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!

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Don’s Delight – Carrie Stevens Pattern

Just so you all don’t think I’ve lost my marbles and turned this blog into Wild Kingdom – Cogan Station, with all the recent deer sightings and fawn births, I am posting the Don’s Delight, a Carrie Stevens pattern, as promised, “before too long,” from a few days ago when I posted the Don’s Special.

The Don’s Special was one of three streamer patterns that Carrie G. Stevens, of Upper Dam, Maine, created for George Donald Bartlett. Don Bartlett first visited Upper Dam in 1909 at the age of nine. He made annual trips there for thirty-six consecutive years until his untimely death in 1945 at the young age of forty-five. Don was from Willimantic, Connecticut, as were a couple other notable Carrie Stevens friends, customers, and guide clients of her husband, Wallace. These included Frank Bugbee, for whom Carrie never created a fly, but it was he who thought of the name, Gray Ghost, for Mrs. Stevens most famous fly, indeed, the most famous streamer ever created, bar none. The third individual was Alfred “Allie” French, for whom Carrie created the Allie’s Delight and Allie’s Favorite.

I mentioned not too long ago that among thirty-five Rangeley style streamer patterns I have recently created, one of my patterns, designed in honor of Frank Bugbee, is called Bugbee’s Ghost. I promise to tie Bugbee’s Ghost and get it on here “before too long.” As part of that collection, I have also tied my original patterns – Carrie’s Ghost and Carrie’s Killer. They have been sitting here for weeks, patiently waiting for their photo shoot.

On to the Don’s Delight:

Don's Delight - hook is a Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style sttreamer. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Don’s Delight – hook is a size #1 – 8x long, Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style streamer. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Two card-mounted Don's Delight streamers. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Two card-mounted Don’s Delight streamers. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

 

Don's Delight - tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Don’s Delight – size #1 – 8x long, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Don’s Delight

Thread: Black or white Danville 3/0 Monocord or Uni-Thread 3/0, for under body build up on larger hook sizes, 6/0 can be used on smaller hooks

Hook: Any standard long-shank streamer hook, sizes #1 to #8, 6x to 10x long.

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Red hackle fibers

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Throat: White hackle fibers

Wing: Four white hackles

Shoulder: Golden pheasant tippet

Cheek: Jungle cock

Head: Black with a red band, finished with Danville #100 Black and #56 Red Flymaster 6/0

The Don’s Delight, as a predominantly white streamer pattern, is an effective baitfish imitating fishing fly.

YThese are the three patterns Carrie Stevens created for Donald Bartlett: Top to bottom: G. Donald Bartlett, Don's Delight, and Don's Special

This photo presents the trio of patterns Carrie Stevens created for Donald Bartlett: Top to bottom: G. Donald Bartlett – #2 – 8x, Don’s Delight – #1 8x, and Don’s Special – #2 – 8x. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

 

Don’s Special – Carrie Stevens Pattern

The Don’s Special is one of three patterns created by Carrie G. Stevens of Upper Dam, Maine, in the 1930’s or early 1940’s for her friend and guide client of her husband Wallace, George Donald Bartlett. Don, as he was known, was extremely proud of the fact that Carrie named three flies after him, this according to his daughter, Lucy Bartlett Crosby.

The Don’s Special is very similar to another Stevens pattern, the Blue Dragon. Here, I must interject: The Blue Dragon, in the photo of an original tied by Carrie Stevens in the Graydon and Leslie Hilyard book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, 2000, is quite clearly shown wearing the blue hackles on the outside of the wing, though the written recipe in Hilyard’s book has the blue hackle inside the outer wing of grizzly. I have studied the photo of Carrie’s Blue Dragon fly with a magnifier, and also asked several other fly tiers their opinion on the wing of the Blue Dragon. We all concur that the hackle order of the wing on the Blue Dragon, inside out, is: gray, grizzly, blue. This also makes so much more sense for the pattern name, Blue Dragon, as opposed to the placement of grizzly hackles on the outside of the wing. Finally there is a very noticeable difference in the appearance of the Don’s Special when compared to the Blue Dragon. Both patterns in the Hilyard book are Stevens originals; the Blue Dragon is obviously quite blue in its overall color scheme, while the wing of the Don’s Special is predominantly grizzly.

The other two patterns Carrie named after Don Bartlett are the Don’s Delight and the G. Donald Bartlett. I recently posted the G. Donald Bartlett, and I will follow up here on my blog before too long with the Don’s Delight. All the Carrie Stevens patterns I post here are placed in my Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary category, under the heading category of Streamers and Bucktails. Don’t forget to use the Search Tab when you may want to locate something here on my blog.

All three of the Bartlett patterns are part of a set of Carrie Steven’s Collector’s Edition Flies that I package and sell on MyFlies.com. http://www.myflies.com/Carrie-Stevens-Streamer-Patterns-Collectors-Edition-Set-No-6-P785.aspx

Here are some photos and the recipe:

Don's Special - tied and photographed by Don Bastian. The hook is a Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley style streamer, No. 2 - 8x long.

Don’s Special – tied and photographed by Don Bastian. The hook is a Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley style streamer, No. 2 – 8x long.

Don's Special - card-mounted. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Don’s Special – card-mounted. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian. (Note: that’s not my current phone number). It is: 570-998-9124.

