The "Gray Ghost"
I decided to do a step by step for a Gray Ghost as the first featherwing since people are so familiar with it and since there are always questions regarding its origin, construction and especially name.
The "Gray Ghost" is indeed spelled with an "a", as that is how its originator, Carrie G. Stevens named it. I probably see more people spelling it with an "e" than an "a" so I thought Id clear that up to start. The fly was actually named by a client of Carrie's, Frank Bugbee of Willimantic, Connecticut. The fly is an imitation of the Osmerus Mordax, the rainbow smelt or just plain smelt if you're a New Englander.
Here are the tying instructions for the way I tie it, which is how Carrie tied hers with the exception of the wing. I tie standard wing streamers and not side mounted wings. I do this because I have developed my own tying style and feel that the side mounted wing, a.k.a. "Rangeley Style" was Carries style for whatever reason and I choose to not copy her style. I will tell you this though, side mount wings are far easier to tie than upright wings and many people starting out tying streamers will tie side mounted wings for this reason but I personally feel they are less lifelike in the water. Just my opinion though.
Classic featherwing streamers are best tied on long shank hooks, at least 6X long but preferably 8X to 12X. The hook I am using in this display is a Mustad 94720 #2 which is an 8X long hook, which means its 8 times longer than the standard hook. Click here for some more hook information. http://globalflyfisher.com/streamers/raske/hooks/hooks.htm
I start my thread about an 1/8 of an inch in front of the point of the hook. I make 4 solid turns and tie on the tinsel, always on the front side. I leave a small tag of tinsel towards the front of the hook and then make some nice tight wraps over it and up the shank about 1/4 of an inch to make a nice transition for the floss. I half hitch a few times and cut off the thread.
Now take your floss (I prefer UNI Orange 600 1X as this is as close to the color as Carrie used as I have found) and start it at the front of the hook, about a 1/4 inch from the eye so you're not crowding the eye area where the head is going to be later. I try to keep the floss flat as it looks better to me. When it comes to floss you can really use any orange you like and I also get requests for Ghosts tied with red bodies often.
Wrap all the way down and back, keeping the floss flat and tight. When I get to the back I wrap a little tighter and flatter half way down the thread base I laid, then turn and head back to the front. Once at the front I use 2 double half hitches and swing out my bobbin rest and.....rest the bobbin. Again, don't crowd the head area.
You can see part of the thread base showing in this pic. Now start turning the tinsel towards the BEND of the hook, and once slightly back of the point start forward. Once the thread base is covered start spacing the wraps to make the rib. Spacing is a personal preference; I kinda like a tighter rib as did Carrie. You will see in Hilyards book the majority of her flies had counter wrapped ribs for whatever reason. I'm not sure if she tied right handed, left handed, wrapped one way or the other for a reason. I am a right handed tyer, therefore my ribs wrap "forward" instead of "backwards". I also like a longer tag for a little more flash. You can make yours the length you prefer.
Now I turn the fly over and tie in the peacock. When using peacock I ONLY use it straight off the eye so there aren't any blunt cut ends as it looks far better. If you look at the "stem" of the herl it is flat, so you can figure out which side to tie down to get the swards to go "right". I use the straightest swords of matched pairs; 3 from one side of the eye and 3 from the other, when tying for display. When tying fishing flies you don't have to be as picky. I tie them in slightly longer than the bend, about 1/4 of an inch or so. Again, a lot of this depends on your tying style, preference and what you like. If you're tying a "Rangely Style" then get Hilyards book and copy what Carrie did as that's the only real "Rangeley Style".
When cutting the bucktail I like it "natural" and not stacked. You can cut it from the tail this way by pulling the hairs straight out. By holding the clump by the tips you can then pull out the short hairs eliminating bulk, and likewise, you can hold the base and pull out the longer hairs too.
When I tie it in I tie it the same length as the peacock.
When I cut it I pull the excess up and slip my angled scissors tight to the thread wraps and cut at an angle.
When cut, the remaining stems form an angled base for the forming of the head later.
I take my golden pheasant tippets and strip the butts where I want to tie them in. Sometimes I might use 1, sometimes a few depending on their fullness.
Again, cut the stems at a tight, close angle.
