Streamer Hackle Feathers, Part II

I just completed some editing, with new information added to an older post on Carrie Stevens’ Pink Lady streamer. I also placed that particular post in my Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary category. Here is a link to the updated post:

In this followup commentary to my earlier post of a couple days ago: Selecting Streamer Hackle, I have these comments to add to my initial topic on selecting feathers for streamer wings, and the exact type, shape, and origin of feathers that some fly tiers may think are supposed to be used on streamer fly patterns:

My post, Selecting Streamer Hackle, was an effort to present information to help other fly tiers make informed choices when examining and buying feathers for streamer wings. This was done in response to numerous questions I have received over the past few years on the subject. I presented my thoughts with the benefit of information gleaned, absorbed, and some forgotten, from almost five decades of personal experience of fly tying and fly fishing and reading and studying about fly tying, fly fishing, and the history of both. As an adolescent and teenaged fly tier, tying Gray Ghosts, Black Ghosts, the Colonel Bates, and a dozen other feather wing streamers and bucktails in hook sizes #4 through #12 for my personal fishing use, I was not concerned or even aware of, at the time, what the “correct” shape of feathers for streamers should be. I was concerned only with having feathers of any grade reasonably suitable to use. Lucky for me, E. Hille – The Angler’s Supply House, started business in 1936, operated in my hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Getting feathers was never a problem.

Proper feather selection for streamers seems to have only gained a foothold in fly tier’s personal preferences in the present electronic information age, perhaps initially set forth in the mid-1990’s by Mike Martinek Jr. in his booklet,  Streamer Fly Patterns for Trolling and Casting; made more difficult by decades of demand by fly tiers for better quality dry fly hackle with breeders focusing their hackle development accordingly.

In my Selecting Feathers post, I relied on my familiarity with Mike Martinek’s preference, and that echoed by author, David Klausmeyer, in his 2004 book, Tying Classic Freshwater Streamers. I could have posted the photo of the cover of Dave’s book to illustrate the “preferred” shape of a streamer feather. I didn’t have a photo then, but here it is now:

Cover image of Tying Classic Freshwater Streamers, by David Klausmeyer. The feather shape of this wing is pretty much what most present-day streamer tiers would prefer to use.

The photo of the “just right” saddle hackles feathers that was posted at the end of my initial post is pretty much a match for the shape of the feathers on this fly on the cover of David’s book. For fishing flies, do we need “perfect” feathers? Of course not. Fly tiers on the other hand; many of us devoted to pursuit of perfection in our tying pay strict attention to details and quality of the materials we use.

There are also many more excellent fly tiers, with years and years of experience, scattered across the world; to name just a few of the still-living tiers: Chris Del Plato, Darren MacEachern, Mike Boyer, Rich Connors, Bob Frandsen, Leslie Hilyard, Peter Simonson, Deryn LaCombe, Greg Heffner, Tom Baltz, Joel Stansbury, Ted Patlen, Mike Norwood, and the aforementioned Mike Martinek. There are surely many more accomplished fly tiers. This is not a who’s who listing, so omission of many relatively new, yet skilled tiers with less than say, five years experience, is not an oversight. I merely chose to include a few tiers with a decade or more of tying experience behind them.

The reproduction of the Carrie Stevens streamers in Forgotten Flies, 1999, by South American fly tiers, Pedro “Pep” Dieppa and Marcelo Morales, while not a true representation of the traditional Rangeley style of streamer tying; their work is nonetheless a superb and impeccable accomplishment, and is a representation of excellent quality and experience by master fly tiers.

Fly tiers inherently infuse pattern replication with their own personal style. It’s almost unavoidable. Some tiers make every effort to reproduce a fly in the exact tradition of a pattern originator, right down to minute details; others tie the fly for display or to catch fish with less emphasis placed on replicating the original design and style. Again, personal subjectivity enters the equation.

The following is excerpted from comments taken from the above post, from close study of the two Pink Lady streamers tied by Carrie Stevens and her fly tying sister, Elizabeth Duley:

“Finally, there is an obvious difference between these flies in the shape of the feathers used for the wings. Most Rangeley style streamer devotees have a strong preference for hackles that are not too wide and also not too long, not too narrow, and not too pointed, preferring more rounded hackles as on Elizabeth’s rendition of the Pink Lady. Carrie’s pattern here clearly utilized some hackles that are narrower and more pointed than what is usually recommended and preferred by experienced Rangeley style streamer fly tiers. This indicates her resourcefulness to use materials at hand, even if they are not of the preferred shape. Fly tiers have been making adaptations and adjustments in their tying for centuries.”

