The Ballou Special is said to be the first marabou streamer and was created by A. W. Ballou of Litchfield, ME in 1921 to imitate smelt off the mouth of the Songo River mouth in Sebago Lake. There is some pretty good documentation around about how this fly was developed and it’s clear that there was considerable trial and error. We all benefit from that because not only does this fly fish well, the marabou wing is something that once you learn how to tie it, you can transpose it onto other streamers. Marabou is inexpensive, and it’s a deadly addition.
Recipe for the Ballou Special
Thread – Black
Hook – Size 6 streamer hook
Tail – 2 Golden Pheasant crests, curved down
Body – Silver Mylar
Wing – White marabou, over red bucktail
Topping – Peacock herl
Eyes – Jungle Cock
Start this fly by tying in the tail. You don’t see a lot of Golden Pheasant crests on flies these days and that’s a shame, the material is not that expensive and there is something about the color that really adds to the attraction factor. Be careful not to bunch up the thread here, wind your thread back to the eye. Tie in some Mylar gold side up. When you start to wind the body, the Mylar will roll over, exposing the silver side. Wind the Mylar to the tail and then return to the starting point-any gaps you made on the way down will be covered by the return trip. Next, tie in about a dozen red bucktail fibers, extending just past the tail. If you have one, use a buck tail with very fine hairs. Bucktail is not expensive where I buy it and I am allowed to pick through and select tails that have fine, straight hair. Thick, heavy hairs will flare easily and make for some very tough to tame streamer wings. Don’t use a lot of thread wraps to tie in materials on this or any other fly. Marabou is a bulky material and there are five different material tie-ins behind the eye of this fly; if you use too much thread you’re going to have a pretty big head and that is not necessary. Except for the marabou, three to five wraps are all you need, use some thread tension and a drop of head cement if you feel the need.
The original recipe for this fly calls for four marabou blood feathers. That’s way too much for my taste but your mileage may vary. Some recipes use only two feathers-still too much for me. You can use, as much or as little marabou as you think is right for your situation. I suspect that the original marabou used for this fly was from the Marabou stork that was available at the time but is now endangered. The marabou we use today comes from domestic turkeys raised for the meat market. My bet is that the turkey marabou may be thicker and we don’t need as much as Ai Ballou did when he was developing this fly.
What I do is I strip a small bunch from a quill and use that. I like my wings just fine. You may need a few more thread windings due to the nature of the marabou but don’t over do it. Top the fly with about six peacock herls. You can use as many as a dozen, depending on how thick your herl is. The topping is meant to represent the dark back of a baitfish, in this case a smelt. Peacock herl is iridescent and is a fantastic material. Try not to use herls that are stiff. The marabou is very soft and gives great action in the water; you want the topping to be flexible as well. I use Jungle Cock eyes because I like them on this fly. If you don’t have any, it’s all right to paint eyes on the head. All baitfish imitations work better with eyes, but it’s your call.
This classic Maine fly is over 90 years old and it’s the original marabou streamer. It has brought an enormous number of salmon to the landing net and still does to this day. That’s a good resume where I fish.