Those of us who tie streamers, and that’s probably most fly tiers unless one is a dry fly purist – I know at least one of those, and he casts only to rising trout, have heard the phrase Rangeley Style streamers. Just what does that mean? I believe Carrie Stevens of Upper Dam, Maine, with her unique, self-taught method of tying streamers, is the originator of this style, and she alone is to be credited with creating the Rangeley style streamer. I have recently come under the conviction that to tie Rangeley style streamers means to tie streamers employing Carrie Stevens’s methods. I’m not referring to merely tying her patterns and cementing the wings, which I began doing a year-and-a-half ago. Learning more about her material placement this summer was for me, the last part of the journey toward my ultimate arrival at fully utilizing her methods of material placement and wing assembly. And it is still a work in progress.
Famed taxidermist, artist, and fly tier, Herb Welch, of Haines Landing on Mooselucmaguntic Lake, created streamers too, in particular the well-known Black Ghost. He resided in the heart of Maine’s Rangeley region, but his patterns were tied as any other fly tier would tie them, in what Graydon and Leslie Hilyard in their book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, refer to as Eastern style. The same goes for Fred Fowler of Oquossoc, Maine, creator of the Bolshevik streamer. I would not classify the Bolshevik or Black Ghost as Rangeley Style streamers. They are standard streamer patterns that just happened to be created in the Rangeley Region of Maine. Not to take anything away from either of these men or their patterns, these are both great streamers, especially the Black Ghost.
The unique fly tying methods that Carrie created – she never saw anyone tie a fly, she was self-taught – was largely in the way she set her body well back behind the head of the fly, and what she then did to complete her patterns. Many fly tiers, seeing her originals, would not actually be able to determine this difference when viewing any other streamers. She utilized what is actually a limited range of materials for the underbelly and underwing, when present, on her patterns. Carrie Stevens is credited with the creation of somewhere around one-hundred patterns. Yet she used mostly white bucktail when she did incorporate an underbelly into the pattern, and a couple other colors of bucktail on only a scant handful of patterns. Peacock herl was a favored material for underbellies and underwings; in addition she used primarily golden pheasant crest as an underwing, and on a handful of patterns, silver pheasant crest. The rest of her pattern variation was created by selecting a wide range of color combinations for hackle throats and wings, and adding a variety of plumage for shoulders when incorporated into a pattern.
The palette of materials and colors for her bodies consisted of only six different materials and / or colors: Flat silver tinsel, orange floss, black floss, red floss, gold tinsel, and pink floss on only one pattern, the Pink Lady. I listed them in descending order of usage.
Mike Martinek Jr., of Stoneham, Massachusetts, learned Carrie Stevens’s methods in the 1960’s with Austin Hogan, a contemporary of Mrs. Stevens. He and Mike deconstructed some of her patterns, and Austin took extensive notes and made diagrams detailing her methods. Mike is in possession of these notes. I discovered copies of Austin’s notes on Carrie’s tying methods on display while visiting the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, this past June. I took photographs of the notes, and when I finally got around to studying these, it was then I learned that much of this information was right under my nose for years. Typical for me. I used to struggle with tinsel bodies when I tied flies as a teenager, trying to not have gaps between the wraps. Years later I learned to start winding tinsel at the head of the fly, and double-wind it back-to-front. Then I discovered that this same method was presented in Trout, by Ray Bergman, in the Chapter On Tying Flies. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble had I read and studied that a little more a lot earlier in my life. Carrie Stevens’ fly tying material placement and assembly methods are detailed in line drawings in Joseph D. Bates book, Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, 1966, 1995; and also in Trolling Flies for Trout and Salmon, 1982, by Dick Stewart and Bob Leeman.
Mike has been teaching Carrie’s tying methods for many years, and there is a small cadre of his pupils that have been tying her patterns in the authentic style. The streamer community can be thankful for Mike’s unwavering devotion to the tradition of Carrie Stevens. There seems to be a lot of awareness more recently in learning Carrie Stevens’ actual methods, and I almost feel there may be a small resurgence of interest to this end on the way. I say it’s about time. Part of my effort here will be to work toward that end from time to time.
Somehow I’ve been bitten to “get it right” and tie her patterns in the correct way, the Rangeley way, using her techniques to replicate her patterns in the authentic style. I’ve even begun a process of going back over her patterns previously tied in Eastern style, and “retrofitting” them. I’ve had to do that on some of my streamers anyway, cutting off heads and redoing them, because of the fact that my use of Wapsi Gloss Coat as finishing head cement has resulted in huge disappointment. It goes on smooth, clear, bubble-free, and looks great! But then after a couple months, it gets diseased. The heads turn blotchy gray and look like heck. Using Wapsi thinner made no difference in performance.
I then started using Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails, but then my old bottle of that expired, and I’ve found out the newer formula is also less than desirable. For now, I’m using Grif’s Thick, about 4 – 5 coats. Besides, retrofitting a completed streamer takes much less time than tying a new fly.
Below is a tutorial on the completion of a Demon, starting with the fly already having the hackle attached, in her unique method of applying it in stages or layers. Mike Martinek calls this “shingling” since it is similar to method roofers use when applying shingles.
