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Fall Fishing, Isonychias and the Leadwing Coachman

Judy Van Put
Posted 9/14/21

Area rivers and streams are all flowing at a higher-than-average level, and accompanied by good water temperatures, all bodes well for trout growth over this year.

On Sunday afternoon, the …

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Fall Fishing, Isonychias and the Leadwing Coachman


Area rivers and streams are all flowing at a higher-than-average level, and accompanied by good water temperatures, all bodes well for trout growth over this year.

On Sunday afternoon, the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls registered 643 cubic feet per second (cfs); this is well above the average flow for this date of 119 cfs over the past 108 years of record-keeping. Cooler evenings have caused water temperatures to range from a low of 56 degrees to a high of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit over the past week.

These are the autumn conditions that fly-fishers dream of during the hot dry days of summer (although this summer certainly wasn’t very dry), and gives a good extension to the trout fishing season. Small streams, as well as larger rivers, have been fishing fairly well. Keep an eye on the flows of the tailwaters (East, West branches of the Delaware and the Neversink) to be sure the river is wadeable before planning your trip, as reservoirs have been nearly spilling.

Fly hatches that you can expect to see during this period of time include Blue-winged olives and various caddis flies, perhaps a few remaining Sulphurs, but the main hatch to look forward is the Isonychia mayfly – a slate-colored fly with an upright wing that usually hatches in the afternoons. Isonychias are around a couple of times during the year, beginning in May, but becoming prolific in September – when it is a much-anticipated hatch.

Fly-fishers look forward to the Isonychia hatch for different stages in its life cycle; the nymphal form of these mayflies usually hatches in late afternoon. They migrate to the shallow water and crawl out on the rocks or gravel of the shoreline; at times misjudging the distance to the rocks and as a result, can emerge directly onto the water’s surface. A tell-tale sign that identifies this fly from others that might be hatching during this time of year is the nymphal case or shuck left behind on the rocks lining the shore – often by the thousands.

This fly is so important to fly-fishers that there are a number of very popular flies tied to imitate the various stages of its life cycle: the nymph (immature stage) the dun (the floating-on-the-surface adult stage that we refer to as the ‘dry fly’) and the spinner (the adult after mating above the water and falling back to the water’s surface). It is the dun that is the easiest to fish and is more successful, as the duns ride the surface of the water longer and are more prolific than the spinners (many of which fall prey to birds and car windshields.) Favorite dry flies to use to imitate this hatch include Art Flick’s Dun Variant, and Preston Jennings’ Dark Variant. For nymphs, Walt Dette’s Isonychia nymph is popularly used and effective, as can be a Leadwing Coachman wet fly.

The Leadwing Coachman is a very old fly, some believe it originated in the early 1820s, others claim the 1830s; first tied in England, and then making its way across the Atlantic to become a favorite wet fly of American fly-fishers. But most sources agree that it was created in the 19th century by Tom Bosworth, an Englishman who was an avid angler and fly-tier as well as a carriage driver (or “coachman”, thus the name) for a number of English Royalty, ranging from King George IV through to Queen Victoria. The fly evolved from its original wet fly pattern that featured a body of peacock herl, brown hackle and two backward-slanting white duck quill wing (pinions), to a wet fly with Gray Mallard slips for the wings and a gold wire tag at the rear of the body; the new version of this fly became known as the Leadwing Coachman and is the most popular coachman pattern used today. It is very effective during the Isonychia hatches as well as during hatches of gray caddis flies. It was used effectively both for night fishing as well as daytime fishing.

The Leadwing Coachman is simple to tie – here is the pattern featured in A.J. McClane’s “McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia”

Tail: None

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Body: Peacock Herl

Hackle: Dark red-brown

Wing: Dark gray duck quill

Judy Van Put is a long-time member of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association, and is the recipient of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Professional Communications Award.


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