Norm’s Crystal Schminnow (Grande!)

A larger, yummier version of Norm Zeigler’s popular Schminnow

A few years ago I had a chance to visit Norm Zeigler at his Sanibel Island fly shop and by coincidence, Stuart Patterson also wrote an article for us about tying this very effective fly. I’ve been using it tied larger and have found it makes enough noise to attract fish on the flats while blind casting. So far, I’ve taken at least five species on it and expect to take even more.

A beefier, noisier Schminnow version that probably passes for whitebait.

A beefier, noisier Schminnow version that probably passes for whitebait.

My “Grande” version is tied on a size 1, long shank hook using pink thread (emulates blood supply), lead eyes tied to make the point ride up, untrimmed white marabou (the original is trimmed) and white crystal chenille wrapped in three layers to really bulk up the body (wasteful as hell, I’m afraid), and a V-shaped guard of 30# mono.

Stuart’s original article follows. The original fly is great for sight fishing, so don’t discount its effectiveness!

Ed Maurer, Publisher

Norm’s Crystal Schminnow

By Stuart Patterson

Norm’s Crystal Schminnow

Norm’s Crystal Schminnow

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

Tying Instructions

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!



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