Demon – wing assemblies, with the completed body ready for wing mounting. Note the grizzly hackle – this was placed in probably five sections or layers. I can’t recall because I made this body in October. If five, there is one center bunch, mounted on the bottom of the hook shank, and then two additional bunches of fibers each on each side, placing them so they cover the thread wraps. This is done by holding the top edge of the hackle fibers near the top middle of the hook shank.
Close-up of the throat hackle. It can be seen how the hackle fibers almost “grow”out of the hook shank. The space of the fibers along the shank occupies between 1/4″ to 3/16″ behind the head. Note the bucktail belly and peacock herl underwing are both positioned behind the throat. To apply the throat, I use the method detailed by Leslie Hilyard in the Carrie Stevens book. A rotary vise is a plus. I use a Regal Stainless Steel C-Clamp rotary.
Prior to setting the wing, another bunch of hackle fibers is placed on top of the hook shank at the head. This is not one of Carrie’s methods, but I believe Mike Martinek employs this technique. This bunch of fibers is filler; it acts as a spacer for the positioning of the wings. It keeps the butt end stems of the wings from pressing together on top of the hook shank, and allows the butt of the wings to remain on the sides of the head of the fly.
Side view of wing assembly; note how each stem of the butt ends is clipped and tapered to a different length. This helps to avoid bulk at the tie-in point. Tapering the butt ends of whatever material I tie in – quill wings, bucktail, peacock herl, nymph wing cases, multiple hackles on drys, and various combinations of materials, has been part of my regular tying regimen for decades. I clip the butt ends of these streamer wing materials at a very sharp angle, so that the ends are not only staggered in length, but also tapered as well. Lots of fly tiers have been doing this for many years, so it’s nothing new. However, if one is not aware of this technique, then it can serve well to improve the finishing of streamer heads.
Opposite wing assembly attached. Note the slight upward angle of the stems. They are not tied or placed straight along the side parallel to the hook shank.
Both wings are attached, and since the Demon has a black head with an orange band, I’m using the Danville #7 Orange Flymaster thread to begin the finishing process for the head. Note that I have already flattened the thread in the middle for the band. Next, the black portion of the head will be added.
Black Danville Flymaster 6/0 wound into position fore and aft of the center orange band. No cement yet…the thread was flattened prior to whip finishing.
Finished head with several coats of cement.
Forgotten Flies classed the Demon as a variation of the Golden Witch. Both patterns are identical except for the shoulder. Hilyard’s book considers the Golden Witch and Demon as two distinct patterns, and I know the authors used strict criteria to ascertain authenticity of a Carrie Stevens original pattern. Carrie had other pattens that were nearly identical, but named differently. The Happy Garrison and Carrie’s Special differ only in the shoulder. The Don’s Special and Blue Dragon differ only in the location of the inner wing hackles and the thread band on the head, plus the Don’s Special has the outer grizzly hackle slightly shorter.
Listed in order of tie-in – differs from Hilyard’s listing slightly in that I created a separate listing for the underwing and list the throat as the final stage before setting the wing.
Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Body: Orange floss
Ribbing: Flat silver tinsel
Underbelly: White bucktail
Underwing: 5 -6 strands peacock herl (I always use 6 for an even number, since I position the herl top side facing out on both sides of the fly
Throat: Grizzly hackle fibers
Wing: Four natural grizzly hackles
Shoulders: Amherst pheasant tippet
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Head: Black with an orange band
It must be noted that Carrie’s method of mounting everything except the wing behind the head is a stroke of genius for the fly tier. It eliminates the bulk created by attaching a large number of materials in one space, and allows the tier to keep the heads smaller. I personally prefer to replicate the elongated heads on her patterns.
One of my subscribers asked a few questions in his comment, and as I answered I decided to add the information into this post. It involves the use of cement and the final stage of fly completion. Hope this helps…
I do not use adhesive or head cement at every step. I have started cementing the herl to the top (or bottom) of the hook shank for about 1/4″ to 3/8″ behind the body. For this I use Flexament. If I go to set the second wing, on the near side, on my side of the hook, and it does not want to lie properly against the other wing, in other words, if it cups outward, or doesn’t lay flat against the other wing, or is cantankerous in any way, kicking off at an angle, then I force it into submission. I do this by placing a line (or bead) of Elmer’s Rubber Cement – what I use for cementing the wing assemblies, along the inside stem of the second wing to be mounted. This is about 5/8″ long. Keep it shorter than your cheek and or shoulder. The Elmer’s stays tacky, so after capping the bottle, I place the wing in position, using no thread at this stage. I merely position the wing perfectly matched to the opposite side for length and vertical alignment, and press and hold it for 10 – 15 seconds. Then I wind thread over the butt ends. This makes both wings set nice and tight, and flat, together. No one can tell when it’s done, and it’s a perfect solution for the problem of wings that won’t behave whether tying presentation or fishing flies.
The butts of the stems are attached to the side of the head, at a slight down angle…viewing any originals tied by Carrie Stevens reveals her method of wing setting. I used to tie my wing stems together on top…no longer. That bit of schlappen on top of the hook shank, the color of which I use for whatever color the inner hackle of the wing is, makes the wings sit slightly apart. It prevents them from their tendency to want to slide into the top center of the head. I only started using this method last fall. I’m not sure but Martinek might be using white schlappen for this step on his flies…