Rubber Cementing Streamer Wings

OK folks, I thought I would share an update on the use of Rubber Cement, Elmer’s specifically, for use on cementing streamer wing components together as pioneered by Carrie Stevens in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. Carrie was a milliner by trade, and she began tying flies in 1920, after being gifted with some long shank hooks, bucktails, and feathers by Charles E. “Shang” Wheeler, a family friend and fishing guide client of her husband, Wallace. Shang gave Carrie the materials and encouraged her, probably saying something like, “Why don’t you give this a shot?” The rest is history. Carrie’s Gray Ghost streamer, nearly eighty years after its creation, remains as the pinnacle streamer fly above all others created before or since. It is still sold in fly shops and fishing stores across the state of Maine and New England, because it catches fish. The Gray Ghost is likely to remain where it is, in its proper place of unchallenged prominence as the most famous streamer fly ever created.

Gray Ghost Streamer, from Streamers365.com, tied by Don Bastian. Photograph by Daren MacEachern, owner of Streamers365.com.

Gray Ghost Streamer from Streamers365.com, 2012. Photographed by Darren MacEachern, site originator and owner of Streamers365.com. Interesting to note, the head on this fly was painted, as opposed to my proprietary method later developed to band the heads solely with actual thread colors. I say proprietary because I do this differently than Carrie Stevens did. The wing color on this fly is very similar to some of the bronze-colored hackle feather examples of Mrs. Stevens own Gray Ghosts that are photographed in the book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, 2000, Stackpole Press, by Graydon and Leslie Hilyard.

Carrie cemented her wing components together; wing hackles, shoulders of various feathers, and jungle cock cheeks, using a type of cement or thick varnish. Mike Martinek, Jr., of Stoneham, Massachusetts, was probably the first modern streamer tier to implement cemented wing components into his replications of Carrie Stevens streamer patterns. Mike was mentored by Austin S. Hogan when he was a young man. Austin was the first curator of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, besides being a noted fly tier and angling historian. On one occasion, Mike and Austin deconstructed four of Carrie Stevens’ flies. A complete set of Austin’s notes on Mrs. Stevens’ fly tying and assembly methods, consisting of typed text, along with pencil drawings and notations, was included as part of the museum display in Manchester, titled, “A Graceful Rise” which featured fifty women prominent in the history of fly tying and fly fishing. I noticed the notes during a visit to the museum and took photographs of them in June of 2012.

Colonel Bates, from Streamers365.com, 2012. Photo by Darren MacEachern.

Colonel Bates, from Streamers365.com, 2012. Photo by Darren MacEachern. This fly also has a lacquered head. I prefer using only thread now to accomplish this.

Studying these notes has been enlightening, and has been instrumental in my personal progression of replicating Carrie Stevens streamer patterns. My years of fly tying experience, combined with the information from the Darrel Martin / Mike Martinek Carrie Stevens 2001 article in Fly Rod and Reel, and bits of information I gleaned from Mike Martinek and a few other tiers over the years has contributed to my present state of finally being satisfied that I am no longer leaving out any details when replicating Carrie Stevens streamer patterns. I tied my very first Gray Ghost when I was in high school, about 1968 or ’69. Some tiers are not as detail-oriented as I am, or as interested in being historically accurate when replicating other fly tiers patterns, but I choose to replicate Carrie Stevens’ patterns as close to her design as I can; I wind the ribbing counter-clockwise as she did – most photos I’ve seen of Carrie Stevens originals with clockwise ribbing were reversed images, besides it makes no sense to think she was not consistent with this important component. I also replicate her elongated, banded heads; I believe the head shape and banding is a tribute to her pattern design, especially since she used a selection of thread colors for the bands, and they were clearly a color-coordinated component of her patterns. I first banded the heads on some of her patterns in the 1980’s, then after a time discontinued it. Furthermore, when Wendell Folkins bought her business in 1953, she wanted him to replicate the head bands to designate the patterns he was tying as hers. I have also gotten very careful about making sure all the components; underbelly and under wings – peacock herl, silver and golden pheasant crest, and bucktail, are all equally as long as the wing of the fly. That is an often overlooked aspect of Carrie’s tying standards.

