Streamer Hackles – A Primer on What to Look For

A few weeks ago I was tying 16 Carrie Stevens streamer patterns, actually about ten different patterns, for a few orders. While doing that I thought, as I had previously, that I get lots of questions as to what is the best hackle, where can they be found, etc., the choice of hackles, and what is best, decent, mediocre, and useless (except perhaps for Buggers, poppers, salt water flies, and cat toys), came into my mind. I took some pics of the stuff I use, this is by far not all of it, but the pictures here and comments will hopefully help you to select and maybe even find some good to better to best feathers to use.

Some of these packages are available, you can find them in your area fly shops, or maybe have a friend look for you, or even mail order them, but in the latter case, you take your chances on getting what you want. There is no substitute for: 1) being there in person to make your selection, and 2) having a trusted friend buy what they use for themselves, and get some for you. Option three, having a certified New England, Classic, traditional, heritage, or whatever term you choose to use, streamer expert on hand at the shop you order from is not something you can easily find, nor take for granted. If you have one of those in the employ of your shop, tip him gratuitously! 😉

That said, here are the pics:

Three saddle hackles, all from the same pack of strung hackle. Feather on the left, pretty much useless for streamers.

Three saddle hackles, all from the same pack of strung hackle. The brand in this case is Orvis; they come from China. Feather on the left, pretty much useless for streamers. The one in the middle, useable, but it is not of the best, preferred shape, due to the pointy end. That said, in the Carrie Stevens book, there are specimens of original flies dressed by her, where the outer wing hackle looks very much like this one, narrow at the end, but it is usually laid over a perfectly shaped feather for the inner hackle(s). Sometimes we get too hung up on “feather perfection.” She did not do that… The hackle on the right – pretty much represents streamer feather perfection. Note the rounded end, it’s not too wide, not too narrow, just right, like the medium-sized bowl of porridge in Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Also note the area, size, and shape of the webbing nearing the butt end of what will be the tie-in point on a streamer. This helps create a foundation for shoulders, or makes a good looking wing when there is no shoulder. This feather is a good representation of the “best” streamer hackles.

Neck hackles can also be used, but nowadays the genetic dry fly breeding preference in the fly tying industry has bred out a lot of what used to be good for both drys, and the bigger feathers of the preferred shape, on a cape or neck (same thing, interchangeable term), out of existence. I am very fortunate to have a good selection of old, 20-plus year old Metz, CQH, Orvis, etc. dry fly necks, whose bigger feathers make perfect streamer wings. Lacking that, here are more options:

I found both these packages at the Orvis Store in Manchester, Vermont, a couple years ago. Saw them recognized them as great streamer hackles, and grabbed 'em.

I found both these packages at the Orvis Store in Manchester, Vermont, a couple years ago. Saw them, recognized them as great streamer hackles, and grabbed ’em.

When buying strung saddle, the first thing I do is take the bundle from the pack, and go through all the feathers. There will be some schlappen in there; sort that out and store it with your schlappen to be used for tailing and throats. I keep my schlappen, trimmed, fluff removed, in three Plano boxes. Having the colors sorted, with a small inventory of each color, and ready-to-use makes this much easier.

The next thing on sorting strung saddle, if you want to, remove the non useable, and any damaged feathers. You are pretty much good to go from there on. Lots of the feathers can make fishing flies though. Let’s not forget that. Especially, you can place the inferior feathers on the inside of the wing, or use six hackles when only four are called for.

Whiting Streamer Pack - thankfully some companies are breeding and  producing feathers for the streamer tiers.

Whiting Streamer Pack – thankfully some companies are breeding and producing feathers for the streamer tiers. There are generally the perfect shape, but their downside is that often the stems are a little stout. They can be made better for tying-in by cutting the tip of the butt section with a scissor-cut, right in the stem. Basically you are making a cut in the stem, and parallel to it. This lessens the bulk of fat stems, by partly shredding it. Finally, the use of a pair of flat-blade, non-serrated tweezers, flattening the stems of all wing components, just before tying in, makes them lie flatter on the head / tie-in area on your fly.

