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Frank D.


Fishing Buddies

Norm ZeiglerEvery time Norm phoned he would begin the conversation with the question, "How's Montana's Greatest Fly Fisherman?" This was his traditional salutation for years. After answering back with something like, "Only in my own mind, Norm," or some other lame response of feigned humility, I always asked in return "What's the Snook Meister up to?" To which he usually replied "Wishin' I was in Montana!" before qualifying his quip with a few stories of recent snook conquests. I wouldn't expect anything less, I'd tell him, from the guy who wrote the book on snook. Back and forth the banter regularly flowed from Montana trout tales to varied fish encounters in the waters near Sanibel, Florida, each of us vicariously reveling in the other's deemed far off ventures.

Norm Zeigler owns a fly shop on Sanibel Island and he did write the definitive book about fly fishing for snook entitled Snook on a Fly. As a former outdoor editor for the country's armed forces newspaper Stars and Stripes based in Germany, writing about fly fishing throughout Europe and subsequently North America has not only been Norm's profession, but also his lifeblood. After early retirement from the paper Norm moved to Florida in the late 90s where he continued to write for numerous publications only to eventually open a retail business on Sanibel for wayward saltwater fly anglers. But several times throughout the year Norm still flies to Montana to visit his Mom who lives on the shore of the Beaverhead River in the town of Dillon. This convenient arrangement also provides him the opportunity to fish for the trout he cherishes in the state he truly loves. We met on one of those trips over a decade ago and have been friends ever since. Maybe even more significantly, we have become fishing buddies.

I am a solitary angler and usually prefer to fish alone, but not always. For nearly 50 years my brother and I have routinely fished together throughout the continent, and our angling expeditions are too numerous to recall. We always fish as one, sharing information to the benefit of our team effort. It is the bond that we have nurtured throughout a lifetime of memories, however, that is most important, and I sometimes wonder if two brothers have ever fished so much together anywhere.

Also I fish with my business partner and friend Glenn Brackett, but when we do he customarily goes off in one direction and I go in another. And when it is time to depart for the day we both return to the vehicle at precisely the same time without ever looking at a watch. Then on the ride home we rarely talk about the fishing other than agreeing that it was a good day to be on the water. For us it is sort of a Zen thing, an opportunity to be in the moment in the spirit of peace and goodwill.

And during my recent stay in the tropics I have partnered up with a fellow young enough to be my son. Despite the generational gap that separates us, Matt and I are both looking for the same thing, but I am not really sure what that is. It does have something to do with understanding saltwater fishing on our own terms, though we each would agree that it is difficult to quantify exactly what we have learned so far. Because Matt grew up fishing in Montana, we have a lot in common and that helps us assess our current situation. I admire the fact that he has committed a year to this venture. In the end though I can't appreciate enough that he has my back in this remote corner of Mexico.

Then there is Norm. Not only do we share the same passion for fly fishing, but we also enjoy peering into looking glass of life through the prism of a fly rod. It's the nuances of the sport from the oneness with nature to the thrill of the chase that connect us also. Additionally we are equally dedicated to the conservation of water resources throughout the country, and we regularly chat on the phone or email each other about the highs and lows of our ongoing fishing exploits including any environmental issue that threatens to impact fisheries we each know and care about. And when it came time for Norm to visit Montana, I would scout out all the hot spots appropriate for the season of the year to assure reasonable fishing opportunities throughout his stay. In return he would do the same when I occasionally showed up on his doorstep in Florida. This is what fishing buddies do.