Jungle Queen, from Streamers365.com, 2012.

Jungle Queen, from Streamers365.com, 2012. This pattern is identical to Carrie’s Yellow Witch. Note the head on this fly is not banded. Photo by Darren MacEachern.

Prior to 2011, I tied all my streamer patterns in typical ‘Eastern fashion.’ I had never cemented streamer wings until the early summer of 2011. Another tier suggested it, and with some reluctance I tried it. The initial result was satisfying, particularly on the rather unruly golden pheasant tippet shoulders, since I was tying my first Big Ben streamer. Once I found out how easy it was to mount previously assembled wings, I kept right at it. I would have used Flexament for this but my bottle was thick to the point of being totally unusable. My hometown has no fly shops anymore, so at the local hardware store, I saw and decided to try Elmer’s Rubber Cement. It was only three bucks, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Herb welch originated the Black Ghost, but Carrie tied other popular patterns originated by other tiers of her time; she added her unique method of construction ad banded heads to all her flies. I want to start replicating some of these patterns as she did, in her style.

Herb Welch originated the Black Ghost, but Carrie tied other popular patterns originated by other tiers of her time; she added her unique method of construction and banded heads to all these flies as well. I want to start replicating some of these patterns as she did, in her style, down to the last detail. Carrie and Herb were practically neighbors, he sold her flies in his shop at Haines Landing. The Black Ghost pre-dates Carrie’s Gray Ghost; according to Hilyard’s book, by about six or seven years. The first mention of the Gray Ghost is on one of Carrie’s invoices in 1933 or 1934.

To overcome concerns about durability expressed when I announced that I was going to use rubber cement for cementing streamer wings, I soaked a completed wing assembly in water for thirty-six hours, then shook it hard – three-hundred, wrist-numbing shakes. It held together. Elmer’s is great for this because:

1) It does not bleed through the feathers. I invite anyone to inspect any of my cemented-wing streamer flies and find evidence of bleed-through cement. It ain’t there!

2) It sets up fairly fast, but it can be ‘worked’ – in other words, the cement remains soft enough to position, reposition, and align, if necessary; the neck hackles, shoulders, and cheeks.

3) The fly / wings does not come apart, even when soaked in water and shook violently, as my personal test proved, to simulate casting and fishing.

4) It is inexpensive.

5) It is readily and widely available, Walmart, CVS, Jo Ann’s Fabrics, your local hardware store, etc.

6) It has no obnoxious odor.

7) If need be, components can be disassembled and reassembled without problems (like when I accidentally get the order of wing hackles wrong, oops).

The Supervisor, originated by Warden Joseph Stickney, from Streamers365.com, 2012.

The Supervisor, originated by Warden Joseph Stickney, from Streamers365.com, 2012. This is another popular pattern tied and sold by Carrie Stevens. Mr. Stickney was not a fly tier, but had other tiers bring his creations to life for him. Photo by Darren MacEachern.

Last weekend at the Arts of the Angler Show in Danbury, Connecticut, I had the pleasure of tying beside fellow tier, Peggy Brenner, from New Hampshire. Peggy was featured in the Graceful Rise exhibition, and she has taken lessons from Mike Martinek. She’s a good fly tier, tying streamers and Atlantic salmon flies, and she also has a business of selling her flies.

