Northwest Fly Tyer

The fly tying pages of Monte Smith

Featherwing Streamer Class Notes

These are notes compiled when taking a streamer tying class from the late Harry Gross in February 2003.  I find that reviewing my various notes on occasion is helpful in reminding me of tips forgotten or techniques yet to employ.  Perhaps there will be some items here for the streamer tyer that will prove helpful.

Hooks of choice are the Partridge CS/15, #2/0 and Martinek Gaelic Supreme 8 XL, #1.

Harry likes to use White UTC 70 thread, but I noticed that he tied with the Gordon Griffith’s 14/0 that I often employ.  The UTC males a wonderful floss material for tags, etc. but is far too slick and frays too easily to be a good working thread in my opinion.

Harry’s goal for the class was to teach us a few tips and tricks to working around some of the common problems that arise as one ties featherwing streamers.  Specifically, we want to deal with:

  • Working with a big return loop eye hook such as on the CS15 #2/0
  • Tying with a tail and how to eliminate the bump in the body that it creates
  • Proportions
  • Insufficient materials

Started with that classic of all classic streamers – The Gray Ghost:

Rangeley Style:  wings pre-assembled and then attached along the sides of the shank.

We put the body floss (Uni “Burnt Orange”) on a spool and attached it right at the end of the return loop eye.  We wrapped the floss back over the rib material (flat metal tinsel) and then wrapped forward to complete the body.  This helps to eliminate another source of a bump at the rear of the body.

Wings:  Olive covered with gray hackles, silver pheasant for shoulder, and jungle cock eye.  Glued the components together with thick nail polish.  Too thin and it will wick into the fibers and possibly ruin the look.  The olive was a Whiting American Streamer hackle.  A very nice feather.  Harry noted that the brighter and maybe better-quality feather should be used on the inside section.  Keep this in mind when designing and building wings.

[I particularly noted this on my Blue Devil streamer that I tied after taking the class – the wing is bright blue and grizzly.  It would not make sense to put the grizzly on the inside and cover it with the stronger, dominant colored feather.]

When mounting the wings, Harry applied thick glue to either side of the shank and, working quickly, laying the wing assembly directly along the side.  Catch the first few fibers of your cheek feather with your thread when securing it, and then move to the other side and do the same.

Jungle cock quality:  split eyes are fine for streamers since you’ll be gluing them anyway.

Mylar tinsel:  not recommended.  Metal does not stretch and will wrap a neater, tighter body.  No gaps.  Mylar will stretch and then sag.  If you do use mylar, cover it with nail polish to finish it off and protect it.

We used small flat silver tinsel (metal) for the tag.  Give the tinsel a stretch while still on the spool before using it.

Attach this rib material underneath the shank and wrap it down with the body floss.  Rib is the same small flat silver metal tinsel we used for the tag.

Rib spacing:  if it’s not going to be perfectly even, or if you’re running a bit short, you can space the wraps further apart as you move toward the eye.  This is Marcelo Morales’ way, if you look at his flies in Forgotten Flies.

Underbody/Belly:  white, then yellow bucktail.  Look for long and soft hair with good fine points.  Apply a drop of cement to the hair before applying beneath the shank.  Use 2 loose wraps then palmer the thread forward a bit to secure the bucktail.  Use a soft loop upon return rearwards to gather it if needed.

Stagger the butts of the different colors of bucktail as you move toward the eye.  You don’t want to bunch it all in one spot.  This is a bit antithetical to ASF tying!

Peacock Underwing:  look for straight and plush fibers near the eye, but you can always add more strands if necessary.

Harry likes the bronze colored herl taken from the same side of the feather, and near the eye.

Use cement to soften the stems before tying in.  You want the length to be approximately ½” beyond the hook bend.  Strive for a gentle curve downward and all strands flowing together.

Cover the peacock herls with a long, straight golden pheasant crest:  You want it to lay flat over the body.  Stroke the fibers over the sides if you want to help gather things and hold it in place.

Harry is not a proponent of steaming crests, preferring instead to nick the stem with his thumbnail to help knock it into shape.  Says that steaming hasn’t worked for him, but I have certainly found it effective in my ASF tying.  Still, I will utilize the “nicking” technique as necessary.

A note on working with bucktail and peacock strands:  don’t over-do stroking it.  It builds static and things will never want to lay properly.  Be sure to wet your fingers as you stroke the fibers into place.

The bodies are completed well back of the eye for streamers that utilize a shoulder feather (that hides the undressed shank).  Usually use white schlappen on top and bottom to build support for the featherwing and cover the body area up to the head.  I’ve seen Martinek demonstrate this.  It’s believed that Carrie Stevens herself used schlappen in this manner, so it’s historically accurate to tie the flies this way.  Note that if there is no shoulder feather on a high-wing fly (Rangeley’s, by definition, have one), the body must end right near the head.

White Schlappen:  a key component to these flies.  Harry explained that you want the longest and softest you can find.  Roll the fibers together to create your “throats.”

Short Feathers in Wing:  if your hackles are a little short for the hook you’re using, tie the hackles in on top at the position that will give you the proper length (+½” beyond bend).  Then tie the schlappen “throats” on top and bottom, then add the shoulder feather, etc.

