Coming from a spin fishing background, when I first started fly fishing a lot of things were difficult for me to understand. One of those tricky questions was the difference between a parachute fly and their similarly named and patterned counterparts.
Friends and fellow anglers could tell me something about the structural difference between an Adams and a Parachute Adams, but they couldn’t tell me why they were tied differently when I should use one style over the other, or even how I should be fishing a parachute different than a regular dry fly.
In my confusion and lack of knowledge, I found myself simply choosing the regular style over the parachute every time. I figured; they can’t be that different… right?
Ever since I learned more about parachute flies, I make sure to keep them stocked in my fly box at all times. Once you understand what parachute flies are and how they are used, I promise you will too.
What is a Parachute Fly?
A parachute fly is simply a dry fly pattern with the hackle tied horizontally around a vertical post created near the eye of the hook. In contrast, with conventionally hackled flies the hackle is tied vertically to the shank near the eye of the hook.
Characteristics and Uses of Parachute Flies
Parachute flies have a distinct post, or parachute, which protrudes from the top of the fly and imitates the emerging wings and body of the fly at the thorax. This post can either be tied white, for visibility, or it can be tied with a dyed turkey flat, feather clumps, or natural hairs that more accurately imitate the particular fly that the pattern mimics. A white post is easier for you to keep track of in the water, however a more natural looking post might help to land more strikes. Furthermore, the horizontally wrapped hackle around the base of the post looks to the fish like the legs of the fly.
Insert photo of a parachute fly with arrows pointing to the post and hackle around the base of the post.
What They Imitate
The crucial thing I want you to understand about parachute flies is that they are not distinct patterns of dry flies, meant to imitate the characteristics of a specific fly, but rather a different style of tying a pattern of dry fly that is meant to mimic the fly in a certain condition. These conditions are as follows:
- The insect in the process of emerging from the water, or one which is having difficulty emerging from the water.
- A dead or dying insect on the surface of the water, or one which has been knocked into the water by an external force such as the wind.
Insert photos of both an emerging mayfly and a dead mayfly next to a photo of a parachute fly.
When to Use a Parachute Fly
The construction of a parachute fly allows the body of the fly to ride slightly lower in the water, dipping into the surface, in comparison to a conventional dry fly which comfortably floats on the top. This means that the parachute fly is best suited for fishing in tailouts or calm waters where the fish will be able to take their time in inspecting the fly and be tricked by the convincing silhouette that the parachute fly creates on the surface. Moreover, in these conditions, fish will simply be looking for a fly that is deeper in the water column.
From my experience, in faster moving water a parachute fly can become waterlogged and be difficult for both the angler and the fish to see; so, I do not recommend you use parachute flies in these conditions. A conventional dry fly that remains buoyant on the top of the water’s surface is much better suited for this situation. Some anglers go so far as to recommend that a parachute fly only be cast downstream because the leader can become a distraction for the trout as it will also be deeper in the water and visible in the silhouette.
Insert photo of a parachute fly on calm waters next to a photo of a conventional dry fly on rocky waters.
Advantages of a Parachute Fly
Fish Prefer Parachutes
When the conditions of the water allow me to use a parachute fly, I always choose it over the conventionally hackled pattern. From below the water the parachute fly looks to the fish like a fly in a more vulnerable position than a flight-ready insect that is dry and ready to escape. Fish don’t like to waste their time, and neither should you. There have been plenty of times when I switched to the parachute version of a fly and immediately started to get more strikes.
Increased Visibility in Low-Light
While a parachute fly can be difficult for an angler to keep track of in fast-moving waters due to its placement slightly embedded into the water’s surface, in low-light conditions the post of the fly can be seen much easier by the angler; and the silhouette of the fly on the surface will be much more visible to the fish below.
Improved Hook Set
A conventional dry fly will often land on its side and as a result the hook placement is out of plane with the fish rising to the surface of the water to strike. This has always been a big problem for me as it often results in the hook not even entering the mouth. With parachute flies, they naturally land perfectly flat on the water and thus the hook will always be in plane with the strike of the fish. It’s not guaranteed to set every time, but parachute’s definitely set the hook much easier than the conventional version of the same fly.
8 Parachute Patterns That You Need to Know About
1. Parachute Adams
The Parachute Adams is easily the most famous pattern available, and also my go-to fly when darker mayflies are hatching. However, the Adams pattern is considered a general imitation fly that can be used to mimic mayflies, flying caddis, or even midge adults. Frequently I will tie on a Parachute Adams when nothing else seems to be doing the trick.
