On making my weekly pilgrimage to my local fly shop, Jim
Andrix pulled me aside as my purchases were being totaled
and quietly said, "You know that Carrie Stevens book? You
still want it?"
Over the years Jim and I had spent some time looking at the
book together. Jim is the traditionalist at the shop, and
knows that I am of the same mindset. He's sold me lots of
equipment and materials over time, and has never sold me
anything I didn't like. I answered him "Yeah, I think I do,"
knowing that the book was $40.00, money I didn't have, but
something in Jim's tone told me to answer in the affirmative.
Jim said "The book's half off right now, the owner said to
get it out of the store. I've been saving it in the back for
you, so nobody else would get it."
And so it was that I came to purchase Carrie Stevens
by Graydon R. and Leslie K. Hilyard. I had lusted after that
book for years, but $40 is a figure that is always just beyond
my reach. Fortunately for me, Jim knows his customers. You
can't beat a good relationship with your local fly shop.
So now I know something about Carrie Stevens. She tied without
a vise, which is not all that remarkable as many did when she
started. The remarkable thing to me is that she invented the
greatest streamer ever known, completely in private, having
read no books and having never seen a fly tied. If you don't
think that the Gray Ghost is the greatest streamer ever known,
I'd suggest a trip to Dan Bailey's fly shop in Livingston, Montana.
On the wall there are silhouettes of the biggest fish ever caught
in the state, and you will be astounded to see the numbers that
were caught on the Gray Ghost streamer.
This is particularly amazing to me when one considers that the
fly was invented for brook trout in Maine in the '20s, where
it caught many a record fish there. Carrie herself was catapulted
to fame on the strength of a 6lb. 13 ounce brook trout she
caught in 1924 on Upper Dam, her summer home, located between
Lakes Mooselucmaguntic and Mollychunkemunk. One could make
the argument that Carrie Stevens was a better fisherman than
she was a fly tier, and it was her desire to catch the big
ones that resulted in her "Rangeley Favorite" streamers and
their lifelike action in the water.
As a tier, Mrs. Stevens can only be considered unconventional.
She would wrap her ribbing the opposite way round as was the
norm, and constructed her flies in a prefab manner, one that
makes great sense. She glued the shoulder/cheek/wing assemblies
together ahead of time, tying them on as two pre-assembled units
to bodies that were also assembled en masse. I view this as
nothing more than a bit of efficiency built on the notion of
the assembly line. An argument has also been made that by
gluing the wing assembly, the action of the fly was made more
realistic. She tied all the other popular streamers of the day
as well, The Supervisor, Mickey Finn, etc. She was, after all,
a commercial fly tier, one of the greatest that ever lived. But
I could go on and on. I should say something about this fly.
One thing that's unusual about the Greyhound is that it has a
tail. Most of Carrie Stevens' original patterns are variations
on the theme of the Gray Ghost. They are typified by a very
long Allcock streamer hook, a thin floss body with no taper,
reverse wrapped tag and ribbing, no tail, an "underbelly" of
peacock herl and bucktail, a throat of hackle or golden pheasant
crest, two wing assemblies each containing two long spade hackles,
a shoulder and a jungle cock eye cheek, and her signature head
with one or more whip finished bands. Just a few of her original
patterns deviate from this general format, the Greyhound being one,
as it has a tail. I should insert a caveat here. My fly has the
ribbing wound in the conventional manner, rather than reversing
it as Mrs. Stevens did. The first fly I tied from the book, the
Gray Ghost, I wrapped things her way. By the time I got to this
fly the next day, I was thinking about other matters, and out of
habit, wrapped the ribbing conventionally. Since none other than
Mike Martinek and Marcelo Morales wrap theirs in the conventional
way (see Forgotten Flies), I decided to let it go.
I will try to be more historically correct with future Steven's
flies. Here is the recipe for The Greyhound:
Tag: Flat silver tinsel.
Tail: Red hackle fibers.
Body: Red floss.
Ribbing: Flat silver twist
Underbelly: Four to six strands of peacock herl, then white bucktail.
Throat: Red hackle fibers.
Wing: Four gray hackles.
Shoulders: A jungle cock body feather.
Cheeks: Jungle cock eye.
Head: Red with a black band. ~ EA
I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown
of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River.
I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours
with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and
A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying
just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable
time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that
somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a
group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store
that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y.
My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically.
Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always
considered him to be one of my biggest influences.
I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't
fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with
had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in
John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the
keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in
the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the
time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's
studio. It was a blast.
So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies
column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply
wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies
take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get
to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy
hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies
brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense
hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old
books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now,
here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA
Credits: Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. and Leslie