Many people know you for your big streamers, but you can also tie beautiful classic wet flies and good looking trout flies. When and where did you learn how to tie classic winged wet flies? Was this before you tied other patterns or did this come later?
A few years after I got in to tying flies commercially it started to feel like I was in a rut and just tying set patterns for customers. I needed something to keep it fun for myself and was a big fan of the artistic aspect of the winged wets, so I figured I would learn the style by tying one at the end of each night for myself. I started off teaching myself through pictures and a few questions on forums, but I was lucky that very early on Don Bastian saw my efforts and would email me directly to critique the work. As I applied suggestions and tips the flies got cleaner, and the critiques got shorter. Before too long I was tying quite a few and they were what I was invited to the first round of shows to demonstrate.
You recently took a trip to Wyoming. What particular flies did you use while fishing there?
Our timing this year was a little off as we were on the down slope of the caddis emergences and just at the beginning of the hopper fishing. Despite that the fishing was amazing. This year we ended up fishing a lot of hybrid patterns that crossed over between the caddis and terrestrial patterns. Rather than Fat Alberts and Chubbys the name of the game this year was stuff like smaller Turks Tarantulas and Madame X style flies.
Could you describe one of your go-to rigs for throwing streamers? Fly rod, line, leader, reel, etc.
There is a lot of stuff out there now including some fantastic gear that has come out in the last year. Right now my standard rig for streamers is the Orvis Helios2 6WT with a Tibor Backcountry CL, throwing a 250gr Streamer Express Long and a hand built leader of Maxima usually from 3-5’ in length. When I get in to the bigger flies I up it to the 8WT with a Orvis Mirage Big Game V and 300 or 350gr.
I know you’re a fly designer for Orvis. Which Mike Schmidt fly patterns are available through Orvis?
Right now they have Mike’s Meal Ticket in their streamer line up as well as a couple carp flies, the Gorgon Craw and Fuzzy Niblet. In 2014 they will add the Junk Yard Dog, and I have a few that I have been tweaking that I think will draw some interest for the 2015 season.
If you were going to fill a streamer box with your favorite streamers, what patterns would you choose?
Man… that is a tough one since there is so much great stuff out there these days. When I throw my box in the pack it is a mix of my patterns and other guys stuff. I know that most times I personally start off with either a Meal Ticket or a Red Rocket, based on whether I want a vertical jig or a swim retrieve, so those would make the cut. I would have to include stuff like the Junk Yard Dog, Strolis’ Headbanger Sculpin, Lynch’s DD and DDD, 6” and 8” Double Deceivers would be there (Cotton Candy without a doubt), Conrad Sculpin. I would also have a compliment of ‘experimental’ flies that are in the works and being tweaked.
I do fish a few different patterns that are similar in design and action to some of Tommy’s flies, but the only fly of his that I specifically tie is the Drunk and Disorderly.
What fly is your biggest seller?
For wholesaling it is not even close…the Cotton Candy Double Deceiver. For retail orders the biggest two have been the Meal Ticket and the Red Rocket…they really go back and forth as to the most at any point. Recently though there have been a lot of Junk Yard Dogs going out the door…
You spend a lot of time at the vise and some say you’re like a machine. What keeps you motivated?
I do spend a lot of time at the vise. Tying flies started off as a way to keep me at my place rather than out finding trouble, and I never really looked back. I think what keeps me motivated is seeing the final product…and lot’s of it! I truly enjoy the process of staging out materials for a big order of flies and then creating a group that looks as close to each other as possible; I guess it appeals to my OCD side. I am not going to lie though…I do also like to see the look on people’s faces when they see a pile of big streamers tied locally.
Take us into the mind of Mike Schmidt when you want to design a new articulated streamer. What is the process like?
Honestly it is remarkably similar to how Matt Grajewski laid out his process as Streamer Architecture over at Fly Obsession a few months ago. I view fly design as a problem to be solved; most commonly the problem boils down to wanting a specific profile and action out of the fly, then building the fly to achieve that desired result. If you know the size, profile, and action that you want the end result to display then that tends to narrow down what materials will work. Once I have a general idea of the materials that I think will behave how I need them to then I can get to business layering them in on the hooks. With a working prototype in hand it is time for water testing…fishing it to confirm durability, shape and action are as expected then making any tweaks to the pattern over time to refine it to the final version. Some flies you get right straight out of the gate and others may take seasons of refining to get them ‘just right’.
If I asked you to design a FrankenFly, what do you imagine it would be like?
I think it would have to be a big gnarly combination of a few different things…and definitely not be fishable. Something along the lines of an articulated dry fly body with knotted rubber legs and a DDD shovelhead. And rattles in the body. And a marabou mohawk.
What type of thread do you use on your winged wet flies? How about for your streamers?
I love UTC Ultra Thread. I use the UTC70 on the winged wets as well as any nymphs or dries that I tie. For my streamers I jump up to UTC140 for the added strength. It is a great thread as it has good strength and durability, can be flattened out as necessary, and has some stretch to it so you can really bind materials down tightly.
Can you tell us about your trip to Sweden this year?
Simply put, Sweden was amazing. The people involved in the show could not have been more welcoming. It was great to be immersed in a different culture for a week and unwind with good friends over some single malt each evening. The food was different but very good; we had traditional items like pea soup and pancakes, stew, and fresh breads washed down with Punch…or as I called it, honey-shine. The fishing show was held at a massive interior venue and drew impressive crowds through the three days it was open. It was a sport fishing show so the fly component was just one piece with the rest of the show consisting of more gear and Esox baits than you will find at the largest Cabelas here…it was impressive. I did get to fish one day while I was there, though the weather kept us to a club location. While it was fun to hook in to some big rainbows, I really want to get back over there to fish the northern part of the country for big browns and grayling. It is a long trip for sure but worth it…I will go back.
What made you decide to choose a Regal as your primary vise?
To put it simply…I love everything about it. When I decided to shop the market after having tied on another vise for a decade, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted my next vise to do and the Regal Revolution fit those demands perfectly. The vise is built like a tank and can be operated with one hand, there is no adjustment necessary. They have multiple sets of jaws designed for different applications but I generally stick to the Big Game jaws and they hold all my streamer hooks, from 4s to 8/0, like they are glued in place. Add on that they are a US company with great customer service and it was a no brainer.
Are there any classic flies you have a soft spot before besides winged wets?
I love the artistic side of tying so I am a big fan of Stevens/Marbury/Rangely style streamers, classic full dressed salmon flies, and the perfect combination of art and fishability in Charles DeFeo’s flies.
You just released your new streamer, the Junk Yard Dog this year. Do you have any new fly patterns currently in the works?
I do have a few that have been put through the paces on the water and are in the refining process. Eventually they will feel done and I will have them available.
I know you are a huge Michigan sports fan. Any plans of moving to “Pure Michigan” permanently?
I grew up in Michigan and it still feels like home when I cross in to the mitten, but I do not think it’s in the cards for me to move back north permanently.
What’s next for Mike Schmidt?
Long term I have a few exciting opportunities in front of me that will keep me busy for the next few years…more to come on those as the time is right. In the short term I am plugging away at some good sized orders and lining up the materials to knock out some stock for my shortened show schedule that is coming up in a few months. Also, I recently picked up some new Canon optics that will allow me to start shooting more video, so I will be playing around with post production work. As I dial that in I will be working on how to best integrate those videos with other things I offer through Anglers Choice Flies.
Do you have anything else at all you would like to add?
Just that I am grateful for all the support. Without the interest of other anglers I would not be able to produce the flies that I do or get out to fish them nearly as much. Thank you!
Mike’s main website is Angler’s Choice Flies.