Skip to main content

Fly-Fishing Legend Norm Zeigler Passes Away

Sanibel Island fly fishing legend and frequent contributor to Florida Sportsman had been battling Parkinson's in recent years.

Fly-Fishing Legend Norm Zeigler Passes Away

Norm Zeigler discovered southwestern Florida and its snook population after a move years ago due to a health crisis in the mid-1990s. Having learned to love fly fishing for trout in other parts of the world, Zeigler became an expert at catching snook around the Sanibel and Captiva islands. He eventually opened a fly shop and wrote ‘Snook on a Fly’ in 2006. Zeigler was a journalist by trade who became a contributing editor for Florida Sportsman and wrote for many other publications nationwide. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

Norm Zeigler, a Sanibel Island fly fishing authority and a frequent contributor to Florida Sportsman over the years, has died from Parkinson’s complications at the age of 75.

Zeigler, who also wrote for Florida Sportsman’s Outdoor Sportsman Group sister publication Fly Fisherman, was an esteemed author, retired fly shop owner, fly designer, and a gentle soul that countless fly anglers around the Sunshine State loved and respected. 

He appeared in Florida Sportsman many times over the years, with a number of selections making into the magazine's digital archives. Those selections include a piece on fly fishing for snook in Sanibel Island's surf; fishing in the pristine backcountry waters of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge; sneaky redfish techniques in the sound just off Sanibel; and a Sanibel Island Fly Fishing Sampler among other stories.

So strong was Zeigler's association with Florida Sportsman Magazine over the years that the magazine's editor, Jeff Weakley, wrote the forward to Zeigler's 2006 book, Snook on a Fly.

"For those unfamiliar with the species, Snook on a Fly contains everything you need to get started—including inspiration," wrote Weakley. "Wearing his wading boots and fishing vest, Norm steps deftly between roles as informed narrator and consummate fishing buddy. He takes us wading on cold winter afternoons, hunting shadows on blinding white beach sands and navigating the mangrove labyrinth of southwest Florida."

A man who was nearly universally liked by all who met him, few ever shook Zeigler’s hand and didn't walk away feeling like they were his friend even if they had only had a lone encounter in his fly shop or on the beaches of Sanibel Island. That characteristic made Monday's news of Zeigler's passing even more difficult to take, news that Norm's family and friends broke via social media platforms following his long health battle and decline.

His wife Elizabeth Jane Grimm, whom Zeigler wed in 1984, broke the news with a sad Facebook post: “Our incredibly wonderful Norm Zeigler passed away early this morning, April 15, 2024, from complications of Parkinson’s disease, after a very long and valiant battle. I am blessed that Travis and Katrina are here with me.

“A memorial service will be held on Sanibel in late fall or early 2025. Donations in his memory may be given to captainsforcleanwater.org or to an organization supporting Parkinson’s research.”

Zeigler’s daughter, Katrina Sherman, added her own heartfelt post to tell of her father’s passing: “My incredible dad Norm Zeigler passed away early this morning after a long battle with Parkinson's. A true gentle parent before "gentle parenting" even had a name, an avid outdoorsman, an incredible writer, and the most loving and supportive dad. He taught me to love the natural world and travel, to love reading and appreciate literature, to find seashells and build sand castles, to catch lizards and tend gardens. He taught me how to use power tools and do my own renovations and plumbing work, how to fish, how to change my oil or my tire, how to drive stick shift, how to be a kind and gentle parent. He will be missed beyond words.”

Later in the day, the Sanibel Fly Fishers club broke the news to the fly-angling community, which prompted numerous condolences and memories to begin pouring in.

“In loving memory of Norm Ziegler,” began the SFF club social media post. “Norm Ziegler passed away at home after a long illness. Norm put Sanibel on the map as a fly-fishing destination and literally wrote the book on fishing for snook from the beach. He was the founding member of the Sanibel Fly Fishers, which grew from a small enclave in his shop to a growing club of enthusiasts. A visitor to Norm’s shop was treated to equal parts fishing advice, tales of fishing adventure and Norm’s astute view of the goings on at home and around the world. He was a world traveler, accomplished journalist and writer, diehard fisherman, fly inventor, and a man of deep character and great intellect. He leaves a rich legacy to the fly-fishing and conservation community of SW Florida.

