DULUTH — "I’m a professional stay-at-home dad with a YouTube channel," Gunnar Brammer said when asked to describe his job. "I guess I’m a professional fly tier, too, since I teach fly-tying classes and seminars and earn a bit of revenue from my channel."
Brammer, 27, discovered fishing later than many anglers, but was quickly hooked.
"On my first trip to Ontario when I was 14, I was the only angler in camp who didn’t catch a pike," Brammer said. "It began to consume me. My dad and his friend both caught multiple 30- to 40-inch pike on their fly rods. Somehow I got it in my head that if I wanted to catch a pike, I had to learn how to fly fish."
The next year, Brammer was gifted a 9-weight rod with a floating line and an assortment of crudely tied flies. He put the outfit together and practiced casting in the yard before a return trip to Canada.
"That first fish shredded my fly," Brammer said. "It was probably only 22 inches long, but it didn’t matter. It was a pike, and I made it eat my fly. That was it for me."
The following winter, his parents gave him another gift that would forever change his outlook on fly fishing and tying. It was a book titled "Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout," by Kelly Galloup. Galloup was from Traverse City, Mich., where Brammer also lived, but had recently moved to Montana. He was widely regarded as one of the leading innovators in streamer design and presentation.
"A year later, I spent the summer working for Kelly at his fly shop on the bank of the Madison River," Brammer added. "For four months I worked in the shop, lived in a trailer 50 feet from the river and went fishing seven days a week — every morning, every evening and every day off."
Brammer quickly learned how to read water to discover where fish were likely holding. During his time in Montana he was able to experience high water conditions during spring, normal flows during midsummer and low water during fall.
From fly tying to fly design
"I still find it weird that I’ve become a 'social media influencer,'" Brammer said. "I only began tying flies 14 years ago and, to be honest, I wasn’t very good at it for the first decade or so. Once I immersed myself in the process, though, I made fast progress."
Brammer’s desire to understand how materials and tying techniques affected the action of a finished fly was essential to perfecting his craft.
"Take someone who has been tying flies for years and is pretty dedicated," he said. "Let’s say they tie for an hour or so every weekend throughout the year. That’s about 50 hours a year behind the vise, and that time might be divided between dry flies, nymphs and streamers.
"I worked as a commercial tier for three years and spent more than 50 hours a week tying nothing but streamer patterns. During my first year of full-time tying, I spent more time at my vise than many avid tiers spend during their entire lives."
Brammer said that experience is critical to understanding the details that separate good tiers from great ones.
"I have more than 100 bucktails in my material bin right now," he said. "It’s a natural material and only two of those might be the same. Some have long, wispy fibers that are good for building long tails. Others have shorter, curly fibers better suited to building bulky heads. It takes perspective to recognize the difference."
Brammer has designed dozens of original streamers and takes pride in perfecting each pattern before he shares them with his audience.
"When I’m working on a new pattern, I don’t fish with anything else," he said. "Each new streamer is designed to fulfill a need, a particular presentation. I start with a prototype then take it to the river to see how it fishes. Then I return to the vise to make modifications. By the time I release a tutorial on YouTube, each fly has been refined many times."
Brammer said he doesn’t have a signature fly pattern so much as a signature style. He favors streamers with a fusiform shape that feature a bulky shoulder and an elegant tail that continuously tapers to the tip. Every part of a fly should be clean to produce the proper aesthetic and swimming action.
"A properly tied streamer should look like a baitfish, swim like a baitfish and match the particular presentation that it was designed for," he added.
Getting started tying flies
Fly-tying gear and materials don’t have to be expensive, but Brammer warns newcomers not to buy an inexpensive kit filled with cheap tools that won't last and materials that they might never use.
"You should never be frustrated with your tools," he said. "I think the HMH Spartan is one of the most functional vises on the market. It’s affordable, built to last a lifetime and has interchangeable jaws that are suitable for everything from tiny midges to oversize saltwater streamers."
A pair of quality scissors and a thread bobbin are the only other essential tools. Brammer said that kit along with a bucktail, a package of Flashabou, a couple of spools of 210-denier thread and a bulk-pack of 2/0 hooks will allow a new tier to tie enough flies to fish from opener to ice up.
"I’ve been blessed with great mentors who have helped my development," Brammer said. "I keep in regular contact with Kelly Galloup and Bob Popovics, and they both have an enormous impact on my tying. I also follow fellow YouTubers like Andreas Andersson, Niklaus Bauer, Norbert Renaud, Ulf Hagstrom, Daniel Holm, Jari Koski, and Rupert Harvey."
Brammer has also created an Amazon page featuring books and videos that have helped in his tying and fishing evolution.
"I get so much value rereading and rewatching these resources," he said. "A single book might contain 30 revelations that will improve your craft. During the first reading, though, you might only retain five of them. On the second, you might internalize another five. But over time all of that information becomes intuitive."
Getting started fly fishing
Brammer warns novice fly anglers to avoid what he calls the "industry trap."
"Most companies want to sell you expensive waders and boots, rods and reels and specialized accessories," Brammer said. "But the truth is you don’t need it. Most of my local fishing is spent wading rivers like the St. Louis in shorts and old tennis shoes. I carry my gear in the same backpack I used to carry books when I was in college."
Brammer added that inexpensive rods like the St. Croix Mojo Bass series can be purchased for $150, and are ideal for casting streamers to smallmouth, pike and muskie. A $50 fly reel, some Dacron backing and a fly line round out an affordable and functional outfit.
"I use a slow-sinking (Type 3) fly line for 90% of my fishing," he added. "That allows me to swim weightless streamers anywhere from several inches to several feet beneath the surface. Anglers fishing floating lines usually need to use weighted flies to obtain the proper depth."
Brammer ties a simple three-foot leader from equal lengths of 20- and 12-pound monofilament line. He joins the two sections with a double uni-knot then attaches the fly with a non-slip mono loop knot. Many online resources teach novice anglers to tie these basic but essential knots.
"When I’m wade fishing, I usually cast perpendicular to the bank and retrieve the fly as it swings slightly downstream in the current," Brammer said. "That keeps the fly broadside to the fish. I’m convinced that profile triggers more strikes from predatory fish than a head or tail view."
The Chosen One
Gunnar Brammer created this fly pattern to be infinitely flexible. The same recipe can be used to tie flies from three to six inches long. The head can be left plain or coated with a thin layer of silicone gel to change the action and buoyancy of the fly. It can also be tied on a jig hook to provide an enticing vertical action during the retrieve.
Hook: Ahrex TP610 #1 to 2/0
Tail: Squimpish Hair blended with Wing N' Flash
Wing: Squimpish Hair blended with Wing N' Flash
Over wing: Peacock herl
Head: Composite loop constructed with Squimpish Hair (long), Strung Fuzzy Fiber (medium) and Strung Fuzzy Fiber (short)
Eyes: 3/16- to ¼-inch adhesive mylar eyes