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
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
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,
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