Northwest Fly Tyer

The fly tying pages of Monte Smith

Tying the Classic Featherwing Streamer Class Notes

Tying the Classic Featherwing Streamer

Instructor: Monte Smith

NW Fly Tying & Fishing Expo – March 13, 2015

“The featherwing streamers of the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine enjoy a special place in American fly fishing. Fancy and elegant, yet made for the jaws of trophy brook trout and landlocked salmon, they embody the romance of the North Woods.”

The Lore of the Classic Featherwing, Fly Tyer (Winter 2014)

There are differing interpretations of the term featherwing streamer. This class’s definition is a type of streamer that originated in the Rangeley region of Maine and is therefore often referred to as ‘Rangeley style’ or just ‘Rangeley streamers.’ This style has been attributed to Carrie G. Stevens (c. 1920s) of Upper Dam, Maine. A self-taught commercial fly tyer, the period from 1920-24 was the incubation period for her streamer designs with the remainder of the decade used to solidify her unique style.   She was likely the first to elevate the eastern streamer from a utilitarian tool to an art form. In so doing, she wrote an important chapter in America’s sporting heritage.

The Rangeley streamer is not a specific pattern or set of patterns. It’s represented by many historic flies such as the Gray Ghost, the Red Devil, and the Greyhound to name but a few, as well as countless patterns derived from that legacy in the years since. To date, there are more than 90 patterns attributed to Carrie Stevens and many more unnamed or since lost in the dustbin of history.

Carrie pioneered the use of shoulders – of various pheasants, wood duck, teal, guinea, hen, etc – in building her wing “assemblies.” Her method was to glue two or three saddle feathers together at their base and then glue the shoulder feather – approximately 1/3 length of the wing – on top of them. That is then covered that with a colorful jungle cock nail slanted slightly upward. Her glue was thickened head cement/lacquer applied along the stem of the underside of each feather.

Long, flowing hackles in a variety of colors, silk and tinsel bodies, ornate feathers at the head…the Rangeley streamer is not only functional, but a work of art. For many tyers, it has been a bridge between functional fishing flies and the exotic full-dress atlantic salmon fly.

General characteristics of the Rangeley Streamer:

  • Long, thin bodies on long shank hooks
  • Wings are built and applied to the hook as a single unit on each side, not tied on individually as is traditional in other styles of tying. “Glue” makes an appearance.
  • Wings are tied directly alongside the shank, not on top of the shank.
  • Wings reach approximately ¼ length beyond hook bend
  • Belly contains strands of peacock herl and bucktail
  • Golden pheasant crests are used as throat material and sometimes as part of the underwing
  • Shoulder feather covers approximately 1/3 the length of the wing. The silver pheasant body feather is the most well-known
  • Jungle cock is nearly always included as a cheek feather
  • Heads are streamlined, even though there are many materials to attach. This is because they are tied in near the head of the fly, not at the head.

Primary materials used for tying Rangeley Streamers:

  • Long shank hooks (6Xl – 10XL) in sizes 2/0 – 4
  • Bucktail in various colors, but white is essential
  • Golden pheasant crests for throats and sometimes underwings
  • Flat tinsels for body and ribs, oval tinsels for ribs
  • Silks and flosses for bodies
  • Peacock herl as an underwing or belly component representing the lateral line
  • Saddle and neck feathers used for wings, especially those with rounded tips
  • Silver pheasant, guinea or similar body feathers used for shoulders on wings
  • Jungle cock nails used as cheeks
  • Schlappen (especially white) feather used to create ‘spikes’ to support wings
  • Lacquer for glossy heads; Cellire is highly recommended

Tying Notes

  • Usually a tinsel tag (on a floss body). Wrap body forward (or from front and then back), then wrap a few turns of tinsel behind and toward the rear of hook before reversing and wrapping forward.
  • Use light colored thread while building the body and underwing. Switch to finishing thread, usually black, when attaching the wings
  • Strive for a smooth underbody so that tinsel or silk body will be as smooth as possible. Flatten thread, tie in even lengths of materials, burnish if necessary
  • Use the gathering technique to hold underbody/belly materials in place. When working with bucktail and peacock herl, it is easy to have these materials flare out if too much thread tension is used. Remember the gradual gathering technique to secure and then hold into position.
  • Stagger the tie-in points for the multiple materials of the belly and throat
  • A test tube is a useful tool to use for stacking long bucktail
  • The old patterns refer to materials that comprise the underbody of the fly as the throat, while modern interpretations refer to the long materials (like bucktail and peacock herl) as the belly, with shorter materials like hackle fibers and golden pheasant crests remaining the throat. Keep this in mind when studying traditional pattern listings.
  • The bodies of Rangeley streamers are finished well back of the eye, leaving plenty of room for tying belly and underwing materials. The shoulder feather covers this area on the finished fly.
  • Thick head cement is a useful material to use when building your wing assemblies. It won’t run into the fibers of the feathers and will allow you to get two, three or even more feathers locked together for ease in tying in.
  • Wing Hackle: use anything suitable… necks, saddles, saltwater, strung, whatever you may find. You’re not limited to a single source, but you may have to search through a number of feathers to find those suitable for wings.
  • The inside feather should be the webbiest. The outermost feather on a set of wings will generally be the most sparse.
  • Wings are tied along the shank, not on top as is traditional for an eastern streamer. This gives the finished fly a unique action in the water and serves to obscure the hook.
  • “Spikes” of light colored schlappen are formed to add body and stability for the wings. One may also use sparse bucktail as an underwing to provide this stabilizer
  • Carrie’s trademark was to add a band of red or orange thread to the otherwise black head. Many see this as a tradition to continue as part of the pattern; others view it as her trademark and respectfully decline to add this marking.