So when I told Norm I was retiring and moving from Montana to Mexico, he was more shocked than if the moon exploded. And I have to say if there are any regrets about leaving Montana it is in the sad reality that there will be no more days on the water with Norm in the near future. Although I have assured him that we would get together there once again, we both know it won't be for a while. Until then we will reminisce about glistening autumn cutthroat reflecting the spectacular fall colors of the upper Ruby River, or recall the free rising grayling as they dimpled a very special pool on the upper Big Hole. Then there is the memorable Mother's Day caddis extravaganza on the Beaverhead, or the magical discovery of new water on beautiful Big Sheep Creek, or the big rainbows on a snowy, windblown Clark Canyon Reservoir, or the 105 degree day on the Kootenai and its dry fly redbands, or so many other experiences in our memory banks still waiting to be jarred by our collective consciousness. Recently Norm reminded me of the wonderful spring day we shared wading my favorite side channel of the Big Hole River where he caught a 23" brown trout while recovering from an operation and how that outing really uplifted his spirit. I could say the same thing to him about the days we fished together as I struggled after my wife passed away and how meaningful they were to me. And no matter how either of us felt at the time, we always enjoyed the cold hot dog sandwiches and rich chocolate brownies prepared by his mother Jan. She didn't want us "boys" to starve while on any of our adventures.

The Zeigler SchminnowOf all our remembrances there is one story Norm will never let me live down. This time we were looking for snook off one of the beaches on Sanibel Island. It should be noted that Norm is the creator of the well known very effective white fly he calls the "schminnow" which has accounted for more than a fair share of snook on Florida's west coast. Of course I had one tied on when we spotted a beauty creeping up the shoreline, but as is my custom in saltwater fishing I blew my one shot at it. After that Norm was noticeably dismayed when he saw me exchanging my schminnow for a Clouser's minnow. He just shook his head as I sheepishly explained that I needed a mojo adjustment. In mid change, however, another snook came sauntering along the shoreline. Although Norm urged me to try once again I told him to go for it since I wasn't quite ready. Of course it took Norm just one cast to hook the fish on his famous fly. After landing the 31" snook he looked at me with great disappointment and said, "You should have been using the schminnow." We both laugh about it now, but my blunder wasn't so funny then.

So the other day I was in a canoe on the local lagoon when a snook came moseying by. I had a popper on and cast it into its line of sight. Pop. Pop. The snook came up, looked at the fly, spooked, and then headed for the mangroves. Again Norm's words came to life and echoed through my memory, "You should have been using the schminnow."

Afterwards I emailed Norm and regaled my most recent blunder and implied that it will be quite a while before I become "Mexico's Greatest Fly Fisherman." He concluded his consoling response by saying he would tie a few schminnows and mail them to me as soon as he could.

Now that's a fishing buddy!

Location (Map)

The Pursuit of Permit
Coco's
 

Comments 1

garysiemer on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 00:43

The first time I visited Norm was the first time I tried fishing for snook. He gave me a couple of pointers and a few schminnows and I set out on what I thought was going to be one of those "I feel out of place" moments since I'm a trout guy. Within the first twenty minutes of scanning the surf, I saw this massive dark shadow moving parallel to the beach from my left to right about 15 feet from the sand, so I tossed that little schminnow in front of it and it turned, swam toward me while I stripped, and attacked the fly. After going aerial and then running out into the bay a few times, I beached it in awe and thought "this shit is too easy, man". I caught another one on this day one of a great new passion. Fast forward......I haven't caught a snook in the last three trips and have tennis elbow from my most recent trip when the wind picked up and my casting form went to hell. I can still catch trout though ;-) Norm is the best. Thanks for the story, Jerry!

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The first time I visited Norm was the first time I tried fishing for snook. He gave me a couple of pointers and a few schminnows and I set out on what I thought was going to be one of those "I feel out of place" moments since I'm a trout guy. Within the first twenty minutes of scanning the surf, I saw this massive dark shadow moving parallel to the beach from my left to right about 15 feet from the sand, so I tossed that little schminnow in front of it and it turned, swam toward me while I stripped, and attacked the fly. After going aerial and then running out into the bay a few times, I beached it in awe and thought "this shit is too easy, man". I caught another one on this day one of a great new passion. Fast forward......I haven't caught a snook in the last three trips and have tennis elbow from my most recent trip when the wind picked up and my casting form went to hell. I can still catch trout though ;-) Norm is the best. Thanks for the story, Jerry!



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