Rangeley Style

By Bob Petti

The conclusion that "Rangeley Style" refers to those streamers originated and fished in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine is only partially right. In fact, the phrase has come to be equated with a specific construction method of Carrie Stevens, the originator of such famous flies as the Gray Ghost and Colonel Bates.

For the small group of fly tyers who are devotees of featherwing streamers, this has caused a bit of a stir. Why not include the streamers developed by guys like Herbie Welch? Certainly his flies drifted in the same waters, at the same time, and caught the same fish. Why is it that his flies, one being the famous Black Ghost, were not referred to as "Rangeley style"?

To be honest, I do not know the origin of the phrase. It could be a play on the name of Mrs. Stevens' business - Rangley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies. I tried finding the exact words "Rangeley Style" in a few books, Stewart and Leeman's Trolling Flies for Trout and Salmon Col. Bates Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, and Hilyard's Carrie Stevens, but came away empty handed.

Ah ha! In Mike Martinek's booklet Streamer Fly Patterns for Trolling and Casting, he says "The term 'Rangley Style' will crop up often. It refers to the Carrie Stevens method of construction."

Is Mike to blame? Did he coin the phrase? Did he pick it up in casual conversation with his fellow fly tyers? Did his early mentor Austin Hogan refer to Rangeley Style streamers as he taught Mike how to properly tie a Grey Ghost?

In his follow-up book, Mike refers to "the look and character of The New England Streamer." He refers to wings being "separate units" of saddle hackle and shoulder feathers, leaving as an assumption that the wings are pre-assembled and mounted along the sides of the hook. Where in his first volume he refers to a Rangeley style trolling streamer, he did not repeat that phrasing in his next book. The phrase is also missing in the chapter he wrote for Judith Dunham's wonderful book Salmon Flies, The Tyers and Their Art.

The only other place I have seen this terminology in print is in Fly Tyer magazine, where Dave Klausmeyer offers up "New England style" as the all-inclusive term, leaving "Rangeley" as the restrictive term to be associated with flies constructed in the tradition of Carrie Stevens and her Grey Ghost.

What muddies the waters is evidence that the tying techniques of Mrs. Stevens changed during her career; some of her flies utilized shoulder feathers, some did not. It seems clear that not all her patterns had pre-assembled wings mounted along the sides of the hook shank. Some seem to be "wing on top" style, like Mr. Welch's Black Ghost. Some tyers will use this fact as an argument that there is no true "Rangeley style" streamer, that her varied techniques could not be described by a single term or phrase.

While it is fair to say that "Rangeley style" does not adequately describe Mrs. Stevens entire catalog of flies or her entire repertoire of fly tying techniques, it is not fair to say that "Rangeley style" does not have a specific meaning. Right or wrong, the phrase has evolved beyond Mrs. Stevens to become the definition for a specific manner of tying featherwing streamers - pre-assembled wings tied in at the head of the fly such that they ride along the sides of the hook shank and veil the underwing and body materials. Further, Rangeley style streamers typically have some sort of "belly," such as bucktail, underneath the hook shank, and the wings have "shoulder" feathers of duck flank, pheasant body feathers, or other suitable thick webbed thumbnail shaped feather. The existence of a jungle cock "cheek" feather is at the discretion of the tyer's budget.

ANATOMY OF A RANGELEY STYLE STREAMER

BODY: The body is actually made up of three parts - the tag, the body, and the rib. For a classic such as the Grey Ghost, the tag and rib are both flat tinsel, and the body is floss. A modern alternative to floss is the spandex "stretch" materials such as Uni-Stretch. In fact, Uni-stretch in the pumpkin color makes a wonderful Grey Ghost body, and is terrifically easy and quick to use. Tag and ribbing tinsels can be almost anything, even copper wire, but the most popular is some sort of flat tinsel - either metal or mylar. Of course, bodies can be made up of a combination of materials - some even sport floss and tinsel ribs, to further create color effects. One thing should be kept in mind, however, is that the body should be virtually invisible in the finished fly. Some tyers will coat pre-tie a bunch of bodies on hooks and coat them with lacquer (e.g. clear gloss nail polish) to prevent them from being cut and unraveling when they are fished.

BELLY: The belly is a bunch of hair, typically bucktail, tied such that it extends into, sometimes beyond, the gap of the hook. Use caution not to overdress this portion of the fly or it will tend to flip the fly on its side, or worse upside down, when it is fished. Sometimes the belly can be a combination of materials, maybe bucktail and golden pheasant crest, or bucktail and peacock, or often layers of different colored bucktail. The key is to keep this material sparse and somewhat contained inside the gap of the hook. Wildly flaring hair is totally inappropriate. Fine straight hair that will hug the hook shank is what you need. For smaller flies, hairs such as kid goat or monga are terrific, as they will not flare.

UNDERWING: Whether herl, pheasant crest, bucktail, or a combination of these, the underwing of a Rangeley streamer is tied on top of the hook shank and extends to the back of the bend of the hook or just beyond. As with the belly, err on the sparse side. These materials are intended to be hidden underneath the hackle wings.

THROAT: Usually a pinch of hackle, the throat is tied in underneath the head and is somewhat short - maybe a quarter of the overall fly's length. Sometimes golden pheasant crests are used as throats, but hackle is the most prevalent - schlappen in particular being a very popular throat material.

WING: The wing on a Rangeley streamer is constructed of two specific elements - the hackles themselves, and the "shoulder" feathers. The best hackles are saddle hackles for a variety of reasons - their thin stems, their willingness to be tied flat along the sides of the fly, and their wonderful shape and web line. Saltwater saddles are particularly popular, especially for the larger trolling streamers. Strung saddle hackles are okey, but there tends to be many waste feathers that are not appropriate for Rangeley streamers due to one defect or another. Plucking hackles off the skin is the preferred way, as it allows the tyer to match opposing hackles for each side of the fly. The shoulder of the wing is about a third of the overall wing length and made from duck flank, pheasant body feathers, or other similarly shaped feathers that are "heavy" in their webbing. The wing is pre-assembled by running a bead of glue along the stems of the feathers and pressing them together. If a pair of hackles are used, these are glued together first - the length of the glue bead being just shy of the length of the shoulder hackle. The shoulder hackle is then glued to the pair of hackles, the length of the glue bead being just shy of the length of the cheek to be added later. When the fly is complete, there is no visible glue as each bead of glue is covered with a feather.

CHEEK: A pair of jungle cock eyes tied along the wing stems, the cheek of a Rangeley streamer is one of the most striking features. Open a box of streamers and those with real jungle cock eyes leap out and grab your attention. Is this lost on fish? I think not. Jungle cock is available in fishing grades and is a worthwhile addition to your fishing flies. If you can afford a premium grade neck for tying dry flies, you can afford a jungle cock neck for your streamers. The cheek is normally glued to the shoulder feather to ensure the entire wing assembly moves in a uniform fashion - with the central stems in alignment. While Mike Martinek chooses to tie his cheeks on after the wing has been mounted, you can add them as part of the wing assembly if you so choose. Just be warned that tying in four stems per wing could cause a problem. ~ Bob Petti


About Bob:

Bob Petti is a fly Tyer and rod builder who recently moved to the Catskills region of New York. His new adopted home waters include the Neversink, the Esopus, and many little mountain creeks. He is one of four partners for The Global Fly Fisher, www.globalflyfisher.com.

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