Brandon- Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and sharing your ideas on flies and fly tying. Introduce yourself where you grew up, current home town etc. Whats your fishing history? What drew you to fly fishing and then eventually tying your own flies?
Thanks for asking me to do this, it’s an honor! So I grew up in North Alabama and even now I live in the same general area with my wife and my 2 sons. Growing up I took for granted all the water I have surrounding me….not just the Tennessee river but mainly the small streams and creeks ( over 100 named streams in my county alone) that I loved exploring. I still remember how much fun it was when my Grandfather and I would get the old map out of his pickup truck and find a new creek to explore….and to this day I still have a lot more to visit Another great thing about my home location is I am only 1 hour both north( TN) and south(AL) of 2 trout tailwaters( yep, there’s trout in moving water in AL) and I have warmwater streams as close as 2 miles from my front door.
As far as what drew me to fly fishing, I think it was a natural progression and for the water I fish it seemed more efficient. I bought my first fly rod kit at the age of 12 and spent years catching panfish on dry flies, that I had no idea were suppose to be fished on the surface…so I guess I was swinging wet flies. Then some years later I remember buying a few flies that looked like baitfish and I took them out to a stream by my house determined to catch a bass instead of just panfish. Little did I know I was fishing a classic streamer, the Grey Ghost, and it worked extremely well on those small water bass and it started the wheels turning in my head about how these lil streamers were made.
Shortly after I found myself searching forums and youtube for videos/articles on how to tie flies and then I bought a cheap tying kit from a big box store. I had found a great outlet for my artistic background and was able to bring in aspects of my technical/engineering side. To me, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you tie something that looks and swims like you had envisioned…it really can be looked at as art in motion……and that’s where I am to this day and how I got here. Trying to make artwork that hooks fish!
Did you have a mentor when learning to tie? What type of flies did you tie early on, and how successful were you?
I know this will sound bad but Youtube got me thru the basics with my cheap vise but a man named David Darnell helped me immensely with materials, advice, and tools. He’s been a father figure to me in many ways and helped advance my tying in a short amount of time.
My first flies were the venerable Wooly buggers and they worked even though I had no hackle on the them….and come to think of it they didn’t even have a bead head. In any case, they worked and started my addiction with streamers. My next fly was the Clouser minnow, it caught my first decent Smallmouth, Brown Trout, and Carp. Now you know why I’ve been infatuated with streamers of all shapes and sizes.
About your instagram name- where did Panther Branch Bugs come from?
Any other social media links you have and want listed for people to find you? So I get asked this a lot, Panther Branch is a spring fed creek that I grew up on and learned to flyfish on and I decided on it to honor my greatest mentor, my Grandfather. He grew up on the same farm as well and he use to tell me stories about his father putting rainbows in the creek and how they would actually survive until they were all caught throughout the year. This creek is a tiny blueline on the map but my Grandfather and I spent most spring/summer Saturday afternoons exploring the water…catching redbreast sunfish, bass, crawfish, hellgrammites…you name it. Even to this day I fish it at least once a week as its only 10 minutes from my house and every time I step in the water I feel like find something new. It’s a special place for sure.
In your opinion, what makes an average fly tyer, a great fly tyer? What tips can you give to younger tyers out there to improve their progression?
To me, it boils down to one major thing and that’s “taking your time”. When you slow down you find that there’s tons of details that can be overlooked if you’re just cranking thru flies early on….for example, is your thread laying flat or twisted tight, are those rubber legs equal distant, are your eyes glued on straight..etc. A great tyer also finds a niche they fit in and works to perfect that niche whether it be the perfect parachute Adams, articulated streamer, or deer hair bass bug.
What characteristics do you look for in successful fly designs? Do you work or brainstorm with any other fly tyers to improve your stuff or get a 2nd opinion?
Well I look for 2 major things initially….1. Profile and 2. Action. Once I have these two things down pat in a design I start to tweak things such as weight and materials to see if it has any major effect to the way the fly looks or swims. I think its best to have a fly that is completely streamlined for ease of fishing but also ease of tying in bulk.
Luckily, I have some great friends that are both accomplished tyers and fishermen to help with feedback. My good friend, Adam Harman of Blueridge Custom Flies, has always been great when brainstorming on an idea or critiquing a fly and I try to do the same with him, even though I’m all thumbs when it comes to nymphs like he ties. I also have friends that aren’t interested in materials or design…they just fish, and I can hand them a few flies to use and they come back with great ideas as well, solely based on how a particular fly performed. So its great to have both ends of the spectrum and in general its nice having these friendships in a sport we all love.
