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Developing Michigan Steelhead Flies

by Ray Schmidt

Ray Schmidt I found myself at a disadvantage when I began fly fishing for steelhead almost 40 years ago. The historical west coast-developed steelhead fly patterns were not effective on the Great Lakes species. It was even more frustrating watching my non-fly fishing buddies hook fish after fish using fresh roe they had tied up in a mesh sack material. They would drift these baits close to the bottom of the river. After meeting some people from Minnesota who were here fishing the Betsie River, they introduced me to the concept of fishing yarn snelled on a single hook. I thought that this was a technique that deserved some research, so I began searching books to find a method of tying yarn egg patterns.

I collaborated with Bruce Richards one night over a glass of Scotch about the best way to work with Glo Bug yarn. He grabbed a hunk of yarn, and wrapped it around a hook and noticed that it flared well. We tried many attachment methods until we came up with the winning approach. We cut a piece of yarn about one inch long and flared it on the top of the hook shank and did the same on the bottom. The yarn on the top was pulled straight up and snipped off about a centimeter from the hook with a pair of sharp scissors. We performed the same process for the bottom piece of yarn. This process formed a very round egg pattern. Since that day, we have perfected the egg tying method and have added colors and sizes.

In the winter, the bait anglers would catch fish on wigglers. Wigglers are the nymph stage of the giant Michigan mayfly hexagenia limbata. The bait anglers would hook the nymph through the wing case on a small single hook and drift it along the river bottom. This was a productive type of bait for them, but I wanted to use flies. Thus began my search for an effective wiggler pattern.

The wiggler pattern proved to be a little more difficult to find. Ron Spring of Muskegon developed a fly called the Spring Special that looked somewhat like a wiggler. The Spring Special fly caught many steelhead, but I was looking for a more realistic-looking pattern.

In the late 1970s, I met Dave Whitlock when we both worked for Scientific Anglers. We both traveled throughout the Midwest promoting the sport of fly fishing. Dave would give presentations, and I would drive. Inevitably our personal discussions turned to flies and fly tying. Dave explained to me the importance of eyeballs on nymphs. We melted Mason black hard-type nylon into eyeballs and lashed them on to a hook. After a few weeks on the road with Dave, I learned a lot about nymphs—both the real type and the fly type. With all of this information, I went home and worked on a prototype for a giant mayfly nymph fly pattern. Out of that, the Schmidt’s Steelhead Hex Nymph was born.

From that day forward, my flies (and steelhead-catching) improved. Soon I was back on the road with a slide projector, but this time I was the person giving the presentations about fly fishing for steelhead.

Fly fishing and fly tying methods are constantly changing, and anglers need to be able to adapt. As you can see, fly tying is a collaborative effort. I have worked with some of the most talented tiers in the industry, not only Bruce Richards and Dave Whitlock, but many, many others. The best fly anglers and tiers do not keep their secrets to themselves, but share their ideas and experience with others. That is why we have developed the fly patterns pages on our website and we encourage anglers to tie these flies and add their own touches to them as well. Collaboration is a great way to develop new patterns and add a different twist on an old faithful pattern.

Product links
Schmidt's Egg Flies (Set of 3)
Schmidt's Egg Flies (Set of 3)