The Royal Coachman

Fred Klein Author, Fly tyer and fisher of early traditional flies. Fly fishing historian, author and speaker.

A Fly Endeared

With a new fly rod and fly box at the inquisitive age of ten, I learned to cast wet flies for brook trout in our Pennsylvania woodland stream. My life long relationship began with a beautiful fly adorned with green flash, bright white wings and a scarlet sash…

lets go back a hundred years to the beginnings of the Royal Coachman.

Beginnings

The story of the first Royal Coachman began with a fishing trip to the North Woods. The year was 1878 when a fly fisherman engaged New York City professional fly dresser John Haley to tie some Coachman flies and to “make them extra strong”,  to prevent the unraveling of the peacock herl body, and wood duck for the tail- thus the beginning of America’s favorite fly.  A few evenings later in a circle of fishermen, a discussion arose to coin the handsome fly with a name. L.C. Orvis, the brother of Charles Orvis said “ Oh that is easy enough, call it a Royal Coachman it is so finely dressed!”

Royalty was in it’s orgins, this fly which was derived from a previous favorite in America, the Coachman. A British fly originated by fisherman Tom Bosworth, also a coach driver for King George IV, Henry IV and Her Majesty Queen Victoria.


The Royal Coachman was a success, publicized in Charles F. Orvis Fishing with the Fly ‘1883 and top listed in Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies ‘1892; becoming without a doubt, the most well known fly pattern amongst those seeking trout on the waters as well as the general public. A fly synonymous with the romantic history of American fly fishing through the ages.

The popularity of the fly grew. There have been volumes of attractive fly patterns publicized throughout the years, nevertheless the Royal Coachman has remained popular for one reason. Trout love them. Fly shops as well as online stores across America have multiple versions of this old pattern in their bins and stock.  I have chuckled to myself many times over the years while looking into the fly boxes of fellow fishermen on the streams, the inevitable Royal Coachman in one form or another to be cast into the current in hopes of fooling a wary trout!

Here To Stay

Today the grand woodland pursuit of trout with the fly has grown in leaps and bounds. Multiplied in interest by the appeal of online images and videos of fly fishing, flies and the waters.  Contemporary fly tyers produce new fly patterns every day of different nymph, streamer, and dry styles. The vast majority of fly galleries by today’s top tyers include multiple versions of the Royal Coachman.  Here are just a few…

On The Water

A few years ago on a frigid January morning I stood knee deep in an icy wild trout stream in the Pennsylvania Appalachian Mountains. The sun was low with rod guides and fingers freezing, all of my best fly offerings were readily refused. With stiff fingers I reached into my fly box and found a Royal Coachman wet fly, size 12.  With hope fading but not the will to land a trout, the fly fell on the crystal water just below a waterfall. I watched the white wings descend into the deep as bronze flashed and with joyful excitement watched that beautiful wild trout jump twice before coming to rest in my net. This scene has been repeated many times in my years on the water.  We hope that perhaps one day, you too will drift a fly with a royal history downstream.

 

 

Author: Fred Klein~ Fly tyer and fisher of classic flies, U.S. Partridge of Redditch Pro Team website:grizzlykingfly.com  instagram.com/grizzlykingfly (flies third row)


Contributor: Matt Beers~ Catskill fly tyer and fisher, Catskill Fly Tyers Guild instagram.com/catskill_flyfisher  (flies first row, Coachman)

Contributer: Cory Golden~Northern Michigan fly tyer and fisher, Trout Unlmited Adams Chapter instagram.com/streamsidescotch (flies second row)

 

6 thoughts on “The Royal Coachman

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Very nice, Fred, and your photos not only suggest a lot of ways to tie this wet fly, but are also pleasingly reminiscent of the old days, when books had to bind “color plates” into the pages at predefined points within the book.

    I have a few Royal Coachman variant dry flies in my fly box, but you’ve reminded me that I need to tie up and use the wet version. I often fish a “Grey Hackle Peacock” and I believe it’s the peacock herl that gives it its magic, so a Royal Coachman ought to do so as well and add a touch of high-vis class that no blue-blooded trout can resist. Thanks again for some terrific photos and a great article.

    – Mike

    Reply
  2. Robert N. Betts

    I enjoyed your wonderful article, Fred. The Royal Coachman and the Royal Wulff in a #16 are my go-to flies whenever I fish for the small brook trout in the mountains of Virginia. Brook trout just can’t resist them. Though I know the story of the Royal Wulff, I didn’t know about how the Royal Coachman was derived. Now I know and it makes me appreciate this fly more.

    Reply
    1. Fred Klein

      Hi Robert,
      We fish the same mountain range a few miles between. It’s always amazing to see a native brook trout go airborne after taking the fly. They love the chase. I often think of a cat chasing a string or toy while fishing those streams. If you use Instagram visit my page, there is underwater video of a Royal Coachman size 10 dancing through the current and bubbles. It helps to see the fly underwater to understand what the trout visualizes. Brook trout are making a strong come back in the forested waters of the Appalachians thanks to generations of sportsmen over the years.
      Thank you and all the best!
      Fred

      Reply
  3. Freddy Block

    Such an awesome read Fred – well done! The Royal Coachman pattern to me, and as far back as I can remember, is the epitome of a classic fly and fly fishing – period! They “scream” fly fishing! You touched on this and it is so true! Being a late bloomer to fly tying and fly fishing, I’ll admit I need to cast a Royal Coachman, or a bunch of them. A dry, a wet, a streamer, Wulff, Trude, ha, I can go on and on. Thanks for a great read and inspiration!

    Reply
    1. Fred Klein

      Hi Mike,
      The evolution of fly tying is every bit as interesting as the traditional, and the exciting advancements of fly fishing bring us to new levels of understanding of the biology, physics and entomology. There remains a love of the nostalgia and romance of our outdoor heritage. The literature named in this article are but a few of the remarkable classic works available to the contemporary angler. (archive.org) Although our understanding and equipment have made remarkable advancements, it is quickly apparent to the reader that the styles, techniques and knowledge were as diverse and meticulous as today. What a pleasure to tie a large wet fly onto your tippet and catch trout on the swing as in the days of Walton.
      Thank you and all the best
      Fred

      Reply
    2. Fred Klein

      Hi Freddy
      I saw your rendition of Ray Bergman’s La Belle, another pretty fly with a white wing. Very well done. It seems that a big part of the attraction of these flies is in the “fluttering” movement caused by the wings while swinging through the current. A good fast water fly even for the sharp eye of a brown trout. Keep on tying those beautiful flies!
      Thank you
      Fred

      Reply

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