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Trouts Spotlight: Brian Schmidt - Fly Production Specialist

April 1, 2013
Author: Will Rice

Brian Schmidt making it happen in the Front Range.

Think all flies are created equally?  Think again.  Meet Brian Schmidt, the man who was put on this earth to make sure that the Umpqua flies that end up in your box – and ultimately at the end of your tippet and in front of a fish - meet the most rigid design and production quality standards.  All because… Brian wants you to catch more fish.

We were able to visit the Umpqua Headquarters located in Louisville, Colorado a few weeks back.  If you are not familiar with Umpqua, your fly box most likely is.  Umpqua Feather Merchants is the largest fly producer in the world.  They’re a local company here in Colorado and have been a brand and partner of Trouts Fly Fishing since our inception.  One reason: their attention to details and dedication to producing the highest quality flies. 

On our recent tour of Umpqua HQ and their warehouse, one guy's desk caught our attention.  It was the work station of Brian Schmidt.  Brian is the Fly Production Specialist at Umpqua - and he has a cool story to tell.  Not only is he responsible for ensuring that all of the flies that make it into our fly bins meet the designer’s standards and are produced correctly, he is also on the team that evaluates new and innovative fly patterns.  If you are a fly tier who is looking to break into the commercial market, this interview is a must read.  If you are just a fly fishing geek – or aficionado – here is a chance to meet someone with a really, really cool job. 

Trouts Fly Fishing: Rumor has it you have granular expertise in over 2,000 different fly patterns to the extent that you can eyeball production deficiencies and mistakes at will.  What is your background and how did you get this level of expertise?

Brian Schmidt:Yeah, pretty crazy, gotta be close to 2500…to the extent that I can tell if the tyer is right or left handed by looking at the fly.

My background is total immersion in fishing, went to Penn State knowing that I’d be able to fish as often as I wanted to…Studies led me to being a teacher, but have always be an angler at heart…and that’s what I followed to get me to this level of insanity, I mean expertise…

Trouts Fly Fishing: Tell us about a day in the life up at Umpqua HQ in Louisville, CO?

Brian Schmidt: I’m here at 6:30 typically, two cups of coffee in hand, sit down in front of two computer monitors with Jerry thru the speakers and start sorting thru email.   Usually I have material questions or hook substitute requests that just need quick responses, a few customer service questions, listen to random voicemails and then I get busy on bugs.  Much of the year I am setting up new patterns for the catalog, so I am working with the designers, sourcing materials and teaching the factories.   I do step by step photography for most and any that I feel are going to be troublesome I’ll go in to greater detail.  Out to the warehouse for a few hours…we get a few shipments (couple thousand dozen in each) of flies a week from our factories, I spend a lot of time in front of those checking them before they are stocked.  Write a QC (Quality Control) report for the factory to learn from and send it off with a list of any rejected patterns. Usually squeeze a meeting in there somewhere and check any bulk materials that were delivered.  Try to get out the door by 4 so I might get on the water on the way home.

Trouts Fly Fishing: It also sounds like you tie flies yourself and experiment extensively.  What are you working on now?

Brian Schmidt: After seeing a couple million Buggers you start to push the limits of what can be strapped to a hook…and I’m not afraid of getting/being a little dirty.  Warm water bugs are what I’m into these days…I do have a couple pretty cool bugs that will be available next year, but I don’t want to spill the beans.

Brian and a place that looks just perfect for a warm water bug.

Trouts Fly Fishing: What are some new innovative patterns that our readers should check into for fishing here in Colorado?  What are some classic go-to patterns that everyone here in Colorado should have in their fly box?

Brian Schmidt: Landon Mayer found a way to improve upon the Tungsten Zebra Midge…his Tungsten Tube Midge is a fantastic example of a bug you shouldn’t be without…Another local guy Herman deGala has a new Sow Bug that is, as far as sow bugs go, super sexy…his Hot Spot Sowbug is probably the coolest version I have seen.  Great weight, profile and design…Herman is one of those guys that has great attention to details, uses a big ‘ol magnifier and the results are pretty awesome…this was one of those bugs that I wasn’t sure would make it to the catalog due to the # of steps…after all it’s only a sowbug…but I felt that the world needed Herman’s bug, so we spent a ton of hours getting it dumbed down without affecting the end result.  Juju’s all flavors shapes and sizes…Carp guys are going to love Barry Reynolds new Carp Bitter, especially the Mango color.  And if you are fishing for bass, smallmouth or largemouth, you just can’t be without the Umpqua Swim Frog.

Trouts Fly Fishing: Tell us about a typical production mistake that sends up a red flag and causes you to reject a fly?  What are the standards that you are looking for in a fly?

Brian Schmidt: The more obvious issues are fairly easy to pick out when you have looked at a few million dozen, proportions stand out the most to me...things like post and wing length and density, tail length, abdomen/thorax proportions…and on and on.  Once I pick up the bugs I start looking at the materials used, tightness, straight on the hook, look at the hook point, bend and eye as well as give them a good pull and twist test.

Trouts Fly Fishing: It also sounds like you also are on the Umpqua team that evaluates new fly patterns from fly tiers across the country.  What are you looking for when you look at a pattern and try to decide if there is a market for it commercially? (i.e. innovation, improvements on existing patterns, the "why", details, etc).

Brian Schmidt: We have a small committee that look at 100s of submissions for production.  We also use our sale reps a great deal.  At our sales meeting, we spread out all of the patterns that have made the cut onto tables and ask the reps to vote on them individually.  We ask them for their input per their territory.  Our Alaska Rep doesn’t sell many sz 18 BWO’s, but he knows a good one when he sees one and will vote accordingly…if it’s outside their realm, or if they just don’t care about it, they can opt for a No Opinion vote…which is kind of like getting an Honorable Mention ribbon at the state fair…

Innovation is key, use of material is also important to see creativity.  One of the most important points to cover, if you are submitting a pattern, make sure we know you care about it.  Doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money overnighting it or buying a hand-made fly box to send them in, but patterns that show up here stuffed in an envelope generally don’t get looked at very closely.  It blows my mind how much of this we get too.  A designer/tier has to care enough to ensure that it arrives in the condition you sent it in. 

Bin appeal is big…if isn’t purchased, it isn’t getting fished.  Always helpful to include a story about why the pattern was designed the way it was and what evolution it went thru, if any.

Trouts Fly Fishing: What advice would you give a fly tier who is thinking about submitting a pattern to Umpqua?  Are there things an aspiring tier can do to help improve their shot at getting a pattern tied by Umpqua? 

Brian Schmidt: Test it…then test it again.  Go home and change it, fish it again and see if it made a difference.  Try it on a lot of different waters, have a reason for your methods.  If you’re still searching, you haven’t found it yet.  Once you find it, you’ll know and that’s when I want to see it.

Trouts Fly Fishing: When you are not running QA for Umpqua, what are you doing or where are you fishing?

Brian Schmidt: I spend a l lot of time at my tying desk at home, pretty much have a retail shop of tying materials in my house.  We are surrounded by lakes rivers and streams on the front range, I pass at least two small lakes on the way home from work, so I spend a lot of time there as well.  My son was born 3 months ago, so my “spare” time now is really dedicated to Wyatt. We go fishing as often as we can though.

Trouts Fly Fishing: How often do you stab yourself with errant hooks in a given week?  Be honest. 

Brian Schmidt: Ah, man…dozens…I do have a pretty good zap-a-gap/epoxy callus situation going on… so at least I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Can you see the zap-a-gap callus situation going on?

And there you have it...

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