October 01, 2019
By Charlie Craven
It’s no secret that I abhor overdressed fly patterns, especially streamers. The proliferation of tie-everything-you-own to a couple of hooks, lash them together, and add some lead eyes makes me just plain bristle, to put it lightly.
I don’t like the design method, and I don’t like the results either. Overdressed flies don’t swim as well, don’t sink as properly, and certainly don’t cast effectively, and these are all major considerations when designing and tying a new pattern.
The Swim Coach and its early permutations have been in my fly boxes for a few years now, and I have to admit, this fly gave me fits—I wasn’t quite happy with the combination of volume, castability, and sink rate for a long time.
I tied heavier dressed versions, sparser dressed versions, and versions in between. Some had little to them and cast beautifully, but failed in representing the silhouette I was after. Some had great shape and swimminess, but were just too darn heavy to cast, and didn’t sink like I wanted. I finally had to just put all the parts and pieces away and go on to other projects to clear my mind. Yep. I quit. I totally forgot about the fly for a few months and went about my usual business.
It was only when my wife and I went up to Cody to fish with our friend, Blake Clark of Wyoming Trout Guides, that this little gem saw the light of day again. We’ve fished with Clark for a few years now, and we have always had a blast with him. He’s a wonderful guy to spend the day with, knows his water like the back of his hand, and is an outstanding oarsman. On this particular day, he suggested a float on a less traveled piece of water that “may be fishing really well, or maybe we’re just going on a nice boat ride.” Sounded perfect to us.
We set out through an astonishingly beautiful valley, Lisa up front and I, nestled tightly in the back of Clark’s raft. We began with dry/dropper rigs and waylaid a fish here and there, but it was starting to look like it was gonna be more of a boat ride than a fishing trip, as the river was still just a bit high to be fishing well.
I decided to toss a few bigger bites from the back of the boat, and asked Clark to take a look in my box and see if there was anything that caught his eye. He quickly pulled out the then-unnamed Swim Coach. I tied the tan version onto a dropper behind a bigger Gonga, and we pushed off into the current.
I’d like to say I immediately started a streamer-fishing clinic, pulling fish and follows on every cast, but that would be an exaggeration. It was only on say, every third or fourth cast. Maybe fifth or sixth. Maybe. But yes, the streamers worked. While the big Gonga did its fair share, the smaller trailing fly closed the deal more often.
The day was highlighted by a nice brown that came from behind a midstream boulder to take a solid swipe at the Gonga in full sight of everyone in the boat. As is often the case when I have an audience, I blew the hook-set and ripped the flies out of the water, leaving the poor fish hanging up near the surface literally searching for his lost meal. Being a true fly-fishing professional, I immediately threw my rig right back in there and was rewarded with a crushing strike on the trailing fly, and in this instance, I actually got the hook-set into a beautiful and now angry brown trout. It was an aggressive and perfectly visible eat, and just the kind of thing that makes memories forever. I still smile when I think of it.
We spent the rest of the float teaching Lisa to throw streamers, her interest piqued by the aggressiveness of the strikes while we all discussed the world in general with a bit of flies and fishing banter thrown in for good measure.
Clark and I talked about the new fly, and he shared a few thoughts on what he looks for in a good streamer pattern. I filed all of this away and promised myself I would revisit this pattern once I got home.
When we returned to Colorado, I did indeed sit down and start playing with the pattern again and came up with the final version you see here. I really like to take each piece of a fly and justify to myself why it’s there, and just for grins, I’m going to do that for you right here.
Starting with the hook, I chose the Daiichi 2461 because it’s sticky sharp, has a great shank-length-to-gap ratio, and a nice round bend that accommodates a thicker fly.
The tail is made from mixed colors of Ripple Ice Fiber, a relatively stiff flash material. Its inherent stiffness keeps it from fouling around the bend of the hook, and its crinkled shape gives it a multidimensional look.
In front of the folded flash tail I create a short dubbing loop of possum fur.
Possum is a beautiful natural fiber, reminiscent of rabbit in a lot of ways, but slightly stiffer and with dark tips. It comes on strips like rabbit, so it’s very easy to work with. This fur holds its shape well, and using it in a dubbing loop in lieu of wrapping the leather hide leaves much less water weight to cast.
I finish off the front of the rear hook with a mallard flank feather, folded and wrapped tip first to create a large outside halo around the shank. Their speckled appearance, particularly when used in two different colors, creates a scaled appearance.
I tether the two hooks together with soft multi-strand Senyo Trailer Wire, and space out the two hooks using a Hareline Dubbin 3D Bead. The beads come in a host of colors to match or contrast in any way you desire, and they keep the rear hook from fouling on the front of the fly.
