Steamed Feathers – Revisited

We all have some difficulty from time to time finding good quality hackles for streamers. And for the record, the feathers we use for featherwing streamers can be anything suitable. (The WordPress spell check says featherwing isn’t a word but I’m going with the manual over-ride, which is me. Hey people make up new words everyday, so I’m going with my artistic interpretation, unless the default dictionary just needs to add the word. Streamer feathers are not saddles exclusively, or neck hackles exclusively, just whatever is the right shape for the specific type of fly we are tying. When we do find a good package of say, strung saddle, which are normally the best feathers for featherwing streamers, there are often many “perfect” feathers that we deem unusable only because the stems are twisted, crooked, bent, and basically not what we desire for tying passable fishing flies that we would be proud to show off to our fishing buddies, much less presentation or collector’s specimens.

I wrote a topic a while back about steaming feathers, especially hackles for streamers – and I believe this is a technique so beneficial to our feather restoration efforts that more tiers should be informed of its benefits. Hence my followup post on the topic.

These three photos illustrate a feather that I “fixed” last week, taking a basically unusable saddle and transforming it into a prime example of what we want. This specimen was in worse need of “correction” than the other example I posted.

Saddle hackle - strung package stock; not only with an undesirable 45-degree bend, but the stem has an even worse near 180-degree twist in it. It needs help.

Same feather with some fluff removed to illustrate the twisted stem. Not to be confused with Twisted Sister.

The same saddle hackle feather, after steaming. Almost arrow-straight and ready to tie in. Nothin' like the application of a little moist heat to induce persuasive cooperation.

When steaming saddle hackle feathers it is imperative to avoid getting burned. Steam can scald in an instant. After stripping the fluff, I hold the butt end with my tweezers, and I grasp the tip end with my left hand. Three seconds under the steaming spout of a small teakettle opening while holding the feather stretched taut will yield straight stems.  Solves a lot of the tying difficulties we encounter trying to make maximum use of available feather resources. It does require some effort, but what in life that is worthwhile does not require at least some effort?

Hope this technique helps, streamer tiers.

Widgeon Smelt

This streamer pattern is an original one I created in the 1990’s, patterned after the popular and effective flat-wing streamers, Joe’s Smelt and Jerry’s Smelt – Jerry’s being one of my favorite Maine streamer patterns, one I’ve had lots of success with. There will be much more written about this fly to expand this pattern and information about it into a more complete article, but not before next week. I apologize for that, but my goal today is to get something new for you folks out there to look at, and perhaps give inspiration to tie and try. If you ever fish minnow patterns for trout, salmon, and steelhead, you may want to test this fly. I’ll be writing more on the fishing tactics on the Widgeon Smelt, as there is a very unique situation of my stream-side befuddlement that took place with this fly back about 1996. So you may want to make a note to revisit this topic, say around April 4th.

Today, I am home only two days before heading to Hamilton, Ontario, on Friday this week to present and demonstrate fly tying as part of the Showcase of Fly Tyers at the 37th Annual Izaak Walton League Canadian Fly Fishing Forum. I am spending the weekend with my very good friend, Rick Whorwood, of Stoney Creek, minutes from the show venue. Check Rick’s website – his link is on the right – for some of his upcoming events. I have not seen Rick since the last time I attended the Forum in 2003. He and I have both been very busy and have not managed to get our schedules together. Rick tied the Jock Scott salmon fly for Canada Post several years ago when they issued the second series of fishing fly postage stamps, and he is replicating the 19th version of the Jock Scott from Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and Their Histories for my book – in progress – The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury.

Anyway, the Widgeon Smelt was one of the patterns I presented in a fly tying class I taught as guest tier at the Gray Ghost Fly Tyers in Yarmouth, Maine, on March 13th, prior to my weekend demonstrations at the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo.

A small school of Widgeon Smelt - size #6 and #8, a packaged gift to my friend from Portland, Maine, Rod McGarry.

Here is the pattern recipe:

Widgeon Smelt

Hook: Mustad 94720, or 3665A, or any long-shank streamer hook, sizes #2 to #12. Yup, small sizes, too; that information will be part of some of the additional writing that I’ll be adding next week.

