Royal Coachman: Adventures in the Fly Fisher's World

Royal Coachman: The Lore and Legends of Fly Fishing, Paul Schullery's insightful memoir of thirty-five seasons on the great fishing waters of the United States, takes us from the coastal rivers and high country of the far west to the historic trout streams of New England, with side trips galore—to the Florida Keys, the Adirondacks, Michigan, Pennsylvania spring creeks, and many a lesser-known fisherman's refuge. At the same time, he takes us back in time to explore the origins of this or that fly pattern, tradition, or idea that is part of our angling society today. All of these places and times are paraded before us in his trademark conversational and often humorous prose that always reassures you that on these fishing trips, more questions will be asked than answered, more fish will be missed than caught, and more rivers will always await tomorrow's travels.

“Schullery is writer enough to pull you through most of the high arcana, even if you don’t know the different between a Woolly Bugger and a Marabou Muddler . . . . He gets at the culture, the mechanics and the evolution of the sport in an engaging and informative way. He also undertakes the question, asked in earnest only by the truly self-obsessed post-modern angler, of whether or not casting a dry fly can truly be called an art with a capital “A.” He is to be congratulated for doing so without the usual he-man bombast or Zen-master voodoo so often found in rod and gun writing.”—The New York Times Book Review

“In Royal Coachman Paul Schullery is at once erudite emissary of the angle and consummate trout bum. And because not everyone can be both, we praise him as an American original.”—James Prosek, author of Trout: An Illustrated History

“At once scholarly (at times, even scientific) and genuinely readable, Royal Coachman presents a rare learning opportunity to those as serious about fly-fishing as many purport to be.”USA Today

Excerpt from Royal Coachman: The Lore and Legends of Fly Fishing, from Chapter One, "All The Young Men with Fly Rods:"

For me it began in Yellowstone. In 1972, I started my first summer there as a ranger-naturalist. Outfitted with a borrowed fly rod and one small box of flies, I embarked on a great long journey of discovery, alternating frustration with delight, exasperation with exhilaration, as I wandered up and down the park’s famous and little-known trout streams. Those streams were great teachers, and even greater friends. They still are.

It was all part of a much greater journey, of course. Yellowstone took hold of me so completely that I suppose I will never be free of its pull, or ever want to be. I applied my training in history to the park’s unique saga as a centerpiece of the American conservation movement, and eventually became park historian on an occasional basis. The year before coming to Yellowstone, I had tried one brief quarter of graduate school, but found it so oppressive and unfulfilling that I bailed out, deciding that there had to be a better way to learn. Yellowstone provided that way. Between my summer and winter stints at Yellowstone, I returned intermittently to graduate school, eventually taking seven years to complete a two-year M.A. program in American History, and writing my thesis on Yellowstone’s wonderful archives, the administrative record of the park dating all the way back to the 1870s.

So I explored the park’s history with the same enthusiasm with which I explored its streams and trails, and the two pursuits grew into one and gave me a sense of direction that was a total surprise. I had pretty much expected to drift through life, trying this and that, but probably not latching onto any one thing—another, less focused, kind of bumhood that probably became impossible for me by the time my first summer in Yellowstone ended and the park had hold of my heart.

But much of my time wasn’t spent in Yellowstone or in school, and it was then that I learned the joys of being a trout bum in its purest form: on long, rambling trips to new rivers, with no known deadlines except some remote day, months away, when I had to be back at work or school.

There is one piece of property that the modern trout bum finds almost essential for full exercise of the art these days, and that’s a reliable car. Some modern trout bums can practice their creed from one spot, but most of us need more mobility. I certainly did. For some reason, I have always kept a simple “auto log” for each car I owned. As I look through the log I used back then, it tells much more of a story than would seem possible in what is really only a list of gasoline prices, dates, and places. But even to the casual fisherman some of the names that appear would be familiar and might suggest the car's real mission: Key West, Grayling, and lots of places that end in "falls," "creek," or "river." And to the more serious fishermen there is every indication of an odyssey here: Steamboat, Livingston, Jackson, Roscoe, Homestead. And for the absolute angling fanatic, the single-minded pilgrim, there is the final proof, the harder-to-learn names that say "here, far from anywhere you'd think, here is the real mainstream:" Glide, Agness, Mio, Marblemount. Of course they mean the most to me, who entered them all in the journal so faithfully, for no good reason except that I thought some day I'd be glad I did.

And I am glad, but not for quite the reason I expected. I find that I'm as grateful for the reminders of the places between the places I was going, all the strong western names—Crow Agency, Wolf Creek, Elk Point, Red Lodge—or the fertile blue-mountain names of the older frontiers—Sweetwater, Greenup, Mount Pisgah, Peaks of Otter. Getting there was more than half the fun; getting there was the reason for wanting to go. I was always most restless before I started and after I arrived, as if something in me, even when I was fishing, was anxious to be out moving again, looking to the next spot. Anticipation itself became sport, and travel became the final manifestation of anticipation.

My car was a light blue Volkswagen Super Beetle. I bought it in Tucson in 1972, trading in the crumpled remains of an earlier beetle that I'd flipped and totalled a few days before in Mexico. The new one got its first servicing in Colorado, its second in Ohio, and its third in Montana. This was routine for six years.

I removed the bottom half of the back seat, so that the top half would fold down flat and hold more books, clothes, and fishing tackle. Often I removed the front passenger seat as well, and converted the right side of the car into a bunk of sorts, that allowed me a level of self-suffiency not usually associated with such small cars. It was good sleeping, and cheap almost beyond belief. Every week or so on a long trip, I'd have to clean out all the little spaces into which loose change, fly boxes, film, and sandwiches would fall. When I finally sold the car, I suspected that if someone cared to look they would still find some film canisters, maybe a few flies embedded in the upholstery, possibly even an emergency five dollar bill squirreled away and forgotten under a corner of the floor mat.

The car was resold almost instantly, within a few hours of my dropping it off, and I imagine that if the new owner was at all observant he found plenty of other fisherman's "sign" as well. I kept a small selection of flies, assorted rejects and retirees from my fly box, poked into the padding of the dashboard by the right wing window; he'd have had to wonder what the little holes there were caused by. He would have immediately felt the rough places on the outer rim of the steering wheel where I attached my fly tying vise on rainy days in camp. The first time he looked in the rear-view mirror, he must have noticed how the back window was marred from the continual rubbing of aluminum rod cases. The right sun visor, which he would have found in the trunk, had a fly attached to it that I just now remembered I'd wanted to get; my brother Steve tied it for me and it caught an amazing number of fish, amazing mostly because I lose flies so fast. I have a feeling about that car that is more than gratitude. It took me so many wonderful places that I can't feel otherwise.