This week’s Throw Back Thursday Fly is Benn’s Coachman, a fly developed by John Benn (1838 – 1907) in the 1890s.

Benn's Coachman |

Since I’ve been working with red and white married wings for the Green Butt Skunk Spey, I decided to use a fly from John Shewey’s book Classic Steelhead Flies. Benn’s Coachman seemed appropriate.

I wasn’t aware how important Benn was to West Coast steelhead fly fishing until I read Classic Steelhead Flies. In fact, I had never heard of Benn. Shewey dedicates a whole chapter to him. He was born in Ireland and moved to San Francisco in the mid-1850s and was a millwright. After some health issues, he opened his fly tying business and became a celebrated West Coast fly tyer. The flies tied by himself and his daughter Martha received awards from the California State Fair, the Universal International Exposition in Paris, The Saint Louis World Fair, and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. 

John Benn was a famous fly tyer and angler in the late 1800s. He lived in the Bay Area and ventured to the Eel River to fish for steelhead and is known as the first to fly fish for steelhead on the Eel around 1880.

The trip from the Bay Area to the Eel River was arduous. There was no direct route by road or rail from San Francisco to Humbolt Bay or the Eel River. Steamships were the most direct route by sea and could easily take 20 hours. Timber and other forest products, along with commercial salmon and canning were the industries of the time in Northern California and the towns of Fortuna and Fernbridge in particular.

If you fly fish for steelhead, you owe it to yourself to find out more about John Benn and his influence at the turn of the century. You can read more information about Benn and his incredible story, in Classic Steelhead Flies.

Benn started tying trout flies and that influence can be seen in the steelhead flies he and Martha developed: Benn’s Black Prince, Benn’s Martha, Carson Coachman, Benn’s Railbird, and The Soule.

Benn’s Coachman

Tail:Red hackle fibers
Body:Peacock herl
Wing:White duck or goose primary strips with a few red primary fibers married on top.

I tied this fly on a size size 6, Tiemco 700 hook.

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. Hi John,
    I’ve never heard of Benn either until I read you post this morning. What so bad (on me) is I have John Shewey’s book. I guess I didn’t read it as closely as I should have. Take care & …

    Tight Lines – Al Beatty

    1. Al

      Your comment makes me smile! I had the book; read it some time ago; then forgot until I was looking for another TBT pattern and I said to myself…oh yea…


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