Royal Coachman (Hairwing)

The original Coachman fly was very different to the fly we associate with the name today. It was a peacock bodied wet fly with a white wing and red game hackle. Here on the Highland lochs you will still find it in use. When the Coachman crossed the big pond to America it was given a red waistcoat and became the “Royal Coachman” famous today. Ironic as the Coachman was so named as it was tied by a coachman to Queen Victoria, truly a Royal Coachman.

After the red waistcoat was added it became a dry fly. The wings these days are more commonly tied using hair than the original duck quill slips, as I have done here.

This is a fly to test the skill of any tier. You could use it as a benchmark to test your skills.

The materials I have used here:-

Hook: Size 14 dry fly barbless.

Thread: Black UTC 70.

Wing: Calf body hair (Use calf tail in larger sizes).

Tail: Golden Pheasant Tippets.

Body: Peacock herl and red floss.

Hackle: Red Game cock, sometimes called “Coachman brown”. I’ve used saddle hackle. Neck hackles work just as well, though you may need two.

From what I see of the tying of this, and many other flies, lots of people struggle with using tippet feathers for tails. Here is how to get them right.

To start with always buy the tippets on the skin, not loose. You can get them as a complete head or just the cape without the crest. Either is great, just don’t get loose ones.

You then need to choose the right size of tippet feather for the fly you are tying. Doing this makes the tying easier in a couple of ways. The length of tail you want depends on the kind of fly you are tying. For a wet fly you would want a shorter tail than for the same size of dry fly. For my dry I want a tail as long as the body.

I’ll come back to how to deal with it when we tie them in.

Measure the tippet feather against the hook you are using. The black bars should be about a hook shank length apart.

Now we come back to the tippet.

When you cut the fibres cut them as close to the stem as you can.

To cut the fibres grip the open end of the feather between index finger and thumb and cut through the fibres.

Do not use too many! If you use a lot they are impossible to control and are just not needed. I used 6 fibres on my size 14. Good scissors will enable you to count the fibres as you cut them; you will be able to feel each one.

Once cut do not pull the fibres away from the feather. Pull the tip of the stem to remove the feather.

Offer the cut fibres up to the hook shank. DO NOT change your grip on them.

Line up the black bar in the middle of the hackle with the bend of the hook. Tie in with two touching turns. Now and only now can you let go of the fibres.

By selecting the right size of feather earlier you can use the black bar in the middle to measure by and always get the right length of tail. This also enables you to tie it in without changing your grip. Vital in getting the tippets in level.

Start your thread a good eye width back from the eye, and run down the hook shank, in touching turns, to about half way along the hook shank. Then back a little way. This gives you a base to tie your wing on to.

Take your bunch of hair, comb out the under fur, stack it, measure it (1 x hook shank length) and tie it in.

Secure it in place with a few turns of thread. Lift the butts of the hair and trim out at an angle. Notice how far back from the eye the wings are tied in.

Take the thread back in touching turns to within a couple of turns of the start of the bend.

Trim out the butts of the tippets at an angle to match up with the angle you cut the wing butts at.

Tie in a single strand of peacock herl. Take the strand from just below the eye of a peacock feather. These are the best herls with the longest flue. Make sure you tie it in right at the furthest extent that your thread extends along the hook shank. If you tie it in forward of this point you will have thread showing at the back of the fly. A sure sign of poor tying technique.

Take your thread forward again and tie in your red floss. Again you will want the floss slightly longer than it will be on the finished fly. Count the number of turns you use to tie the floss in with.

Wind the floss back and forward again, pushing the peacock flue back a little, as neatly as you can. When you get back to the tie in point hold the floss under tension and count off the turns of thread you used to tie it in. A couple of turns of thread are enough to hold it all in place very securely.

Working back over the red floss tie in and wind the forward section of the peacock. Working back like this ensures there is no thread showing between the red floss and the peacock.

Hackling a Dry Fly.

This is another part people have trouble with, so I’ll explain how I do it. My method is different to many people’s, but it is based on careful study of what you are trying to make a hackle do and why it doesn’t want to.

Hackle stem is round in section like an egg or rugby ball. The barbs of the hackle come off the stems at the narrower ends. If you try to wind the hackle so that the barbs stick out from the hook shank the stem will try to twist. The stem will continue to twist once it has started.

To stop it twisting it is a good idea to remove the barbs from the side of the hackle that will lie against the hook shank for the first half turn. These are the barbs that will try to make the hackle twist. If you cut them off you will leave a flat surface to go against another flat surface.

To tie the hackle in it is a good idea to leave some of the barbs sticking out so that the thread has a key to grip the stem with.

Both of those can be achieved by making just two cuts with your scissors. Though it will take a little practice to be able to get them spot on. You should get in in the first couple of thousand flies.

Here’s how. Hold the feather in your non dominant hand, with the butt of the feather to your dominant side, and the outside of the hackle toward you. Trim a little way along side the stem a tiny amount out from the stem below the stem. The length you trim should be the same as the length of hook shank you will wind the hackle over.

Above the stem trim twice the length as below. The cut starts at the same distance from the stem as the cut below. It then angles down to the stem. When the cut reaches the same length of the cut below it should also meet the stem. The second half of the cut is hard along the stem.

Offer the hackle up to the fly in the same position you just trimmed it in. Tie it to the side of the hook shank working towards the eye.

Select your hackle. The barbs should be no longer than 1 ½ x the gape of the hook. Trim the hackle as above and tie in the hackle. Post the wing upright with thread wraps in front of the wing.

Split the wings with figure of eight wraps. I also like to make a turn around the base of each wing to gather them into tight bunches.

Wind the hackle forward to the head of the fly. Tie it off and whip finish. Coat the head with whichever head cement you prefer. I use Diamond UV Resins from Deer Creek, for a shiny, tack free finish, which dries quickly… Very quickly.

The Proportion Test.

If you have chosen the right length of tail and hackle, and tied them in the right positions on the hook shank, you will have a fly that will stand on a flat surface with the bend of the hook just, only just, above the surface.

If the hook bend is resting on the surface then either your hackle or tail is too short. If there is a large gap between the hook bend and the surface then the tail or hackle, or both, are too long.

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Three of the myriad variations of this fly. Top: with split wings of duck quill. Middle: a Royal Wulff. Bottom: a Royal Trude.

Take the thread forward about 1/3rd of the way forward. Wind the peacock forward to the thread, being careful not to overlap the peacock. This is a little more of the peacock than you will want, but pushing it back with the floss will make the section of peacock denser.