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!

Barnes Special Streamers – One Dozen

The Barnes Special is a classic Maine streamer pattern that was among six featured on my 2007 DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. http://www.myflies.com/DVD-Traditional-Streamers-and-Bucktails-P622.aspx

I recently got a custom order from MyFlies.com http://www.myflies.com/Don-Bastians-Custom-Fly-Orders-P750.aspx

for a dozen Barnes Special streamers for a fellow heading to Maine later this month. I also tied the Barnes Special for Streamers365.com. There are several archived posts here featuring the Barnes Special, (you can go to the search tab and type the name in, then hit “enter” and locate the older posts), but I thought the new and different twist with this post would be to show the completed order of a dozen streamers. And I also decided to add the photos of the completed bodies, something I generally do when tying streamers of the same pattern, make the bodies ahead of time as part of a separate production run.

Here are the bodies:

A dozen streamer hooks, sizes #4 and #6, "bodied up" ready for tcompletion of the rest of the pattern. The hooks are Gaelic Supreme Rangeley style streamers,

A dozen streamer hooks, sizes #4 and #6, “bodied up” and ready for completion of the rest of the pattern. The hooks are 8x long Gaelic Supreme Rangeley style streamers. The tail is two paired jungle cock body feathers, as ore the original recipe by C. Lowell Barnes, a Maine guide in the Sebago Lake region.

The bodies were whip finished and head cemented. Here are the dozen patterns, placed pretty much as I dropped them in preparation for insertion into plastic sleeves.

One dozen Barnes Special streamers, sizes #4 and #6.

One dozen Barnes Special streamers, sizes #4 and #6. Tied by Don Bastian.

I have posted the recipe on the archived topics with this pattern, but I have included the recipe here as well.

Barnes Special

Hook: 6x or 8x long streamer hook

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #56 Red; black or any color may be used for the bodies.

Tail: Two jungle cock body feathers, paired, just a tad over the hook gap in length

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Underwing: Sparse red bucktail followed by sparse white bucktail, to end of tail or a very short distance past tail

Wing: Two yellow hackles flanked on each side by two grizzly hackles

Hackle: White, tied as a collar

Head: Red

The heads have four coats of clear ProLak cement, though I sometimes use a single coat of Wapsi Red lacquer coated with clear lacquer. The yellow hackles were selected from a saddle and the grizzly hackles came from a cape (or neck). The tinsel body is medium sized Mylar, double-wound by starting at the head, winding back, then forward. This provides better coverage and is more durable. The white collar hackles were made from schlappen feathers, using the tip sections, chosen for proper barb length. Schlappen feathers are great for this because of their very small stem diameter and flexibility, and also the softness and webbing of the barbs. When tying this and other streamer patterns with bucktail bellies or underwings, it’s best to keep the hair sparse. Here is a macro of a single fly:

Barnes Special, size #4 - 8x long. All flies tied by and photographed by Don Bastian.

Barnes Special, size #4 – 8x long. All flies tied by and photographed by Don Bastian.

The Barnes Special is still a very popular streamer pattern in Maine. These are going to a customer in Wisconsin, who is heading to Maine later this month. I wish him luck and success with these streamers!

One final group shot, set up in nice rows:

One dozen Barnes Special streamers - sizes #4 and #6.

One dozen Barnes Special streamers – sizes #4 and #6.

Thank you for the order Scott! Tight lines on your trip!

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.