“We miss this man who was so woven into the fabric of our fly-fishing community. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones. Rest in peace, Norm Ziegler.

Recommended


“We will keep you informed as details become available about how we honor our friend.”

Born on July 10, 1948, Zeigler was a native New Englander who spent his youth on Cape Cod. He obtained a B.A. degree from Clark University in Massachusetts, traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada, and moved to Europe where he worked from 1979 to 1994 as a civilian editor for the German-based European Stars and Stripes. 

norm zeigler holding trophy snook - photo from page of a book
Norm Zeigler produced one of the simplest, yet most effective saltwater patterns to ever come from a fly-tying vise for those who pursue snook and other Florida inshore species – the Schminnow fly. Zeigler lost a valiant battle against Parkinson’s Disease this week, bringing sadness to many Florida Sportsman readers who enjoyed his editor-at-large status and numerous stories in the magazine over the years. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

From 1988 to 1994, Zeigler became the paper's travel and outdoors writer according to an interview that Norm did with Florida Country Magazine in Nov. 2022. Story assignments took Zeigler goose hunting in eastern Germany, chamois hunting in the Bavarian Alps, pheasant hunting in former Yugoslavia, skiing in Austria, and plenty more.

That plenty more also included trout fishing in Scotland, Denmark, Spain, Germany and beyond as Zeigler turned in earnest to fly fishing, a lifelong love that he picked up after his college years were done.

If he was a late arrival to the joys of fly fishing, Zeigler wasted no time in diving into the gentle and quiet sport once he discovered it, particularly where trout were concerned. 

“One of the great things about fly fishing is its endless variety,” wrote Zeigler in his 2006 book, Snook on a Fly. “But like devotees of many other pastimes, we fly fishers sometimes become so comfortable staying within familiar parameters that we miss out on new and exhilarating possibilities.”

For a while, Zeigler stayed within the comfort zone that trout fishing and cold water fisheries offered, spending his formative years in the sport chasing salmonids in rivers, streams and lakes stretching from Vancouver Island to Maine and many spots in between. Then came the years in Europe, further cementing Zeigler’s love for trout even more so.

“In those years, the mountains, the cold, clear waters, and their numinous, brilliantly colored fish—brook trout, browns, rainbows, cutthroats and their myriad subgroups near and far—seemed world enough for anyone’s angling lifetime,” Zeigler wrote. “I knew that I could never tire of them. And I never have.”

But after being bitten by a tick while on assignment in the former Czechoslovakia, Zeigler contracted Lyme disease and his life's angling trajectory was about to change in ways he couldn't yet imagine.

For while he was confronting this personal health crisis in 1994, various reports indicate that one doctor prescribed to Zeigler that he go somewhere where there is no winter and the air is clean. That unusual prescription prompted Zeigler and his family to move to Sanibel Island, Florida, a shell hunter's paradise and a saltwater angler's dream with snook, tarpon, redfish, and more swimming along the Gulf side beaches and the backcountry waters of the island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The only thing was, Zeiger hadn't yet realized that he had inadvertently relocated to a saltwater fly angler's paradise that would help him carve out a unique spot in the sport of fly fishing.

"At first, the sense of loss was grievous," he wrote. "I spent so much time wondering whether I would ever again wade a trout stream that I could not see the wonders of the whole new fly-fishing world that awaited my discovery. But finally, during long, slow years of treatment and recuperation, I began to get a glimpse of it. And it was pure magic. A big part of that magic was a powerful, bronze-backed, silver-sided fish with an elegant black stripe tracing the graceful curve of its lateral line from gill slit to tail fork."

And thus began Zeigler's fascination and love affair with the snook, which is frequently found throughout the mangrove-laced backwaters in southwestern Florida, as well as swimming the first trough of the crystal clear Gulf of Mexico surf rolling onto Sanibel Island from spring through fall. Zeigler would soon set to learning the art of catching snook on the fly, both in the mangrove country and by walking the beaches of Sanibel only a short distance from his home, soon becoming an expert in the subject.

