Carrie ~ Unmorphed


What Have They Done To My Fly?

(leftover insert from the 2007 Hatches Magazine article "The Classic Streamers of Carrie Stevens" by Chris Del Plato)  


An excerpt from Paul Schullery's book "The Rise: Streamside Observations on Trout, Flies and Fly Fishing", Stackpole Books 2006 


 But every now and then, someone would come along with a genuinely different approach. Carrie Stevens of Maine began tying flies in the early 1920's without ever having seen it done by anyone else. Being so completely unconditioned to the conventions and fashions of the "right" way to do it, she became a pioneer not only of extreme wing length, but also of a refreshingly unorthodox way of mounting the wings. Her wings, most with her trademark "shoulder" of another feather, were essentially side mounted. These long, trim feathers did not pop up like a sail above the fly's body but ran along both sides.  The theory was that this style of wing mounting, done with the right touch, allowed the water to ripple along the sides of the fly and give the tail a little wag.

Stevens flies also provide a cautionary lesson in how hidebound we can be when it comes to fly theory. Take a look at her original flies, as pictured in the gorgeous book "Carrie Stevens" Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies" (2000). Then for contrast, look at how her most famous fly, the Gray Ghost, is portrayed in Ray Bergman's "Trout". Bergman's book was certainly the most influential American trout-fishing book for several decades in the mid-1900's. The artist for the Bergman book, Edgar Burke, was the opposite of Stevens; he knew all about flies and fly tying, which meant that he knew exactly how a fly was *supposed* to look.  So he turned the Gray Ghost, like all other streamers pictured in "Trout", back into what many of us still think a streamer is: just a stretched wet fly with the wing mounted on top. The experts thus got it wrong and entirely missed the point of Stevens's fly tying contribution.

Carrie Stevens' original Gray Ghost streamer, with its side-mounted wings was a significant departure from the fly styles of the time.   Many later tyers, not understanding the intent of the unorthodox style, simply repositioned the wings in the 'conventionally proper' location atop the hook, thus defeating the purpose of the pattern.

~ Paul Schullery