This is where the point of this article, the rubber cement bombshell finally hits the target. This is great news, and validates more what I have been saying about the use of rubber cement for cementing streamer wings. Last weekend Peggy told me that her husband bought her a water tank with a pump to create current, so she could “test” flies for action, performance, etc. Peggy informed me that she inserted into her tank, on a section of leader, a Carrie Stevens streamer pattern, that had wings she cemented with Elmer’s Rubber Cement. Not over night. Not for a couple days. But for three weeks! Peggy said whenever she checked on the fly, it was just swimming and fluttering merrily along. When she finally took the fly out, it was fine and in perfect condition, the cement held. Three weeks of total immersion in a water tank; twenty-four seven, that is a total of five-hundred four hours. Do you know how many fishing hours that translates into? Given the fact that most of us fish a fly for no more than an hour or so at a time, and maybe only a few times per year, if not lost to a big fish, a submerged log or rock, or an errant back cast, and provided the hook did not rust, said rubber cemented streamer fly could be passed along from generation to generation to generation and still have fishing life left. But by then, the thread might rot, or some other component would fail. My point is that rubber cement is a great and durable cement for cementing streamer wings.

I found this especially enlightening and gratifying since the grapevine told me that another fly tying instructor was pooh-poohing my use of rubber cement for streamer wings in their classes. I tell my students what works for me, and what others use, but I’m not going to, nor can I force anyone else to do what I do. I just try to give my best and present the most accurate information I can according to my experience.

BYR Smelt, from Streamers365.com, 2012. Photo by Darren MacEachern.

BYR Smelt, from Streamers365.com, 2012. Photo by Darren MacEachern. The BYR (pronounced by-er) in the pattern name is an acronym for Blue-Yellow-Red in the wing. This is one of my original streamer patterns, but it is totally assembled with Carrie Stevens cemented wing component methods and her style of layering the throat in a process toward the head.

When I get a new camera I’ll be busily filling in the gaps of blog posts that I’ve missed. I’ll have to think about doing a step-by-step of the cementing process, even a video.

I had a comment from a reader that prompted an explanation of my cementing techniques; I decided to add this information to the article to help folks understand my methods and personal tricks of cementing streamer wing assemblies.

For now, and my method is a little different than Leslie Hilyard’s; he cements the jungle cock nail to the shoulder feather, then cements this completed section to the cemented-together hackles. I generally start with the inside feather; some of Carrie’s patterns contain six hackles in the wing; three on a side. I put the lesser quality (if any difference) of the feathers on the inside, that is when they are the same color as on the Gray Ghost, Canary, etc. I dip my bodkin in the rubber cement about 5/8″ to 3/4″ for larger size streamers. Smaller hooks would require less. I probably cement 25% to 30% of the front of the wing, just a bit less than the total length of the shoulder, which Carrie Stevens determined to be 1/3 of the wing length.
Sometimes I swirl the bodkin tip a bit in the bottle to make sure I get enough cement on it. I apply the cement on the top side of the feather along the stem line, holding my bodkin parallel to the stem, and then slowly draw the bodkin off the butt end, while rotating it in my thumb and finger. This rolling action makes the cement slide off the bodkin to lay evenly along the stem. Then I pick up the next feather and align that evenly and press it into place, making sure the tip ends are even, and the stems are perfectly aligned at the shoulder joint. Same process is repeated for a third wing hackle, as on the Firefly, Jitterbug, General MacArthur, etc.
Carrie Stevens didn’t just put a dab on near the ends of the feathers, she cemented a significant portion of the feather length; and she also cemented the (inside of the) wings to the body at the front of the hook shank, cementing both sides together. My method cements the feathers similar to hers and creates the “tight, bulky front end” of the fly that was part of Carrie Stevens’ bait fish design. Though I don’t cement the wings together unless one or both are unruly.
I apply cement to the top of the second (or third) wing hackle as before, then press the shoulder in place. I generally use my Tweezerman non-serrated tweezers to do this, as this allows a more precise handling, positioning, and final placement of the feather. Same with the jungle cock, though I generally demonstrate multiple handling methods to my students and observers. A light touch after each feather is added secures the feathers in place. I have also laid a pair of scissors or hackle pliers on top of the just-cemented wing assembly to add a bit of weight to make it set.
Contrary again to Hilyard and some others, I prefer to trim my butt ends fairly close, not clipping them after the wings are tied to the hook. And like I have been advocating ever since I started teaching tying of classic wet flies, I trim the butt ends of the stems at a sharp angle, not a straight cross-cut. This tapers the end lengths of the individual feather stems so you can wrap over them and smoothly bind them to the hook and make a smooth thread base for the head. See also:

