Over My Waders

The Curious History of the Quack Coachman

A Compilation of Writings

by Reed F. Curry

"Hair-wing flies had their beginnings on the Henry's Fork of the Snake before the First World War, when Benjamin Winchell and Carter Harrison first concocted them in honor of Alfred Trude, their host at a large ranch in Idaho. The first hair wings subsequently traveled with one of the party, Colonel Lewis Thompson, to the salmon rivers of the Maritime Provinces. These primitive flies were dressed down-wing over the body, and it was not until shortly before the Depression years that hair-wing dry flies evolved. Ralph Corey lived on the Muskegon in Lower Michigan, and his Corey Calftails were down-wing dries that became widely popular after the First World War. Wings tied upright and divided of hair appeared almost simultaneously on the Beaverkill and the Ausable of New York in about 1929.

"The hair-wing Royal Coachman dry fly was the creation of L.Q. Quackenbush, one of the early stalwarts of the Beaverkill Trout Club above Lew Beach. Quackenbush liked the fan-wing Royal Coachman, except that it was fragile and floated badly, and in 1929 he suggested to Reuben Cross that white hair wings might work better. Cross tied some using upright wings of calftail and tail fibers of natural brown buck. It worked perfectly, and Catskill fishermen soon labeled it the Quack Coachman in honor of its peripatetic inventor.

"Lee Wulff also worked out his famous Gray Wulff and White patterns in the Adirondacks in 1929, in a successful effort to find imitations of the big Isonychia duns and Ephemera spinners that would float well on the tumbling Ausable at Wilmington. These Wulffs have proven themselves superb flies, from Maine to California and British Columbia, and spawned a large family of patterns using different bodies and hackles. Wulffs have so completely dominated the upright hair wings that L.Q. Quackenbush and his hair-wing Coachman are almost forgotten, and his innovation is now commonly called the Royal Wulff."
From Trout by Ernest Schwiebert, 1978

"The "Quack" Coachman, or hairwing Royal Coachman, for instance, rates first on most lists as an ideal pattern for fishing in broken water, at dusk, or on overcast days when visibility is limited. This fly is effective wherever trout are found and can be used in all sizes, from large salmon sizes down to No. 18. Of all fly patterns, the Royal Coachman heads the list in variations. While the Coachman is a product of the Old World, the Royal Coachman is eminently American, having been invented by John Haily of New York in 1878. This hairwing version is the product of a long evolution since Haily"s day.
The original Royal Coachman body was tipped with a couple of turns of gold tinsel, but this part of its fancy dressing has been discontinued by most fly-tiers today. The originals had no tails and, therefore, cocked very poorly when lighting on the water. In more recent years a tail has been added, which takes nothing away from its effectiveness, and makes it a much better floater and a more self-respecting fly. Perhaps the most important addition, from the standpoint of durability, was the white hair wings in place of the long-popular fan Wings. In 1930, Reuben Cross of Neversink, New York, was asked to dress some Royals for L. Q. Quackenbush of the Beaverkill Trout Club, using a substitute for the fragile white mandarin breast feathers. Reub asked his supplier for any part of an animal with stiff, kinky, white hair. All the dealer could find was a half-dozen impala tails, but they were exactly suited to the task. Thus, the Quack Coachman was born, and in my box it rates on a par with the Light Hendrickson in respect to number and size of trout taken during the season. "
from The Practical Fly Fisherman by A.J. McClane, 1953, 1977


"Concerning the Quack Coachman; Reuben Cross says:
"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." Mr. Cross says it works much better in all respects."
from "Fly Patterns and Their Origins" by Harold Hinsdale Smedley, 1942


