The Carrie Challenge
words of a trailblazer. How fortunate we are to reap the benefits
of a road paved by innovators before us, such as Mrs. Stevens.
We have a treasury of her wonderfully artistic patterns, left
for us to recreate and use. Flies as lethal as they are beautiful.
Her unique methods and patterns are being rediscovered today
through books like "Forgotten Flies" and "Carrie Stevens -
Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies". Her legacy,
still being pieced together with every additional 'previously
unpublished' Carrie Stevens streamer pattern uncovered. The
many articles and books written since her death allow us to
know her work intimately. Perhaps more so now than many did
in her heyday.
here we sit, with our large, glossy, full-color fly pattern
books open as we flick on a halogen light, pop an instructional
videotape in the VCR, pluck some genetically perfected saddle
hackles and rev up the Renzetti to spin out a few Gray Ghosts.
Yes, we have plenty to be thankful for. Advances in 'tying
technology' that Carrie did not have at her disposal. True
rotary vises. Matarelli whip finishers. Adjustable-drag bobbins.
Would she have taken advantage of these things? Would she
have even cared that they existed? Or would they have been
a hindrance to her? Would she have continued her craft, just
as she did then, and shun the fancy tools we use today? By
the strength of her statements above and her milliner's background,
I'd hazard a guess toward the latter. True innovators usually
go headlong against the grain, cutting their own path.
Stevens' Gray Ghost is perhaps the most famed streamer fly
in the history of the sport. We have an obvious love-affair
with this fly. No genuine streamer aficionado would be without
one or two in his flybox. And for good reason. It is not only
a great smelt imitation for northern waters, but is a highly
effective general baitfish imitation for many a stream and
lake. We tie them year in, year out. We love to recreate her
artistry, especially in that fly. Every painstaking step.
Every layer. Every subtle detail. And with relative ease.
No, not that a Gray Ghost is easy to tie by any stretch. On
the contrary, in comparison to most streamers, it is among
the most difficult to tie correctly. But relative ease with
respect to Carrie's solitary efforts in the development of
her 'Rangeley style.' What must have been constant experimentation
with the materials and elements of every complex pattern.
Formulating and refining her own novel methods, all done competently
and completely with her bare hands. In that light, it seems
we get to start the race somewhere near the finish line. So
then, the question begs to be asked - are we, as modern day
tyers, spoiled? Certainly we have at our fingertips an embarrassment
of riches in the form of detailed information on tying techniques
and styles such as hers. Most of which has been absorbed into
our brains and practiced to perfection. But what about the
tools? What about our well-engineered vises and other tying
gadgets? Could we do without? How would we fare in her shoes?
To tie them as she did, completely by hand, without aid. It
seems as though we almost owe it to her to try, at least once.
Do we have the patience? The steady hand? The grip? The gauntlet
is thrown down...
February 22, 2001 (Carrie Stevens' birthday) 'The Carrie Challenge'
was posed to the members of the Streamers@ email discussion
group. The thought being that it would be a good way to test
ourselves, visit or revisit our tying roots, and gain an appreciation
for the talent of Mrs. Stevens. A learning experience that
may clue us in as to how lucky we really are to have some
of the tools and tying advances at our disposal that we do.
Below are the guidelines or 'rules' as presented to the participants:
one shot to tie a Gray Ghost by hand, without a vise - just
as Carrie herself did.
only. One shot, one fly.
No 'do-overs', No backtracking.
tools. Bodkin, Bobbin (for thread only) and scissors are the
only tools allowed. Feel free to do without them, if you wish.
adhere to the original pattern. Generic floss would be an
acceptable sub for silk, as would mylar tinsel for metal.
pre-assemble the wings (by hand), just as Carrie did. In fact,
I would encourage this in the interest of being true to her
methods. The use of glue in this process is also permitted,
as there is evidence, based on her millinery background, that
she employed it.
Clyde W. "Doc" Watson
Chris Del Plato
on Carrie Stevens
Follow these links to many more
Carrie Stevens flies, including some originals tied by Mrs.
Stevens Patterns feature
Carrie Stevens Patterns,
II, organized by Wes Autio
Carrie Stevens Originals,
scans donated by Mike Martinek, Jr.