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

I’m happy to say I’m feeling great, healthy, and not even on any medications; a far cry from a year ago. Barring some unforeseen or unexpected circumstance, I will be at the International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey on November 23 and 24. I’ll be happy to demonstrate and try to answer your questions about tying classic wet flies, historic 19th century trout, lake, and bass flies on snelled or gut-loop eye blind-eye hooks, or Carrie Stevens streamer patterns or her methods.

Thanks to Darren MacEachern for the use of his photos of my flies. I decided to use them since he does great work. And maybe you’re tired of seeing my pictures. Tight threads everyone!

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Streamers 365 – Volume III

The third edition of Streamers 365 is available for order. It is compiled and authored by Darren MacEachern of Toronto, Canada. Here is a web link to the site: http://streamers365.com/2013/04/volume-3-now-available-for-pre-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=volume-3-now-available-for-pre-order

The streamers in these books were posted all throughout 2012 on http://streamers365.com/  – a different pattern every day.

Cover - Streamers 365 Volume III

Cover – Streamers 365 Volume III. The Lake Fly and streamer conversion are the Moosehead, tied by Dave Lomasney.

The streamer and wet fly were tied by my friend, Dave Lomasney of York, Maine. He did a great job converting the historic 1800’s Moosehead Lake Fly to a streamer pattern. Nice tying Dave! Congratulations to you for your fly being on the cover! I love the color claret in streamers.

Here is the link to photographs of Dave’s actual flies:  http://streamers365.com/2012/10/302-moosehead/

The recipe is also there.

Jungle Queen – Carrie Stevens Streamer Pattern

My final entry of my featured streamers on Streamers365.com for 2012 is a Carrie Stevens pattern, the Jungle Queen. It was posted on December 10, 2012. A year ago while tying multitudes of different Carrie Stevens patterns, I noted in the book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, 2000, by Graydon and Leslie Hilyard, that the Jungle Queen and Yellow Witch are identical in their pattern dressing, right to the orange-banded head on both flies. The authors used a pretty strict criteria to certify a pattern as a Carrie Stevens original, and there is no explanation for the different names for the same fly. Personally, I’m partial to Jungle Queen, it sounds more exotic. Here is the Streamers365.com link to the Jungle Queen: http://streamers365.com/2012/12/345-jungle-queen/

The Jungle Queen, a Carrie Steens pattern, tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com.

The Jungle Queen, a Carrie Stevens pattern, tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com.

Jungle Queen

Tag:          Flat silver tinsel

Tail:         Black hackle fibers

Body:      Flat silver tinsel

Throat:    Pink hackle fibers

Wing:        Two pink hackles flanked on each side by one yellow-dyed grizzly hackle

Cheek:      Jungle cock

Head:        Black with orange band (This specimen has only the black head)

To my blog followers and regular visitors, you know that I have always posted my Streamers365.com submissions as they are published on Darren’s site. My fall schedule and then my illness prevented that. So this latest “streamer blitz” was a catching up project for me. Thank you all for your support and interest!

Ace of Spades – Original Streamer

The final edition to my list of original streamer patterns from Streamers365.com, 2012, is the Ace of Spades. It was posted on Streamers365.com on December 27, 2012. Here is the link: http://streamers365.com/2012/12/362-ace-of-spades/

I was also delighted to receive a copy of Donald A. Wilson’s recent book, Tandem Streamers, and discover that he included the Ace of Spades in the book, page 65, the sample pattern was tied tandem by Dan Legere, owner of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, Maine. The Ace of Spades was created in the late 1990’s from a desire to simply use claret and black together in a streamer pattern. There is also an English fly of the same name, quite different, but at the time I was unaware of it. Guess this isn’t the first time that happened…