Thread: Red Danville Flymaster 6/0, black for head.

Tail: Olive schlappen fibers. Part of the tail is also formed from the frayed fibers of the pearlescent mylar tubing used on the body.

Body: Pearlescent mylar tubing, secured fore and aft on the hook shank. Leave enough room for the elongated head.

Wing: Sparse gray marabou, over which is a single Widgeon flank feather. I bought a 1 oz. bag of European Widgeon feathers around 1992, from a fly tying shop no longer in business – Classic and Custom Fly Shop, Connecticut.

Gills: Red thread, but I prefer to further enhance and paint the gills with Wapsi red lacquer.

Head: Black with painted-on eyes, yellow with black pupil. After a couple coats of Wapsi Gloss Coat, I added a coat of Black Pro Lak head cement. The eyes are painted on with the tip of a large size straightened paper clip. Then I use Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails, but gently, making only one brush stroke over each eye. Don’t worry about coating the whole head the first time. If you try to put too much on with the first coat, the Hard as Nails will react with the Wapsi lacquer eyes and smudge them. These heads have about 5 – 6 coats of Sally’s to protect them. I suppose you could use epoxy as well, a thin coat.

A closer image of the Widgeon Smelt heads.

You can see the feathers are very similar to teal, gray mallard, and there may actually be some of them mixed in with the widgeon feathers. I select the wing feathers to be long and somewhat narrow. The wing presents flat when fished, and gives some naturally imitative, scaly-looking barring to this pattern. I tied these flies for my friend Rod McGarry because he has promoted my visits to Maine, placing me in contact with several venues that successfully resulted in bookings for classes, etc. Thank you Rod! Rod commented when we tied this pattern during the class that he really liked it. We had breakfast together at The Village Store in New Gloucester, Maine, on Friday March 23rd. So I tied this half-dozen and gave this set to Rod. He guides for Jeff MacEvoy at Weatherby’s Sporting Camps in Grand Lake Stream, Maine. I am certain considering my success fishing the Widgeon Smelt in the Moosehead Lake area of Maine that Rod will do well with it in Grand Lake Stream.

Widgeon Smelt - head macro image. Note the smooth, shiny finish. That's how I like to finish this pattern, and also on my Jerry's Smelt heads. It takes a bit more time, but I think the results are well worth it. You can also see the vivid red gills.

Please stay tuned next week for the fish stories to go with the fly. Thanks for reading!

Only A Fly Tier…

This is going to be a short post, partly to let everyone know that I am back home where I have access to my own equipment computer, at least for a few days before I head off to the Izaak Walton 37th Annual Fly Fishing Forum in Hamilton, Ontario this weekend. I just have a short, sort of funny post to write.

There are some quirky habits and behaviors that are peculiar to fly tiers. Well, there’s a surprise. Like last Saturday, my brother Larry got into my car to ride home after my wet fly class at Pineland Farms Market Cafe near New Gloucester, Maine. The class was a success and I’ll try to write a review of that later on.

Anyway, as we started to drive away, Larry asked, “What’s this?” as he reached into one of the little cubby-holes between the front bucket seats and pulled out a sealed bottle of Grif’s Thin Head Cement. “You have head cement in your car?” he queried me in a rather surprised tone of voice.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Most people have gum in there. Or Altoids. Or Lifesavers,” he observed.

“Well, I got a bottle of head cement. It’s been there for a couple weeks now. I haven’t taken it into the house. Haven’t needed it.” I replied. Then after a pause, I added, “I am a fly tier.”

Added / edited this morning, March 28th: My friend Bill posted a comment that Grif’s is no longer available. Yes that’s right folks, one of my favorite head-cements, the Thin which I used as a first coat on anything and everything that was in my vise for almost 20 years, and the Thick, which I started using for smooth, glossy heads (underneath black ProLak sometimes) when Hille’s Lacquer Cement was no longer available, is not manufactured any more. What is in inventory wherever it is will be all there is. Here is a location that bought the remaining stock of Grif’s from Wapsi in February: Fishing Creek Angler, Fly Shop and Bed & Breakfast, Benton, Pennsylvania. For now they have some…

There is also a link to their website on my links bar on the right.