When selecting a golden pheasant crest for the underwing you may not have one that is straight but and easy way to straighten one is to apply slight pressure with a bodkin on the stem side and your finger on the fiber side. A few strokes should do the trick. You can also soak the crest in warm water and place it on a glass to shape it and let dry, or even use steam to get the desired shape. There are many little tricks like this in tying so Ill just leave it at that or I could go on and on. On fishing flies this isn't too important as time in the water will soften the feather and straighten it naturally, but drying on your vest will twist it into different directions again.
I now tie it in like the throat crests and cut off at a tight angle. Try to stagger the fibers on each side of the body so they cascade over both sides.
When selecting hackles there are many factors; here are the basics: Get strong flexible stems or you will have a stiff wing. Also make sure they are straight or matched. If they come from the center of the cape they are usually straight and when they come from the edges they may have a curve in them. Select 4 from the center or 2 from each edge.
Now I take and put them together matching up the tips
and strip the base where I want to tie them in after holding them next to the body to get an idea of how long I want them. I've seen a lot of long wings and most of Carries flies had extremely long wings too, but if you're casting these flies a wing longer than a half inch or so than the bend will "foul" all day long. Fouling is when the wing twists around the bend of the hook and causes the fly to spin in the water.
When you tie them in, pinch them in one hand tightly and make a couple of loose wraps like you were going to spin deer hair or tie in a wet fly wing.
Keep them from rotating and make sure the stems stay side by side so the wing doesn't roll over. A few extremely tight wraps will suffice.
Again, cut off the remaining stems at an angle. Now is also when I wrap the entire head, as that is the last major component to tie in.
This is a question that I get a lot regarding every streamer. "How do I get a small head?" Well, I personally don't know as I do not like small heads. A better question is "How do I get that cone shaped, well proportioned head?" While cutting the materials you are pre forming the head and once you make your final wraps the head should be appropriately shaped. Also, every time I tie in my materials I only use 5-8 wraps on each at the most. This saves extra build up and keeps the head well proportioned which is what I like to see. If the fly has a tiny head, chances are its coming apart soon after getting wet.
Select the shoulders from the center or sides depending on what stripe pattern you prefer. Again, you want them to be straight, or curving in the "correct" direction. If using slightly curved feathers, I like them to curve down, not up. As you can see in the picture, the one on the left will be used on the face side of the fly as it will slightly curve down once tied in. I pre strip the feathers to length and set aside to glue the cheeks to.
Side Note: To be perfectly honest though, all the feathers (golden pheasant crest, hackle and shoulders) will do what they want when wet. Once they are in the water, they will soften up and undulate in the water becoming very realistic to the way a baitfish moves. But, when you put them in your box or on your vest to dry, the feathers will go all over the place. The methods I use in this example are to show how I tie for fishing and display. Display tying is much more picky, but eventually, the feathers all fall out of shape from water or the effects of gravity. Don't be too picky when tying for fishing, it will only slow you down and the old adage "The fish don't care" is surely true here.
I now select the nails, strip to length and repair if needed. To do this I dip my bodkin in gloss coat then pinch the stem of the nail in one hand while holding the bodkin with the other, and drag the BACK side of the nail across the glue. You want enough but not too much, and this will take a couple times of trial and error before mastering. A good piece of advice is don't hesitate when you go for it. That will cause a pile up of glue. Also, I make my shoulders and cheeks before doing anything as that gives them time to sit and dry.
Now I quickly drop the nail onto the shoulder where I want it, give it one quick press so the glue doesn't go everywhere and it's now adhered.
Now, after the shoulders have dried completely, tie them into place. I will tie over a few of the fibers of the JC nail and silver pheasant, then cut the remnants off.
I whip the head and it's now ready for the cement.
I first coat the head with thinned cement so the thread can soak it up really well. After its dry I will apply a standard coat of cement and let dry. Once it's fully dry you can lacquer or leave depending on if you've used black thread. I prefer white for a couple reasons: While you're tying you can see through it and see the materials tied into place. If something doesn't look right it can be fixed. I also lacquer all my heads unless requested by my customer or if I'm using a band for a display fly or again, at a customers request. A Gray Ghost should be finished with a black head and whipped orange band in the middle of it but since this fly is for a customer who requested it, it has the lacquered head.
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