I also have to add the humorous story of how my good friend Truman, discovered that the Ace of Spades was included in Tandem Streamers. This summer, in July, Truman and I planned to go to the family cabin for a couple days. We were just going to hang out, relax, and mostly tie flies. Truman, ak. TG, had recently gotten interested in tying tandem streamers, and I had tied tandems for Forgotten Flies back in the late ’90’s. TG came to pick me up, and while I was getting the last few things ready, he sat in a chair and picked up my copy of Donald Wilson’s Tandem Streamers. He thumbed through it for a couple minutes, then all of a sudden, TG blurted out, “What the hell is this expletive deleted?”

“What?” I asked.

“Ace of Spades streamer, originated by Don Bastian,” he replied. He was kidding of course, as close friends do.

Ace of Spades, original streamer by Don Bastian.

Ace of Spades, original streamer by Don Bastian. Photo by Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com.

Ace of Spades

Tail:                 Narrow sections of black duck or goose quill, curving upward **

Body:              Medium flat silver tinsel

Rib:                 Fine oval silver tinsel

Throat:            Black bucktail to end of body followed by a shorter bunch of claret hackle fibers

Wing:              Four claret saddle hackles over which are two black saddle hackles, topped with four strands of peacock herl

Cheek: Jungle cock

Committee – Original Streamer

Continuing with the posting of my original streamers from Streamers365.com, I present the Committee, a fly with a somewhat unique history of creation.

Back in the early 1990’s my good friend Rick Whorwood of Stoney Creek, Ontario, was getting interested in tying full-dress salmon flies. At the time he got this idea to bring some instructors into his home for classes. They were two full days of class, held in his garage with twelve students. On two occasions I sat in on these sessions. The first instructor was Rob Solo, of Newfoundland, and the second was Bob Veverka, of Vermont. These salmon fly lessons played a role in the creation of the Committee as far as my component selections.

A few friends and I had been making annual September treks to the Moosehead Lake region of Maine since 1986,where we hooked up and fished with my brother, Larry, who resides in New Gloucester, Maine. Starting in late August into September before departure, we would get together once a week at someone’s home and tie flies. Not everyone in these sessions was going to Maine, but they also attended for the fun and camaraderie.

One night, my friend Joe Radley and I were having dinner at a bar before the evening session. We came up with this idea to create a fly “by committee.” How this would go, was we took all the components of a streamer, wrote them on separate slips of paper, which would then be placed in a hat. Once the slips were drawn, each person was required to write their component suggestion on the paper without any discussion among anyone else. The Committee developed sight unseen by its contributors, being passed from vise to vise as it evolved. Besides Joe and me, the originators include Truman McMullan, Dave Rothrock Sr., and Dave Rothrock, Jr. I can only recall that I ended up getting the butt and ribbing, that is why, drawing on my recent salmon fly tying lessons, I chose a red chenille butt and the double ribbing of flat silver tinsel backed by fine oval gold tinsel.

On the trip to Moosehead that year, we all had a few Committees to toss around, and it proved to be a pattern that successfully took trout and salmon from the Roach, Moose, and Kennebec Rivers.

The Committee, a Don Batian and friends original pattern. Photo courtesy of Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com.

The Committee, a “Don Bastian and friends” original pattern. Photo courtesy of Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com. The hook is a Gaelic Supreme #1 – 8x long Mike Martinek / Carrie Stevens Rangeley Style streamer.

