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!

Footer Special Streamers – Streamers365.com

Sometime in 2011 I was fortunate to be invited to participate in the Streamers365.com Project, a year-long internet gallery devoted to featherwing streamer patterns. Darren MacEachern of Toronto, Canada, is the man behind the scenes with this project. I have placed Darren’s photos of my streamers here on my blog as they have appeared on Streamers365.com, but somehow I missed the Footer Special that was posted on April 19th:   http://streamers365.com/2012/04/110-footer-special/

The Footer Special on that day is presented by two tiers, Charlie Mann and myself. Here is Darren’s photo of the pattern:

Footer Specials – tied by Charlie Mann – top, and Don Bastian – bottom. Darren MacEachern photo.

The link to Streamers365.com above also presents a bit of the history on the pattern.

I need to get busy and write the story about the Friday night fly tying class I taught at L. L. Bean last March during their 3-day 100th Anniversary Spring Fishing Expo. Here is a nutshell account:

Bean’s conducts regular Friday evening fly tying classes in the Fishing Department of their Flagship Store in Freeport, Maine, during fall, winter, and spring. They normally present flies in their classes that are part of their packaged L. L. Bean Fly Tying Pattern kits. Since the same patterns were presented a couple years in a row, I suggested to Ed Maillet, Department Manager at the time of planning last November, to consider doing “something different.”

Ed agreed. His only request of me was to present a pattern that Bean’s would have the materials for tying in their stock. The Footer Special met these requirements, also it is a Maine streamer pattern, and was one of the streamers featured in my streamer DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. Little did I know that 2012 is the 50th Anniversary year of the creation of the Footer Special. The resulting Friday evening class turned out to be the best class Bean’s ever had in terms of the number of people present. Nick Sibilia, member of the Saco River Salmon Club in Biddeford, Maine, http://www.sacosalmon.com/ is a friend of David Footer and had informed David that I was tying his pattern at the class. While there were about 17 students, eight or ten members of the Footer family was present, including daughter Julie who has been David’s right-hand girl for many years in his taxidermy and art studio.

David Footer came by my display table at Bean’s on Saturday and I got to spend some time talking to him, and I also met his wife. On Sunday we had lunch together in the room provided by Bean’s for the Spring Fishing Expo guests and celebrities. It’s been a delight getting to know David; he is a very friendly, kind man. And talented. He trained under famous Maine taxidermist / artist Herbert Welch, originator of the famous Black Ghost streamer.

Including the Footer family members and additional spectators, there were about thirty-five people present at the class. Needless to say, Bean’s staff of retail and promotional employees were delighted by this unanticipated response.

Footer Special – created by David Footer, tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Darren MacEachern, Streamers365.com

David’s creation of the Footer Special mirrors the fly designs of Maine Warden Supervisor, Joe Stickney, originator of the Supervisor – also one of my other patterns presented on Streamers 365.com:  http://streamers365.com/2012/01/20-supervisor/ and other streamer patterns including the famous Warden’s Worry and Lady Doctor. Joe Stickney and David Footer share the common creativity of fly pattern design, while neither of them tied flies. They created their patterns and had them dressed by friends who were fly tiers.

Here is a link to David Footer’s website:  http://davidfooter.com/

Finally part of the project of Streamers365.com is a monthly eBay auction of the streamers presented the previous month. Here is a link to my Footer Special, in case anyone is interested: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Footers-Special-by-Don-Bastian-Streamers-365-Cased-Rare-Fishing-Memorabilia-/140749019353?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_2&hash=item20c54b98d9

I tied two Footer Special streamers the night of the class, and presented them to David on Sunday at the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo. I intend to write more on some of the details and post photos of those flies as well. Thanks for reading!

