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The Grand Lady of the Rangeley streamer flies By Larry Myhre


As a student of fishing my entire life, it has not escaped me that so many of the pivotal aspects of this sport can be credited to women.

For instance, the first-ever published work on fly fishing was included in a 1496 edition of the “Book of St. Albans.” It is entitled Treatise of Fishing with an Angle and was written by Dame Juliana Berners, a noblewoman and prioress of the Sopwell Nunnery near St. Albans, England.

She preceded by 150 years what may just be the most popular of all fishing books, “The Complete Angler” by Izaak Walton.

          Her writings were detailed and visionary. Perhaps I will delve into that in a future column, but for now my attention is captivated by another woman.

That would be Carrie G. Stevens, originator of the Rangeley Favorite trout and salmon flies. Her fly tying career spanned more than 30 years beginning in the 1920s. Her most famous streamer pattern is the Gray Ghost, an imitation of the smelt that swims in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine.

I first tied the Gray Ghost back in the early 1970s. I included it in a framed set of my flies, which included wets, nymphs, dries and streamers. It hangs on the wall of my fly tying den to this day.

        Although I tied many versions of the early Maine streamers in those days, the unique methods that Carrie used to construct her flies escaped me. Yet,        the beauty of her streamers, most tied on 8x- and 10x-long hooks, has haunted me over the years.

For the past several months, I have researched, through books and online sources, the story of Carrie Stevens and her special streamers. It has been an interesting and educational trip fueled by the desire to tie many of those patterns myself, not for fishing but for personal challenge, display and photography.

        That desire is realistically tempered by my fly tying skill. I have tied a lot of these patterns lately, in the hopes I could attain at least a modicum of success. Fly tying is something you never really master, but you attain success by degrees.

In this day of Google and the internet, one might be tempted to think that books are relics of the past with little to enlighten us sophisticates today.

        Wrong.

        It wasn’t until I read a book written by Graydon R. Hilyard and his son Leslie K. Hilyard entitled “Carrie G. Stevens Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies” that I felt I had really begun to know the story of these famous streamers. Although first published in 2000 by Stackpole Books, it is still available through Amazon.com and other sources. [Read more…]