Today’s class pattern…

The Gray Ghost (recipe as found in Bates)

Head:                    Black with red band

Tag:                       Flat silver tinsel

Body:                    Dressed very thin with orange silk

Ribbing:                Flat silver tinsel

Throat:                 Four or five strands of peacock herl, under which is a very small bunch of white bucktail, both extending beyond the barb of the hook. The peacock is as long as the wing and the bucktail only slightly shorter. Under these is a golden pheasant crest feather as long as the shoulder and curving upward

Wing:                   A golden pheasant crest feather curving downward, as long as the hackles. Over this are four olive-gray saddle hackles

Shoulders:           A silver pheasant body feather, one-third as long as the wing and very wide

Cheeks:                Jungle cock

The “Ghost” has spawned countless variations by substituting colors for the various body, throat, and wing components. The recipe structure remains. If you can tie a Gray Ghost, you hold the key to tying most any Rangeley streamer.

Recommended Reading

Bates Jr, Joseph D. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1995 (1950, 1966)

Hilyard, Graydon R. and Leslie K. Hilyard. Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000

Klausmeyer, David. Tying Classic Featherwing Streamers. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2004

Martinek Jr, Mike. Streamer Fly Patterns for Trolling and Casting Vol II. Franklin, MA: PP&MM Publications, 2000.

Schmookler, Paul and Ingrid V. Sils. Forgotten Flies. Westborough, MA: Complete Sportsman Press, 1999

Wright, Sharon E. Tying Heritage Featherwing Streamers. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2015

Other Resources:

“Classic Maine Streamers,” Mike Martinek Jr. Hooked on Fly Tying series. (DVD) – a social network with forums, discussions, pictures, etc. – blog of the author of Tying Heritage Featherwing Streamers – excellent pattern database and hook reference


Some Original Featherwing Streamer Recipes – by Monte Smith

Rock Island

Tag:                       Flat gold tinsel

Body:                    Black silk

Ribs:                      Four total – small gold oval tinsel and orange silk, counter-wrapped with bright     green silk and small gold oval tinsel

Belly:                    6-8 peacock herls, white bucktail, olive bucktail, two golden pheasant crests

Throat:                White schlappen with deep red hackle fibers covering

Wings:                  Orange, yellow, and olive hackles each side (six total)

Shoulders:          Green phase peacock body feather

Cheeks:                Jungle cock

Spring Breeze

Body:                   Silver tinsel

Rib:                      Copper wire

Belly:                    White bucktail, golden pheasant crest

Underwing:           A few strands of peacock herl covered with a long golden pheasant crest

Wings:                  Four light blue hackles flanked by two slightly shorter orange hackles

Shoulders:            Blue phase peacock feather

Cheeks:               Jungle cock

Copper Lake

Body:                    Green tinsel

Rib:                        Flat copper and oval copper tinsels

Belly:                    Gray fox hair

Underwing:          A few strands of peacock herl covered with a long golden pheasant crest

Wings:                  Four gray saddle hackles

Shoulders:          Silver pheasant

Cheeks:                Jungle cock

Throat 1:             Short GP crest

Top/Throat 2:      Dyed green golden pheasant crests

VG Minnow

Tag:                       Flat silver tinsel

Body:                   White silk

Ribs:                      Black silk, narrow silver tinsel, and dark lavender silk; counter wrapped with fine round silver tinsel

Throat:                Black-laced white hen saddle

Wings:                  Two vulturine guinea neck feathers

Shoulders:          Vulturine guinea breast feathers

Santiam Sunrise

Tag:                      Gold Body Braid

Body:                   Purple silk

Rib:                        Gold Body Braid

Belly:                  Yellow bucktail, white bucktail, two short golden pheasant crests

Throat:               White schlappen with deep red schlappen at front

Underwing:         A few strands of peacock herl covered with a long golden pheasant crest

Wing:                   Two fire orange hackles, flanked by two purple hackles

Shoulders:         Dyed orange mallard flank

Cheeks:               Jungle cock

Indian Summer

Tag:                       A turn of Silver Twist

Body:                   Flat silver metal tinsel

Ribs:                     Silver Twist, orange silk, small oval silver tinsel; counter wrapped with medium oval gold tinsel

Belly:                    Small bunches of yellow, orange, and white bucktail

Throat:                White schlappen with red schlappen at front

Wing:                   Yellow, orange variant, red variant and olive variant hackles (eight total)

Shoulders:         Green phase golden pheasant neck feather


Summer’s Fire

Tag & Rib:           Flat gold tinsel

Body:                    Hot orange Glo-Brite (No. 6) or orange floss

Belly:                    Yellow bucktail, white bucktail, short golden pheasant crest

Underwing:         A few peacock herls covered with a long golden pheasant crest

Wings:                  Two hot orange hackles inside of two black hackles

Shoulders:          Two deep red golden pheasant breast feathers per side

Cheeks:                Jungle cock

Throat:                 Black schlappen

Copper McFinn

Body:                    Flat copper tinsel

Rib:                        Red wire

Belly:                   Red fox squirrel tail

Underwing:        Few strands peacock herl covered with a long golden pheasant crest

Wings:                 Two yellow hackles flanked with two shorter red hackles

Shoulders:          Silver pheasant

Cheeks:               Jungle cock

Top/Throat:      Dyed red golden pheasant crests

Tying the Classic Featherwing Streamer

Instructor: Monte Smith

NW Fly Tying & Fishing Expo – March 13, 2015

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