IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
As a fly tyer, one tends to live in a world where the battle between artistic flare and practicality is in a constant state of flux. Most tyers love to "create". We're always in search for that new perfect pattern, style or particular attribute that is going to set all other applicable patterns to the sidelines. Yet the practical or utilitarian side of our mind tends to come to grips rather quickly in our tying endeavors with the fact that more often than not it's the simplest and most basic patterns that bring more fish to the hand than any other. So, while we love to pride ourselves in our ability to tie the perfect fly, more often than not we are at the vise tying a basic 2-or-3 material nymph by the dozens to refill our boxes with the patterns that kill them on our local waters. Sure, we get the occasional change in styles with winging dries, a bit of foam when the terrestrials are hot or spicing up a nymph or two with a bead or new fish-catching hot-spot of color. But in the end, reality is that most of our tying is out of a chore-like need to support our desires to catch fish. Enter the streamer.
Classic streamers are on aspect of tying where artwork becomes a necessity in our tying lives. Second only to their cousins the Atlantic salmon patterns and on par with the classic wet fly patterns, the complexity of materials and technique are once again in the forefront. Where too much glitz and bling is taboo among your nymph and dry fly boxes, in the world of streamers it often defines the fly. From the painted ladies of old in the form of a Carrie Stevens style streamer or a tinsel-bound Black-nosed Dace, to the newest creation of current materials that can sprout up from the jaws of your vise, all bets are off. The result for me is usually a complete cleanup of my bench. I start from a clean desk-top and begin laying out my materials. Gone are the piles of dubbing lint, hackle clippings and repetitive piles of necessary patterns. When tying streamers, I seldom go more than 6 of any kind at once, and lean towards creating perfect duplications from tail to the final coat of head cement. Preparation takes the lead in the process, be-it the marrying of wing materials or the cutting and assembling of body materials. For me all must be "just so" when prepping for streamers and in the end my entire approach to tying switches gear.
When tying nymphs my focus is primarily on proportions, since most of the patterns I tie are impressionistic in nature. With terrestrials it's manipulating difficult materials that I tie with a lot less often than many others. Tying dries for me falls into the trout world, where more finesse and delicacy is paramount when approaching my vise. But with streamers, it's different. Even though many of the patterns I tie and fish range from a 3-material buck tail to a fly more resembling a broach worn by the Queen of England, each one requires the utmost attention from start to finish or that ever important final step, the lacquered head, will not be perfect. Streamers are like Labrador Retrievers. We all know what they are "supposed" to look like by the head. With a Labrador, if the snout is too long, the forehead is too rounded, or the eyes are too close together it just looks "off". Even from a distance you will see it and instantly begin questioning the dog's lineage. Same thing applies to streamers. If the head is too long, too humped on top, too steep and short to the eye, or the lacquer is applied sloppy you will instantly know that something is awry. Somewhere along the path of the patterns creation, there was a mistake made. One too many wraps of tinsel, too much thread on the tail tie-in, improperly stacked buck tail, crowding the eye with materials etc. You may have to look long and hard to spot the defect in the fly itself. Quite often it's an ever-so-subtle miscue. But the flawed head will jump out at you instantly whether you are a fly tyer or not since, after all, we all know what a properly tied streamer "should" look like. Sure, proper proportions and correct head-space is important on all patterns and tying styles. But nowhere is it more telling than in the head of a streamer. Possibly because the tying of a streamer involves more lateral lines than other styles, which allows small but important mistakes to remain unseen or covered up as you build your fly until the end.
Over the years I have developed a system for catching flaws in my streamers in an effort to avoid repeats. I will tie 4 of a pattern, then dress them down in my desk box like neat little soldiers and inspect them. As a rule, I will be able to spot one that will be ever so slightly off from the others. The head will be "different". That one is the key. Once I find the flaw in that particular fly, I tie the remaining patterns with emphasis on not making that particular mistake again. Remember, it really is all in your head.