Friday, July 6, 2012

Streamer tips

I recently thought of adding some useful info, in the form of a post, to assist folks who may be getting in to streamer tying and want some good guidelines for starting.
What you'll read below is info I wish I had when I was starting out, mostly related to materials with some tips on technique and reference materail. So here goes.

I have two books, Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing (Bates) and Carries Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies (Hilyard) These two books alone contain a great amount of information and patterns and are a great starting point. Copies are available from amazon and sometimes on ebay. Definitely worth picking up either or both. Of course there is a wealth of information and patterns available online and from other books, as well as videos on youtube to assist with tying streamers.

Getting into streamer tying can run you a fair amount of dollars if you start buying capes and saddles.
I'd suggest starting off with strung saddle hackles until you know you definitely want to keep at it. Strung hackles can be a bit hit and miss in terms of quality and quantity of usable hackles, though one good source I've found, which is cheaper than the mass market producers like Waspi, Hareline and Orvis, is John McLain at - I've purchased a lot of materials from him and the quality is always top notch.  

Here is a link to the stung hackle page on his website - I took me ages to find it just by searching the menus. The number of colors available should suit all your needs. He also has some more natural colors (though they are dyed) for streamers like Grey Ghost, here is the link to that page. When you get really into streamer tying, start buying saddles and capes as you'll get infinitely more feathers for your dollars that way, and in a larger range of sizes, perhaps not so many different colors though. Whiting American capes and saddles are the ones to get.

Starting to tie any style of flies often entails a steep learning curve. You just need to pay attention to proportions. Wings not too long, generally not longer than the tail. Tail length, about 1 hook gape past the bend of the hook. Bodies are generally smooth, so build up with either tying thread or some white floss to make it nice and even, and then burnish with a burnishing tool (agate if you have one, the back of a stainless steel spoon will work well too) to smooth out the bumps. For thread I use Danville Flymaster 6/0 white for under bodies and tying in materials etc, heads get black, and red if there is a band (also flymaster 6/0). Heads are generally small and compact, except on Stevens flies, where they are elongated and often have a red band in the middle of two black bands.
For floss, get Danville 4 strand rayon - a little bit more expensive than Uni Floss, but much better quality. The uni floss seems twisted to me, and takes a lot of straightening to remove twists as it is wound on. Danville is nice and flat and with 4 strands on a 10 yard spool you're essentially getting 40 yards, compared to 15 on uni floss, so in the long run it works out cheaper. When applying floss do not use a bobbin. Take a length, (always over estimate as getting half way up a body and running out of floss is no fun!) and wind it on by hand, always keeping the floss taut - this will keep the strands from spreading out and wrapping unevenly. Make sure you hands are clean and smooth, otherwise the floss will break and fray.
Some flies have wool bodies, and I started off using uni yarn, because it was accessible in a hurry. Lately I've found a site in france that sells 25m skeins of pure lambs wool of infinitely better quality for about $1.50 per skein. Shipping from France is negligible at about 60c per skein. I recently ordered 7 skeins in different colors (mostly for salmon flies) for only $13 shipped and I had it within a week of placing the order. Here is a link to the site if you are interested.
For hooks, I'd suggest picking up some Gaelic Supreme Mike Martinek Rangelely style streamer hooks - I use these for show flies, but for fishing flies I use Allen S401 hooks - they're decent quality and cheap as chips. 100 hooks for $6 - hard to beat, though the biggest they run is size 4 6xl. the GS hooks go up to size 1 10xl, and generally I use either size 1 or 2 8xl, and sometimes 6xl. GS Rangeleys are about $10-15 for 25 hooks.

All this is information I wish I'd had when I started. Sometimes, its good to figure things out for youself with trial and error, but I feel wasting money on materials etc is not one of those things.


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