Feather-Wing Perfection

Does making feather-wing streamers give you fits? A feather-wing master shares her tips for better flies.

[by Sharon E. Wright]

IN THE STATE OF MAINE, where my family is from, we tie and fish a lot of streamers. They are designed to represent baitfish using a variety of materials, including marabou, hackle, different types of hair, and even synthetics. They are very effective for catching landlocked salmon, trout, bass, and other favorite game fish. Streamers are identified by their long-shank hooks, and when tied properly, they present streamlined silhouettes in the water. The flexible materials pulsate and undulate when retrieved, enticing even finicky fish to strike.

Darkside

originated by Jack Gartside Hook: 8X-long streamer hook, size 4. Thread: White for tying the body and black for completing the head, size 6/0 (140 denier). Body: Red floss. Rib: Flat silver tinsel. Wing: Two furnace hackles. Throat: Peacock herl and white bucktail. Shoulder: Reddish brown ring-necked pheasant feather with a mottled center. Cheek: Jungle cock.

It’s said that Herbert L. Welch, of Mooselookmeguntic, Maine, originated the style of streamer made popular in this region in 1901. He designed many patterns, including the Black Ghost, Jane Craig, and Welch Rarebit. In the early 1900s, another Maine tier, Carrie Stevens, created the now world-famous Gray Ghost streamer. She taught herself how to tie flies, incorporating some of her skills as a milliner to construct streamers with feathers and bucktail. Her innovative tying methods introduced a new style of feather-wing pattern now referred to as the Rangeley streamer. I tie a lot of these streamers, and I am most frequently asked how I prepare and tie the wings. Let’s take some of the mystery out of wing preparation and examine a few tips for getting the wings set properly and tied in “just right.”

Getting Started

Selecting the right feathers is the first step in making beautiful classic Rangeley feather-wing streamers. I prefer using high-quality rooster saddle hackles; my preferred brand is the Whiting Farms American Rooster Saddle, which you’ll find in many fly shops. The saddle, which is the hide that comes from the back of the chicken, has the best selection of feathers for this type of streamer. When selecting hackles from the saddle, it is also easy to select matching pairs of feathers. You can also use strung saddle hackle from your favorite fly shop. It comes in a wide variety of colors. You will be able to select some prime hackles from the bunch and use the remainder of the feathers to tie other types of flies. I have also used strung neck hackle, but found that some of the quills were a little too thick You the quills were a little too thick. You ll ’ have a better eye for have a better eye for the “good stuff” after you tie a few of these patterns.

Merry Noble

originated by the author Hook: 8X-long streamer hook, size 2. Thread: White for tying the body and black for completing the head, size 6/0 (140 denier). Tag: Flat gold tinsel. Body: Yellow floss. Rib: Flat gold tinsel. Wing: White and light golden badger hackles. Belly: Light blue and white bucktail. Throat: White hackle fibers. Shoulder: Blue church window feather from a ring-necked pheasant. Cheek: Jungle cock.

Shoulder feathers come from a variety of birds. Pheasant, hen, turkey, and duck are commonly used, but there is no limit to the beautiful combinations you can create. As you will see, we glue together the feathers that make up the wings for these flies. It’s important to have the right adhesive for the wing assembly. For the wings, use thick cement because it won’t bleed through the hackle fibers when the feathers are put together. It’s easy to thicken a bottle of your favorite brand of cement; leave the lid off for a bit, but be careful not to leave it open for too long. Making streamer wings is also a good way to use up that partial bottle of cement you haven’t gotten around to thinning. The assembled wings are easy to tie onto the fly, and the glued parts of the wings line up well and are less likely to roll out of alignment on the hook shank. Whether you prefer top- or side-mounted wings, it’s easy to tie on whole wings at the same time. I like to assemble sets of wings and put them aside for crunch time. Having the wings preassembled makes it easier to tie several of my favorite patterns when I want to spend more time on the water and less time at the vise. Have fun making a few of these classic Maine streamers, or be creative and design your own patterns Then get ready to catch some big fish!

Repairing Jungle Cock Feathers

Jungle cock is an expensive fly-tying commodity, and you won’t want to waste any of these precious feathers. We use the “nail” feathers, which come from the neck of the bird, for fashioning the cheeks on classic streamers. Sometimes a few of these feathers are split, but we can easily repair them. Here’s how.

Repairing Jungle Cock Feathers
Selecting the Correct Hackle
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