David Footer and the Footer Special

A pair of #2 – 8x long Footer Specials tied by Don Bastian

Last weekend at the Marlborough, Massachusetts Fly Fishing Show, I had the opportunity to meet David Footer, noted taxidermist and artist from Maine. While not a fly tier, David originated the Footer Special in 1962, and had a friend tie it for him. I first saw it in Trolling Flies for Trout and Salmon, 1982, by Dick Stewart and Bob Leeman. It was interesting in our conversation, when I mentioned that title to Mr. Footer, he informed me that book was where the pattern was first published. I loved its colors so much at first sight, and I had enjoyed tying, fishing, and selling this pattern for years to the point that I included it in my DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails, 2007. Here is the link to MyFlies.com and my product page for this DVD:

http://www.myflies.com/Traditional-Streamers-and-Bucktails-P622.aspx

David has been an artist and taxidermist for over sixty years. He met and was influenced by Herbie Welch when he was 21 years of age. A very interesting and entertaining story is on the David Footer web site:  http://davidfooter.com/?page_id=239

I have seen and recognized Mr. Footer at various shows for years but I never had the privilege of meeting him until last weekend. It was a pleasure to meet him. Below is a photo of David and me taken at the show.

The creation of the Footer Special occurred similarly to the origin of the Supervisor, Lady Doctor, and Warden’s Worry, created by Maine Warden Joseph Stickney, who was also not a fly tier, but envisioned his patterns and had them dressed for him by fly tiers who were his friends.

Don Bastian and David Footer. Note the streamer fly hanging on my McKenzie Bright Light; the pattern is a Carrie Stevens Pink Lady; the head cement is drying. David has been a licensed taxidermist since 1946 and is recognized for his fish mounts and old fish mount restorations as one of the best in his field.

Supervisor Streamer – Maine Warden Joe Stickney Pattern

Maine Warden Joseph Stickney's Supervisor streamer pattern, tied by Don Bastian, photo by Darren MacEachern; from Streamers365.com

The Supervisor streamer was posted for the day on January 20th on the site, Streamers365.com.

Darren MacEachern, the driving force behind Streamers365.com took this photo of my Supervisor. This pattern is also included in my DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. To order a signed copy of this DVD, you may use this link direct to the item product page on MyFlies.com:

http://www.myflies.com/Traditional-Streamers-and-Bucktails-P622.aspx

Convenient and secure online payment methods are available. The listed price includes shipping. The DVD is signed and shipped by me, so your will order receive my personal attention.

For more information on the Supervisor or on Streamers365.com, visit:  http://streamers365.com/

Traditional Streamers and Bucktails

Gray Ghost, Supervisor, Barnes Special, Black Ghost, Footer Special, Mickey Finn. Dressed by Don Bastian on Gaelic Supreme Mike Martinek / Carrie Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer Hooks, size #2 - 8x long.

These streamer flies were recently tied by me. These six patterns are the ones from my DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. This is the first time I have ever taken a group shot of them. The gray feathers in the Gray Ghost wing are from an old natural dun neck I had, bought probably well over twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately the larger feathers for big hooks are depleted, though I may be able to tie up some size #6 and smaller streamers from it yet.

The DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails, is available on MyFlies.com. Here is a direct link to review the DVD information or place an order on my merchandise page of the site: http://www.myflies.com/Traditional-Streamers-and-Bucktails-P622.aspx Each order comes direct to me and will receive my personal attention.

In comparing this shade to some of the original Gray Ghost streamers tied by Carrie Stevens, this shade of dun gray feather is very similar to some of those that she had used when she was dressing her original Gray Ghosts. (Source for the photo comparisons: Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, 2000, by Graydon Hilyard and Leslie Hilyard, and Forgotten Flies, 1999 – Complete Sportsman.

Carrie originated the Gray Ghost, and also was known to have tied the Supervisor and Black Ghost for her customers, as she tied numerous popular patterns of the time that she did not originate.

The Footer Special was originated by Maine taxidermist David Footer, the Mickey Finn by fellow Pennsylvanian John Alden Knight (who also originated The Solunar Tables), and the Barnes Special is the creation of C. Lowell Barnes as an adaptation of the Hurricane streamer. Mr. Barnes was a guide in the Sebago Lake Region of Maine.

The photo below is a double-shot version of these patterns:

Double-vision photo of the Black Ghost, Supervisor, Mickey Finn, Gray Ghost, Footer Special, and Barnes Special. I had not previously noted that these Black Ghosts are a wool-body version. I saw that somewhere, and for the sake of patterns and tying variation, included this version in my DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. These hooks are size #2 - 8x long Gaelic Supreme, Mike Martinek / Carrie Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer hooks.