As the water temperature warms up, the snook on the East and West coasts of Southern Florida start to cruise the beaches looking for a meal. If the conditions are right, clear water and small surf, you can actually sight fish for them right from the beach. West coast conditions are typically ideal due to small surf, but if you pick your days, the East coast can deliver some large beach snook. A long cast is not necessary, perfect for the beginning fly angler, and the thrill of the take and the resulting jumps certainly gets the heart pumping.
My introduction to fly fishing the beaches started a few years ago when I found Norm Zeigler’s book, Snook on a Fly: Tackle, Tactics, and Tips for Catching the Great Saltwater Gamefish. I was in Wisconsin, Madison to be exact and dealing with difficult medical decisions related to my daughters, Hope and Holly. Once in a while, between procedures, Norm’s book offered me a much needed escape. I read the words and studied the pictures in great detail. I imagined myself standing in the sand, fly rod in hand, waiting and watching for the ghostly shapes in the surf. After spending six weeks in the hospital we finally were released and headed home to Florida. Upon arrival, my wonderful wife said, “Why don’t you see if one of your buddies will split the cost of a hotel, and you can head over to Sanibel for a long weekend?” Yes, I agree, I’m a very lucky man! My good friend Jake and I caught and released twenty five snook during that three day trip. The largest fish I caught was on a Schminnow and she was 33″ long. I have the photo and fly on my desk at work. I look at it when I need that escape, the escape that only beach snook can offer. Since that initial trip, I make heading over to Sanibel a yearly event. A crusade, if you will, not to conquer, but to pay tribute to a wonderful species in a fantastic surrounding, with a fly rod in my hand, and my toes in the sand.
I had the opportunity to ask Norm a few questions about his fly.
Stuart – “Norm, how did you come up with the design of the Crystal Schminnow?” Norm – “I designed Norm’s Crystal Schminnow 15 years ago specifically to catch snook in clear water on the beaches. I had quickly learned that snook are mainly piscivorous and that the baitfish they pursue are predominantly white or silvery white. I had also found out that it was not ideal to pursue them with weighted flies — such as Clousers — because the weighted flies land with a plop and spook the fish in clear, shallow water. I wanted a fly that landed as softly as a feather and that came alive in the water.” Stuart – “What do you believe are the important properties or aspects of the fly?” Norm – “The most important characteristics of the Schminnow are its materials: pearl white crystal chenille body, white marabou tail and black mono eyes. These materials make a pattern that is very light (in weight), gleams and glistens in the light, and swims high in the water column. It is important to clip the marabou tail to approximately the same length as the hook shank. This causes the marabou to compress when it is stripped and expand when it is paused, adding a very lifelike action to the fly. A long tail will not flex and breathe or look as alive as a clipped one and also tends to foul more on the hook. The unweighted aspect also causes the fly to flutter like a wounded baitfish when it is paused.” Stuart – “How did the fly get its name?” Norm – “The name Schminnow indicates that it is part shrimp and part minnow. I spelled the name with “SCH” as a whimsical nod to the German language because I worked as a journalist for 15 years in Germany. The fly was not designed to exactly match any particular prey species, but to have characteristics that turn on the fish.” Stuart – “Have you tied it in any other variations?” Norm – “I have tied it in a number of colors, from chartreuse to root beer but the pearl white is by far the most effective. I also occasionally tie it with dumbbell eyes and have had good luck with this version in deeper water for seatrout, pompano and striped bass. The Schminnow has caught 55 species in fresh and salt water. I have caught 34 of those myself.”
With summer fast approaching, and the beaches starting to heat up, it’s time to stock up your fly box with some Norm’s Crystal Schminnows. Here is how to tie it!
For those of you who want to watch it done, here’s Chris tying the Schminnow on Fish Buzz TV!
Hook: Mustad S71SZ-34007 in size 2
Thread: White Danville flat wax nylon
Eyes: Black mono
Body: White crystal chenille or 10mm pearl Estaz
Tail: White marabou
Attach white thread directly behind the hook eye and build a good thread base as you wrap back to the hook bend. Bring the thread back to a position in-line with the hook point.
Tie in a white marabou tail. Clip the end of the marabou tail approximately the same length as the hook shank.
Attach white crystal chenille at the start of the tail and wrap thread to about a 1/4” behind the hook eye. Build up a small thread bump for mono eyes.
Attach black mono eyes at the rear of the thread bump. I suggest attaching them with a series of cross wraps and then circle wrap under the eyes to tighten the cross wraps.
Wrap the crystal chenille forward, criss-cross over eyes, and tie off in front of eyes. Whip finish.
Now you’re ready to hit the beach for some summer snook action!
If you are new to fishing for beach snook, I suggest checking out Norm’s book. Also, Norm mentioned that he is working on a new fly fishing book that he hopes to have finished early next year. Keep an eye out for it, and if you are ever in Sanibel stop my Norm Ziegler’s Fly Shop on Periwinkle Way and pickup a few Norm’s Crystal Schminnows!
Stuart Patterson’s family is active in fund raising activities for the American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project . Stuart’s twin daughters are affected by these devastating conditions and his family is committed to funding research that may one day lead to a cure. A few years ago, Stuart took his love for fly tying and decided to turn it into a revenue stream for medical research via his website PattersonSaltwaterFlies.com
Whether or not you decide to tie some of the flies you’ll see here in Stuart’s column, we at Florida Fly Fishing Magazine would like to encourage you to support Stuart’s project either by direct donations or just buying a whole boatload of flies.
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