Here is the Streamers365.com link to the Committee: http://streamers365.com/2012/11/321-committee/

Committee

Tag:                Narrow flat silver tinsel

Tail:                Golden pheasant tippet fibers

Butt:               Red chenille

Body:             Orange floss

Ribbing:        Narrow flat silver tinsel followed by oval gold tinsel

Belly:              White bucktail followed by sparse yellow bucktail

Throat:          Grizzly hackle fibers

Wing:              Sparse red bucktail to end of tail over which are four bright orange hackles

Shoulder:     Brown-edged black and tan “church windows” from the back of a cock ring-necked pheasant

Cheek:           Jungle cock

High Roller – Original Streamer

Catching up on another posting from Streamers365.com – September 24th, 2012 -I was fishing in Maine back on that date, I thought I would add the High Roller to the list of my original streamer patterns posted here. This has the same history of the Grizzly Orange as far as time and origin, but it’s a couple years older, and was field-tested. I created it for fishing in Maine in the mid-1990’s, (caught fish on it), then I added it to my list when I was working on the streamers for Forgotten Flies.

Here is the Streamers365.com link to the High Roller:  http://streamers365.com/2012/09/268-high-roller/

The High Roller, a Don Bastian original streamer design. Photo by Darren MacEachern, courtesy of Streamers365.com.

The High Roller, a Don Bastian original streamer design. Photo by Darren MacEachern, courtesy of Streamers365.com.

I would like to credit Mike Boyer for the yellow throat. The original version did not possess this, but he posted my pattern on Classic Fly Tying Forum.com and added it to the pattern. I liked that myself, and added the yellow throat hackle to my Streamers365.com version of the High Roller. Thanks Mike!

http://www.classicflytying.com/index.php?showtopic=45581&hl=%2Bhigh+%2Broller

High Roller

Tail:                 Barred wood duck

Butt:                Black ostrich herl

Rib:                 Fine oval gold tinsel

Body:              Medium flat gold tinsel

Belly:               Four strands of peacock herl followed by sparse yellow bucktail, both as long as the wing

Throat:            Yellow hackle fibers

Wing:              Very sparse white bucktail over which are four olive green hackles

Shoulder:        Silver pheasant body feather

Cheek:             Jungle cock

Head:              Black

This pattern was first published in Forgotten Flies in the chapter Checklist of Streamers and Bucktails. This pattern has been fished on the Roach River in Maine, and has hooked brook trout and salmon.

Grizzly Orange – Original Streamer Pattern

This streamer was posted on Streamers365.com on October 16th, 2012. It is an original streamer pattern that I created back in the spring of 1998 when I was tying what ended up being two-hundred-fifty-plus streamer and bucktail patterns for my involvement in the book, Forgotten Flies and the chapter titled, Checklist of Streamers and Bucktails. What a fun time, and wonderful opportunity to expand my range and diversity of tying streamers and bucktails. I enjoyed the challenges of tying these flies, such as the entire series of Keith Fulsher’s Thunder Creek minnow patterns; Joe Brook’s Blonde series, Bob Bibeau’s sparsely-dressed, multi-layered bucktail streamers that were created for Maine’s Sebago Lake, and a fair number of tandem streamers, new for me at the time. Forgotten Flies is where the Grizzly Orange streamer was initially published.

The HGrizzly Orange streamer. Photo by Darren MacEachern,posted on Streamers365.com.

The Grizzly Orange streamer, original pattern design by Don Bastian. Photo by Darren MacEachern, posted on Streamers365.com, October 16, 2012.

Here is the Streamers365.com link to the Grizzly Orange: http://streamers365.com/2012/10/290-grizzly-orange/

Grizzly-Orange

Tail:                 Yellow hackle fibers

Body:              Medium flat gold tinsel

Belly:               Sparse black bucktail to end of tail

Throat:            Orange hackle fibers

Wing:              Medium bunch of orange bucktail to end of tail, over which are two dark grizzly saddle hackles extending slightly beyond end of tail

Shoulder:        Orange-dyed guinea fowl flank

Cheek:             Jungle cock

Head:              Red

The creation of the Grizzly Orange began with a single component – orange-dyed guinea fowl. I had an urge to use them for shoulders on a streamer. Once that was determined, the additional ingredients of grizzly and orange were combined to produce this pattern. It was created in 1998. Thanks for the great photo, Darren!