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Fly Tying: How to Tie a Western Coachman

Producer: Tim Flagler

Here’s a really cool old pattern that’s both fun to tie and fish. It’s called a Western Coachman and it can be used to imitate a wide range of emerging insects.

For a hook I’m going to use a Dai-Riki #300 in size 14, but just about any dry fly or light wire nymph hook will work. Get the hook firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise.

For thread, I’ve loaded a bobbin with a spool of dark brown UTC 70 Denier. Get your thread started on the hook shank leaving a full eye-length space behind the eye and take a dozen or so wraps rearward before snipping off the tag. Continue taking thread wraps rearward to create a thread base that extends all the way back to the start of the hook bend. Leave your thread hanging at about halfway between the hook point and the barb.

Small-sized gold Ultra wire is used to rib and segment the body as well as protect the delicate peacock herl beneath it. Lay the wire against the near side of the hook so one end extends to the initial tie-in point. Take thread wraps to firmly anchor the wire to the near side of the hook. With the wire in place, once again, take thread wraps rearward, this time to about midway down the hook shank.

Golden pheasant tippet is used to create the tail of the fly. Carefully pluck a single feather free from the skin then pull down a half dozen or so fibers and, while keeping their tips aligned, snip them free from the stem. Measure to form a tail about a hook shank in length and transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the hook bend. Use your tying thread to anchor the fibers to the top of the shank all the way back to the start of the bend. Then, using open spiral wraps, advance your thread forward up the hook shank to just shy of the initial tie-in point.

Strung peacock herl is used for the body of the fly, two or 3 strands depending on their length, should be plenty. Snip an inch or two of their brittle tips off even. Place the snipped off ends at the initial tie-in point and start taking thread wraps to secure them to the near side of the hook all the way back to the base of the tail. Now take wraps with the herls behind your tying thread. Doing so will help the herls to stay sandwiched together as you keep wrapping up the hook shank, forming a fuzzy little body on the fly. When you reach the initial tie-in point, use your thread to anchor the peacock then snip the excess off close.

Get hold of the gold wire and start making open spiral counter wraps over top of the peacock herl body to cross wrap and protect it. When you reach your tying thread, use it to firmly anchor the wire then helicopter to break the excess off close.

For hackle, believe it or not, I’m going to use a single feather from a super cheap, old reddish-brown indian neck. Not the best looking feather in the world but it’s got a ton of web and barbules to match a size 14 hook. Strip the lower fuzzy nasty stuff off the stem then get hold of the feather’s very tip and preen the remaining lower fibers down to expose that tip. Use your tying scissors to snip the tip off into a small triangular tie-in anchor. With the shiny side of the feather facing you, place the anchor against the near side of the hook, behind the eye and take several nice, tight thread wraps to secure it.

Get hold of the stem with hackle pliers and bend it through your fingertips a few times to fold the fibers back. Start taking touching wraps forward with the feather, preening the fibers rearward as you go. After 2 or 3 turns, use your tying thread to anchor the stem to the hook shank. Then reach in with the very tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess off close. You can also trim away any errant fibers if needed. Preen the hackle rearward and take a few wraps right in front of it to make sure it’s pinned back, and no fibers are pointed forward.

Now for what sets this pattern apart. It’s hair from the flank of a white-tailed deer, in other words, the white hair at the very top of the deer’s belly, before it transitions to brown hair. This stuff is easy to work with but is still somewhat hollow so it helps the fly to float in the surface film or just below it as an emerging insect would. After snipping a small clump free from the hide, pull out any of the lower shorter fibers and any overly long ones as well. Place the clump tips first into a hair stacker and give them a really good stacking. Open the stacker so the tips are pointing toward the rear of the fly then remove them while keeping those tips aligned. With the hair in the fingers of your right hand, measure to form a wing that extends about halfway down the fly’s tail. Pass the hair to the fingertips of your left hand and using the back edge of the hook eye as a guide for your scissors, snip the excess butt ends off square. Give your bobbin a good counterclockwise spin so the thread will jump rearward and catch those very butt ends. Continue taking thread wraps to firmly anchor the deer hair to the hook and to cover up the butts.

Position your tying thread at the base of the wing then reach for your whip finish tool and complete a 4 or 5 turn whip finish working your way forward. Be sure to seat the knot really well then snip or cut your tying thread free.

There’s a lot happening at the head of this fly so it’s a really good idea to use some penetrating head cement, here, Sally Hansen Hard as Nails, to coat and sink into the thread wraps. Once dried, this ensures the thread won’t come unraveled and that materials won’t pull out.

There’s something about older patterns like this one that are so aesthetically pleasing, I just can’t stay away from them.