Zeigler would be instrumental in many things, including the founding of the Sanibel Fly Fishers in 2001 with the encouragement and help of several friends. He would also open a fly shop—Norm Zeigler’s Fly Shop on Periwinkle Way—in 2009, selling it in 2021 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. 

Norm’s writing ability would blossom again during his years in Sanibel, as he became a widely published freelance writer in magazines and newspapers ranging from Outdoor Sportsman Group's sister publications of Fly Fisherman and Florida Sportsman magazines to The New York Times and a whole lot of other publications in between. Zeigler would also author three books during his time living in southwestern Florida, books that included Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun in 2004, Snook on a Fly in 2006, and Famous Fly Fishers in 2017. 

For many, what Zeigler was most known for—besides his kind, gentle spirt and resilience that saw him battle Lyme disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even the destruction of Hurricane Ian to his home island in Sept. 2022—was a simple creation from his fly tying vise in 1995. That fly, the Schminnow, is perfect for targeting snook along the Sanibel Island beaches. Better yet, this fly pattern that is part shrimp, part minnow has caused many "expert" fly tyers to shake their head in wonderment because like the Clouser Minnow, there really isn't much to this easy-to-tie and yet highly effective pattern.

Put simply, a Schminnow is nothing more than a saltwater hook, a simple set of monofilament eyes, some white marabou for a tail, and some pearl Estaz wrapped around the hook. But does it ever work, and it has gone on to catch 70+ different species worldwide at last count, piscatorial critters that have ranged from Zeigler’s beloved snook in Florida to stripers in New England to steelhead in the Pacific Northwest to even a sailfish once upon a time. 

The fly, as simple as it is to tie, is a superb pattern to fish. And that’s especially true if someone like yours truly is a newbie trying a do-it-yourself trip to Sanibel Island with your wife as you try your hand at catching snook in the gentle Gulf breeze and rolling surf that deposits shells like Florida fighting conchs, lightning whelks, and even the rare and highly prized Junonia onto the island's sandy beaches each summer.

On our way to Sanibel Island a few years ago, I stopped in at Orlando Outfitters and gathered some necessary supplies, including the light Rio saltwater shock leaders that are necessary because of a snook's hard, abrasive mouth. When one of the fly shop's experts asked if he could help, I explained my plans and asked what flies I might need. Brian Eastman reached to a simple fly adorning a wall peg, handed me my first Schminnow, and said with a smile "This is the only fly that you really need there!"

The next morning, as I removed that same fly from my first Sanibel Island snook, I realized that Brian was right, and all because of the snook-catching genius of Norm Zeigler and a simple saltwater fly that he designed a generation ago, a fly that snook still can’t resist.

Rest in peace, Norm, and tight lines. I look forward to visiting your beautiful and recovering island again one day soon. And when I do, you can rest assured that there will be a Schminnow tied to the end of my leader.

And when I land that next snook on the fly, I’ll think of you and a life well lived, a life that makes me think that every place in the state of Florida like Sanibel Island needs a friend like you.




GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

How to Buy and Rig a River Fishing Kayak

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Power or Paddle? Bonafide PWR129

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

It's a Skiff, It's a Kayak: Bonafide SKF117

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Hobie Mirage Lynx to the Next Level

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Hobie Mirage iTrek 9 Ultralight Packed with Features

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Extend Your Range in the Salt Marsh

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Florida's Capital Fishing

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120 FULLY RIGGED Fishing Machine

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Mounting Forward-Facing Sonar on A Kayak: Mounts, Scanning Applications and More!

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

On The Water with Old Town: Bass Fishing at PRIVATE GEORGIA LAKE

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

DECKED-OUT Old Town Sportsman BigWater ePDL+ 132 Complete WALK-THROUGH

Kayak Fishing Fun Senior Editor Thomas Allen is joined by Old Town's Brand Evangelist Ryan Lilly to work some magic in b...
Videos

Dreambuild: Old Town ePDL Gets Rigged to the Hilt

Florida Sportsman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now