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Project History

The Carrie Stevens Project

My love affair with Carrie Stevens began long before I knew who she was.  I was a flytying infant, flipping through the only book I had on the subject, when I came upon one of the few color plates of wet flies and streamers.  I was looking for a pattern that would serve me well for the landlocked salmon and brown trout I pursued with little success.  Immediately I was drawn to the Gray Ghost, and though I didn’t possess the right materials or technical acuity with which to tie it, I made my best effort.  In spite of all the errors and substitutions in my version, the fish had few misgivings about the fly.  My first time out with it I caught two salmon and lost two others, while all the fishermen around me went fishless.  I came home and raved about the fly to my brother, who decided to go fishing with me the next day in the biting February cold.  As much a tinkerer then as I am today, I had already made a variation on the pattern that I was eager to try, and I outfitted my brother with a few of my original Ghosts.  That day, I didn’t get a single strike on my “new and improved” Ghost, but my brother, fishing the crude original version right beside me, caught four salmon and lost four more, the other fishermen creeping closer to him with each fish.   It wasn’t until much later that I would learn that this sort of success with the Gray Ghost was commonplace, and that my little fish story paled in comparison to the testimonies of others who swore by the Ghost almost as if it were truly Holy.

Rear ProfileAs I learned more about Carrie, I realized that she and I shared similar flytying backgrounds.  She, like I, was almost entirely self-taught.  Though surrounded by a community of skilled tiers, she saw the value in carving out her own path.  Along the way, she proved her ignorance of established practices, winding her materials the “wrong” way on the hook and referring to the anatomical parts of her flies by the “wrong” names.  She even used lacquer to assemble the wings of her flies, sacrilege to the educated tier.  I like to believe that it was precisely her lack of a classical flytying education, however, that allowed her to see possibilities that might otherwise have been clouded from her mind by convention.  Carrie took the risk of looking foolish for the potential great reward of creating something truly new and special.  And new and special her flies were.

My aim with this project is to honor Carrie’s ingenuity and uniqueness.  Ironically, I’ve decided that the best way to do so is to mimic her style as closely as possible.  So, with the exception of using precious metals for my hooks and tinsels, I use the same materials she used and tie the same way she did.  My Stevens flies are tied in hand, without a vise, the thread, floss, and tinsel all wound the “wrong” way, the wings and shoulders lacquered together and mounted on the side of the hook shank.  And, while some tiers believe that using Carrie’s banded head signature is sacrilegious, I include it because I believe it to be integral to her patterns rather than ancillary.  Carrie noted that the banded head marks “a fly of the highest quality in material and workmanship.”  And, while I doubt that anyone would mistake one of my flies for one of hers, it is my hope that my flies meet her high standards.

My sincere thanks to Graydon Hilyard, Leslie Hilyard, and Chris Del Plato.  All have been invaluable resources for this project, and all have patiently answered each of my many questions.  I would also commend the Hilyards' excellent book, Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies, to anyone attempting to immerse themselves in her work.  Though mention of these fine gentlemen here ought not be confused with their personal endorsement of my project, if my flies meet with their esteemed approval I would consider it a great honor.

-Shawn Davis


Have a favorite Carrie Stevens pattern?

The Colonel Bates?  The General MacArthur?  The Golden Witch?  I am eager to expand this project to include as many of Carrie's patterns as possible.  So I welcome any custom orders of other Stevens patterns.  If a fly you desire is not one currently offered on my site, you could own the first in the serially numbered edition of that fly.  For custom orders, please contact me at

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