worked for the Boy Scouts of America. After watching him a while, I asked if I could try it. He showed me the basics of casting, and when I caught a fish, I was hooked. He took us camping around the northeast and I got to fish a lot of the classic trout streams like the Beaverkill and Catskill Creek.”

Once back in the Sunshine State, Mike’s focus changed to the brine. “I didn’t seriously get into saltwater fly fishing until I was about 30.” At the time, he also had become a fishing guide. “Now, it’s what I want to do on my day off,” he added.

These days Capt. Holliday only guides about 60 days annually through his Fish Tales Guide Service, due to his other commitments. He is the Outreach and Engagement Manager for Captains for Clean Waters, an organization dedicated to restoring and protecting aquatic ecosystems. Over the years, Mike also has penned two books on fishing, multiple magazine articles and appeared on more than 30 television shows.

Photo by Capt. Mike Holliday

His move into fly casting in the brine did have a few mentors along the way. “At the time, Lefty Kreh and Flip Pallot were the big names that you saw, but over the years, it’s been fishing guides like Butch Constable of Jupiter that really turned me on to adapting to offshore as well as inshore species.”

This is the point where necessity kicked into Holliday’s career. “I started tying as a necessity,” he confirmed. “Store-bought flies are expensive, and quite frankly, a lot of them have poor hooks or materials. As a fishing guide, I was going through them quickly, sometimes a dozen or more in a single day. So, I started tying to offset the cost of the sport, and gradually got experienced enough that I could experiment and stray from normal processes. It relaxes me and is a fun way to spend an evening or rainy afternoon.

The ingredients for a relaxing afternoon during bad weather. Photo by Capt. Mike Holliday.

“I’m pretty much self-taught, although I will refer to videos these days when trying something new or using a material for the first time,” Mike continued. “John Sweeney of Stuart was an amazing fly tier, and I learned some from him along the way. I try to keep thins simple, so the patterns I tie are quick and easy, because I may have to knock out a dozen the night before a guide trip.”

When it comes to materials to use in his flies, the captain also keeps it simple. “I strictly buy everything from commercial sources,” he said. “I’ve tied flies with things I’ve found in craft stores like Bump, but the consistency of commercial materials has just gotten better and even to the point that they make fly tying a lot easier. Given the development of brushes and UV finishes, it’s pretty nice to knock things out with consistent style.”

When it comes to the finished product, Mike said he had not developed any signature ties. “I think most of the flies I tie are just deviation from original patterns. I tie a couple of different sandfleas that aren’t your normal style. I also tie some tarpon flies that have lead core and are super sparse, but get ‘chewed well’ in clear water. The chum patterns I use are as simple as they get and will often out fish the exact replica baitfish patterns.”

So, what are a few of the specific patterns he favors? “I tie a lot of Craft fur and medium chenille sandfleas; small shrimp and crab patterns for pompano; Beach Tarpon Bunnies and Bucktail Anchovies; pilchard and threadfin patterns for offshore; and the occasional big popper for cobia,” he said.

A selection of Mike’s pompano patterns. Photo by Polly Dean.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Mike doesn’t sell any of his flies., but that trait did not run in the family. “Funny story, my daughter Sydney was tying some of my patterns when she was 12 and selling them to all the guides and clients. She bought her first Iphone with the money she made tying.”

On the other hand, Holliday is always ready to share what he knows about tying. “I speak regularly to fly groups around Florida,” he pointed out. “More on the how-to, where-to of targeting and catching fish than specifically about tying flies. I don’t consider myself a gifted tier. I do show a lot of my patterns when I speak, as I think it leads to more deviations and suggestions from others on new materials to try or how to improve upon them. If you’re trying to figure out what works for a certain species, just ask, and I’ll share. That how we learn from others. I feel I’m always learning.”

Photo by Capt. Mike Holliday

In closing, Mike had a few other tips for those new to fly tying. “Don’t over think it,” he offered. “Start with the basic techniques and patterns, like Lefty’s Deceivers, Clousers and other minnow patterns. Get them down, and then you can deviate. Try new colors and materials. Then take them out and feed them to fish. If you get the reaction you’re looking for, you know you’re moving in the right direction. Don’t take it too seriously – it’s supposed to be fun. Otherwise, it’s work.”

For more about Capt. Mike Holliday, check out his website for Fish Tales Guide Service.

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