Carrie Challenge II
Published Dec 9th 2011
Look Ma, No Vise... Again
By Ken Craigue, Jr., Chris Del Plato
Every once in a while some event in life comes up that causes you to
slow down to consider your past. In the fall of 2009, I would have time
on my hands to reconnect to my fly fishing beginnings - before I tied
flies - before my mentor tied flies - and right into Upper Dam. We're
talking about Carrie Stevens and big trout and salmon on streamer flies.
Trying to soak up every tidbit, I would discover on Raske's New England
Streamer Page something called Carrie's
Challenge. I approached Chris Del Plato about the idea of a Carrie's
Challenge II which he presented to the Streamer List (defined as a group
of fly tyers helplessly addicted to tying streamers). Thus new life was
breathed into a decade old challenge.
Bryant Freeman and Chris would be the only two to take up the gauntlet
a second time. The idea was to complete the project as a tribute to the
fortieth anniversary of Carrie Stevens Day. Carrie's Favorite would be
the fly to quickly become the focus of discussion on the correct pattern
and the color "magenta." This fly was chosen because it is shows Carrie's
use of color and the simplicity of a stunning fly to attract fish. Ted
Patlen's words would ring so true that: "we're gonna see a wide variety
of flies called 'Carrie's Favorite.'" How fitting to see first-hand the
differences in color and style that certainly form regional variations
in patterns over time.
The tyers for this round would span all skill levels from new to some
well-known tyers who shared their thoughts through the process. The challenge
reached across continents around the world. Twenty two folks started the
challenge and the flies of those who finished are found here. The question
isn't if there will be another challenge, but when. These folks "put up"
and found some spots to reflect upon the trail to Upper Dam.
Ken Craigue, Jr, Nov 2011
You have one shot to tie a Carrie's Favorite in hand, without a vise - just as Carrie Stevens herself did
Chris Del Plato (host): You have one shot to tie a Carrie's Favorite
in hand, without a vise - just as Carrie Stevens herself did. You are
allowed one try only. One shot, one fly. No practice, No 'do-overs', No
backtracking. No special tools should be used. Bodkin, Bobbin (for thread
only) and scissors are the only tools allowed. Feel free to do without
them, if you wish. If you must, a protective cup may be worn.
Please adhere to the original pattern as given here:
|A little difficult|
|Hook||Long shank streamer (size 2 would probably be typical)|
|Body||Flat silver tinsel|
|Throat||White hackle fibers, then a golden pheasant crest|
|Wing||Four to six strands of peacock herl, two magenta hackles flanked on each side by one slightly shorter golden badger hackle|
|Head||Black with orange band|
|Cramping, cursing, bleeding, spasms and fits of rage||Permitted|
Any size is fine (size 2 would probably be typical), but about an 8x
long shank would be true to form for a Carrie Stevens streamer.
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 that
she employed it. Please limit your use of glue to only the actual construction
of the fly, especially if you are pregnant, or expect to become pregnant.
Cramping, cursing, bleeding, spasms and fits of rage are all permitted,
encouraged and expected. Crying is not allowed. There is no crying in
Please document your trials and tribulations. A short paragraph describing
your difficulties or what you learned by the experience is required. Please
either private message your comments to me here or email to: email@example.com
Do not use vulgarities in the subject line of your message, such as "To
the #$@%&*! arse who dreamt up this torture", lest it be sucked up by
my spam filter. Video documentary of your attempt would also be of interest
and great humor to the group.
All photos by Chris Del Plato, copyright 2011
| This was a rewarding experience. The difficult parts of the construction
were the tinsel body winding, the peacock herl tie-in and the head finish.
| Tying it by hand was a challenge. It has been a while since I tyed with
no vise. The hardest part was wrapping the body - it really wanted to unwind
if I gave is any slack.
| All I can say is.........It`s always a pleasure to be part of something
like this . Perhaps even more so than some of you blokes on the spot being
so far away from it all. Also the tying in hand part takes me back to when
I first started tying as a youg`un of 13 when I couldn`t afford a vise and
had to do without. I don`t think I`d care to go back to tying in hand on
a permanent basis.
