Ernie Borchers

Many years ago, in the small town of Grayling near the beautiful Au Sable River, a fly pattern named the Borchers Special was tied for the first time by legendary fly fishing guide and fly tier, Ernie Borchers. On a trip down the Au Sable, Ernie caught a few dark Mayflies on the river. He saw these flies being taken by rising trout, and wanted to attempt to tie something similar at home. He made modifications until he was satisfied with his creation and proceeded to use these new flies on the river with other fishermen. The pattern worked amazingly well and the word spread. It wasn’t long until the Borchers Special became one of the best patterns to have in your fly box. For many it became their “go to” fly when fishing was tough. This remains true today, as many Michigan fly fishing guides still regard the Borchers Special as the most useful fly pattern in their fly box.

Ernie Borchers was born in Grayling in 1903, and unfortunately died of a heart attack in 1952 at the early age of 49. Ernie was guiding part time in the 1930s when he decided to help his cousin Fred “Dutch” Neiderere start a greenhouse. While guiding, he liked using a canoe rather than an Au Sable River Boat, which was and still is a popular boat on the river. He felt that with a canoe he could move quicker and cover more water. In his canoe he carried a long and a short pole along with his canoe paddles, to plant into the river bottom if his clients wanted to stop to fish a particular spot. Ernie purchased two canvas canoes to guide fishing clients, then as demand for his skills on the river grew, he purchased four more.

In 1936 he sold the greenhouse to his cousin and founded a canoe livery and guiding business. Ernie’s wife, Florence Stephan Borchers, helped by running the livery while he managed the guiding business. His daughter, Barbara Borchers Sojka, normally worked as the “pickup man” on these trips and was waiting for them at an agreed upon rendezvous. Connors Flats was often used as a pick up location.

Besides being a highly regarded fly fishing guide himself, Ernie employed several noteworthy guides in the area such as Jerry McClain, Eggie Bugby, and his brother Al Borchers.

Winters were spent tying flies for clients and other fishermen. A wooden top was placed on an old pill cabinet salvaged from a defunct drugstore, and became his fly tying bench; which sat in a room in his home. The shelves in the room were filled with National Geographic. Herter’s Catalog acted as his bible. If materials were needed for fly tying, the only means to obtain them were from local wildlife, or by ordering them from Herter’s.

Ernie’s brother Al’s family still lives in Grayling and Ernie’s great nephew Al, is a guide on the Au Sable.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Ernie Borchers

  1. Thanks Frank. Although we have some really fine tiers here out west, in my mind the history of the sport is definitely centered around Michigan and places east.

    • Paul Beel

      Thanks for the comment Howard! Well, since Michigan is right above me, I really started digging into the history because I knew I could visit some of the same places. There is some cool stuff for sure!