I have known about steaming duck and goose wing quills and a few other feathers for years, but for some reason I never thought to apply this technique to saddle hackle until this past October when I was tying with my friend, Truman, at the Bastian family cabin in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. We were tying tandem streamers, and I had made three two-hook rigs with bodies for the Carrie Steven’s pattern, Allie’s Favorite. For this pattern in tandem size; #2 in front and a #4 in the rear, I required extra long black and orange saddle hackles, and sorting through two half-ounce strung bundles of each color, looking for a total of 12 feathers, it was getting difficult to find “perfect” feathers; so many had stems that were crooked, bent, and twisted. And these were all brand new packs of saddle feathers. Suddenly I said to my friend, “I wonder if I can steam them?”
“Can’t hurt to try,” TG replied. So I fired up the stove with the required number of saddle hackles waiting for the kettle to boil. Once I had a head of steam I held the feathers over the spout, six feathers at once of each single color, and when I did so, magic occurred. In just a few seconds I was delighted to see that the perfect-except-for-crooked-and-bent-stem saddle hackles I had chosen straightened out perfectly. Once they were steamed I placed them on the stove top with a weight on the stems, left them there for a few minutes, and then proceeded to cement the wings together to complete the flies.
This morning I am tying a streamer and decided to take a before and after photo of the feather I used to demonstrate this procedure. Here you can see the results:
The photos were hand-held so not sharp, but my intent was to demonstrate the before-and-after effectiveness of steaming saddle hackle feathers. This technique will work to straighten neck and saddle patch feathers as well as those from strung bundles, allowing us to increase the utilization of our feathers for streamers.