Black Ghost - Step-by-Step
Here’s an easily recognizable feather wing streamer that was developed back in the early 1900’s by Maine fly tyer Herbert Welch. Although there is evidence of feather wing streamer design in the UK much earlier than that, it was in the state of Maine where this particular form of streamer design took root and evolved to its highest levels; specifically the area known as the Rangeley Lakes region, which includes such Lakes as Upper Richardson and the tongue twister: Mooselookmeguntic; home to both Welch and probably the most famous of the Rangeley streamer tyers, Carrie Stevens.
It is thought that Welch developed the Black Ghost pattern around 1902, but the fly evolved considerably and the final version; the one that’s most well-known today, didn’t come into full being until about 1927. Interestingly, Welch is known for his Black Ghost, where Carrie Stevens is known for her Gray Ghost; both patterns designed to imitate baitfish.
For more information on Herb Welch, his life and his flies, try this link:
Streamers Of Herb Welch
Here’s the step-by-step:
1. Here are the materials that you’ll need: 1. A streamer hook; the 6xl that you used for the Picket Pin will do, but I like really long feather wing streamers, so I tied mine on a Mike Martinek Rangeley Streamer hook: 8xl, #4, 2. Silver tinsel, flat, medium, 3. Underbody material (I use Uni Stretch floss in white), 4. Black floss, 5. Yellow hackle (for the tail and the throat), 6. White streamer hackle (hen saddle), and 7. Jungle Cock eyes.
2. First, thread the hook all the way back to the area between the hook point and the barb.
3. Next, form the tail. Take a bunch of long yellow barbs from the base of a good sized hackle and tie them in at the rear of the hook. [Note: as a help in getting them to be the same length, pull the barbs back from the tip, pinch a good sized group of barbs between your thumb and index finger and pull the stem away from the barbs (don’t pull the barbs away from the stem).]
4. Wrap your thread forward over the hackle waste ends and up to the head of the fly You’ll note that the body will be thinner once you’ve buried the waste ends; don’t worry about that, we’ll handle that in the next step. Once at the head, tie in the underbody material [Note: I use white Uni Stretch for forming underbodies; it’s easy to work with and you can put in on a bobbin, which makes it easier still.]
5. Next, using flattened wraps, wrap the Stretch back to the point where you buried the hackle barbs and then forward again to the head. This will even out the body, which is the point that you want to start from for the next step. [Note: to flatten thread, spin you bobbin counterclockwise until you can see the thread or floss or Stretch flatten out; then start wrapping it.]
6. Now you’re going to shape the body of the fly by using the Stretch. Some people tie this pattern with a very thin, straight body; others tie it with a cigar-shaped body. I use a medium cigar shape, because to me baitfish are thicker in the middle than they are at the ends. To achieve this shaping, wind your Stretch up and down the hook, taking fewer wraps at the ends as you build up the middle of the fly. If, for example, it takes 25 wraps of Stretch to go from the head to the tail, then the first layer would be 25 wraps, the second 20, the third 15, the fourth, 10, and so on. Be sure to tie in the flat silver tinsel with your first wrap of Stretch toward the tail. Usually, you tie in materials with thread, in this case you tie the tinsel in by the Stretch (or whatever underbody material you’re using). Finish forming the body by bringing your Stretch back to the head. If you’re somewhat of a hard case, you can burnish your Stretch body after you’ve got it formed, to get it even smoother. Here’s the body shaped and burnished:
7. Next, tie in the black floss at the head.
8. Using flattened butt wraps, wind the floss back to the tail and the forward again to the head, making a 2-layer floss body. Tie it off with thread at the head using 3-4 wraps
9. Now, wind the silver tinsel rib up the body in evenly-spaced diagonal spirals. Tie it off at the head with 3-4 wraps. Cut off the floss and tinsel and clean up the head of the fly. [Note: a lot of tyers will heavily rib the body, so that the proportion of tinsel to floss is high; 50% or greater in some cases. I like a black body with less ribbing. But, the choice is yours.]
