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.

Lady Killer

I just received my invitation to participate in the 22nd Annual International Fly Tying Symposium the other day. The dates are November 17 and 18, 2012. In the package there was also the usual fly donation request for the beautiful frame that Ted Patlen, fly tier and fly framer extraordinaire of Lodi, New Jersey, puts together each year as a raffle item to raise funds for kids fly tying programs. The deadline for fly submissions is September 10th.

Rather than procrastinate as I occasionally do, I pondered, “What to tie and send to Ted?” Not too long though actually. Initially I thought about sending Ted an already tied Parmacheene Belle, the Henry Wells version, a la 19th Century original recipe, of which I have eight or ten in sizes #2, #4, and #6 lying around. But within minutes my thoughts turned to Carrie Stevens and one of her beautiful patterns. Besides, I did announce here some time ago that I would be eventually starting a Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary anyway. So why not start now? To begin with I created a new blog Category – Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary. For the first fly I chose a pattern that I had not previously tied, wanting to add to my portfolio of experience tying her patterns. Hence the Lady Killer:

Lady Killer – Carrie Stevens Pattern. Hook is size #1 – 8x Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer.

Lady Killer

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Red hackle fibers

Ribbing: Flat silver tinsel

Body: Red floss

Throat: White hackle fibers

Wing: Two yellow hackles flanked on each side by one white hackle

Shoulder: A chicken breast feather dyed red

Cheeks: Jungle cock

Head: Four equal bands in sequence – black, red, black, red.

Note: as per a photo of a Carrie Stevens original Lady Killer in the Hilyard Carrie Stevens book, 2000, the band sections are listed from the rear of the head forward to the eye.

You’ll note that I also used narrow tinsel for the tag and wider for the ribbing. If a pattern lacks a tail, then I use the same  section of tinsel for both tag and ribbing, winding both at once after the body is completed. While I was at it I tied two, one for Ted and one for me.

A pair of Lady Killer streamers, Size #1 – 8x.

I took a macro of the rear end of the body:

Lady Killer – macro of rear of body area.
A little over a year ago, I started to adopt Warren Duncan’s pull-over floss “keeper” method that he used on salmon fly floss bodies where there was no tag, tail, or ribbing to reinforce the floss body. His method forms a shell back of sorts that effectively locks in the rear of the body, which if not done, would not be stable or durable at all. This is the same method that I explained in my first DVD, Tying Classic Wet Flies, 2004, when tying in floss tags. On this Lady Killer, there is a short section of red floss tied in on top of the body with a pinch wrap after setting the tail and attaching the ribbing, and before winding to the head to tie in the body floss. When the body construction begins, two wraps of the body floss, four strands used here, are made, and then the “keeper” is pulled forward and tied in and wrapped over with the body floss. This provides greater reinforcement to the rear of the body and binds in every last strand of floss. And why do I bother to do this, you ask? Start looking real close at macros of flies with floss bodies on line. Even some of my work in Forgotten Flies, which was completed thirteen years ago. Even a tinsel ribbing does not effectively secure every last strand of floss. You can often see a few to many strands that slipped out of place at the end of the bodies. I know, it’s a detail, but “attention to detail is what separates good and other classifications of really ‘well-tied flies’ and excellently tied flies. Been saying that in my classes for over a decade. This little “body keeper” technique adds another 25% to 30% of the hook shank circumference where the floss gets locked into place beyond that provided by the ribbing alone. I also believe that as fly tiers, we should never be content with less than the best of our capability. And, this technique does increase the durability of the pattern for fishing flies.

Lady Killer – head macro. In replicating Carrie Stevens (or other tiers original patterns) I believe we should tie with attention to detail. Personally, for me when tying Carrie’s patterns, that means that I replicate her style of elongated heads. My cement used here is Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails, and nothing else. About 5 – 6 coats. I used to favor the Wapsi Gloss Coat, but discovered that when thinned with regular lacquer thinner, the heads get a malignant-looking grayish ‘blight’ on them, which developed about 8 to 10 weeks later. Not good. I thought using the Wapsi Gloss Coat Thinner would solve the problem, but no. The heads still went blotchy-gray after a couple months. Unacceptable. I do love Wapsi Gloss Coat for any head that will be finished off with Black Pro Lak, because one application of that cures the disease. Note: the jungle cock nail was repaired on the rear side with Flexament. The splits are still visible, but they are bound together.

