The Schminnow Man
NORM ZEIGLER, OUTDOORS WRITER AND
FLY FISHER, HIS DREAMS CAME TRUE
Written by: Florida Country Magazine
For the better part of a half century, if Norm Zeigler were granted one wish about his career, avocation, lifetime passion and North Star of his peripatetic life journey, it would be to spend most of the time where he could fly fish to his heart’s content and still have his family close by. Thanks to hard work and bits of luck both good and bad, his dream has come true.
‘NORM’S CRYSTAL SCHMINNOW’
Zeigler and his wife, freelance editor Libby Grimm, are blessed to own a ranch-style home a six-minute walk from the Gulf shoreline of Sanibel Island, Florida, and a cozy
Victorian with an adjacent log cabin overlooking the Beaverhead River in
Dillon, Montana. Recently, Zeigler spent several hours with Florida Country Magazine staff members, sharing his deep and abiding love of fly fishing. A renowned travel/outdoors writer himself, his byline has appeared in myriad publications such as The New York Times, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Fly Fisherman, Fly Rod and Reel, Art of Angling Journal, Sporting Tales Journal, Florida Sportsman, and German and Dutch angling magazines. Yet search for him online and the info that comes up most often is “Norm’s Crystal Schminnow,” his signature fly.
Inset above is “Norm’s Crystal Schminnow” fly. Below from left: Zeigler revives a very large Schminnow-caught redfish on the Gulf shoreline
of Sanibel; a good-sized seatrout caught using a Schminnow on a flat near Pine Island; a brook trout landed in Montana’s Big Hole River
ZEIGLER EXPLAINS IT SEEMED LOGICAL TO CALL HIS SIGNATURE FLY A “SCHMINNOW”—PART SHRIMP AND PART MINNOW. HE SAYS
HE USED THE WHIMSICAL TEUTONIC SPELLING BECAUSE OF HIS 15-YEAR CAREER AS A JOURNALIST LIVING IN GERMANY.
Some of the best flies contain an element of luck in their development and the Schminnow fits this category. The unprepossessing streamer pattern—which Zeigler invented in 1995 for snook—has also caught 71 other species in fresh and salt water, from blowfish to stripers, steelhead and even sailfish. And the Schminnow is not only one of the most effective streamers, it’s also one of the easiest to tie! (Zeigler had never considered himself a particularly top-rated fly tier.)
The Schminnow does not match any prey species exactly, but hints at both crustaceans and baitfish, so Zeigler explains it seemed logical to call it a Schminnow—part shrimp and part minnow. He says he used the whimsical Teutonic spelling because of his 15-year career as a journalist living in Germany.
The late Nelson Bryant, outdoors columnist for The New York Times for nearly 40 years, wrote enthusiastically about using the Schminnow. In hatchmag.com in May 2021, Chris Hunt wrote “The Schminnow—‘The Only Fly You Need.’ ” He noted, “The fact that I can easily tie up a couple-dozen Schminnows before I hop a plane to Florida makes this fly my go-to searching pattern when I do arrive and finally get to walk the beaches and hunt for cruising snook.”
Hunt said, “I was convinced that the Schminnow was the secret weapon to barrier island surf casting. And I still am.
But I’ve also put the Schminnow to work in places where it wasn’t intended to be used. … to chase skinny-water brown trout in the Rockies, bowfin in the froggy waters of the Southeast and even smallmouth bass on the Snake River … It turns out that flies that imitate baitfish are appealing to any predatory fish that eats baitfish, and that the barrier islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast aren’t the only places where that happens.”
AND KETTLE-HOLE PONDS
Zeigler grew up gauging the seasons by the weather and wildlife on the marshes, estuaries and kettle hole ponds of Cape Cod, and holds a B.A. in English, with a minor in biology, from Clark University in Massachusetts. Before moving to Europe, he traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada.
From 1979 to 1994, Zeigler worked as a civilian editor and reporter for Germany-based European Stars and Stripes. He was the paper’s travel/outdoors writer from 1988 to 1994, and his assignments included goose hunting in eastern Germany, chamois hunting in the Bavarian Alps, pheasant hunting in the former Yugoslavia, skiing in Austria, camping throughout Europe, and trout fishing in Scotland, Denmark, Spain, Germany and other places.
In 1994, Zeigler and his family relocated to Florida so he
could recover from Lyme disease. He’d been bitten by a tick
while on assignment in the former Czechoslovakia. Soon
after moving to Sanibel, Zeigler realized it’s not necessary to
have a boat to enjoy the island’s world-class fly fishing.