The challenge for me was to get time to do the tying of this fly for
the Streamers Group. Just two weeks ago I received an order for 750 flies
from a Salmon Lodge to be completed by June 1st. I finished the work on
time, and then went on a trout fishing trip to the wilderness to get my
head around the every day chores which were popping up. It is very trying
when one spends all winter making flies at his leisure, then all hell
breaks loose when the fishing season starts. Broken Rods, cracked lines,
missing guides, and of course new purchases keep me busy for a month.
With this over on Friday, which was a nice sunny day, I decided to give
er a go. I opted to hold the hook with my right hand because of an injury
I incurred changing a reel from left hand wind to right hand wind, and
the screwdriver slipped and went into my left index finger. Sugar (My
Wife) a name from Sugar Babe fame in the Real McCoys TV Program in the
60's, did the bandaging job and made it a go for my tying to continue.
First I had to dye some Magenta Feathers then off to make the fly.
Here is the procedure and results of my Last attempt of tying without
CHRIS DEL PLATO
| As a veteran of the original Carrie Challenge back in 2001, I figured
I had nothing to worry about with the redux. As things would go, however,
I seemed to recall having less trouble with the Gray Ghost than this one.
Perhaps it was my tying rust, or the marathon of winding a full tinsel body.
Regardless, I hand-cramped my way through it and half hitched to take a
break between steps. A pretty pattern, although in hindsight I wish we had
selected a pattern with a shoulder, both for the added visual appeal and
extra challenge. All things considered, I was happy enough with my results.
It wasn't the first time I had tied a fly in hand, but it isn't something
I do often. The first times I have tied in hand was because I had forgotten
a vise to tie on when attending fly tying meetings with the Northern Lights
in Edmonton, Alberta. Since the challenge, I've been tying the odd streamer
in hand, just for a bit of practice and to give me some perspective on
what the tyers of Carrie's period had to work with, and to gain some appreciation
for our modern tools and vises. I must admit that I didn't struggle with
the process as much as I expected to, and that the gratuitous use of half
hitches saved the streamer from totally unraveling at least once. I also
made sure to have a clear space on a usually full (read messy) tying table
and to have all the materials prepared before starting. The wing is prepared
as always and set aside to dry. It's easy to see why Carrie tied in stages
rather than tying one fly start to finish using her methods.
One of the challenges of tying in hand on the long hooks is to just to
start the thread at the eye as i usually do. It took a bit of strange
uncomfortable contortion with my fingers, but once the thread was jammed,
things moved quickly. The hardest part of the fly was attaching the wing
(challenging with or without the vise), which I managed by setting one
side than the other. Once the wings were placed, I set them into position
and then added the finishing wraps of thread. I found i wanted to "groom"
the fly, but with my left hand occupied with the hook, I had to employ
the right to play double duty. I tried to use as few tools as I could,
and instead of using a vise, I used a length of thread with a pair of
hackle pliers to help keep some weight on the hook. I usually tie with
my scissors in hand but found that I needed to set them down so as not
to fumble them into the nest of hook and thread.
One real benefit of tying in hand was that I could grasp the fly head
the head after the body portion was completed. If you tie on a flimsy
hook such as a Mustad 3907A or a 94720, this would really come in handy,
but less so on the stouter hooks.
| I thought I was on easy street, until I tried to set and align the wings....
Looking back, I heavily waxed silk thread which worked great because it
was almost sticky and with a half hitch stayed put. I elected not to use
a bobbin and have a new outlook on thread tension -- even tacky thread won't
save you from the fly away if you let up at all. I am a south paw and found
that I used both hands to alternately keep tension and pinching the thread
to position materials. I did pre-assemble the wings, but early on I picked
furnace saddles to sub for the golden badger that turned out a little too
stiff and one went cockeyed during alignment. Getting the ring on the head
would have made good humor on video as you may tell from it's unique curve.
