The Next Big Thing in Fly Tying | Written by Len Waldron
Homework complete, Braden is at home behind his Norvise Rotary Vise.
Though he’s become expert at tying flies from size 30 to billfish flies, his favorites are Blane Chocklett’s Game Changers, Bob Popovic’s Beast Flies, and articulated streamers. Photo by Casey Miller
Richmond, Virginia’s Braden Miller, could be the next big thing in Fly Tying...
as long as he finishes his algebra homework - Len Waldron
Braden with a steelhead caught in November 2019 on the annual Team Norvise-Steelhead Alley Outfitters trip in Erie, PA. Pictured with Dan Bennett, a guide with Steelhead Alley Outfitters.
Braden Miller’s fly-tying journey began with a box of hand-tied flies in his pocket and questions in his head. At ten years old, the humble but bold kid from Richmond, Virginia, visited fly shows and walked from booth to booth, talking to anyone who would give him notes on his fly tying.
Now fourteen (at the time of writing 2020), he’s a known quantity on social media and a junior ambassador for a range of fishing companies. This type of early success might lead some teens to bouts of vanity or unrealistic expectations of entitlement, but not Braden, whose fly bench gets shut down if his homework isn’t done.
Braden is part of a fast-growing population of young fly tyers nationwide, but few of Braden’s classmates share his passion.
“Only a few of the kids I go to school with actually go outside, much less fish. For them, it’s ‘video games,’ but for me, it’s ‘where can I catch the next fish.”
Similar to many anglers who got their start very young, it was a woman in his life that turned him on to fly fishing. “My grandmother got me interested in fly fishing, but I think I have been fishing from the time I could hold a rod. Both my parent’s moms really like to fish. I helped my Gram who was interested in fly fishing, and now she owns two fly rods. At first, I used spinning rods and bait casters, but then I found fly fishing and I wanted to learn everything there was to know. After hours of practice in the back yard teaching myself to cast, I decided the next step was to learn to tie flies. When I was eight years old I got a fly tying kit and tied all the flies in the kit, then I started watching videos on Instagram and YouTube.”
On-line videos were a good place to start, but the nuances of materials, construction, thread tension, and the art of insect and baitfish imitation only partially translates over the internet. Seeing a spark of inspiration in their son (he broke his first three budget vises from overuse), Braden’s parents supported his fly tying interests. They started taking him to the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival every January.
Braden tying a craft fur minnow at Lefty Kreh’s Celebration of Life in 2018 while Temple Fork Outfitters Advisory Staff Member, Blane Chocklett, and fellow TFO Ambassador, Chris Thompson watch.
Year after year, even the giants of the industry such as Lefty Kreh and Bob Clouser began to remember the kid who came back annually.
“The first year they talked to me for ten- to fifteen-minutes. I had a lot to learn and they were guiding me on the basics. The next year it was thirty- to forty-five minutes. The next year we were having hour-long conversations,” says Braden. In 2018, his parents, with some encouragement from Tim and Tyler O’Neill of Norvise, began taking him to fly fishing shows along the Atlantic Coast. In 2017, before Braden was even a teenager, Lefty Kreh went through every fly in his box, critiquing his work, and offering advice.
“Mr. Kreh taught me ‘less is more’. I had to learn to use less hair, be mindful of different hair densities, and understand how hook gaps and materials effect one an - other.”
Braden is confident for his age, but he was reared with southern hospitality and an emphasis on manners and respect for others. This has served him well amongst the frenetic crowds at fly fishing shows.
“When people ask me how I learned to tie flies, I tell them, ‘never be scared to ask questions. Ask lots of questions.’”
Unless someone does something that’s not cool, everyone looks out for everyone else.”
Daily Life of a Fly Tying Prodigy: On the one hand, Braden is a typical teenager with school assignments, friends, and family. But on the other hand, he has a full schedule on the fly fishing show circuit.
Along with his growing notoriety, he’s also fishing a diversity of locations across the country with well-known anglers. And is also an Ambassador for Norvise, Temple Fork Outfitters, J. Stockard Fly Fishing (he recently launched their Junior Pro Tyer Program), among other fishing product manufacturers and outfitters. When school and studies keep him anchored at home, he finds ways to cultivate his knowledge of fishing, particularly its biological basis.
“I helped start a fishing club at my school. We have meetings and tie flies, talk about what’s working, and who is catching fish. We’ve had some really cool speakers come to talk with us and share their knowledge.” But the club’s work became both educational and unique when Braden proposed that his school start ‘Trout in the Classroom,’ a program supported by Trout Unlimited and the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.
