Bergman, Ray. Trout
Fly of The Month 04.19
By 1892, Mary Orvis Marbury had corresponded with hundreds of fly-fishers throughout the United States and Canada as she gathered fly pattern recipes for her book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. She found that the Coachman was the overwhelming favorite or “go to fly.” At that time, there was also the Royal Coachman which was a favorite which ranked eighth on her list among the fly-fishers she corresponded with. By 1920, the Royal Coachman was deemed the most favorite or “go to fly” and the Coachman ranked second. Keep in mind that these flies were all wet flies which were greased heavily to float temporarily but mostly sank and were fished much like a rising emerger is today. Here are the complete lists from 1892 and 1920:
1892 1920 Modern Favorites
Coachman Royal Coachman Royal Wulff, Tan Elk Hair Caddis
Brown Hackle Coachman Adams Parachute
Professor Parmachene Belle Sulphur Emerger, Klinkhammer
Montreal Cahill Griffith Gnat
Black Gnat Professor Red Flying Ant
White Miller Brown Hackle Black Beetle, Juan Hopper
Grizzly King Black Gnat Olive Woolly Bugger
Royal Coachman Grey Hackle Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle
Queen of Waters Montreal Sparkle Caddis Pupa
Silver Doctor Cowdung Cased-Caddis, Mop Fly
Cowdung Silver Doctor Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph
Scarlet Ibis Queen of Waters Mickey Finn, Muddler Minnow
Today, there are both wet and dry versions of many of the original fly pattern. Any fly pattern that suggests or imitates a mayfly may also be tied in a female or lady version.
The first Coachman pattern from which a number of variations eventually evolved was designed probably in the early 1820’s in England, first appearing in British angling literature in 1825. Tom Bosworth, served as the coachman to the royal family under two kings and one queen of England - George IV who died in 1830, his successor, William IV who died in 1837, and Queen Victoria. Bosworth was the originator of the “Coachman” wet fly – hence the name. This wet pattern became a mainstay in that part of the world through the remainder of the century, and the brown feather that Bosworth selected as hackle for his pattern became known as Coachman brown. It has no tail, a bronze green peacock herl body, brown hackle and white wings. Basically, a brown hackle, white wing fly.
Wakeman Holberton followed the fly pattern recipe with a red silk tip or butt at the lower end of the body. T. C. Hofland in his Angler’s Manual (1939), described it as: “body, copper colored peacock herl; legs, red hackle; wings, landrail.” Edward Fitzgibbon, writing under the name of Ephemera, in his A Handbook of Angling (1847), described the Coachman: “body, peacock’s herl, full and short; wings, fibers of any small white feather; legs, a turn or two of a red hackle.” He listed it as a fly for use on May evenings.
G. P. R. Pullman of London described the fly in 1850: “body, peacock herl; legs, a red hen’s hackle; wings, from the white part of a feather from a magpie’s wing.” Of course, a red hen’s hackle is brown. The 'Field' or Field and Stream in 1853 offered an “alternative coachman” designed by John Hughes of Kent, Hughes was also a coachman in England. The recipe for this version has not been researched.
The next variation of the Coachman that surfaced during that century was the Leadwing Coachman by simply replacing the white wing of the original Coachman with grey mallard slips. A gold tag was added as well. The Gray Coachman or Leadwing Coachman, sometimes called the Dark Coachman, tied with a grey mallard or starling feather substitute for the white wing, was created by Henry R. Francis about 1870, an Englishman of Pennell’s time, and author of a chapter in Pennell’s book on fly fishing Salmon and Trout. This version of the coachman was a favorite of Thad Norris, the Southern Appalachian’s father of fly-fishing.
There is also a series of unique variations of the distant past as well: The Fin Fly, a soft red bodied Coachman was the idea of Albert Walker of Bennington, Vermont who sought to imitate a brook trouts fin with a coachman-like fly pattern. The Josephine fly, a red winged Coachman, is credited to O. O. Baker of Pougkeepsie, New York, named after his daughter. This is another imitation of a brook trout fin with a coachman-like fly pattern. The Alice fly, dating about 1890, named after T. V. Allis of New York, is another variation, a brown mottled wing Coachman. It is like the Alder fly but with a darker spotted wing. These versions of the Coachman and related flies reflect the subtle evolution of the Coachman wet fly from 1830 to 1890.
The first variation of the Coachman and possibly the most famous pattern to début in the United States is the Royal Coachman, alias the Brook Trout Fly. The pattern was first tied commercially in 1878 by Mr. John Haily who tied for Charles F. Orvis of the Orvis Company. Although Haily was the first to tie the pattern commercially, he received the original pattern from another unnamed commercial tyer who had tied an early prototype for a fishing buddy. He told Haily “I have just been tying some flies to order for a gentleman. He says he likes the coachman better than any other fly, but he finds it very frail, and he wants me to tie some with red silk in the middle, to make them stronger, and he also wants a little sprig of wood duck for a jib (tail). I send you a fly to see. I think it quite handsome.” So, the first Royal Coachman was tied with barred wood duck for tail, rather than with golden pheasant tippet as we know the pattern. Haily later replaced the wood duck tail with golden pheasant tippet and it apparently was then that the pattern was given the name of Royal Coachman. The pattern was tied wet, but it also became a part of the evolving Catskill style of tying dry flies in that part of our country which included the Fanwing Royal Coachman.
