Norm Zeigler

Uni Products Fly Tiers Corner

The One Fly Guy

June 2021

Many fly tiers take great pride in releasing their creative juices and producing a smorgasbord of patterns in an array of colors. In the end, though, the goal is to come up with flies that catch fish. Instead of heading down that path, Norm Zeigler simply saw a need and filled it with a pattern that has had phenomenal success.

Although first designed to fool snook on the beaches of Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida, Norm’s Crystal Schminnow has traveled around the world. In the process it also has enticed a rogue’s gallery of salt and freshwater predators into trying to eat it.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

With regard to fly tying and fly fishing, Zeigler, a native of the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts, came late to both games. “I didn’t learn to fly fish until I got out of college,” he said. “I’d been fishing with my dad for trout with spinning rods. I wanted to do fly fishing, because I’d been reading Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. So, I learned how to do it.”

After graduating from Clark University in his home state, he traveled around the U.S. and Canada for a while. Then in 1979 he landed in Germany, where he put his English degree to work for European Stars and Stripes, the daily newspaper for American expatriates on the continent. Eventually, he worked his way into becoming the paper’s travel and outdoor writer for six years, which offered the opportunity to trout fish in Germany, Scotland, Denmark and Spain. Upon his return to the U.S. he settled on Sanibel Island and began freelance writing for the New York Times, along with virtually all of the major outdoor publications in the country.

Based on his long career of fishing, one might assume Zeigler also had been creating flies for a while. “I bought my flies for years,” he admitted. “When I started tying, it was only after I’d been fly fishing 15 years. Now I tie virtually every fly that I use.”

As with fly fishing, the move into fly tying was a do-it-yourself approach for Zeigler. He had no specific mentor for the craft. “Some of it came from books, some of it from watching other guys. I spent 15 years in Germany, and there were some awfully good tiers there and I learned from them.”

Norm Zeigler with a Sanibel Island beach snook. Photo courtesy of Norm Zeigler.

Norm Zeigler’s breakthrough as a fly tier came in 1995 when he first began targeting the snook on the beaches of his new home on Sanibel Island. He stopped by a local shop and asked what fly he should use. The Clouser Minnow was what he was told. “Anybody fly fishing on the beach has used a Clouser,” Zeigler said, “but I noticed that if I cast a Clouser close to a snook and it hit the water, they headed for Cuba! It casts like a spinning lure. I said, what can I do? I started thinking, look at what the fish are eating.”

The bait fish he saw were mostly small, silvery and white. “I got some chenille and marabou that had a lot of movement in the water and wired some eyes on it,” he explained. “At that time I couldn’t find any eyes to buy, so I took a piece of monofilament and burned the ends to make the eyes.” He gave his creation the name Schminnow. “The first Schminnow that I cast to a snook, that snook came on top of the water after it, so I knew I had a pretty good fly,” Zeigler laughed.

Norm’s Crytal Schminnow. Photo courtesy of Norm Zeigler.

In the ensuing years the Schminnow has caught 70 different species of fish, including snook. “I’ve had people who have written me from Germany about catching brown trout and have been sent a picture of a 100-pound tarpon with a Schminnow in its mouth,” Zeigler said. “I’ve caught big browns and rainbows in Montana on it.”

The popularity of the Schminnow has grown to the point that he could not keep up with the demand for them, yet, he has resisted having it mass produced. “I have my son and another guy who is working for me,” Zeigler revealed. “They tie them for me, because I can’t keep up with it.”

There also have been some imitations that have shown up in the market place. “There have been lots of people that have copied me and I’ll call them and say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to tie my fly, then put my name on it.’”

At present the only place to get a Norm’s Crystal Schminnow is at Norm Zeigler’s Fly Shop on Sanibel or via the Internet from Mad River Outfitters.