I’ve never been to your home state of Alabama- whats the best fishing around you? Do you guide down there? If so, with who- and what species do you typically target?
Oh man! So many choices and so little free time! Honestly though it really depends on the time of year. If you made a summer trip I would say skinny water Smallmouth with hoppers, a spring visit would be Largemouth with 2/0 deer hair concoctions in the morning and then hit the big water for the rest of the day to catch 40-50 White bass /Hybrids on their annual spawn run, and if you visited in the fall or winter it would be throwing streamers to trout on the tailwater. There’s always something to fish for here no matter the time of year.
As for guiding, in the past I have taken people on warmwater trips for Smallmouth and White bass but at this time its not something I do on a regular basis. Although if the interest continues to grow you never know what may happen……
What’s your favorite type of fishing to do? Favorite species and method of fishing?
These days I find the most joy in fishing for small water smallmouth bass with downsized streamers on a glass rod. To me, the coolest thing is finding a watershed that looks like brookie water and being able to throw a 3” streamer into each run and see a shadow emerge to chase and eat your fly! When you do this you really do see the Alpha predators of that stream and a lot of these fish are never seen because people don’t think decent size fish live in such small water.
Are you tying commercially at this time? If so, how is business? Have you submitted any flies into the big catalogs for evaluation?
I don’t tie commercially right now, of course I tie small orders for guys quite often and spring thru summer is when I see the most orders. My future plans, once my wife finishes her Masters in the Medical field, include ramping up my business to a more professional level, which will include a website and more hours for tying.
As far as submissions go, I currently have 2 flies in the 2016 Orvis catalog….the Bailes Out minnow and the Panther Creek hopper. It’s crazy to see something you tie end up in a well known store like Orvis. I have a few other patterns that will be going in for evaluation for the 2018 season and I’m hoping they will make the cutting room floor.
One thing I really appreciate is the quality of your deerhair work. It is a definitely something I’m not comfortable with from lack of practice. How did you get into the deerhair bugs- what drew you to them and how long was the learning curve?
I think like most guys that get into deerhair bugs I started out by buying them from Pat Cohen, even though I tied for myself. Within a few months I found myself buying deerhair, a hair packer, and his DVD’s and I was at the vise trying to stack my own. For the first major learning curve, It took me about 2 months to become somewhat decent and I still find that it’s the one niche in fly tying, for me, that requires constant practice to keep a certain level of competency. I have also learned that you find something new out with each different patch of belly hair….so it’s a constant process of learning the material.
What are some of your favorite new fly tying products that you use in your flies, or that improve the quality of your flies?
I would say my favorite new material for building streamers would have to be the Hareline Micro Pulsator zonkers. The strips are great for the smaller streamers I tie but they are in no way sparse…super full and the colors are pretty endless. I seem to use them every chance I get.
Also the heads available from both Flymen fishing co and Dropjaw flies are just awesome……both provide a clean finished look to any streamer without worrying about epoxy dry time.….and did I mention they just look cool! But really I could go broke just trying to sample all the new fly tying materials that are coming out these days. Its so easy to add a fresh spin on even classic patterns with all the stuff out today.
Let me separate one thing- Drop Jaw Heads….give me the low down on these INCREDIBLY unique head designs. How do you tie with them? I haven’t pulled the trigger because of the expense and I don’t know how durable they are- so how durable are they?
The Dropjaw heads really are incredibly unique and offer a truly custom touch to any streamer. What I normally tell guys when trying to explain how detailed these heads are is that, Jason Arave and Chad Nelson are doing miniature taxidermy on fish heads! No two heads are alike and they have so much depth in the coloring, due to the guys painting them in layers and then epoxy coating. Speaking about the epoxy clear coat, the guys at Dropjaw have taken the time and invested lots of research into the best performing epoxy for the heads and it shows. I have been out fishing along rip-rap for hybrid bass and slammed my streamer into the rock jetties on my back cast, pulled the fly in expecting to see a cracked head, only to find a lil scuff mark! So whatever Jason and Chad are doing is working well.
As far as how I tie with them…I use them on any streamer I can imagine and also the inside of the head has a wide enough opening that they fit a huge range of hook sizes. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on the newest head design, the Pinhead, combined with zonker strips and stacking SF fibers for a belly ( which I learned from Gunnar Brammer) it makes a perfect skinny water streamer!
