The Carrie Challege

By Hosted by Chris Del Plato

The Carrie Stevens Challenge

The Carrie Challenge

The 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 Her legacy, still being pieced together with every additional 'previously unpublished' Carrie Stevens streamer pattern uncovered.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.

So 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.

Carrie 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...

On 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:

The Challenge

You have one shot to tie a Gray Ghost by hand, without a vise - just as Carrie herself did.

One try only. One shot, one fly.

No practice, No 'do-overs', No backtracking.

No special tools. Bodkin, Bobbin (for thread only) and scissors are the only tools allowed. Feel free to do without them, if you wish.

Please adhere to the original pattern. Generic floss would be an acceptable sub for silk, as would mylar tinsel for metal.

You may 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.

~ Chris Del Plato

The Challengers

Wes Autio
Scott Daskiewich
Hugh Ruane
Warren Duncan
Bryant Freeman
Clyde W. "Doc" Watson
Jerome Malloy
David Talley
Emmett Johnson
Deryn LaCombe
Chris Del Plato

More on Carrie Stevens

Follow these links to many more Carrie Stevens flies, including some originals tied by Mrs. Stevens herself.

Raske's Carrie Stevens Patterns feature
Carrie Stevens Patterns, II, organized by Wes Autio
Carrie Stevens Originals, scans donated by Mike Martinek, Jr.


User comments
From: Arthur D.Heller · aheller·at·  Link
Submitted December 11th 2008

I have been trying to find someone who may know the value of a Carrie Stevens White Ghost. No luck so far.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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