You will generally tie at least 2-3 sets of schlappen.  I put 4 sets on my Gray Ghost because I was back a ways from the head.

Note:  pull the stem away from the barbules, and not the other way around.  This helps keep the fibers even and pulls them cleanly away from the stem.

Double Shoulders:  you can use wood duck, mallard, partridge, etc. underneath the silver pheasant shoulder feather to render it more opaque.  Just make sure it’s smaller in size, of course.

We added a top and bottom of white schlappen after the wing assemblies were tied in to fill in any gaps and give the fly a more finished appearance.  This would be the place to add a little color if desired.

We added an orange band to the head using the same burnt orange floss we used for the body.  This was Carrie’s trademark – Harry uses it only on her patterns as a tribute.  I’ve always felt I should just leave this alone, but it definitely looks good.

A Note on Color:  my research indicates that a lighter orange color is called for on the Gray Ghost body.  Uni came out with “Pumpkin” to match this.  We used “Burnt Orange.”

Other thoughts brought out by tying the Gray Ghost:

  • Look for feathers from the middle of the cape.  Then you don’t have to worry about curvature.
  • The inside feather should be the webbiest.  The outermost feather on a wing assembly will generally be the most sparse.
  • Silver Pheasant Shoulder: look for a shovel shape.  Barbules should be at more of a 90° angle to the stem.  You don’t have to bother with a right and a left (but I will!).
  • Jungle Cock:  must lay right on the stem of the silver pheasant.  Use thick cement.  You must be careful here, or you can ruin the look of your wing!
  • Setting Wings:  glue both sides.  Work quickly.  Pinch together and hold for a good set (approximately a minute or so).
  • Streamer Hackle:  use anything  – necks, saddles, saltwater, strung, whatever you may find.  There isn’t a single source that you’re limited to, but you may have to search through a number of feathers to find those suitable for wings.
  • Shoulder Fit:  to the top of the wing, bottom of the belly ideally.  Doesn’t matter so much if the stem is above or below the wing stems as long as the space is properly covered.
  • Pre-Cut all the stems in your wing assemblies to the same length.  This is a measuring guide and helps you when you are working quickly with the glue and getting the proper set.  Keeping them short so that you don’t have to trim them after they’re set will alleviate the pain of knocking them out of place when you snip the stems.
  • The 10xl #2/0 hook (Partridge CS15) is the biggest streamer hook I have tied on.  If we can handle the materials on this brute, we’re ready for just about anything else.
  • Polish: let it sit out in the open for 2-3 days to thicken up.
  • Get some plastic coated clamps (Home Depot) to hold your flies while they are drying.

Next up was a fly Harry called America the Beautiful (I believe it is actually the General Macarthur).  We tied this on a more manageable Martinek 8xl #1 hook.  A much more graceful design than the CS15.

Tail:                 Red GP crest

Rib:                  Medium oval silver tinsel

Body:               Metal (Lagartun) medium flat silver tinsel.  Wrapped back, then forward.  Takes 24-30” or so.

Belly:                Red, the white, then blue bucktail

Wing:                Blue hackles, covered with grizzly and mounted on top of shank

Shoulder:         Silver pheasant

Eye:                  Jungle cock

Throat:            White schlappen (needed because a gap will be left between the cheeks)

Head:               Red, white, and blue.  We tied the fly with white thread.  I used UTC 70 for the red, and Harry had some Lagartun light blue silk we tied in independently.  I wound up covering the silk with blue Uni 6/0, and it looked much better.

The problem we had to address with this fly was eliminating the bump in the body that was left by the tail materials.

We just “bondo” the body using floss.  Tied in on top at the front and “flat-wrapped” back with thread to the junction of the tail materials.  Return the thread to the front when complete.

Tie rib material in at the front.  Then tie in the medium flat silver tinsel.  Wrap the tinsel back binding the ribbing down as you go, then wrap the flat forward to complete the body.  Watch for kinks in the metal tinsel as you wrap (you’re working with 24-30” of this fine metal material and it can be a challenge).

Try to keep each color of the bucktail clearly separated for the belly.  Gather them with loose wraps before you move to the next bunch.

Shoulder = 1/3 of the body length, NOT the wing length.

Stagger your bucktail belly materials.  Stop the final bunch right below the spot where you’ll put the wing.  You may still need schlappen to fill in the gap created underneath.

Finished the streamer with a multi-colored red, white, and blue thread head.  This takes a little practice to get just right with a nicely shaped result.

A beautiful fly that turned out much better than I expected.  The grizzly over blue is a very appealing color combination.

Results of a fun day’s tying:

Grey Ghost #2/0

General MacArthur

3 Responses to “Featherwing Streamer Class Notes”

  1. […] -Classic Streamer Class Notes […]

  2. Thanks for posting the notes here Monte. This is a perfect primer for anyone starting to tie streamers with lots of questions.

  3. nwflytyer said

    Thanks, Darren. Not as good as attending obviously, but perhaps my abbreviated notes and rambling thoughts will help a tyer or two.

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