Getting Primed: An Interview with Gunnar Brammer of Brammer's Custom Flies
Hey Everyone- I wanted to share another one of my favorite interviews, this one with Gunnar Brammer. At this point, most of the fly fishing world is familiar with him through his Instagram account and his Youtube channel. This interview took place in 2017, and a lot has changed for Gunnar. He is way more well known and his fly tying has evolved to insanity. The cool thing is Gunnar is still Gunnar, and his thoughts about fly design and fly fishing are still rooted in a lot of the concepts discussed here.

I hope you enjoy!

Prime: Gunnar-
What was the Kelly Galloup/ Slide Inn Experience like? What did you learn, and how did it change you as an angler and fly designer?
Gunnar: When I arrived at Kelly’s, I honestly did not know anything, and I was upfront with Kelly about that over the phone. My knowledge of fly fishing didn’t seem to concern him; he was honestly just looking for a kid who was going to treat every person who walked through his door with respect and as an equal. The fly fishing industry is often saturated with pride and arrogance, elitist that seem to only greet you based on the appearance of how big your check book is. Kelly’s is the farthest thing from that I have ever experienced. He is without a doubt one of the most generous, kind hearted and nicest people I have ever met, unless you plan to use his shop as a rest stop, and then you better watch out! Yes, sometimes he has an inappropriate comment….or two, or three…..but Kelly is a man. Someone who takes responsibility, and cares for his employees and friends, and it was a humbling opportunity to get to know him and share in his knowledge.
When I was out there, I did my best to learn it all. Every day I had to give advice and perspective, and I felt responsible for the quality of that advice. I didn’t want to just be a messenger boy, telling customers what fly did it yesterday for one of our guides. I wanted to experience it myself. I wanted to understand the ins and outs, the order of the hatches and what time of day they occurred, in what sections of the river they were most prevalent. So, I went fishing; weekends, before work, after work, and sometime even during work. I tried it all, dries, nymphs and streamers. When a customer came in, I wanted to be able to say “this is what I saw yesterday, at this location, and this time”. I wanted to pass along firsthand information.
Most days I worked a simple 8 hour shift, but even after my shift was up, it was hard to leave the shop. I’d stick around to listen to Kelly tell stories. When the shop was slow he’d often entertain from his tying bench while I manned the counter. He’d give one on one tying tutorials, explain techniques, and give information to anyone who asked. I just hung out, and absorbed as much as possible. What was exciting for me was to take those stories and examples back to the trailer and try for myself. Succeed or failure, it ingrained the ideas and principles into my mind. For the next week I’d often regurgitate these ideas when talking to people, and they slowly began to become my own. The ideas would stop being foreign and would become naturalized as to how I understood fishing.
I can honestly say fishing is no longer the same. Every decision is conscious and informed by three serious years of observation. I learned to read the confluences of multiple surface currents congregating above a cyclical riser and the impact of my shadow, the rods, and my line. Learning to be able to control your leader as you stalk into position of a perfect 17” Madison Brown. Beginning to see through the kinetic surface tension to another dimension, picking a stream apart seam by seam as your hare’s ear finds the nose of a rainbow. Seeing a bank and knowing when and where the brown is going to bust a move and crack your dungeon. I finally learned how to read water. I will never see water the same way again. Fish where fish are…… I don’t think there is any substitute to learning to read water aside from being on the water and failing miserably day after day. Trying new things until you find success, and then cataloging that information until it become subconscious. I went in to work for Kelly not knowing anything, but left a completely different angler.
P: How has the opening of Brammer's Custom Flies been thus far? I see a pretty good wait time on the website, so it must be going well?
G: The truth is that it is hit or miss. I am beginning to figure out the cyclical nature of the streamer industry. It seems when someone needs a few bugs, almost everyone does, and you end up getting slammed. Likewise there are definite slow periods. I do my best to be productive throughout. The slow periods are my excuse to go fishing, test flies, and film tutorials. I am certainly more of a custom tier than a commercial one. I do a large quantity of smaller orders for individuals which always keeps thing interesting and fresh.