The front hook is built much the same way as the rear, with the same design ethic and materials. I add a variable amount of lead wire for the underbody, depending on the water conditions.
I harvested the midshank bead idea from my own Dirty Hippy pattern where the bead is used to spread the collar and add weight without making the fly front-heavy.
I finish the fly off with a pair of realistic eyes attached using Solarez Thin Hard, and then build a small mask on the head of the fly with the same stuff to lock everything in permanently. This resin mask has been a godsend. I have yet to lose an eye from a fly tied in this manner.
And, since you’re gonna ask, here’s how the fly got its name: The day before Clark picked the fly from my box, we fished with him on the North Fork of the Shoshone River just outside Cody. This river is packed with beautiful cutthroats that willingly eat big foam drys like your fat uncle at Thanksgiving. Lisa was in the front of the raft, and I was somewhat precariously perched in the rear.
She was having the time of her life railing those big acrobats, and I was happy to just sit back and watch the show. At some point I decided to re-rig my rod, and I leaned forward to get into my boat bag.
Once I finished changing my flies, I made a cast out the right side of the boat just as Lisa hooked her 798th fish of the day. Clark slipped the oars under his knees and grabbed the net to wrangle her fish, and the next thing I knew I was in the water. There was no split-second thought of, “Oh, hell, I’m falling out.” Nope. I was just out and underwater.
I have floated thousands of river miles, and I must confess I have always been deathly afraid of falling out of the boat. But this little jaunt went off much more smoothly than I could ever have imagined. As I drifted downstream, bobbing my head in and out of the water, I have to say I was cool as a cucumber. There was no panic, no fear, and my senses were heightened to a razor’s edge.
I could see the boat drifting off to my right and the trees on the bank to my left. I could hear the bubbles and water and birds in the trees, as well as the voices from my companions in the boat, and I remember thinking, “Don’t they always say that drowning is peaceful?”
I clearly remember Lisa asking Clark “what’s he doing?” as I drifted like some sort of tranquilized sea creature through the depths. I also clearly recall them both yelling “Swim!”
I kicked my feet a couple times and immediately lost both my shoes, my hat, and my sunglasses before Clark nudged me into shallower water with the boat. After expelling a bit of nose water and untangling the line from the rod I had firmly clenched in my hand the entire time, I was back in the boat and safe and sound.
Poor Clark tried to take credit for my dunking, which just made the whole thing all that much funnier. We laughed for the rest of the day about my “exploratory junket” into the North Fork, and I think we’d all say it was the absolute highlight of the trip. I was able to allay a lifelong fear of going for an unexpected swim, as well as thoroughly entertain both my loving wife and dear friend at the same time. What can I say? I’m a giver.
After our float the next day, we went back to town and had a celebratory beer with the guys at the fly shop. Clark mentioned the new fly to a couple of the other guides, and Lisa said that I ought to name the fly after him and so . . . the Swim Coach was born.
*Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of two books: Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011) and Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).
Tying the Swim Coach
- Hooks: #2 and #4 Daiichi 2461.
- Beads: Gold 5mm and Olive 3D Bead (For Articulation).
- Eyes: 6mm gold Holographic Dome.
- Weight: .020" lead wire.
- Connection: Senyo’s Intruder Trailer Wire, thin.
- Thread: Olive 8/0 Veevus.
- Spreader: Gold Ice Dub.
- Collar: Yellow and olive possum.
- Hackle: Olive and chartreuse mallard flank feathers.
- Body: Gold Ice Dub.
- Wing: Light olive, sand, and yellow Ripple Ice Fiber.
- Head: Light Olive Possum.
- Start with the #4 trailing hook. Create a thread base on the front third of the hook shank. Build a small ball of gold Ice Dub as a spreader at the end of the thread base. Stack several strands of each color of Ripple Ice Fibers and run them through your mouth to wet them and stick them together. Tie in at the center of their length at the front of the dubbing ball. Pull the forward-facing ends of the Ripple Ice Fibers back along the near side of the shank and bind the fold in place with several tight wraps. Trim the tips of the fibers raggedly to about one and a half shank lengths.
- Build a thread base up to the eye and back to the front edge of the flash. Form a 5-inch dubbing loop with your thread and insert a dubbing whirl into the loop. Clip a short section of yellow and an equal section of olive possum fur from the hide. Carefully insert the base of the fur into the dubbing loop with the yellow closest to the hook. Pull the dubbing loop tight to capture the fur and with your sharpest scissors, trim the butt ends square and even.