10. Now it’s time to tie in the throat. You’re going to be using yellow hackle barbs for this; just as you did with the tail. In order to get a full throat, which I like on this pattern, we’re going to mount the hackle on the underside of the hook, pull it into position and then tie it off. To do this you need to prepare the hackle. First, get yourself a good sized yellow hackle. Starting at the point where the hackle barbs are longest (just above the “fluff” at the base of the feather), go forward about 1 inch. Then grab the hackle between the thumb and index finger of your right hand (if you’re a rightly). With your left thumb and index finger, gently pull the exposed hackle barbs back toward the base. Cut off the hackle tip and the point where you pulled the barbs back toward the base. Smooth the remaining barbs back toward what was the tip. Turn your hook upside down and tie in the prepared hackle on the bottom of the hook using two loose wraps, with the shiny side of the hackle facing away from the hook.
11. Next, pull the hackle stem forward until the tip of the stem just moves past the thread. Tie it off at this point. [Note: the main advantage of this technique is that by using your left thumb and forefinger to guide the hackle as it’s pulled forward, you can get the hackle barbs to lie in the sides of the hook, not just on the bottom. There are also other advantages.]
12. Tie off the hackle, cut off the stem/waste end and smooth up the head with your tying thread. Then turn the hook right-side up again.
13. Now, it’s time to mount the wings. In order to do this, you’ll need white or bleached hen saddle hackle. Here’s a good saddle to start from (looks yellow in the pic, but it’s white - trust me!):
14. The wing consists of 4 white hackles tied in together. The reason for this is because most saddle hackle is too transparent to make it possible to form a good wing with only two hackles (there are some exceptions to this if you have a really good saddle). To start the wing, you want to take two hackles from the left side of the saddle and two from the right. The ones on the left bend in slightly toward the center of the saddle; making them good far side wings. The ones on the right also bend in to the center; making them good near side wings. Here are 4 hackles; two from the left and two from the right. You want the tyable portion of your hackle to be about 1 ½ hook shanks in length.
15. Next, prep that hackles by removing the fuzz from their bases. Then, size the hackles; making them all the same length. Pull the barbs off the bottom of those hackles that are longer than the others, so that you end up with 4 hackles of the same length.
16. Next, take the two far side hackles and place them one on top of the other (pair them). Place the two paired hackles on a flat surface with the dull sides of the hackle facing up. Then, place one near side hackle on top of the two far side hackles, with its shiny side facing up. Finally, place the second near side hackle on top of the first one. Here are the 4 hackles, ready to be mounted on the fly:
17. Pick up the wing bundle by the stems and hold them between your right thumb and index fingers; right up against the barbs. Now, loosen your grip just a little and make whatever slight adjustments are necessary to move all of the hackle to the same position; with the barbs up against your right thumb and index finger. Once you’re satisfied that they’re all lined up, transfer the wing bundle to your left hand and hold the hackles between the thumb and index finger of your left hand. Place the wing on the top of the hook and tie the 4 hackles in at the same time using first 2 soft pinch wraps, followed by 4-6 tight wraps. Take your fingers off the wing and see if you like the set. If you don’t, it’s not a problem, just unwind your thread, check that the hackles are still lined up and re-mount the wing bundle.
18. The last step is to add the Jungle Cock cheeks. This is well-used a Jungle Cock cape. These birds have feathers that are coated at their tips and are called “nails”. You’ll need two nails for the cheeks on this fly. Alternatively, you can use any small hackle that you want. Small Guinea Fowl hackles are sometimes used a Jungle Cock substitutes.
19. Tie in the Jungle Cock nails so that they follow the line of the wing stems. Tie them in one side at a time, with 2-3 wraps holding them down. You can adjust the angle of the nails by levering the stems that stick out past the tie in point.
20. Cut off all of your feather waste ends and form a small head with flattened tying thread. Coat the head with tying cement (I use SHHAN) to give it a smooth, shiny appearance.
And that’s it – Herb Welch’s Black Ghost Rangeley style streamer!
Post of PM me with any questions or comments that you have. I'll be away on business today-Thursday (I know; retired and working again - crazy!), but will try to get back to you on BB.
This has been fun for me – I hope it has for you. Three wet flies and three streamers to add to your fly armamentarium; plus a whole slew of possible variations. Good luck fishing them!