In the remote Rangeley Region of Maine, where Carrie Stevens lived and worked during the 1930’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s. She didn’t have a multitude of fly shops close at hand. Another consideration: the type and quality of feathers then was a little different than it is today.

Regarding other originators of “New England” style streamers; one has to say that with respect for the streamer fly history that is associated with Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the rest of the New England states, these tiers had their own personal specifications for the length of wings, and the shape of the feathers for their original patterns. Joseph D. Bates book, Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, 1950, 1966, 1995 was the first book written that began to compile the origins and history of “long flies.” It is a good reference and a great place to start learning about streamer fly history. There are other books too, right up to the new release, Long Flies, by Gary A. Borger. I do not have that book, yet, but I am sure it will eventually occupy a place in my angling library.

I have one more photo and some notes to add here to contribute additional information to this topic, but that will be an edit later on.

8 comments on “Streamer Hackle Feathers, Part II

  1. Kelly L says:

    Excellent blog, and I am so glad you decided to do a Part 2! Your knack of combining history, with stunning photos, and you can tie it in with today, is particularly interesting to me. This is exactly the type of article I like to read. Selecting feathers are of dire importance to fly tyer who is serious about the art. You make it sound simple, even though it is not. This will certainly help those who are just getting started, or who already have an established foundation in the field. I also enjoyed hearing whom you believe to be top in the streamer field. It is hard to narrow it down, because there are so many excellent tyers out there. I know of most of your list, but not all. Thanks Don, you are a wealth of info. Your love for tying, and wanting to help others is very admirable.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Kelly!
      As always,thanks for your comment! I am glad you enjoyed the follow-up post. And I always appreciate your kind words and support.
      I visited an area fly shop today with Truman. In Sunbury, PA, about an hour from my home. Scoop! I found not one, but two additional sources for streamer hackles. One is the Wapsi “Deceiver hackles.” Some of them are perfect for streamers. The key with Deceiver hackle is to find them long enough in the pack, and you have to inspect them to ascertain this. If long enough,these feathers tend to be better on average than strung saddle. It’s not always predictable. Some strung saddle can be as good as you need them to be. I had actually bought Deceiver Hackles for streamers (yellow for Footer Specials), from The Evening Rise Fly Shop in Lancaster, PA, but they went out of business last year.
      The other source I discovered today is “Wapsi Universal Necks.” That’s the name on the label. I had never seen them until today. I bought a yellow dyed grizzly that is s-w-e-e-t. They are a cape, $40. They have the nicest and most uniform selection of the best-shaped, not-too-wide, not-too-narrow, stems-not-too-thick feathers for streamers that I have seen. And the fact that on a cape, you have the “filing cabinet” to select lefts and rights for perfectly balanced wings. These capes have the largest sizes of #1 – 10x long, or for tandem trolling streamers, right down to the smallest for #8 6x long. Uniformity of shape across the size range. And you can also use them for Green Drake dun patterns. Sweet. Very sweet!
      I bought a Whiting American Saddle Cape in grizzly dyed green that was also really nice. I would have bought the green-dyed griz in the Universal Neck but the shop owner didn’t have one. Too bad this place doesn’t mail-order. It’s an older, retired guy, but he’s got the best supply, stock,and diversity of materials that I’ve seen in a while. Ties all the flies sold in his shop himself, been tying 61 years. TG made “buddy” points today, BIG TIME!
      (I’ll need to add this info and maybe a couple new photos to the post, rather than spread this info into a third post). Thanks again for your comments!

      • Kelly L says:

        I do have a couple of deceiver packs. I will have to look at them to see if they qualify. Don, you made my day AGAIN. Thank you for the sweet tips. They are gonna sell like hotcakes I’m afraid….lol.

      • Don Bastian says:

        Thanks Kelly;
        You are so kind to be so supportive. It’s really gratifying to be able to help other fly tiers. I enjoy teaching, either in person or via the internet. Talkin’ tyin’ and fishin’ allows me to share what I love. I really enjoy being able to help pass on the traditions of our fly tying heritage. Thanks for your unwavering support!

  2. Great follow-up post Don. It’s a constant quest to find the perfect hackles, I know. 🙂 Great insight into the history, and the comparison of Carrie and Elizabeth’s streamers side by side.

  3. Kelly L says:

    Don, it shows. You have a love of tying, and you like sharing, and helping others. It comes through in flying colors in your blog. That is one of the biggest reasons I have to view what you say. We share a passion about tying, and fishing. I have learned a lot by reading what you have to say. Your dedication, and love for tying is the driving force behind this blog. That keeps me hanging on to your every word, your blogs, photos of flies in history, and your beautiful renditions, and your originals. We are blessed to have someone of your caliber that is willing to share your love, and help others. You do have my unwavering support.

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