- Pinch the thread in the loop tightly below the fur and spin the whirl. Let the twist work up between your fingertips to create a fur rope. Use your dubbing brush on the fur to free any trapped fibers. Begin wrapping the fur noodle at the front edge of the Ripple Ice base, folding the fibers in the loop back after each turn. You should get two or three turns of each fur color and end slightly short of the hook eye. Tie off the loop and clip the excess. Sweep the fur collar back and take a few turns over the front edge to hold the fibers in place.
- Select matching chartreuse and olive mallard flank feathers with fibers at least a shank length long. Stack the olive feather against the outside of the chartreuse. Even the tips and create a separation point by stroking the fibers against the grain toward the butt of the feathers. Leave about an inch of feather for wrapping, and peel off the remaining base fibers, leaving long, exposed stems. Tie in the feather tips with their insides toward the hook shank. Clip the feather tips and wrap over the stubs tightly.
- Lift the butt ends up with the outside of the feathers toward the hook eye. Preen the feather fibers back, folding them on the stems. After the initial fold, run the back edge of your scissor blades along the stems to crease the fibers and create a smoother base for wrapping. Grasp both butt ends with your hackle pliers. Be sure there is bare stem between the pliers and the fibers so you can tie off over them later. Wrap the feathers forward, one turn directly in front of the last. Fold the fibers back with each turn to keep the bare stem on the leading edge of the wrap. Firmly tie off the bare stems at the back edge of the eye. Brush the fibers to untangle them, and then clip them closely. Build a smooth thread head over the stubs and whip-finish. Coat with a dab of Solarez Bone Dry. Remove from the vise and set aside.
- Slide a brass bead onto the #2 hook and secure it in the vise. Build a smooth thread base to the bend and back again. Lay a short length of Senyo Wire along the top far side of the hook and wrap tightly back over it to the bend. Slide an olive 3D bead onto the wire, then through the #4 hook eye with the hook pointing down. Bring the wire forward through the back of the olive bead. Lay the wire along the shank and situate it so the loop behind the bead is slightly bigger than the hook eye on the rear hook. Capture the wire on the top near side of the hook, clip the wire evenly, and wrap forward over the wire, then back again to the bend. Add a thin coat of Zap-A-Gap on the entire shank.
- Dub another small ball of gold Ice Dub at the bend of the hook and repeat steps 4 and 5. Tie the feathers down as you did earlier, with their insides toward the shank. Make three turns at the bend of the hook, one right in front of the other. Tie off on the bare stems with several tight thread wraps. Clip the excess stems and smooth the stubs out with a few turns of thread. Use your dubbing brush to separate and untangle the mallard fibers. They should reach slightly over the front of the rear #4 hook.
- Wrap 15 to 17 turns of .020" lead wire from the base of the feathers forward. The wraps should run off the end of the trailer wire underbody and reduce in diameter for the last few turns. Wrap the thread forward over the lead wraps. End with the thread hanging at the front of the lead wraps just before they descend in diameter. Push the bead back over those skinnier lead wraps and jump the thread forward over the bead and make several tight turns in front.
- Wrap the thread back to the feathers. Dub a thin body of gold Ice Dub. Wrap the thread over the bead to the eye, then back to the front of the bead. Repeat steps 2 and 3, but use only a small clump of yellow possum. Wrap three or four turns of the noodle at the front edge of the bead and tie it off. Clip the excess, brush with your dubbing brush, then make a few turns over the fur collar base to push it against the bead.
- Stack a clump of sand, yellow, and light olive Ripple Ice Fibers again and wet them. Lay this clump at a slight diagonal across the shank and tie it in at the center of its length at the base of the collar. Pull the forward-facing ends back as you did before, and anchor the base with a tight, narrow band of thread. The Ripple Ice Fiber wing should form a V across the top of the fly. Prep and tie in two mallard flank feathers in olive and chartreuse, as in steps 4 and 5. Fold and wrap the feathers and tie them off behind the eye with room to spare. Clip the stems flush, and wrap over them to smooth them out.
- Build another dubbing loop, but this time put only a medium-sized clump of olive possum in it. Trim the ends square, but not too close to the thread. Spin the whirl to create the noodle. Wrap and fold the noodle up to the hook eye. I often overlap the first two turns, then concentrically wrap the other three to get to the eye and for a tiny bit of taper. Tie off over bare thread just behind the hook eye. Build a smooth thread head and whip-finish and clip the thread.
- Put a small drop of Solarez Thin on each side of the olive collar just behind the hook eye using your dubbing needle. Evenly place the eyes on either side of the head, and cure with your UV lamp. Remove from the vise and sweep and hold the olive collar back along the shank. Apply a liberal amount of Thin resin around the thread head, onto the fur, and between the eyes on both sides of the shank. Allow the resin to bleed onto the front halves of the eyes themselves. Cure with your UV lamp to form a resin mask to anchor the eyes.