The Pinhead is the smallest offered right now and I actually throw it in an articulated streamer on a 6’6” glass 5wt with ease. My other favorite would have to be the juvenile trout head ,its quite a bit bigger than the Pinhead and once tied in correct proportions looks like it could jump out of the fly box and smim off on its on! So if you haven’t seen a Dropjaw head in person you truly are missing out and I don’t just say this because I’m an ambassador for them….I was just a regular guy wanting to splurge on a cool new material and once I get my first pack of heads in and talked to Jason on the phone I knew they had something cool going on !
What vise are you currently tying on? What are the biggest pros about that vise?
For the past 3-4yrs my main vise is a Renzetti Clouser with the brass & stainless steel upgrades. For me, it does everything well….from midges to deer hair bugs. The biggest pro to me is it’s an American made vise that has a great reputation and it’s one of those vises I can see passing down to my kids…one day……maybe 60 yrs from now
Are you currently a member of any fly fishing or fly tying pro staffs? Anyone you want to shout out?
I’m lucky enough to be an Ambassador for the guys at Dropjaw Flies and I’m also on the Tyer Program with Flymen Fishing Co., as well as a member of the Orvis Friends of the Field program. All these groups are top notch and you really can’t ask for any better!
If you could fish anywhere in the world for the next couple of days, where would you go?
Man that’s tough! But I think I would have to go simple and pick a Montana spring creek with hungry Browns that are willing to eat streamers in the morning, hoppers midday, and finish the evening with fading light and a mouse
You’ve received some other press this year- through The Fiberglass Manifesto- What did you think when they contacted you? In that article they gave mention to a fly of yours named The Bloody Fanged Bat- something I remember seeing on facebook early on when I was following you. How did that fly come about?
Yeah Cameron is a great dude and the sole reason I have more glass than graphite now He’s been nice enough to have me do a few tutorials over the past couple years but the Bat seemed to do well and get a reaction from both fly guys and gals along with everyone else. Honestly the way it came about was our Facebook Warmwater fly tyer group had a Halloween fly posting and I was in the middle of refilling my bass boat box when it hit me……if I just shorten the tail on that mouse and give it wings I can make a bat.
So tying the bat wasn’t an issue, it was the wings that gave me a hard time as I tried a few materials that either wouldn’t stay in place or just didn’t look right. Finally I just went to some 2mm foam, heated and rounded the edges, along with adding on some pieces of prepainted toothpicks, which was all put in place onto the belly after I covered the underside with UV goo. It would probably twist a 40# leader due to the wings but I carry at least one on my display to each show because it’s a something you don’t see at most fly shows
Is it true you are considered a warm water specialty tyer? I ask because you and I share the same affliction of tying some pretty big trout streamers?
I consider myself mainly a warmwater guy for the most part. I don’t tie a lot of small trout stuff other than a few standard flies…actually the smallest hook I own right now is a 20 and that’s pretty much for tailwater midges. I always say I’m not talented enough to tie small stuff but I do enjoy tying trout/bass streamers along with bass bugs. over the past year I have gotten back to streamers that fit the water and style I fish most….skinny water, sure there areas that warrant a 5-6” articulated streamer at certain times, but 95% of the time I tie and fish streamers that catch both numbers and size…which is usually in the 2-3.5” range. Now if we are talking an 8wt, floating line, and Largemouth on the lake….well then I reach for at least a 2/0 bass bug
Will you be doing any of the fly tying shows this year? If yes, where at?
As of right now I am scheduled to tie at the Smoky Mountains Hook&Hackle show in November and I usually do Orvis demo days at some point during the year as well.
What are some of your favorite materials to tie with? What materials offer you the most consistency and creativity?
Well I know I talked about the Hareline Micro Pulsator strips already and they are very consistent but I think my most favorite material, if I can call them that, are good hooks. I might be considered a hook collector by some but I really like all the solid and dependable hooks that are out there. When I first started tying a bought cheap bulk hooks and I would sit and weed thru them for rolled points and crooked or bent eyes. Then hope that they would hold during a fight with an angry Smallmouth. I quickly learned that the hook has to be a solid foundation to base any fly off of because if it doesn’t perform then the rest of the material doesn’t matter.
For the record my current favorites are the Patridge Predator series, Gamakstu SP11’s, and Ahrex Curved Shrimp…..and then of course you can never have too many Gama B10 Stingers!
One of my personal favorite questions- lets talk about fly development. You sit down at the vise, no orders to fill- just an empty box and your collection of materials. Do you sketch something out first, is the fly based on a material, a color, a specific location etc?