Wing cement used is Elmer’s Rubber Cement. No bleeding. Instant bonding. Durable. Holds when soaked in water and shaken, hard – not stirred. See:

I have already explained in my other blog posts why I am replicating Carrie’s banded heads. I did it for a little while in the mid-1980’s and then stopped and did not do it for over 20 years. I started doing it on a few Gray Ghosts that I tied up for collector’s packages. Then in a conversation with another tier last summer we discussed this and at that time I decided I would once again begin using Carrie Steven’s banding method to finish her patterns that I tie. Initially I was using colored cements and nail polish. Then I developed my own method of using only the tying thread to accomplish the bands. Fly tiers do not normally make substitutions on other pattern ingredients and still consider the dressing complete to the original specifications. I believe her head bands are part of her specific pattern recipe. And as detail-oriented as we tiers often are, I do not believe this infringes on her signature. Carrie’s sister, Elizabeth Duley, duplicated the banding when tying her sister’s patterns. Wendell Folkins of Tamworth, New Hampshire, who bought Carrie’s business in December 1953, was expected by Carrie to continue using her banding method, which he did. This is something that Carrie specifically, not randomly, integrated into her patterns.

I will be developing and expanding my Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary as time passes. I will integrate existing Carrie Stevens streamer patterns on my blog into this Category. This will take some time, so please bear with me. For now, this is the first entry and eventually, if you use the search tab, you’ll be able to locate any post in the Category. I want to try and keep the Carrie Stevens Streamer Pattern Dictionary limited to photos of flies, recipes, fishing experiences, and tutorials. Thanks for your support everyone!

Carrie Stevens and Elizabeth Duley – Sister’s Pink Lady Streamers

Thanks to Graydon and Leslie Hilyard and their wonderful book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies; Stackpole Books, 2000, much of the historic information about the career and personal life of fly tier, entrepreneur, and milliner Carrie G. Stevens is preserved in the marvelous documentation of photos and written accounts in the book. The portion of the fly tying community who are interested in nostalgia and historical preservation owes Graydon and Leslie Hilyard a debt of gratitude for capturing this information before it slipped into the forgotten vault of the past. Pamela Bates, daughter of Joseph D. Bates who was a friend of Mrs. Stevens and for whom the Colonel Bates streamer was created, wrote in the foreword to the book: “One of the many glories of Hilyard’s research is that he grasped what is most probably the last opportunity to document what little primary source material remains.” Pamela also wrote of Carrie, “As she aspired to perfection, she became the first American tier to employ the British tradition of creating flies for the fishermen and letting the fish take care of the rest.” Indeed.

While at the Marlborough, Massachusetts, Fly Fishing Show over January (2012) 20th to the 22nd, I caught up with fellow fly tier and friend, Ed Muzeroll, from Sydney, Maine. We met more than ten years ago at one of the shows, and I am pleased to say Ed is one of the contributing tiers, recreating the 19th century Orvis fly patterns for my upcoming book, Favorite Fishing Flies o- 1892. See my November announcement on the book:

As we visited at my table, Ed showed me this pair of Pink Lady streamers; the unique aspect of these two flies is that they were dressed by sisters, Carrie Stevens and Elizabeth Duley. The streamer at the top was tied by Elizabeth, and the bottom fly was dressed by Carrie Stevens.

Pink Lady streamers – the top fly was tied by Elizabeth Duley, sister of Carrie Stevens, the bottom fly was dressed by Carrie G. Stevens. Photo by Don Bastian.

I took the photos hand-held with my Canon G9 Powershot using no flash. (I really never get good results photographing flies with flash). Carrie most likely created her Pink Lady streamer as a conversion from the famous wet fly created by George M. L. LaBranche, author of two books: The Dry Fly and Fast Water, 1914, and The Salmon and the Dry Fly, 1924.

Here are some interesting aspects on these flies that I would like to comment on:

It appears the hooks are the same size, but look to perhaps be from different manufacturers. The heads are quite different; Elizabeth’s head is much larger that Carrie’s usual elongated, narrower style and shape. It is important to note that both heads have Carrie’s color band, here appearing to be orange. According to the recipe published in Hilyard’s book, the Pink Lady has a head band of pink thread.

To me, the fact that her sister incorporated Carrie’s band into her fly reinforces my belief that the color band was not Carrie’s signature, as much as it was a component of the fly pattern itself. H. Wendell Folkins, to whom she sold her business in 1953, was given specific instructions by Carrie Stevens to continue the use of her color-banded heads. I believe it is a tribute and sign of respect in recognition of a Carrie Stevens pattern to use the banded heads. I personally came to this conclusion last summer after more than 20 years of tying Steven’s patterns without the bands. See this earlier post on the topic:

Note the length of the bodies on both flies, the body ends above the hook point, while some of Carrie’s flies have shorter bodies. Elizabeth’s Pink Lady lacks the tag of flat silver tinsel; it would appear that Carrie’s fly includes it, but it is difficult to see under the bucktail belly. Note the ribbing – Carrie’s is counterclockwise, while sister Elizabeth wound the rib to the right.

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.

I wanted to share these flies through my photos because I believe this is a very interesting bit of history, illustrating the differing fly tying styles between sisters Carrie Stevens and Elizabeth Duley.

Pink Lady Streamer tied by Carrie Stevens. From the collection of Ed “Muzzy” Muzerol, Don Bastian photo.