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 between. A detailed tier is always looking for those little tweaks that make a fly one step closer to perfect and after decades of attempts, I’ve finally arrived (for now) at the perfect Parachute Adams.
Even though I wrote an article on a similar subject in this space 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 tiers are surprised to learn that one of my favorite summertime drys is the Parachute Adams. I guess they’re expecting me to have some secret pattern up my sleeve, and I’m not saying I don’t, but I do fish a size 14 or 16 Parachute Adams at some point almost every day I go fishing during the summer. It’s not the conventional version, because have a few modifications I’ve added over the years to improve its fishability, floatation, and durability.
Recognizing the liabilities of a pattern is one of my strong points. I always want to make things better, no matter how good they are to begin with. A conventional Parachute Adams isn’t as visible, durable, or buoyant as it could be, and it’s pretty plain looking, which is part of its charm. Due to material selection and proper tying technique, this version is more buoyant, stronger, faster to tie, and better looking than the original.
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. What I do change 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 want, so I tie one bunch in right on top of the other. Tying the two different colors 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.
Wing. Most of the commercial Parachute Adams available today are tied with a calftail or calf body hair wing. Anchoring these non-compressible hairs to the shank creates bulk that makes for an uneven underbody, and often the difficulty in just working with the stuff is enough to make you question tying flies altogether.
Rather than bow 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, and helps prevent the fibers from binding down into an ugly clump after a few minutes of fishing (like conventional poly yarn).
Antron yarn has a very similar look to McFlylon, but is slightly absorbent, so McFlylon gets the nod here for obvious reasons. Using a synthetic material for the wing creates zero bulk on the hook shank and furthers my efforts toward a slender fly.
Finally, cutting the wing to length 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 substantially smaller as the fly goes down in size and is not trimmed to length later is the tail. Think about that.
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 size 24, albeit more sparse, as a size 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.
Hackle. I have gone to using saddle hackles on all my parachutes. Quality genetic dry-fly saddles are available in a complete range of sizes, from 12 down to 24 and are commonly available in a host of colors. Saddle hackles are also much more densely barbed than neck/cape feathers, and create more radiating hackle fibers per turn of feather. The astounding length of these feathers allows me to tie a dozen flies per feather, making them extremely economical as well as efficient. In the case of a Parachute Adams, I size two matching brown and grizzly feathers and tie up to a dozen flies before having to do it a second time. With neck hackles I’d be matching up the shorter feathers every few flies, at best.
Abdomen. The biggest epiphany I’ve found in creating effective, buoyant parachutes is making the abdomens out of goose biots. In the case of the Parachute Adams, I use natural colored Canada goose biots that I get from a friend who is an avid 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 the 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 stand-up edge leading the turns, I am able to overlap that edge with the next turn and end up with a beautiful, 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 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 saturated with fish slime. It’s hard to quickly clean 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 adhesive. Unfortunately, I have not found a way around dubbing the thorax.
Hackle. The exact method of the hackle tie-in and tie-off is paramount to creating beautifully constructed parachutes. Thread selection is 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 fits the bill nicely.
The outdated method of tying the hackle in against the hook shank at the eye is both cumbersome and messy at this point in the tying game. This improved method 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 used 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 allows the fly to sit higher on the water, supported on these tips and more accurately portraying the natural. I can see where they’re coming from for flatwater fishing, but I want a more tightly packed, dense hackle on my parachutes to create more surface area and floatability for fishing faster, broken water. Wrapping with the insides of the hackles facing up allows me to do this much more cleanly.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. His latest book is Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).