I have this weird habit…..i’m sitting here with 3 boat boxes and 9 other various fly boxes overflowing with streamers and bugs but what do I do…..i know I’m getting up the next morning to fish “X” location so I sit down and think” what would be a cool way to catch a fish there?” . so I usually end up tying 3-4 flies and stick them in a box that is already full of patterns that are tried and true on the water I’m going to fish…….and 9 times out of 10 I end up only fishing the 3-4 flies I tied the night before and if one of those freshly tied flies catches a fish then I feel like I’ve won the chess match that day.
How do you test your flies- when do you give them a passing grade?
I test in stages…first I tie up a prototype and test in a sink filled with water. If the fly falls, rest, or swims a short distance like I want then I move to step two. The next step is on an actual stream that will be the water type I intend to fish( slow moving, fast moving, pocket water, etc) and if it passes that test then I concentrate on catching fish. Once it catches fish I usually look the fly over and see if there is any particular area that can be trimmed away for ease of tying but still perform the same and give off the same profile……after all that’s said and done, well I usually make room in the flybox and put it into rotation.
What are your current favorites:
Bobbin- Griffin Supreme
Deerhair Thread- Veevus 200D
Regular Thread- UTC 140
Scissors- Dr. Slick 4” Razor Scissors
Glue/UV Resin- Loon Flow….so many uses
Any favorite tools/gadget you use often- Granite vise base from thegranitefly.com…..not really a tool but it is great way to have a solid foundation to tie on and it looks good
Have any new designs you are throwing around> Any concept fly you are looking to build/perfect?
Right now I’m trying to come up with a Hellgrammite that is not overly complicated but still looks convincing and fishes well. I have a few different styles I’ve been tying up and at least one is in its finally stages of being done. So far the fish like them too!
What’s the state of fly tying right now?
I think fly tying these days is growing immensely due to material choices and the whole social media connections made. Social media is a great way to connect and share ideas but as with anything in life a few bad apples do start to stink it up on occasions but if guys will just remember that this is a platform for creativity I can only imagine the things to come in the tying world!
Who are some of your favorite fly tyers?
Wow! So much talent today….off the top of my head I would say my buddy Adam Harman, Gunnar Brammer, Andreas Andersson, Collin Carlson, Steve Yewchuck, Richard Strolis, Eric Snyder, Blane Chocklett, and of course, Tradd Little.
What do you think of the divisiveness in fly tying right now?
Man! Like I was saying in the previous question, there’s a few bad apples out there for sure and sadly a few have a professional platform in the industry that could be used in great ways instead of putting people down for their gain. You have guys that spend their days trolling the internet just find someone tying something similar and then they try to crucify the person for doing so. It’s pretty sad to see grown-ups act this way but it just has to be taken with a grain of salt. This sport of ours is meant to be fun, relaxing, and a way to show creativity….not a sport based on how many “likes” or “followers” you have. I think social media is a great venue to share our hobby but nothing beats time on the water instead in front of a screen. And if you really break it down, all we really gotta do is have fun while we’re here and make sure the fish likes our flies
To the question about People arguing over what is, or isn’t a “fly”? You know I’ve never really gotten into the whole “that’s not a fly it’s a lure” debate but I’m not a purist for certain either. My opinion, solely, if it’s marketed and sold for convention gear fishermen then I say its not a fly Growing up I also saw guys using flyrods and live worms to catch bedded bluegills in spring…not for me, but if it makes you happy and lets you escape everyday life?
Any final thoughts, rants?
Get outside and go explore those streams you drive by everyday…you could be pleasantly surprised at what you find!
A huge THANK YOU to Brandon for taking the time to answer these questions, and allowing us to see his incredible fly tying skills. His flies are beautifully crafted and the photography is top notch as well. He is a very humble man, but his work speaks for itself.
Please take this time to follow Brandon on Instagram HERE, where you can stay up to date on all of his latest creations. If you would like to get in touch to order some of his flies, you can reach him through his email email@example.com
Lastly, there are going to be 3 flies tied by Brandon given away over the next week or so. To be eligible for the first fly, simply subscribe to the blog and answer this question.
What flies would you like to see available for purchase in the online store- Trout Streamers, Predator Flies, Trout Nymphs, or Saltwater Flies?
I’m expanding significantly these last few months in 2016, but even more so in 2017. New materials coming soon as well including FrankenFly Franken Dub (Monster and Nymph) as well as several The Laughing Fly materials.
For the other two giveaways make sure to check out my Instagram page HERE
Thank you for reading!