Whiting also has their American Rooster Capes, these are pretty good for streamers, but again from what I have seen, the stems are a bit stout. My fellow streamer tier, Eunan Hendron, posted a very good reply below, after this piece was published. I decided to do an edit by placing notice here, of his recommendation based on experience of Whiting American Rooster Saddles. Be sure to read his comment, as he discussed his experience with them and the price range of under $30.

And finally, Chinese necks or capes, these are not saddle feathers. Bill Keough’s salt water necks / capes are good feathers for streamers, but most of the colors are a little too hot for traditional streamer tying;chartreuse, purple, hot pink, fluorescent orange. Yet, at the upcoming Fly Fishing Shows, if you can get there, check them out. If he has white ones and you don’t mind dyeing, go for it.

Chinese Streamers Necks, both came from LL Bean they are Wapsi Products.

Chinese Streamers Necks, both came from the LL Bean Flagship Store in Freeport, Maine. They are Wapsi Products.

Plenty of fly shops are Wapsi Dealers, if they do not carry these capes in their regular stock, get them to order some for you. Tying streamers should be the hardest part of this; locating good materials ought not prevent anyone interested in twisting up some classic streamer patterns from doing so.

And, seven years ago, my Streamer DVD was published. They are still available.

Traditional Streamers and Bucktails, 2007, recorded and produced by Bennett- Watt Entertainment

Traditional Streamers and Bucktails, 2007, recorded and produced by Bennett- Watt Entertainment as part of their DVD series, The New Hooked on Fly Tying Collection.

The methods demonstrated in this DVD, while it does not cover Carrie Stevens cementing wing components techniques, still contains a lot of good info that will benefit your streamer tying.

And I close with a photo of a streamer pattern, as an example of pretty good feathers for the wing:

G. Donald Bartlett, a Carrie Stevens pattern created and named after G. Donald Bartlett of Willimantic Connecticut.

Don’s Special, one of three Carrie Stevens patterns created and named after G. Donald Bartlett of Willimantic, Connecticut. Dressed by Don Bastian on a Gaelic Supreme Rangeley Style Hook, size #1 – 8x long.

Tight threads everyone! Happy Thanksgiving too!

Advertisements

Carrie Stevens – Silver Doctor

Not too long ago a friend sent me this picture of a streamer. At first we were not sure what it was, though we were both pretty sure it was a Carrie Stevens tied fly. My friend sent the image to Don Palmer, of the Rangeley Outdoor Heritage Museum in Oquossoc, Maine, and he identified it as a Silver Doctor, though sans a few parts.

It’s pretty well beat, missing both cheeks, and the shoulder is gone as well on one side. The significant part of this image is that you can see evidence of Carrie’s use of cement / varnish, in the interior section of the wing. In addition to pre-assembling and cementing her wing components in advance; hackles, shoulders, and cheeks, she applied cement to the inner portion of the wing to help hold the fly together, and also used it to help set the wings. Here you go:

Silver Doctor Streamer, tied by Carrie Stevens.

Silver Doctor Streamer, tied by Carrie Stevens. The jungle cock cheek is missing. The normally red head has oxidized and changed color from rusting of the hook.

And here is the revealing image that most of us never get to see:

The inside of a Carrie Stevens streamer fly - look closely, you can see residue of cement that held the shoulder in place. This also bears witness to how much cement she used, and how long of the stem portion of the feathers she applied it to.

The inside of a Carrie Stevens streamer fly – Silver Doctor, missing both the gray mallard shoulder and jungle cock cheek. Look closely, you can see residue of cement that held the shoulder in place. This also bears witness to how much cement she used, and how long of the stem portion of the feathers she applied it to. You can also see more of the throat fibers exposed, revealing a bit of her unique, self-taught, layering method of applying the throat to her flies. The copy of notes I have that were made by Austin S. Hogan, angling historian, and the first curator of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, reinforce all that I have described here.