Don’s Special

Hook: Standard long shank streamer hook, 6xl to 10 xl, size #1 to #8

Thread: Depending on hook size, heavier thread such as Danville 3/0 Monocord or Uni-Thread 3/0 may be used for the underbody beneath the tinsel. The advantage of using heavier thread on the hook shank is a quicker build of the thread underbody because fewer thread wraps means faster tying. Since this pattern has a tinsel body, black thread could be used. The Uni is much heavier than the Danville 3/0 due to inconsistencies of the aught thread rating system among thread manufacturers. For accurate thread ratings refer to the Denier system.

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Yellow hackle fibers

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Throat: Yellow

Wing: Two blue hackles, flanked on each side by two gray hackles flanked on each side by two natural grizzly hackles

Cheeks: Jungle cock

Head: Black with a red band

The wings were cemented beforehand using Elmer’s Rubber Cement. I have found this the best cement to use. It is inexpensive, readily available, it lasts underwater, – and I know because of a 36-hour soaking experiment, and it is durable – because of three-hundred violent hand shakes of rubber-cemented wing after aforementioned 36-hour soaking. It does not bleed through, it sets quickly but not too fast, and it can be used right from the bottle without the time of leaving it sit to “cure” as some cements / tiers prefer to do with other brands of cement or nail  polish, until it reaches the “desired consistency.” I tend to build my streamers wings from the inside out. I prefer to cement them, after 48 years of fly tying, as opposed to assembly separately as illustrated in my DVD Traditional Streamers and Bucktails, 2007, Bennett-Watt Entertainment. http://www.myflies.com/DVD-Traditional-Streamers-and-Bucktails-P622.aspx

Don's Special -

Don’s Special – tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

G. Donald Bartlett – Carrie Stevens Pattern

The G. Donald Bartlett streamer is one of three patterns created by Carrie G. Stevens of Upper Dam, Maine, in honor of George Donald Bartlett, of Willimantic, Connecticut. Don as he was known, made his first visit to Upper Dam at age nine in 1909. For thirty-six years, Don made annual trips, sometimes two a year, to Upper Dam. Don met Charles E. “Shang” Wheeler around 1920, and they became friends. It was Shang who gave Carrie streamer hooks and materials in 1920 and encouraged her to try tying some flies.

Mr. Bartlett was a client of Carrie’s husband, Wallace, who was a guide at Upper Dam. The other two streamers Carrie created and named after Donald Bartlett are the Don’s Delight and the Don’s Special. According to Don’s daughter, Lucy Bartlett Crosbie, he and Carrie shared ideas for new patterns, and Don enjoyed trying them out. “He was extremely proud of the fact that she named three flies for him…” Notes from: Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, Stackpole Books, 2000. Sadly Donald Bartlett passed away in 1945 at age forty-five.

G. Donald Bartlett Streamer, tied and photogaphed by Don Bastian. The hooki is a aelic Supreme Martinek  Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer, size #2 - 8x long

G. Donald Bartlett Streamer, tied and photogaphed by Don Bastian. The hook is a Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer, size #2 – 8x long.

G. Donald Bartlett streamer, same fly as photo no. 1, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

G. Donald Bartlett streamer, same fly as photo no. 1 but flat on a background mat, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

G. Donald Bartlett streamer, carded, and ready for packaging. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

G. Donald Bartlett streamer, carded, and ready for packaging. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

G. Donald Bartlett

Hook: Any standard 6x or 8x long streamer hook

Thread: White Uni-Thread 3/0 or Danville 3/0 Monocord for underbody working thread (as an underlayment for the floss), then white Danville 6/0 for attaching floss and finishing up to the head.

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Lavender hackle fibers

Ribbing: Flat silver tinsel

Body: Danville #7 Orange floss, four strand

Throat: Lavender hackle fibers – these were applied Stevens style – six bunches, three per side, and finishing with one small bunch mounted in front center of the throat at the head

Wing: Four white hackles flanked on each side by one slightly shorter grizzly hackle dyed yellow

Head: Black Danville #100 with an Orange #7 band

For a tutorial on the Rangeley / Carrie Stevens style of the layering of the throat and setting the asembled wings, go to:

https://donbastianwetflies.com/2013/01/13/carrie-stevens-and-rangeley-style-streamers/

To view or purchase my Carrie Stevens Collector’s Edition Set featuring the Don’s Delight, Don’s Special, and G. Donald Bartlett streamers,go to:

http://www.myflies.com/Carrie-Stevens-Streamer-Patterns-Collectors-Edition-Set-No-6-P785.aspx

Carrie Stevens Streamer Pattern Assortment

These photos of fifteen different Carrie Stevens streamer patterns that I tied in March was initially posted in my Cabin Weekend Fly Tying Session https://donbastianwetflies.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/cabin-weekend-fly-tying-session/ dated March 11th. I am posting them separately here with only the patterns identified for inclusion in my developing Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary. Eventually the recipes will be posted with photos of the individual patterns as I continue working on this portion of my blog.

An assortment of Carrie Stevens streamer patterns, tied and photographed by Don Bastian. Left column: G. Donald Bartlett, Gray Lady, Rapid River, Don’s Special. Middle column: Lakewood, Larry’s Special, Don’s Delight, Larry. Right column: Lady Miller, Jenny Lind, Merry Widow.

Carrie Stevens streamer patterns. This represents her entire patriotic series of four patterns that she created during World War II.
Upper right – two of the Casablanca; center left – two Victory; upper right – three of the General MacArthur, and across the bottom, four of the America. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Hooks are all Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style streamers, sizes range from #1 – 8x long to #4 – 6x long.