P: As an early tyer, who were some of your influences?
G: Early on, I was completely lost. I really wanted to figure stuff out on my own, and without having anyone to learn from I struggled. I took my first ever fly tying class through The Northern Angler in Traverse City, MI from Alex Lafkas. Alex really helped me to connect the dots and showed me the ropes. From there I started to dive pretty deep into all of Kelly’s articulated designs by following along to Streamers on Steroids (DVD), which I still watch annually and learn something new every time. After that I fell in love with Pike flies and found guys like Niklaus Bauer, Andreas Andersson, Norbert Renaud, and Daniel Holm. Those four guys have likely had the biggest impact on my recent designs and my overall style.
My favorite fly tier is actually Norbert Renaud. Honestly, I think he is without a doubt the most creative person I have ever seen behind the vice. I often think of Norbert as the “Synthetic Fiber – guy”. I have always struggle with synthetics, especially stacking and shaping them. Norbert is like the king of stacking and trimming fibers. He is truly an artist at it, and I really admire his ability to shape flies.
P: Where have the ideas come from? Is it seeing a problem and working out the solution, is it taking a base pattern and changing the construction to achieve a different action, is it new materials?
G: A good example is my MEGA-Jerk. It was thanksgiving morning, and I was drinking coffee at the island drooling over the dinner my wife was preparing. In the middle of our conversation, I stood up, ran downstairs and grabbed some computer paper, and started drawing. Most times, the ideas just kinda pop into my head, and if I don’t right them down, they pop back out. They are definitely problem-solving based…..mostly surrounding a specific scenario.
It wasn’t inspired by the Super Jerk, yet it is identical. Obviously not literally identical, but concept wise and execution wise….identical. It wasn’t until I had fished and finished the third fly, having tweaked the hooks and wing materials to get the right silhouette, that it occurred to me it was a “Super”-MEGA-Jerk.
Honestly, most of my ideas come out of thin air. For me, fly design is not typically a conscious decision. I’ll simply be on the water and say to myself, “Wow, I could really use a 5” weightless baitfish pattern right now.” The need for the ideas comes on the water, and a specific scenario I’m faced with as an angler, and then my mind starts subconsciously grinding to solve that problem. For me, the joy comes from designing it myself, and the excitement of bringing that idea back to the situation that inspired it is often the motivation that keeps me fishing and designing.
I have spent the past 5 years or so watching YouTube videos, reading books, and imitating other tiers. All those techniques, silhouettes, and designs are in my head, jumbled around somewhere. Then the pieces fall into place, typically falling around a keystone idea if you will. For me, the keystone for the Hollow Point was the double wing…. Marabou tail wing, bucktail/craft fur fore wing, basically building an intruder that is very much so, not an intruder. I borrowed the tail from John McClure’s Kill Whitey, and the front from Kelly’s Pearl Necklace, and made it weightless through Andreas Andersson’s reverse craft fur head from his Aino, Wolftrap, and Delivery Man patterns.
These borrowed techniques typically aren’t intentional; I don’t often realize where the inspiration comes from until I look back and reflect on it. They are just a means to accomplish my goal. Andreas’ head was the means to make it weightless; the Kill Whitey tail gave me the proportions, and movement, while the Necklace created a light weight bucktail wing support for bulk. The composition of these three designs resulted in what is likely my most popular pattern, yet none of the ideas are my own. I just brought them all together in one fly.
P: From idea to finished fly ready for sale- what is your revision process like? Have you ever had a design you really thought was interesting fail, or not be as successful as you had hoped?

