H and L Variant is a new fly. At least to me. I picked up the fly several weeks ago at a fly shop near Winter Park, Colorado. Frankly, I had not even heard of the H and L Variant until a friend put me on to it. Shows what I know.
The H and L Variant is no new fly, of course. Here is a snapshot of this oldie but goodie:
1. How it originated
I cannot verify this, but R.C. Coffman (a western Colorado fly fisher) ostensibly tied the first H and L Variant. He apparently sold so many of the fly in the mid-to-late 1950s to President Eisenhower that he (Coffman) said he was able to buy a “house and a lot” (thus the “H” and “L”) on the Fryingpan River in Colorado.
Sounds apocryphal to me.
Using today’s math and valuations, Coffman would have likely had to sell $100,000 worth of $2 flies to buy even a small piece of real estate along the Fryingpan River.
I bet that Coffman was a really good story-teller. He certainly created a fly for the ages.
2. How is it designed?
I am certainly no fly-tying expert but when I saw the H and L Variant for the first time, it reminded me of the Royal Coachman chassis. Like the Royal Coachman dry fly, the H and L Variant has calf-tail wings and a body of peacock herl. According to Skip Morris, the H and L Variant body is created by partially stripping a peacock quill and wrapping it so “the bare quill forms the rear half of the body and the fiber-covered quill the front half.”
The other distinguishing feature is its calf-tail-hair tail, which along with its calf-tail-hair wings, gives it its buoyancy.
3. Why it works
The H and L Variant is what is known as a “rough water” fly.
That is, as one writer put it, “this fly floats like a cork.” It sits nice and high in swift-moving current and stays dry. I also love the fly’s visibility in low light. One writer called its calf-hair wings and tail “white beacons.” They are. And my middle-aged eyes appreciate it!
I should state the obvious: the H and L Variant is an attractor pattern, generally, though I did see at least one fly fisher mention that he uses the fly as a Green Drake imitation on western rivers, such as the Roaring Fork and Colorado.
4. When to use it
I’ve made the H and L Variant one of my go-to attractor patterns when I want to surface evening risers. I did that recently on the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had caught several brook trout on Caddis emergers but not on a dry fly Caddis or a Purple Haze pattern, two of my favorites. Stumped, I tied on the H and L Variant, and within ten minutes I had my first brookie on a dry fly.
The H and L Variant is more visible (at least it is to me) than any other attractor pattern. So, if you are fishing small, swift-moving streams or rough water, this is the fly.
The H and L Variant Name
I do not mean any disrespect to Mr. Coffman, but name H and L Variant is just about the most clunky name for a fly that I can imagine. But I tip my hat to him for creating a dry fly classic with a rich legacy and a bright future.