“We have a 50-gallon tank in our biology classroom where we cultivate brook trout from eggs to fingerlings. Our fishing club members rotate the daily responsibilities of keeping the water clean and the fish fed. In our first year, we struggled with knowing the right time to move the fry from the hatching basket to the large tank. But this year our survival rate is eight-times better. Our tank has two pumps to create a current, a filter to help clean the water, and a chiller that keeps the water between 52- and 55-degrees. The bottom of the tank is gravel, so I can watch how the baby trout move, hide and suspend. It’s taught me a lot about how small fish look and move and I use that information in my fishing and fly tying.” After coordinating with Virginia Fish and Game and Trout Unlimited, the club released the fingerling trout into the South River near Waynesboro, Virginia.
When asked if he’s more of a tyer or an angler, Braden’s answers, “It’s about 51% to 49% for me. I love tying on my vise, and I love watching a fish come up to my fly and devour it.”
According to Tim O’Neill, the owner of Norvise, Braden is special beyond the novelty of his young age.
“Remarkably, Braden ties flies at a level equivalent to someone with 30- to 40-years’ of experience.”
Braden credits his skills to practice and imagination.
He enjoys tying well-known flies such as Blane Chocklett’s ‘Game Changers,’ Bob Popo - vic’s ‘Beast Flies,’ and other articulated streamers. “I look at flies tied by other people and mash-up two older flies to tie something new and different. If I am not catching any fish with the flies I used that day, I’ll go home and tie something new,” says Braden.
This past fall, he tied anchovy flies for one of his passions— False Albacore fishing off the North Carolina coast. Braden participated in the Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival, which supports Project Healing Waters Fishing, a program dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans.
Although he developed his skills on the small freshwater ponds and streams around Richmond, VA, saltwater fishing with larger 8- and 10-weight rods is a welcome and exciting challenge and opens up an entirely new category of fly tying.
“For the albacore, I tie some synthetic Clouser minnows, but I prefer to tie anchovy flies in all white; tan and white; and all tan, each around threeinches long,” says Braden.
Braden Albie fishing with TFO Advisory Staff Member Jake Jordan (Jake Jordan’s Fishing Adventures) off Atlantic Beach, NC.
Though Braden ties a wide variety of flies, he exclusively uses the Norvise Rotary vise.
“I love the full-function of the vise because I tie a lot of larger streamers; it makes tying flies easier and more efficient. I also like how I can switch out the jaw size, depending on what I am tying. It is very easy to spin dubbing and I make custom dubbing brushes using the Norvise dubbing brush table.”
Life on the Road and Braden’s Bucket List “As long as my grades are good, I get to keep fishing and tying,” says Braden, which seems to be all the motivation he needs and makes his parent’s job easier.
His mother plays a significant role in scheduling his event appearances and managing logistics. Most of the time, when he and his mother are on the road, his father stays in town with his three brothers. They try to take the whole family to at least one show per year. His school principal is also flexible.
Though a student on the road for fly tying shows is unusual, Braden always completes all the work he missed. In 2020, Braden will appear at seven fly fishing events from New Jersey to Texas, either on his own or with Norvise as a featured tier in their booth. Braden will also be teaching youth fly tying classes at several shows. Braden has no plans to slow his pace and recently asked his mother, “When I turn sixteen, can I just drive down to Harker’s Island (NC) for the summer?”
While saltwater fly fishing took up most of his time this past summer, the snakehead (channa argus) was his favorite freshwater fish he caught. Non-native to his Virginia waters, the snakehead is an aggressive fish that smashes topwater flies. “Besides my musky from 2018, I have not caught another freshwater fish that gets my adrenaline pumping like a snakehead does.
You can see the wake of the fish from four to five feet away.
When I hook up on one, it goes crazy and my TFO 9-weight rod will be doubled over. I hooked some tarpon in the Keys, and the snakehead is basically the tarpon of freshwater,” says Braden. While Braden loves fishing his home waters, his fishing ambitions continue to expand with his enthusiasm for new experiences and locations.
When asked what’s on his list, Braden has lots to say. “I want to go to Alaska for big rainbow trout on mouse patterns; Belize for bonefish, tarpon, and permit; any kind of billfish on a fly; and South America for peacock bass and Golden Dorado. With no slowdown on the horizon, Braden Miller is on track to make fishing a full-time avocation.
Braden fishing with friend and TFO Ambassador, Andrew Campbell (Captain of Flying Fish Charters) Braden caught his first bull redfish off Harker’s Island, NC. A fractured wrist and growth plate couldn’t stop him from tying flies and fishing
To follow his upcoming adventures, check him out on Instagram @ MillerTimeFlies, on Facebook at Braden Miller and his website at MillerTimeFlies.com.