First Lady of fly tying


Published on March 17, 2017

Last week we talked about the important contribution women have made to sport fishing and I said I would be expanding on the flies of Carrie Stevens.

Carrie Sevens was born in 1882 in Maine and lived there her entire life. While she never ventured far from home her reputation as a fly tier is known around the world and her streamer fly patterns remain popular today.

Her career as a fly tier began in the 1920s when she and her husband settled in the Rangley Lake area of Maine. They had a small cottage, Camp Midway, near Upper Dam which was a popular area for fishing brook trout. A hotel, Upper Dam House, was a popular destination for visiting anglers. Carrie’s husband worked there as a fishing guide and Carrie became a fly tier, supplying flies to visiting anglers.

Her fame grew when she took second place in the 1924 Big Fish Contest run by Field and Stream magazine. Her entry was for a brook trout which weighed in at an impressive six pounds and 13 ounces. She caught the fish on one of her own flies and the fame generated by the story began to bring in more and more orders.

Over her career as a fly tier, until she retired from fly tying in 1953, she tied thousands of flies and invented at least 24 original patterns. Perhaps her most famous is the Gray Ghost streamer. Tied to imitate a smelt, this fly remains a popular pattern for trout and salmon today. Totally self-taught, she never took a fly tying lesson, and tied without a vise, simply holding the hook in her hand.

I have been a longtime fan of Carrie Stevens and her flies and, a few years ago I realized a long term wish by visiting where she once lived and where she tied her flies. I was in the Rangeley Lake region of Maine for a work-related fisheries conference. Knowing I was close to Upper Dam I asked one of the fishery biologists from Maine how to get there. He supplied me with directions and a map so, when I had a few hours free, I drove to Upper Dam and walked through the woods to where her cabin still stands. The area is surrounded by tall pine trees and I felt like I was in church as I headed down the path.

The state of Maine recognized Carrie Stevens’ achievements back in 1970 when they celebrated Carrie Stevens day and dedicated a plaque in her memory directly across from the cottage where she tied her many flies. I thought it was a very nice tribute to a person who did much to make Maine famous as a sport fishing destination.

Carrie Stevens passed away in 1970 and today her flies are very collectable, and valuable. Which I find interesting, given the fact that when she was tying and selling flies, she never charge more than 85 cents for her casting flies and $1 for a trolling streamer.

Perhaps the best tribute to her memory is the fact that the flies she created are still being fished, and are catching fish, today. Definitely a lasting legacy for a great fly tier.


Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.