UNI PRODUCTS FLY TIERS CORNER
The Warm Water Fly Guy
Big Willies and Wee Willie Wigglers
Although his patterns have caught fish in cold and saltwater, Craig Riendeau has been mostly tying flies that are killers for warm-water species and especially large and smallmouth bass. Like the variety in his patterns, where he lives also covers a lot of ground.
Craig is a native of Hickory Hills, a suburb of Chicago, and he maintains an address in Brookfield, Illinois. On the other hand, he spends his springs in Minnesota and a good portion of winter in central Florida. Along the way he also spent some time in the metro Atlanta area as a part-time guide for striped bass on Lake Sidney Lanier. So, he does have plenty of experience dealing with southern fish and the flies they take.
Craig Riendeau with a largemouth bass that fell for one of his flies.
“I started fly fishing at 10 years old,” Riendeau said. “You can blame big tobacco for my fly-fishing addiction. I saw an ad for some brand of cigarettes in the pages of one of the magazines. It featured a guy standing in a river battling a fish on a fly rod, while a cigarette dangled from his lips. His outfit had an automatic reel on a rod and it look so cool to me that I wanted one. Guess it wasn’t that good of an ad, because I’ve never smoked and never did get an automatic reel.”
Fortunately, he did have some better influences at that early age. “My mentors came from the pages of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield Magazines. This was in the early 1970s. I didn’t personally know any other fly fishermen back then. Joe Brooks, Lee Wulff, Dave Whitlock and especially Bob Nauheim were my heroes. I couldn’t wait for another issue to come out to learn something new.”
Since his folks didn’t fish, the young Riendeau had to use a bike to reach nearby waters. “I fished the fabled waters of Cook County Forest Preserves. Hot spots like Belly Deep Slough, Shaganashkee Slough, Maple Lake and Horseshoe Pond. When I was lucky my family would picnic at Kankakee River Park and I’d get to fish moving water.”
The next step was into the world of fly tying. “I developed an interest in tying right after I started fly fishing,” Craig noted. “The only flies I had were the ones you found in six-pack displays from a hardware store. The two-by-six piece of cardboard with a McGinty, a Yellow Sally, a White Miller, along with a Coachman, Royal Coachman and a Black Gnat – basic, cheaply made flies.
“About that time one of my relatives heard that I was into fly fishing and gave me an Orvis catalog. It opened my eyes to a world of fly patterns. But I was a broke kid and couldn’t afford Orvis, so I raided my mother’s sewing basket and found roadkill for tying materials. My two fingers were my vise for a long time.”
To say the least, Riendeau’s entry into the world of fly fishing was unusual. “This may seem hard to believe in this era, but back then, other than a few friends I taught to fly fish, I only met one fly fisherman until I was 30 years old.” That vacuum carried over into his tying. “I pretty much taught myself to tie: just from pictures I figured out how to tie patterns. I re-invented the wheel time and again.
Riendeau’s Rubber Nubber
“The first fly I ever tied was my imitation of an Orvis caddis pupa pattern I saw in the catalog,” Riendeau mused. “It looked easy – a No. 12 hook, chocolate brown yarn stolen from mom’s sewing kit, with some black thread and a pinch of pheasant feather from a roadside bird. To this day it is one of the most effective panfish flies that I have ever tied.”
He then stumbled upon a club called DRIFT, Dupage Rivers Fly Tiers. “There were several hundred members with 50 or more showing up at every meeting,” Craig explained. “They were mostly trout fishermen, while I was a warm water guy, but I was just happy to be among fly fishermen. We had a few ‘connected’ members in the club and they brought in tiers like Dave Whitlock, Oliver Edwards, Jason Borger, Chris Helms, Bob Clouser and the like. I learned from the best and soaked it in like a sponge.”
The Crawdad Craig in brown and olive color schemes.
Today he has pretty much abandoned his roadkill collecting, now plying toy stores, Michaels Crafts and Internet sites for a large portion of his tying materials. “Many of things I tie with were not made with fly-tying in mind,” Craig admitted. “The commercially obtainable stuff I usually order from on-line stores. I’ve become a synthetics material tier and I use a lot of products that can be found in catalogs, but rarely in shops in the sizes and colors I want. Little of what I tie is anything like what most tiers do.”
As a result, Riendeau has developed several signature patterns. “People who know me are sure that any fishing conversation will bring up Wee Willy Wiggler or my Big Willy fly patterns. The plastic tails that make up these flies have spawned a half dozen other patterns. Willy’s are float-and-fly type flies that catch anything.
“If I call in an order to a fly shop,” he continued, “once they ask my name, it’s, ‘Oh you’re that bullfrog guy!’ They are referring to my commercially available pattern, the Georgia Bullfrawg. Both of these patterns (the Willy and Bullfrawg) have been featured in articles in issues of Fly Tyer Magazine.”
Today Craig Riendeau designs fly patterns for Rainy’s Premium Flies and does some limited commercial tying. A few years back those efforts led to him being named the Fly Fishers International Southeast Conclave Fly Tier of the Year. He also stays busy in other ways. “I demonstrate and teach fly tying and do seminars on warm water fly fishing,” he said. “I have worked countless fishing shows over the years from Florida all the way to Minnesota and I’ve been the guest tier at many fly clubs. I love to share what I learned about fly tying as much as I love the sport itself.”
Many of Craig’s pattern are available through Rainy’s Premium Flies, Feather-Craft Fly Fishing and Ole Florida Fly Shop. He also said you could follow him on Facebook to see what’s new and if you want to talk flies, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig Riendeau concluded with a bit of advice for newcomers to fly tying. “Don’t get discouraged if your flies don’t turn out like the ones in the fly shop. It’s art – there is no right or wrong, just your version of it,” he pointed out. “We make pretty flies to catch fishermen, ratty ones catch fish. The only opinion of your fly that matters is that of the fish.”