"The White and Gray Wulff, which have become immensely popular in the East in recent years, were the invention of Lee Wulff. Mr. Wulff, born in Valdez, Alaska, about 1906, became a fly fisher at the age of ten and a fly tier at thirteen. Not having a vise, he learned the hard way, "by fingers alone," and still prefers that method. He studied engineering at Stanford University and art in Paris, after which he did commercial art work in New York. His fishing interests are chiefly in Newfoundland. He starred at the 1937 International Tuna Matches in Nova Scotia, capturing two of the five fish taken. The Wulff salmon tailer is his and carries his name. To date his books are: "Leaping Silver," "Handbook of Fresh Water Fishing" and "Let"s Go Fishing."
Of the "dope" on his flies, Mr. Wulff says: "I worked them out, back in 1929, to imitate the large, grayish drakes and white (yellow) mayflies that were out on the Ausable of upper New York State. The greyish flies were occasionally found all through the summer and until the season ended on Labor Day. They are a heavy bodied fly and I decided on bucktail to give them the necessary buoyancy in wing and tail material. Practically none of the commercial flies has a heavy body (McGinty and one or two others excepted) and the heavy body of that fly imitates a good many land insects that happen to fall into the water. It also resulted because of my disgust at the Fanwing Royal Coachman which spins when cast, as a rule, and must be replaced with a fresh fly after each fish. These flies will take twenty or more fish, without changing the fly or regreasing it."

Gray Wulff
Wings-brown bucktail
Tail-brown bucktail
Body-rabbit wool or angora yarn
Hackle-blue dun

White Wulff
Wings-white bucktail
Tail-white bucktail
Body-cream colored an-gora yarn-or the light under fur of the red fox

"I prefer size 10 hooks with an occasional No. 12 or a No. 8 for trout, and up to No. 4 for Alantic salmon. Anything smaller than a No. 12 is difficult to tie and by its size defeats the object of the pattern -which is to provide a nice FAT, juicy morsel to bring fish up."
from "Fly Patterns and Their Origins" by Harold Hinsdale Smedley, 1942


"I looked at the dry flies available at the time and found that they were always slim-bodied and sparsely hackled. They were made only of feathers, and they were hard to keep afloat. If a fish were caught on one of them, the fly had to be retired to dry a while before it would float again.

I wanted a buggier-looking, heavier-bodied fly, and I needed more flotation in order to keep it up. I had in mind the big gray drakes that came out on the Ausable, which were heavier in the body than any of the dry-fly imitations of the day. Looking for a material that would float such a body, I came up with bucktail. The tail of the fly was most important since it would support the bend of the hook, where most of the weight is concentrated. Bucktail would make a much better tailing material than the conventional feather fibers because of its floating qualities and its strength. The flotation of the old flies was mostly at the front, and the usual wisps of feather fibers wouldn"t make a strong, floating tail. For example, the few golden-pheasant tippet-feather fibers of a Royal Coachman tail certainly didn"t have enough strength to hold the hook bend up for very long.

Out of this thinking came the Gray WuIff, White Wulff and Royal Wulff. My use of bucktail was the first use of animal hair on dry flies. The Royal WuIff made the old, difficult-to-float, but beautiful, Royal Coachman pattern into a hell of a fly. The White Wulff was tied to imitate the coffin mayfly. I tied it both conventionally and with spent wings and no hackle to match the flies of the spinner fall - when the mayflies, spent with mating, fall to the water with wings outspread. Had I been brighter I would have patented the use of animal hair on dry flies and made some money, but I feel lucky that through these flies my name achieved a permanent place in fly-fishing.

The Gray Wulff has brown bucktail wings and tail, blue-gray hackles and a gray angora yarn (spun rabbit"s fur) body. The White Wulff has white bucktail wings and tail, badger hackles and cream-colored angora for the body. The Royal Wulff has white bucktail wings, brown bucktail tail, dark brown hackles and a body of red silk floss between two segments of wound peacock hen. Dan Bailey, a close friend and one of my early fishing companions, insisted that I call the Gray Wulff by its present name instead of the Ausable Gray as I had thought to call it. It was Dan, who was beginning to tie and sell flies at that time, who sat down with me while we worked out the other patterns of the series to cover the field of trout-stream insects in general. The Grizzly Wulff, the Black Wulff, the Brown Wulff and the Blonde Wulff came out of those sessions.

from Lee Wulff on Flies by Lee Wulff, 1980


*all bold fonts added by the author of this complilation, not in original text

All content copyright Reed Curry © 2006.
Cartoon by Walter Young © 1961, used by permission.