by Gunnar Brammer
I didn’t really grow up fishing. I didn’t start out at the age of 3, or tie my first fly when I was 5. Honestly, I didn’t even know fly fishing existed until I was in high school. I feel like fly fishing has a rather high level of nostalgia. It is an activity passed down from grandfathers and fathers to sons and daughters. And although I love my Dad, he doesn’t love fly fishing… he loves golf!
That is right, I grew up golfing. I wasn’t exposed to fishing until the age of 15, when my father and I traveled up to northern Ontario for walleyes. It was a trip born out of business relations, but was quickly turned into an annual holiday between great friends, and eventually family.
Although I picked up walleye fishing rather quickly, my Pike game struggled. Stories from my father and his fishing buddy Herm Thomas haunted me during our late night euchre games; 40 inch giants, rolling over lily pads desperately trying to chase down there frog imitations. As an immature and rather impressionable young angler, I quickly put two and two together. In order to catch pike, I needed to learn the art of fly fishing.
After arriving home from another pikeless trip, I was desperate to pick up a fly rod. My dad, being a responsible guy, had me start from the very beginning even though he knew my intentions for the sport lied elsewhere. Yep…. a 9ft. 5 wt. with a floating line, and a 5x tapered leader. This however was my foot in the door to a much bigger passion than I had realized. I spent that summer chasing rock bass and sunfish with copper johns, and trying to untie about 100 knots from my tippet.
At some point in this timeline, my little world of rock bass and sunfish was flipped on its head. We were on a long trip returning home from somewhere when my dad placed Kelly Galloup’s Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout in my hands. Now, I’m not one to read very often, nor read a lot in one sitting. But, that book simply captivated me. I read it in one sitting, never taking my eyes from the pages. In the travel time that remained after I finished the book, I started sketching streamers on napkins and trying to come up with names. I immediate adopted all of Kelly’s ideologies with regards to predator fly fishing and fly design and was inspired to take fly fishing to a new level.
Within weeks I had a 6wt rigged up with a 200 grain full sinking line with a piece of meat attached to it. My dad and I would float the various sections of the upper Manistee banging the banks. And although we put the effort in, our skills were very subpar. The usual results were no fish in the boat, and half a dozen streamers left hanging from the trees. Although failure is frustrating, it is also a powerful tool to learn from, and every time we went, we got a little closer to success.
That winter I received my first vice, and enough materials to tie two of the greatest trout catchers of all time, the wooly bugger, and KG’s Zoo Cougar. Long story short, I was horrible at tying flies. I struggled along that first year in frustration trying to teach myself from a book. It was not until my senior year of high school that I took my first fly tying class. It was held at The Northern Angler in TC, MI, and taught by Mr. Alex Lafkas. The class quickly filled in the gaps that I simply could not absorb from a book and re-fueled my motivation behind the vise.
Though my knowledge of fly tying was steadily growing, my skills with a fly rod where left to collect dust. Frustrated I would spend most of my time spin fishing. Chasing lake trout and splake, and casting spoons or slip sinkers with spawn bags to salmon. I took many more trips to Canada chasing walleyes, and spent multiple spring breaks hunting grouper, snapper, and barracuda in the Gulf of Mexico. I was growing as an angler, but I wanted to start growing as a fly fisherman. I slowly started integrating fly fishing back into my regular adventures. Targeting bass and carp on Lake Michigan flats, as well as getting into a hand full of pike on our last trip up north.
And this is where things got a bit interesting. It was during my 4th year at Michigan Tech, and I had a potential internship lined up back in TC, when I saw Galloup’s Slide Inn post an opening for a shop guy. My eyes literally lit up with the little heart shaped emoji smiley face. I applied to work for Kelly Galloup… and although I was horribly unqualified, and knew basically nothing, he hired me.
At this point, I was basically a nervous wreck. Desperately I tried to absorb as much information as I could before I arrived, needless to say, I now own almost every Kelly Galloup DVD 😉 My time spent at Kelly’s Slide Inn was life changing. I fished 6-7 days a week, learned the bugs of the Madison River and how to fish them. It was my job to know, and I took it more seriously than anything I had tried before. I taught myself to nymph, and high stick, and use an indicator. I’d fish dries every night and watch caddis and mayflies swarm over the river as the sun set. I’d stay up till midnight tying streamers and variations of streamers, and fish them until the lead eyes were mush and the hook as dull as cobble. I learned something from every person and guide that walked into that shop, any piece of information was worth obtaining, and I put all of it to use.
It was during this time that fly tying started to consume me. For my entire stay at Kelly’s, I only fished my own ties. I learned to tie the dries and nymphs and as many variations of existing streamers as I could think of. Sometimes my stubbornness would lead me to a fishless night, while other times I would return back to the trailer beaming with pride. But like most things, my time there came to an end. I headed back to Michigan Tech to finish my degree. (I ended up switching majors from Mechanical Engineering to Wildlife Ecology, hence why sometimes I get a little nerdy when talking about streamer design and such)
That winter I tied as often as possible. YouTube quickly became an invaluable learning tool. I’d watch tying video for hours, often times in different languages. I’d stay up till 1 or 2 a.m. tying flies even though my 8 a.m. class was quickly approaching. I learned a handful of pike flies from Niklaus Bauer, Daniel Holm, and Norbert Renaud. I tried and tried again to master deer hair with the help of Pat Cohen’s DVD series. I’d watch and re-watch Streamers on Steroids and try to digest every word that came out of Kelly’s mouth. Basically, it was the only thing on my mind. I doodled almost every hour of every class, various fly designs, and when and where to use them and what for….ect… even now as I’m writing this ideas are popping in and out of my head.
As summer approached, I was faced with a tough decision. Head back out to Kelly’s, or find an internship that could lead to a career. Taking a few deep breaths and a bitter pill of reality, I thought it best to choose a career option. I ended up in Northern Wisconsin as a Field Technician for a research Scientist. Work was fun and I enjoyed every second of it, but there was always fishing after work…which I enjoyed quite a bit more. I chased northern pike, smallies, and musky, and quickly realized how much I loved my local predators. This was the reason why I started fly fishing in the first place after all. I tied and fished every spare moment I could find.
This past fall I relocated to Duluth, MN with my beautiful wife who landed her dream job as a Civil Engineer. My internship was seasonal, and had come to an end at this point. One night, my wife came home from work and simply stated “So, have you started selling flies yet?” It had semi-jokingly been talked about that last year at Tech, and throughout the summer. We were comfortable on her salary, and having my wife’s support, I quickly dived into what has become Brammer’s Custom Flies.
Now here I am. I tie flies full time, and have met some awesome people doing it. I have never felt so encouraged by my family, friends, and even random strangers who see my stuff on the internet. I guess when you think about tying flies all day for 3 years straight you might as well do something about it eh? If there is a place for me in this crazy world of fly fishing, I’d like nothing more than to be a part of it.
I design streamers, I fish for anything that wants to eat them, and I want to share everything I know with anyone who wants to listen.