There are tremendous opportunities from shore and wade
fishing in shallow waters. Good angling opportunities
exist throughout the year and in most weather and wind
conditions. Fly fishing for snook on Sanibel is some of the
best in the world.
“Sight fishing for snook from our beaches during the warm
months—May through October—provides one of the greatest
thrills in fly fishing,” Zeigler explains. “These magnificent game
fish are fast and powerful. They are also spectacular jumpers.”
He adds, “In 2001, I got together with Sanibel friends
Dave Ford and Dick White to start the Sanibel Fly
Fishers club. We began spreading the word in local
media and by word of mouth. The club’s focus was to be
meeting new fly fishers, promoting conservation, and
education. I insisted we encourage a policy of no secret
fishing spots.” The non-profit organization now has more
than 100 active members and a community of more than
300 through social media.
NORM ZEIGLER’S FLY,
BAIT AND TACKLE SHOP
Angling friends from around the world who visited Sanibel
and Captiva would often urge Zeigler to start a fly fishing
shop. That prompted him to open Norm Zeigler’s Fly, Bait
ALONG WITH MAGAZINE AND NEWSPAPER ARTICLES, HE CARVED OUT TIME TO PRESENT LECTURES AT FLY FISHING CLUBS AROUND THE COUNTRY, AND TO WRITE BOOKS. “WRITING ABOUT FLY FISHING,” ZEIGLER SAYS, “IS JUST AS MUCH FUN AS PURSUING IT.”
Below, Zeigler married Libby Grimm in 1984 in Copenhagen City Hall. At right, Zeigler is featured in a Stars and Stripes advertisement
Top left is Sanibel Fly Fishers club co-founder Dave Ford with a Schminnow-caught redfish. Above left is the
late Dr. Harvey Sugerman with a tripletail. Other images show articles by Zeigler, including in a German magazine.
and Tackle Shop in April 2009. Although it was the middle of the Great Recession, business boomed from the beginning.
Customers appreciated the wealth of info he generously provided: the free casting lessons when a fly fishing outfit was purchased, the ease of booking fishing guides, the chance to buy Schminnows, and to have Zeigler autograph his books. And like the club, the business encouraged a policy of no secret fishing spots. Zeigler ran the shop until selling it in October 2021, after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Along with magazine and newspaper articles, he carved out time to present lectures at fly fishing clubs around the country, and to write books. “Writing about fly fishing,” he says, “is just as much fun as pursuing it.”
Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun: A Fly-Fisher’s European Journal was published in 2004. Structured in memoir format, the book portrays the adventures, joys, hardships, and rewards of his 15 years in Europe. Within are Zeigler’s accounts of fly fishing mostly for trout and grayling throughout Europe’s far corners. In his blurb on the back cover, Patrick Hemingway, son of Ernest, wrote: “Norm Zeigler, like Hemingway before him, lays open the Old World for a new generation of American fly fishermen.”
Zeigler explains, “Along the journey occur savage twists of fate and the universe’s casual indifference to human endeavors. But casting in the shadow of a 14th-century fortress, dapping in a mountain freshet, and seeking
evidence of former royal presence in an emperor’s summer palace a short cast from a well-kept access, the mind ebbs and flows with the tranquility of the waters. And the numinous wonder of fly fishing infuses it all.”
In 2006, he released Snook on a Fly: Tackle, Tactics, and Tips for Catching the Great Saltwater Gamefish. Its publisher said Zeigler “introduces the thrills of fly fishing for snook to beginners and provides new insights for experienced snookers … He shares effective techniques for snooking in different seasons and environments, from mangrove estuaries to night fishing to sight fishing along the beaches.”
Famous Fly Fishers: Profiles of Eminent and Accomplished People Who Love the Quiet Sport debuted in 2017. Byron Stout, former outdoors columnist for The News-Press in Fort Myers, said, “It is a book about why—why take on the challenge of fly fishing. Zeigler explores the quandary with 21 men and women unsurpassed in life achievements. From walking on the moon, to running roughshod over NFL defenses, to playing key roles in running the United States, these overachievers have turned to the way of the fly for its never-ending challenge and—
all admit—its healthy doses of humility.”
And when it comes to humility, Zeigler remains modest about all his accomplishments. But be sure to let him know if you are the fortunate angler who catches the 73rd species with the Schminnow! FCM