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