For one, I can say that I am glad for my vise & tools. I hold our host's
sentiments from the last challenge that while I won't be in a big hurry
to do another, I too am glad for the connection it gave me to our streamer
tying roots and a greater appreciation for just how talented Carrie Stevens
was and the mark she made out of Upper Dam. ~
| Ok, my experience from tying the fly in the hand:
1. Holding the hook in the hand was not such a big deal, controlling the tension of the fingers/thumb was important.
2. Half hitch after applying new material and doing the wraps to secure it. Otherwise no chance to put it on the table to search for next material.
3. Necessary to prepare all materials in advance.
4. Wings have to be pre-assembled for this.
5. Tying a streamer is ok, but a sz. 18 dry ???
6. And the desk must be very clean, usually my vise emerges out of the clutter of the tying table.
| It was fun tying a fly without the help of a vise for the first time.
The hardest part was trying to keep from messing the fly up too much and
keeping the material looking decent. I didn't feel it was too hard to tie
it in hand but I think that had to do mostly with the pattern that was chosen.
I think if it was a fly that had as many materials such as the Grey Ghost
that it would have been more difficult. Nonetheless I'm glad I got the chance
to participate and look forward to doing more flies without a vise from
time to time.
The Carrie's Challenge II was definitely a learning experience for me.
I knew going into it that after I was finished, I'd come away with something
I didn't know. What surprised me was my preconceptions were completely
off for the most part.
The hardest part I found was the body work. Between fighting keeping
my fingers off the point of the hook and the paralyzing cramps from keeping
tension on the thread, floss and ribbing I found myself begging for a
break and no way to tie off to take one. I kept thing Carrie probably
did this after she'd washed 3 loads of laundry and had dough rising for
the day's bread! My guess is that not having done this before, I had no
muscle memory for how mush pressure is needed to keep everything in place.
I basically was squeezing it too hard.
The wing mounting was where I learned the most in the challenge. I actually
found it easier to mount the wing correctly in the Steven's style when
they fly is in hand then when it's in a vise. The pre assembled wing she
used makes much more sense this way as well. In hand, your about to press
the 2nd side to the first better in one seamless unit. I think it's probably
because the pressure applied with the fingers needs to hold everything.
You can also look straight down the hook shank as apposed to the side
so you can see what you're doing. The only tricky part is keeping the
hook straight but I got it on the first try and it came out pretty good.
The only catch is that I have no idea if the fly would hold up to fishing.
I really only used the bobbin as weight on the thread so I don't know
if the wraps are tight enough or not.
This was a fantastic exercise and I'd encourage anyone who hasn't tried
it to do so. I'm sure you'll learn something. I'm not ready to give up
my vise anytime soon.
Tying without a vise is a challenge to the muscles and fingers. getting
the "vice" hands muscles to relax yet provide enough tension takes time.
you gotta get thru the initial pain. but by using a well waxed thread
and many 1/2 hitches the fly can be put down.
Your fingers are in constant contact with the ribbing, floss etc and
such manipulation gives the fly a special look. not the shiny glossy,
showroom finish we see all the time with the macro-photography patterns
usually displayed...the fly looks real.
I think it's easier to do certain procedures such as applying tails,
throats and wings , the body along the long shank was arguably the more
After tying a few i believe you will see why stevens tyed her flies in
that "special" style.
- The tail starts past the point where her fingers hold the hook.
- A very slim body using four strand silk and only one layer from back
- The shortened body at the front where the bucktail, peacock, hackle
and crests sit are not too far away from that holding point as well.
(how large were her hands ...or better stated , how long were her fingers?)
- Wing components glued together and mounted on the top sides of the
All these operations are easiest and faster when done in hand especially
the setting of the wings...as your hands are not articulated to the fixed
angle of the vice...ease of tying means stronger flies faster and more
efficiently...qualities a commercial tyer needed. okay?