Don’t forget, you can click on the pic, enlarge it, and be better able to view the cement residue. Remember, Carrie Stevens was a milliner by trade, so when she started tying flies in 1920 when she was already in her forties, it was only natural for her to apply what she learned in her trade to her new profession of fly tying.

The other thing that is noteworthy; you can also see the slight up-angle of the wing, the stems are not in perfect parallel alignment with the shank of the hook, as I’ve seen some tiers do, but are at a slight angle above the horizontal line of the hook shank. I mean to me, if you’re gonna tie Carrie Stevens patterns then I think they ought to be done as she did…that is, if you know the facts and have the ability to tie the fly in “true Rangeley Style.”

Thanks to my friend, Lance Allaire of Maine, for sending these pics to me.

Vintage Stuff

A friend of mine, and one of my blog followers, and occasional commenters, Alec Stansell, of Massachusetts, posted this picture on his facebook page. I liked it and decided to share it with my readers. It is some carded streamers and a bottle of head cement from the Percy Tackle Company, of Portland, Maine. Percy Tackle Co. was started by Gardner Percy, I believe, back in the 1920’s.

The flies are a Mickey Finn (left), unknown (center) – I have put in a message to Alec to identify it, and a Gray Ghost. The head cement is pretty cool too. Wonder how it would work?

Old collectible items from the Percy Tackle Company, of Portland, Maine.

Old collectible items from the Percy Tackle Company, of Portland, Maine. The flies are attached to the card with a staple over the hook bend. This was the most common method of attaching streamers and bucktails to cards.

Don’t forget, you can click on the picture, and it will enlarge for a bigger image. If you have a new touch-screen laptop like I do (still getting used to it), then you can also make the pic bigger just by moving your fingers…either way works.

Alec just messaged me, this pic was on eBay. He bought the items, but has not yet received them. He offered to take macro pics of the items when he gets them, and we’ll get the name for that unknown pattern. He thinks it’s called “Commando.” Which is interesting because I do not know of a fly with that name…course, sometimes I just don’t know… 😉

Rangeley Lake Flies

Earlier this fall, I tied an order for a customer going to Upper Dam in the Rangeley Region of Maine to fish for brook trout and land-locked salmon. He told me to select the patterns, so I thought it only appropriate to choose the flies for his trip from among the famous, historic, heritage Lake Flies, some of which were listed in Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories. These flies were in the Orvis inventory, and also for sale by other firms, such as Abbey & Imbrie, who went out of business in 1920.

I tied them on size #6 and #8 Mustad hooks, though I did use contemporary wet fly hooks, in this case, Tiemco #3769, 0x-long wet fly hook. The reason for that is that vintage wet fly hooks such as the #3906 and #3399 Mustad, and other hooks such as Partridge, Allcock, Nyack and others, while they make great-looking wet flies, the contemporary hooks are in my view, better for fishing flies. This is due to their manufacture with high-carbon steel, and having chemically sharpened points and mini-barbs. Besides the limited availability of antique and vintage hooks relegates their prudent usage to collector and framed flies.

Here are the pics of part of the order:

A collection of Lake Flies, all originated and / or used in Maine's Rangeley Lakes Region.

A collection of replicated 19th century Lake Flies, all originated and / or used in Maine’s Famous Rangeley Lakes Region. On the left, Montreals; top center, The Tim – named for Tim Pond near Eustis;  right, Richardson, named after Richardson Lake; and center, a dozen Parmacheene Belles in two sizes. The latter was named for Lake Parmacheene, part of the system that the Magalloway River flows out of.

The Tim in Marbury’s book has a black ostrich herl head, but I substituted black rabbit dubbing to replicate the vintage look. This trick also makes for less time and effort where you might otherwise apply numerous coats of head cement to finish the head smooth and shiny. The fly, done this way, with the faux-ostrich dubbed head, looks classic and can be finished – and fished – right out of the vise. On to the next fly…

Rangeley Lake Flies, a bit of a closer image - macro photo.

Rangeley Lake Flies, a bit of a closer image – macro photo.

And finally, The Tim:

The Tim Lake Fly - named for Tim Pond, created in the 1870's-80's...named for Trapper Tim, for whom Tim Pond was named.