2. Parachute Light Cahill
While the Parachute Adams is my go-to for dark mayfly hatches, the Parachute Light Cahill is my go-to for light mayfly hatches. When it comes to dry flies, I always recommend a size 14 to start. Although, I also like to keep different sizes just in case.
3. Parachute Pale Morning Dun
Along with the Parachute Light Cahill, the Parachute Pale Morning Dun is one of my favorite Mayfly imitators. The Parachute Pale Morning Dun mimics the adult stage of life for the mayfly and is almost guaranteed to get you more strikes if you aren’t using this pattern already.
4. Parachute Hopper
Anytime I notice hoppers in the grass near a river, I immediately tie on a Parachute Hopper and reap the rewards. This is a simple, yet highly effective fly that will always have a place in my fly box.
5. Parachute Ant
Regular ant dry flies can be terribly hard to see in the water. Tying a parachute pattern fixes that problem. If you don’t have this fly in your fly box, then you don’t know what you’re missing.
6. Parachute Blue-Wing Olive
In my experience, trout are some of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Often, they will take one version of a pattern and completely ignore a slightly different colored version of the same fly. I keep this Baetis pattern handy for when other mayfly imitators just aren’t doing the trick.
7. Parachute Midge
Although other general-purpose flies might mimic the midge in a pinch, a true Parachute Midge is an indispensable tool for getting trout to strike. The real thing is awfully annoying, especially when they fly in your eyes, but this pattern has fed me on more than one occasion.
8. Parachute Madam X
In my opinion, this crazy looking pattern is easily one of the most beautiful flies you can use. In addition to looking really cool, they also do a great job imitating hoppers, cicada, dragonflies, and any number of large insects that trout love.
How to Tie a Parachute Light Cahill Fly
Article on the Light Cahill: https://guiderecommended.com/light-cahill-fly/
Video Guide: https://youtu.be/GwN3Z5XLcNU
Materials Needed for a Parachute Light Cahill
- TFS 100, sizes 14-18 hook
- Ultra 70 Tying Thread, cream
- Para-Post Wing Material, white
- Super-Fine Dry Fly Dubbing, light Cahill
- Lemon Wood Duck fibers
- Dry Fly Hackle, light ginger (Hackle and tail)
- Secure the hook in the vise.
- Wrap a base of thread from just behind the hook eye to the center of the hook shank.
- Starting from the center of the hook shank, tie in 3-4in of a toothpick’s diameter of twisted white para-post wing material, facing forward, until you get to the 3/4 mark of the hook Shank.
- On the other side of your protruding para-post material (perpendicular to the hook shank), wrap the thread at an angle right at the base of the post and then add a few wraps vertically up and then down the base of the post.
- Trim the post to the desired length.
- Continue the thread backward, creating a balanced body taper.
- Tie in the tail fibers, at the back, a single length of the hook shank.
- Make a dubbing noodle and wrap the thread forward until you reach the post.
- At an angle, tie in the hackle to the base of the post and then wrap it around the post up for a few millimeters and then back down.
- With the hackle material on the side of the post closest to the hook eye, wrap the hackle forward with your thread and tie off behind the hook eye.
- Cut off additional hackle material.
- Whip finish and spend some time ensuring the body and wing are all in proportion.
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One More Cast with Parachutes Flies
Learning how and when to use parachute flies was one of the most crucial improvements to my fly-fishing game. In tailouts and calmer waters, such as when I am lake fishing, I rarely use anything else. They are easy to see, they elicit more strikes, and I love how rare it is to not get a hook set. I say, what more can an angler ask for?
Special thanks and recognition to…
- Umpqua for picture use. Easily the world’s best supplier of flies. Check out 👉 Umpqua
- Trout Flies: The Tier’s Reference by Dave Hughes (https://www.amazon.com/Trout-Flies-Reference-Dave-Hughes/dp/0811716015/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=9780811716017&linkCode=qs&qid=1675270462&s=books&sr=1-1&ufe=app_do%3Aamzn1.fos.006c50ae-5d4c-4777-9bc0-4513d670b6bc)
as well as to…
- Fishing the Film by Gary A. Borger (https://www.amazon.com/Fishing-Film-Fly-Book-Series/dp/0962839272)
for providing me with indispensable information on parachute flies and how to use them.