G: Speaking of new patterns- the Skinny Dipper is a newer pattern for you and at first glance it seems like there is some inspiration from a Zoo Cougar maybe? It's Zoo Cougar-ish but with the concept turned on its head. What was the genesis, and what do you categorize/fish it as? Attractor, baitifish, sculpin, etc?
Not sure how most guys do it, but my revision process is usually subconscious. The ideas come and goe, usually re-appearing every other month. Most times I’m not aware that the ideas are related until I look back at my old pictures. My Monster Craw started 8 months before I released it. I had an instagramer ask if I tied any shrimp patterns for the salt, having never tried it I thought it would be cool to give it a go. I had watched many variations of Danish coastal shrimp flies from one of my favorite YouTubers – Daniel Holm. I tied a fly using some of the techniques and was quite pleased with myself, but it ended sitting on my tying desk until spring. Once spring came I had an articulated crawfish idea with Flymens new Shrimp/Cray tails and Chocklett’s BodyTubing. The pattern, though cool and fishy, was overly complicated, so I let the idea slowly fade away. It wasn’t until 2 months later I tied a simplified single hook version, and revised the profile later that week and the Monster Craw was released. To me, the Monster Craw just happened….it was an epiphany moment, yet if I had looked back, I had had and re-had the idea multiple times. The process is rarely linear. The originals almost always fail, sometimes on the water, but just as frequently behind the vice. As the idea progresses, month by month, each variation is always a simplification of its predecessor, which is likely why I don’t always see the connection. The end result usually sticks.
My latest release the Skinny-Dipper, again just seemed to be an epiphany moment. The pattern came to me as an idea for a fly competition, held by Fly Shop of the Big Horns. One of the requirements for this competition was that the fly needed to be an original design, something that I had quite a few of. Yet, the fly could not have been posted on social media. This requirement crushed me! I had so many new patterns I had released just prior to the announcement of the competition, patterns I have 100% confidence in. I desperately began trying to combine ideas from some of my favorites. Triple Hollow Points built with Super Jerk brushes, Super Jerks with Sculp Daddy heads, Fish Skull Triple Sculp Daddy’s ect… What I began to realize was that I was coming up with variations for the sake of variations. These new patterns where not fulfilling a new purpose. I did not want to design a fly for variations sake, but it needed to come from facing a specific situation on the water. Realizing this, I began to look through my current designs. I saw weightless and light weight baitfish patterns in their various sizes…. and sculpins…..all with the same head design (expect the Trout Nugget, which is a skinny water pattern). I realized that anything I designed with the Sculp Daddy head would fish in a similar manner, in a similar section of the water column, and it wouldn’t meet a new situational need that wasn’t already being met. Then the lightbulb moment happened, a weightless sculpin. With that in mind, I simplified a Super Jerk, downsized it, and stacked a Kelly Galloup Wooly Sculpin head on it, thus the Skinny-Dipper was born.
The original Skinny-Dipper however happened a year prior. The inspiration arose from a Norbert Renaud Pike sized Bunny Slider. Seeing this pattern, I immediately wanted to give it a go. I tied a pike sized version and just as quickly a downsized articulated version for smallies. This pattern came and went, and eventually resurfaced last spring for a customer who saw the original picture. Being a year wiser, I modified the head design more similar to the Wooly Sculpin to add stability to the pattern. A month later, a customer had an idea for converting this articulated slider into a single hook weedless bass fly. I was excited about the idea and gave it a shot. The action was tantalizing, and although intended as a top water fly, I could not help but see a future sculpin pattern. So… after 4 different versions, I finally, and unintentionally ended with the Skinny-Sipper.
Things would be a lot different without those ideas. Most of them I don’t share, and I’m always nervous to release a new fly. The thing about most of my streamers is that they have arisen from 3 years’ worth of failed attempts. I literally have a 1000 + streamers, sitting in my garage in a cardboard box; originals, imitations, failures, and some success stories that have been replaced. They are my memories, and my learning curve. I fear that people see a new idea as something that is simply “new”, while in reality they have been growing and evolving often times for years.

P: How does your thought process change when designing trout flies, to now designing predator stuff?

G: My thought process is identical….in fact, one of the things that really bothers me is the categorizing of streamers. Trout flies, Bass flies, Pike flies, Saltwater flies…….Even though I’m guilty of it, I really don’t get it, and I’m afraid young anglers see these titles and literally think bass flies only catch bass. In my most recent Blog for FlymenFishingCo “The Power of Perspective”, I intentionally broke the fly category’s down into baitfish, bottom dwellers, and crawfish (for the sake of the salt community, we’ll go with crustations). The biggest thing I think people overlook is forage! It is such a simple thing, but when you look through facebook groups. People will ask, what flies are good for bass, and 80% of people say wooly buggers, 19.9% say poppers and clousers, and then I’ll pipe in and say something dumb like,” 7” articulated baitfish patterns.” I don’t care if you’re a Brown Trout, a Bass, or a Northern Pike, if your system has 6” Golden Shiners in it, you should be fishing a 6” Golden Shiner imitation! The patterns aren’t specific to the predator; they are specific to the forage! Instead of asking what catches bass, it would be more appropriate to ask what species and size range of forage can I expect to encounter in this river system, or in this part of the state, ect….
One of the best things to ever happen to me has been the move to Duluth, MN. I knew nothing of the area, and even less about chasing smallmouth and pike in a river. I didn’t ask for opinions on what to fish or where, I simply went to google maps, found river access, and went fishing. My first trip to the Cloquette, I managed about a dozen large Smallies all on an articulated 7” Kill Whitey variation. If you learn the system and understand the forage, you’ll be able to find and fool the predators, trout included.
P: Your Youtube channel seems to be in the exact opposite style to the norm the last 3-4 years- fast paced, music, no instruction. Some of your tutorials can run 20+ minutes- with a lot of discussion on why you are tying the fly in the manner you have chose to- is that teaching style natural to you, or is it because you just really geek out in fly tying? I think if you weren't conscious about time length- some of your videos would probably be 40 minutes- and well worth watching.
G: Honestly, I do the long videos because those are the ones that I enjoy watching the most and the ones I’ve learned the most from. I don’t want my channel to be entertaining; I want it to be educational. I don’t want to simply share another take on a sculpin or baitfish pattern, but I want the concepts from those ideas to penetrate other areas of your tying. I tie flies because it adds another dimension to the sport. It is one more thing I can control, and it makes it that much more intense and rewarding when I succeed. I want others to be able to experience that! Not just catching fish on a fly you tied, but on one you designed.
I have learned a lot from the fast paced videos. As a visual learner, they helped reveal things to me I had never known or considered, but at the same time I remember feeling lost. I was able to imitate, but not innovate. I often didn’t understand why, or even how to achieve something. One of the reasons I try to explain everything I do, is because I first needed to explain it to myself. For those 1000 + streamers sitting in my garage, and for the thousands more that have come after them, I never stopped asking myself “why?” Why am I using this material, these hooks, and this technique? What purpose does it serve, why does it behave that way, and what governs that behavior? I don’t want to simply tie flies, I want to design them.
The coolest thing we can do as a community is inspire one another. I don’t want people to tie my patterns verbatim. It is seeing how people have adapted the patterns for their needs and the ideas that those patterns inspired that inspire me, and often times result in new pattern and an a new perspective.

