Taken from my article in Flyfisherman Magazine.
To me, one of the most compelling things about tying flies is that no matter how long you’ve done it or how many flies you’ve tied; there are always little tricks you learn as you go. This phenomenon happens on your twentieth Elk Hair Caddis as well as your four thousandth and countless times in between. A detailed tyer is always looking for those little tweaks that make a fly one step closer to perfect and to that end; I am now going to dive into tying the perfect parachute dry…even though I wrote an article on the same subject for this same magazine several years ago. I’ve tied a few thousand more of them since then, demonstrated the fly a bunch of times and taught it in my classes over these intervening years and hopefully I can pass along some of the tweaks and tricks as well as some of the new teaching methods I’ve learned during that time.
A lot of folks are surprised when I mention that one of my favorite summer time dries is the venerable Parachute Adams. I guess they’re expecting me to have some secret potion pattern up my sleeve instead, and I’m not saying I don’t, but I will admit I fish a size 14 or 16 Parachute Adams at some point almost every day during the summer. No, it’s not the conventionally tied version and I do indeed have a few tweaks I’ve added over the years to improve the fishability, flotation and durability of the fly and that’s what I’m going to write about today.
Recognizing the liabilities in a given fly pattern is one of my strong points. I always want to make things better, no matter how good they are to begin with. A conventionally tied Parachute Adams isn’t as visible, durable or buoyant as it could be and frankly, the dang thing is pretty plain looking, which I concede, is part of its charm. The version I’ll present here is one that I have dialed in over the years to require less on the water maintenance, be more visible and hold up better than the original version as well as just be plain prettier…and pretty flies build confidence. Through material selection and proper tying technique, I find this version to be more buoyant, stronger, faster to tie and way better looking than the originals.
Let’s start with the tail. I don’t waver much from the standard here, using brown and grizzly rooster spade hackle fibers to create a stiff, web free tail. Where I do vary is the application of those fibers. To collect the tailing fibers into a neat, concise bunch I don’t trim the fibers and roll them in my fingertips to “mix” them together. I find the resulting brush to be unkempt and too bushy to match up to the slender profile I try to create on the overall fly, so I tie one bunch in right on top of the other. Tying the two different colors stacked one on top of the other allows me to align the curves of the fibers upward and keep a slim profile at the rear of the fly.
Next, the wing. Most of the commercially tied Parachute Adams you’d buy today are tied with a calf tail or calf body hair wing. Inherent troubles in using these materials is the bulk applied to the hook shank, the slickness and the short length of the hair (calf body). Anchoring these non-compressible hairs to the shank creates bulk on top of the hook that makes for an uneven underbody later and often the difficulty in just working with the stuff is enough to make you question tying flies all together. Rather than bowing to convention, I have gone to strictly using McFLylon, a heat treated polypropylene yarn, for all my parachute wings. The heat treatment adds a bit of shine to the material which really makes it stand out on the water as well as making the material not adhere to itself and bind down into an ugly nub after a few minutes of fishing like conventional poly yarn. Antron yarn has a very similar look to McFlylon, but is actually a bit absorbent and will hold water, so the McFlylon gets the nod here for these reasons. Additionally, binding a synthetic material in for the wing as I’ll show here creates zero bulk on the hook shank and furthers my efforts toward a slender fly. Finally, cutting the wing to length after the fact with a synthetic fiber wing versus having to tie it in at the proper length with a stacked, natural material makes the tying process essentially the same on a size 24 as it is on a size 16. The only thing on this fly that gets smaller as the fly goes down in size and is not trimmed to length later is the tail. Think about that statement. The tail must be tied in at one shank length long, but during the tying process, the wing can be the same length on a #24, albeit more sparse, as a #16. The biots don’t vary much in overall length, saddle hackles are plenty long even in the tiniest sizes and the dubbing is actually easier and quicker on a small fly than a larger version. The days of being intimidated by small parachutes are over, my friends.
As far as hackle goes, I have gone to using saddle hackles on all my parachutes these days as well. Quality genetic dry fly saddles are available in a complete range of sizes, from 12’s down to 24’s and are commonly available in a host of colors. Saddle hackles are also much more densely barbed than neck/cape feathers and thereby create more radiating hackle fibers per turn of feather. The astounding length of these feathers allows me to tie eight to twelve flies per feather, making them extremely economical as well as efficient. In the case of a Parachute Adams, I’ll size two matching brown and grizzly feathers and tie up to a dozen flies before having to do it a second time, where with neck hackles I’d be matching the shorter feathers up every few flies, at best.
The biggest epiphany I’ve found in creating effective, buoyant parachutes is making the abdomens out of goose biots. In the case of the Para Adams, I use natural colored Canada goose biots that I get from a friend who is a rabid goose hunter. In my left handedness, I requested that he save me the first feather off of the right wing from the birds he harvests and last year he presented me with a grocery bag overflowing with them. The reason I want the right wing is because tying left handed, the biots from the right wing allow me to tie them in by their tip and wrap them with their natural curve to create a smoothly tapered, telescoping body. The familiar stand up edge of a biot body is not wanted, or accurate, in the case of an adult mayfly imitation, but by wrapping these feathers with the standup edge leading the turns, I am able to overlap that edge with the next turn and end up with a beautifully darkly ribbed smooth body that creates its own taper. Not only are smooth biot bodies hard to argue with in the beauty department, biot bodies just plain float better. This is not because the biot is inherently buoyant, but rather, when compared to the alternative of dubbing the entire body, biots hold less water and fish slime and therefore are easier to maintain and keep dry during fast paced fishing. Dubbing is absorbent and is easily wetted, particularly with fish slime and it’s hard to quickly clean from the fly to get back in on the action. Biots are easily swiped clean with a Wonder Cloth and hold up surprisingly well when wrapped over a thin layer of Zap-a-Gap CA adhesive. Unfortunately, I have not found a way around dubbing the thorax to finish my parachutes and therefore have selected Superfine Dubbing for this application as I can dub it down very tightly and find it easiest to shape the thorax with.
Finally, the exact method of the hackle tie in and tie off is of paramount importance in creating beautifully constructed parachutes. Thread selection becomes important here as any extra bulk can disrupt the hackle wraps when they’re tied off, and to that end I opt for the smallest thread I can get away with. The old Tiemco 16/0, now unavailable, is my first choice, but in lieu of that, something small and flat like Veevus 14/0 will fit the bill nicely. The old method of tying the hackle in behind the hook eye, dragging the feather back and around the post a few times and then tying them off against the hook shank at the eye is both cumbersome and outdated at this point in the tying game. The method I’ll show here uses the hackle stems to help stiffen the wing post, orients the hackle properly against the wing and enables the turns to work from the top of the post neatly to the bottom without crisscrossing or wrapping back though the wrapped portion of the feathers. It results in a neat, tidy collar and can be equally utilized with the feathers in either the curve up or curve down position, although I vehemently and now famously prefer the inside curve of the feathers to face up. Wrapping the feathers down the post with the inside curvature of the feathers facing skyward creates a clear path for the feathers to wrap smoothly from the top of the thread post to the bottom. There are many proponents of facing the inside downward as you wrap the feathers reasoning that the slight curve of the hackle fiber tips protruding below the hook allow the fly to sit a tad higher on the water, supported on these tips and more accurately portraying the natural, and for fishing flat water I can see where they’re coming from. In my case, I want a more tightly packed, dense hackle on my parachutes to create surface area and floatability for fishing faster, broken water, and wrapping with the insides of the hackles facing up allows me to do this much more cleanly.