The band of silk floss in the middle of the body of the Royal Coachman sets it apart from almost all modern patterns, but Mary Orvis Marbury subsequently described up to 30 patterns that included floss and herl in their bodies in her 1892 book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. The Orvis Company later designed a pattern for a fellow in Wagon Wheel Gap, Colorado who requested an order of Royal Coachman tied for him with “all the gilt (floss) possible”. The pattern had a body of red floss with only a neck of herl at the front of the body. It was then marketed as the Gilt Coachman. The Yellow Royal Coachman fly pattern, popular in western waters, was created by to J. W. Fricke, of San Francisco. There are the Silver Coachman, Gold Coachman and Orange Coachman all so called because of the color of the portion of the body fashioned after the Royal Coachman.
Reuben Cross once said, “The Quack Coachman was tied for L. Q. Quackenbush of the Beaverkill Trout Club, Beaverkill, New York, so we called it by his nickname ‘Quack.’ This is the same dressing as the Royal Coachman but has kinky impala hair for fanwings.” Cross indicated that it works much better in all respects.
J. W. Fricke of San Francisco designed the California Coachman in the early 1900’s. It was a similar pattern to the Gilt Coachman, but the red floss was replaced with yellow. There are other variations on the Coachman that include the Coachman Variant which is a wet fly with a bright green tag; the Bentz Coachman is a dry fly that has a golden pheasant tippet tail, white floss separating bands of peacock herl body, dun hackle legs, and lead wings; and, the Hairwing Royal Coachman which has white deer hair for the wings and golden pheasant tippet for the tail of which all three are from unknown inventors.
The Cabin Coachman is a dry fly created by John Stephen about 1934 while fly-fishing with George Mason at his cabin on the South Branch of the Au Sable River, Michigan. It has a red tail, peacock herl body, hackle of Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red which is the adams mix of brown and grizzly and Andalusian wings which are a blue-grey ground color with black lacing, tied spent. The Lady Cabin is the same fly pattern with the addition of the yellow egg sac.
The Western Coachman story comes from Tom H. Logan who enjoys tying them and fishing them in virtually all the warm and cold waters from Florida to the Rockies and Sierras. The Western Coachman is a fly pattern that had been designed and made famous by Buz Buszek who owned Buz’s Fly Shop in Visalia, California. You may recognize Buz as the namesake for the Federation of Fly Fishers’ Buz Buszek Memorial Award that is presented annually to individuals that have contributed significantly to the arts of fly tying.
Buszek designed the Western Coachman about 1940 as a fly pattern for rainbows and browns in the Kings River just northeast of Visalia in the Kings Canyon of the Sierras. The fly had a prominent white hair wing of mule deer hair that was once the standard but has evolved to white-tailed deer hair. Buszek marketed the fly and got a boost in 1949 when the Pacific Coast Olive Company purchased 2,000 Western Coachman flies to use in a promotion. They offered a coupon with purchase of olives that could be sent into the company for a Western Coachman that was provided in a special fly box. He later provided the pattern to the Orvis Company for them to carry in their stock.
Buszek designed his prototype using African impala as the white hair wing. However, he couldn’t acquire enough impala for what he needed and changed to white tails of stillborn calves for the wing. Buszek gather tails locally from the many dairies in the Valley. Buszek finally settled on a wing of white deer hair and that is how the pattern remained. The Western Coachman, usually in size 14, is a pattern for everything from bream to bass to trout.
Buszek designed several original patterns for catching trout in the King’s River and Sierra streams to the east of the Valley, and many of these were marketed widely. The Western Coachman could have been a natural progression from his Old Gray Mare that preceded it.
There are two additional “coachman” fly patterns worthy of mention, the Coachman Trude and the California [Warmwater] Coachman. We will give details about the Coachman Trude in another article covering Trude fly patterns.
The California [Warmwater] Coachman is a variant of the Royal Coachman which is a Tom Nixon fly pattern for bluegills and other panfish. Tom Nixon stays traditional with his fly patterns but also put a slight twist on them for warm water species.
California [Warmwater] Coachman
Hook: wet fly
Bead: (optional) glass bead
Thread: dark brown or black, 6/0-8/0
Tail: Golden pheasant tippet fibers
Body: Peacock herl ruff at tail, yellow floss middle and peacock herl ruff forward
Hackle: white, collar style
Wings: white duck flight feather sections or white hackle fibers
Fly Fishing and Fly Tying for Bass and Panfish by Tom Nixon is a book that one must have to truly appreciate the evolution of warm water fly patterns. It seems to kind of be the mid-point from the first bucktail streamers and deer hair bugs to the Clouser or even articulated flies.
Whether you are stripping it or drifting this wet fly pattern, it works great for bass and panfish in the proper fishing environments. If you've got a hole with a bunch of stubborn sunfish, this fly pattern will work great. You'll need to switch it up with different fly patterns because even panfish get tired of the same pattern after a while. Strike indicators can be used when drifting for bass and panfish. Sometimes they do bite soft or suck and spit quickly. In lakes and ponds, let the California Coachman sink a bit after casting it but vary the retrievals.
The Coachman Group:
Royal Coachman, Fanwing Royal Coachman, Hairwing Royal Coachman, Yellow Royal Coachman
Gilt Coachman, Silver Coachman, Gold Coachman, Orange Coachman
California Coachman, California [Warmwater] Coachman
Bentz Coachman, Cabin Coachman, Quack Coachman
Fly of the Month 04.19
…. photo, steps
Tom Adams and Alen Baker
Smedley, Harold Hinsdill. Fly Patterns and Their Origins, 1944