The Tim Lake Fly – named for Tim Pond, created in the 1870’s-80’s…named for Trapper Tim, for whom Tim Pond was named. The mallard wing was applied in two sections, basically layering two sections of webby mallard, right over each other. The second, top layer, is folded or tented over the lower portion of the wing.

The Tim:

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Scarlet quill section

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel

Body: Yellow floss

Hackle: Yellow

Wing: yellow dyed gray mallard

Head: Black wool or dubbing, finished with black thread.

I used Danville white Flymaster 6/0 for the body, and switched to black for the head. These Lake Flies were historically tied in larger sizes, #4, #2, #1, even as large as #1/0 and even 2/0 in some cases.

Oh yes, my customer reported success with the flies on his trip. Classic flies, fun to tie, and they still catch fish! See also the recent posts on the Black Prince, where that classic wet fly has tempted brown trout on Pennsylvania’s famed limestone streams, Penn’s Creek and Spring Creek, for two of my customers.

I have another batch that I took photos of, they were part of a second shipment. I’ll get those posted here as well…after the coming week or so of doing things more important right now…

24th Annual International Fly Tying Symposium

By way of announcement, the International Fly Tying Symposium will take place next weekend, November 22 and 23 at Somerset, New Jersey. I will be present, tying and demonstrating. The event is at the Garden State Exhibit Center, the show hotel is the Doubletree.

I plan to tie classic wet flies, and maybe some streamers, but more likely than not, I will focus on the 20th century style wets from Ray Bergman’s “Trout,” Helen Shaw’s “Flies for Fish and Fisherman,” and other books. I will also have on hand my copy of Mary Orvis Marbury’s “Favorite Flies and Their Histories,” since my book in progress, “Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892” is being put on a fast track to a finish line to be sent to the publisher. I will concentrate on those patterns, likely focusing on some of the classic Lake Flies.

I will have updated information on my book, so please stop by and see my ongoing laptop slide show of the actual flies from the 122-year old color plates of flies that the book plate paintings were made from.

I will also have some gray mallard on hand, so if you want a demo on tying patterns such as the Professor, using one feather to make a great looking wing, whether for fishing or presentation, check this out. No more stress trying to locate prime matched pairs of gray mallard flank. 😉

I also have a new, for about three years, method to mount wet fly quill wings. Thanks to my buddy Dave Lomasney, of York, Maine. If you have not seen this, you need to.

Looking forward to being there again!

The Black Prince Rides Again

Black Prince 013-1A few posts back, I wrote about a customer who had bought four dozen Black Prince wet flies from me. Well, her success with that old classic pattern continues, and has spilled over to another angler she met on the stream. After her success on Penn’s Creek, I had asked her what size she was using. There is more success to this fish story, since he also ordered some Black Prince wet flies from me, and I wanted to share a few of their notes:

Wednesday Sept. 24:

Mr. Bastian,

“I say again: ALL HAIL THE BLACK PRINCE!!

I was this evening at Fisherman’s Paradise (FP – near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania), and again was successful with the Black Prince. FP is a very difficult place to fish in that the pressure there is enormous. But I am learning; I go there in the evening and not only fish past sundown but past last light into the darkness. They are active at this time. I am there fishing with my Glenn Brackett, 7ft. 3wt. bamboo rod, Hardy “Baby” Perfect, Cortland “Sylk” line and the Orvis 4x braided Bimini leader. The last one I caught was a nice fat 10-inch that gave a really good fight. Just gorgeous. Size you ask? #16.

I AM learning how to wet fly fish!!”

Best Regards,
Jean

And she replied to my initial post about the Black Prince:

Thursday Sept. 25:

“Dear Mr. Bastian,

Very nice post. Getting the word out on actually using Bergman flies is important. And yes you were correct: I fished across-and-down. Very traditional stuff. Perhaps I should be out there with that Leonard Fairy Catskill and that little Hardy St George Jr. Now that’s tradition!”

