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Adventures in Fly Tying... July 2008

Royal Coachman Wet Fly With Rolled Hackle Wing
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard



The Royal Coachman is an American variation of a traditional British pattern created in the first half of the 19th Century.  It is most often seen as a dry fly, particularly when it wears the dress of the Royal Wulff. The Royal Coachman is also well known as a streamer pattern.  It's not often seen as a wet fly anymore.  That, of course, is its original incarnation.  All I can say is "Too bad, it's a killer fly!"

When the Coachman wet fly crossed the Atlantic, Theodore Gordon adapted it to a dry fly.  In 1876 John Hailey, a Catskill contemporary of Gordon, added the red silk band to create the distinctive feature of all Royal patterns. He had been asked to tie some extra strong Coachman dry flies. He tied a band of red silk in the middle to prevent the peacock bodies from breaking. He had also added a tail of barred wood duck feathers.  The wood duck eventually became golden pheasant tippets, which are still a great choice - especially on the wet fly and streamer versions.  Gordon himself never liked the Royal Coachman.  Even then he knew of it as a very effective pattern, but in a fog of hubris Gordon considered the fly a "lure" and not an imitation of an insect. Today we call it an attractor pattern.

What Gordon didn't know is that the Royal Coachman is, indeed, an excellent imitation.  It mimics the appearance of an adult caddis fly very well.  It is also a passable imitation of a caddis pupa.  It is in this application where I became sold on its amazing fish-catching powers.  The Royal Coachman wet, as tied here, delivered one of my finest smallmouth bass outings ever.  Without moving a foot I managed to land over thirty fish from 8 to 16-inches during the difficult post-spawn period of mid to late June. During that time even very large bass will key in on easily captured insects to rebuild their lost fat reserves after the exertions of the spawning period.  When you see fish "flashing" behind mid-stream rocks in runs from 2 to 4 feet deep, fish the Royal Coachman wet fly with a down-and-across tight line swing.  You'll be amazed!


Hook: Mustad 3906 wet fly hook or similar, size 8 to 14
Thread: 70 Denier 8/0 black

Tail:  As shown, brown hen hackle.  Optional golden pheasant tippet fibers

Body: Peacock herl front and back separated by a band of red floss

Hackle: Brown hen hackle tied as a sparse beard

Wing: White hen hackle fibers "rolled" into a single package similar to a small bucktail

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



Start by laying down a smooth base of tying thread.  Select a brown hen hackle. In this example we're using a speckled hen hackle, which can give just a bit more of the elusive suggestion of life through the inclusion of mottled coloring so prevelant in natural insects. You can also use a "fiery brown" hackle, which is very traditional.  Or for a slightly dressier look you can opt for a few fibers from a golden pheasant neck tippet.

Tie in three peacock herls by the tips.  Take a few moments to select quality herls and break off the first half inch or so of the feather barb until you get to a slightly thicker and stronger stem section.  Gently twist the three herls into a chenille.

Take two or three turns of the peacock herl chenille over the tie-in point of the tail.  Secure the herls with a few tight wraps of the tying thread, but don't clip off the herls.  Instead, use a few open spiral wraps to secure the herls as a foundation for the floss center.

Tie in a length of red floss.

Wrap a floss section that will be the center of the body.  Remember you have to wrap another section of peacock, so don't crowd the hook eye.  The peacock - red floss - peacock sequence should each be of approximately the same size and the full body should occupy about 3/4 of the hook shank.

Wrap the front section of the body using the peacock herls you tied in at the beginning of the construction of the body. Secure the peacock with three or four tight wraps of thread and trim away the excess peacock.

Select another section of the hen hackle you used for the tail.  Tie is a short beard that reaches about half way to the point of the hook.  This beard should remain in line with the bend of the hook and shouldn't be any heavier than the material used for the tail.  Sparse is a good concept!

We'll be using a hen hackle for the wing.  This is the easiest of wet fly wings to tie, and one of the most effective.  Select a fully webbed white hen hackle and strip about half an inch of fibers from the feather.  Trim the ends of the fibers and roll them between your fingers to form a "tube" or linear bunch of hackle  This will become the wing.

The wing should extend about half-way down the tail.  Measure the wing and tie in using a pinch wrap.  Keep the wing centered on the fly and secure with four or five tight thread wraps.  Trim away the butts of the feather.

Form a neat thread head, whip finish and carefully apply a bit of Sally Hansen's Hard As Nails or clear fly tying thread cement.

The finished fly has good proportions, is lightly dressed and very effective.  Fish this on a long (9 to 12-foot) leader with a 4x tippet.  If you want a bit more depth use fluorocarbon tippet material.  Fish the fly with a traditional down-and-across wet fly swing, ensuring the fly sinks low enough in the water column to reach the fish.  At the end of the swing allow the fly to hang in the current for a few moments before beginning a hand-twist retrieve.  This fly is a very effective pattern for smallmouth bass, trout and all panfish.

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