P: You talk a lot about developing taper into your flies- often mentioning 70/30, 60/40 etc- for those newer tiers can you explain what you are trying to achieve by doing that? How can they improve their tapers and overall consistency in fly construction?
G: I am primarily trying to achieve two things. First is silhouette, the second is action. I believe silhouette plays a huge role in a predators search image, and is often a standalone triggering mechanism. Action wise, a fly built in a fusiform taper will push water around the shoulders of the fly increasing the undulation of the tail fibers.
The best way to practice taper is to draw your flies. Sketch your fly, if you can draw it, you can tie it. Understand the bulk, length, and taper of each wing material and how they lay on one another. The easiest rule to remember is the rule of half’s, where the fore wing lies halfway down the length of the rear wing. This almost always results in a 60/40 fusiform taper.

P: In your Instagram profile, before any other distinguishing phrase or writing, it says "Saved by Grace"- Would you like to share any testimony?
G: I’m not exactly sure how to articulate my testimony, but the short story is that I’m an imperfect person with a sinful heart saved solely by the grace of God. Last spring my wife and I made the decision to be baptized, and since that moment I have not stopped pursing Him. He died for me, and he died for everyone readying this, that we might be forgiven. I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. And I believe that he loves you! I believe in loving God with everything I have, and loving all people. I put “Saved by Grace” first because I want to be held accountable to that. I want to be accountable to treating people with love and respect. I want that to be first, before my name, before my business, before my flies and pictures. I want Jesus to be first in everything I do, and that through any success I might find he would receive the glory.
P: What are you working on right now?
G: My goal is to change topics from tying to fishing. I really want to showcase the raw aggression and adrenaline rush that comes from streamer fishing, and how to handle and dissect specific situation. I am slowly but surely getting more adept at videography and editing, and want to take the discussion from the theory at the vice to the application on the water.
I believe in being a fisherman first and a fly fisherman second. Don’t think about “fly fishing” for smallmouth. Think about fishing for smallmouth, and how you can adapt fly fishing to meet that scenario. I think people get too overwhelmed with fly fishing and forget how to do the simple things like read water, and adapt your retrieve to match your environment. I have put myself out there as a fly tier, and I am, but I am equally adapted as a fisherman and pride myself as such. When I read books and try to find information on specific species or fisheries I rarely find it useful. Topics become broad and ambiguous, often times telling you more about the history than how to apply anything to your local waters. I hope to film a few shows this upcoming season highlighting specific scenarios, breaking down water, and targeting specific fish during specific seasons and sharing it anyone who wants to see it.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed it.

Gunnar Brammer Instagram: HERE
Brammers Custom Fly Website: HERE
Gunnar's Youtube Channel: HERE"

Last but not least, the one major difference in Gunnar's tying from the time we did it is his graduation from the Bob Popovics' Bucktail School. He has truly mastered bucktail, and if you check out his Instagram any day of the week you'll see why I say that.

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