Jean

And she wrote this note after yet another successful evening on Penn’s Creek fishing the Black Prince:

Sept. 28:

“I must say, Mr. Bastian, that the Black Prince is a really something. I do hope you are fishing with your own flies. (Of course I am, just not often enough – 😉 – Don). As a fitting closure to the evening, a juvenile bald eagle, a trout in his talons, flew over my head. Gorgeous.”

Best Regards,

Jean

On her “Black Prince” outing at Fisherman’s Paradise, she met another angler who lives in nearby State College. Since she was catching fish, he was curious what she was using. Jean met Robert, and they talked flies, they spoke of classic tackle, talked about me, since she has been a customer for a few years now, and I had also spent some time fishing with her in July 2012, and he also wondered where he could get this “killer fly.” She gave him my e-mail address, he placed an order for two dozen Black Prince wet flies, #14, and #16.

Here is a letter he sent just yesterday, Wednesday October 22:

“Your quality of work is just outstanding! I have been treating your flies like little pieces of art that get tossed through the air. Have only used them on the creek in one outing so far, on Spring Creek at ‘The Rock’. I fished them in tandem ( #14 and #16), 45 degrees upstream dead drift until 45 degrees behind me, and then swung them across and used a twitch method until it was directly downstream, followed by a hand twist retrieve. (This is) The method detailed in Ray Bergman’s, Trout (1938, 1952). In two hours I landed six nice fish. Two were on the hot spot, right when they started to drag 45 degrees behind, one really good strike during twitching, and three more on the retrieve. This is such a fun way to fish for me, and I will certainly be looking into more classic wet fly patterns in the future. I will give you a full days report soon.”

Robert
This ought to give you all a few ideas…places to fish, and trout to catch!

Gem – A New and Unknown Carrie Stevens Pattern

Two different people sent me this photo over the weekend of an unknown (as far as I know), carded  Carrie Stevens bucktail pattern. Obviously, it is her card, her handwriting, and her fly. And very interesting in that fly is is a similar design to the FRS Bucktail patterns she originated for her friend and client of her guide husband, Wallace Stevens. The client for whom the FRS bucktails were created and named was Francis Reast Smith, 1873-1950.

Here is the pic of the Gem:

Gem bucktail, created and tied by Carrie G. Stevens of Upper Dam, Maine.

Gem bucktail, created and tied by Carrie G. Stevens of Upper Dam, Maine. This hook is a variation from her standard use of the Allcock 1810 Regular Heavy Sproat turned-down eye streamer hooks that she normally used. Not sure what it is, but it is known she used some Mustad hooks similar in design to the Allcock 1810 after World War II.

By zooming in on the image, I was able to ascertain that the head is red with a black band, and there is a tag on the fly, though it is impossible to determine the color of it. Perhaps if I made another image, cropped it to the tag, and them zoomed in and maybe lightened the brightness I might be able to find that out. That’s a little detective project for later on…

This is also interesting for another reason: chenille was like, never used on any of Carrie Stevens’ other named and well-known and known, but unfamiliar patterns. On the tag, it is very likely that it is a silver tinsel, because of all her named and known patterns, give or take a hundred-plus, she used gold tinsel on only five of them. Upon close inspection, the profile of the tag seems to indicate that it is oval tinsel as well, presenting the use of another material that she did not use on the dressings of her standard Rangeley Style streamers.

Don’t forget folks, you can click on the image to enlarge it, and another click will make it even bigger Check it out!

The topping appears to be green hackle fibers. Body is yellow chenille, and the wing is white bucktail over red bucktail. I’m sticking my neck out a bit and am calling the tag oval silver tinsel, without having made the aforementioned detailed investigation.

To my regular followers…I have a major life-change event on the horizon…all good. Moving on and forward from some of the negative residual of my ill-fated second marriage which ended almost four years ago. I have been very busy with all that. At some point I will be more in control of everything and will be able to focus on more regular writing here as well. I send my heartfelt thanks to all of you for your patience and devotion.

I will be at the International Fly Tying Symposium in November, the 22nd and 23rd, in Somerset, New Jersey.