July 26, 2017
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.
Create a thread base from the 80 percent point back to the bend. Tie in the brown spade hackle fibers curve up at the bend with a single wrap of thread. Align a similar clump of grizzly fibers so they match in length and curvature. Hold the tips of both the brown and grizzly with one hand and unwrap the turn of thread. Measure the bunch to one shank length and bind it firmly atop the shank. Bring the thread forward in smooth, even turns to the hook eye, then back to the 80 percent point.
Cut a 2-inch-long section of McFlylon from the hank and divide it in half. Place the center on top of the hook at the 80 percent point. Make two stacked turns of thread over the McFlylon at its center.
Pull the front end of the McFlylon back toward the near side of the hook, and the back end out to the far side. Doing this will set the two previous thread wraps at a diagonal angle.
While holding the wing tightly in place on the near side of the hook, make two more tight, stacked wraps at the opposite diagonal angle from front to back across the center of the wing. Finish up with an additional tight X-wrap across the center of the wing so the wing doesn’t flop around on the shank later.
Pull both wings up into a single bunch. Reach over the vise from the rear and pick up the bobbin and begin to wrap around the base of the wing. In my case, tying left-handed, I make these wraps clockwise, but if you’re tying right-handed, make these wraps counterclockwise.
Make two or three turns around the base of the wing to bundle it together, then make a single turn of thread around the shank at the front of the wing. Notice that the posting wraps are not right at the base of the wing but slightly up from the hook to accommodate the extra bulk where the material is folded on the shank.
Select, size, and pair a brown and a grizzly rooster saddle feather. Make sure both feathers are not only the right size for the hook, but also that they match each other in barb length. Strip the bases of both feathers to the bare stem for a distance of about a half shank length.
Lay one feather on top of the other with the inside of the top feather facing the outside of the bottom feather. It doesn’t matter which one is on top. Capture both with a few tight wraps of thread up to the base of the wing. Make sure the insides of both feathers are facing toward the hook shank.
Lift the feathers upright along the front or far side of the post with their insides facing the post. Invert the bobbin so the tube is pointing straight down. Make counterclockwise wraps (right-hand tiers) up the base of the wing post to just short of the end of the stripped portion of the hackle feathers (about 20% to 25% of the shank length).
Wrap back down the post to the shank in increasingly tight turns. Make a single conventional turn of thread around the hook shank at the base of the wing to lock everything in place. Ensure that there is about a half turn of bare stem still exposed beyond the end of the thread wraps at the top of the post.
Select a correct side goose biot (see story) and tie it in with the inside of its natural curvature toward the hook shank. The biot is tied in notch down and the tip extends all the way to the base of the post. Don’t be fooled into tying biots in by their very tips, as the tip is fragile and will likely break, and wrapping it will require excess numbers of closely overlapped turns.
Wrap forward over the tip of the biot all the way up to the post to form a smooth thread base. Add a light coat of Zap-A-Gap to the thread base and the bottom of the wing post. Grasp the butt of the biot with hackle tweezers and stand the biot up at the bend of the hook, folding the base as shown here.
Make the first turn of biot without disrupting the tail. The fringed edge of the biot leads the way. Make each turn slightly overlapping so the smooth, rear edge of the biot covers the fringed edge of the previous turn. Wrap forward to the base of the wing and tie the biot off with several tight turns of thread. Clip the excess.
Dub a thin rope of Superfine just behind the eye and taper up to the base of the wing. Cross on the bottom of the shank to the back of the wing, covering the biot tie-off. Cross from the back to the front of the wing, and finish with a single wrap around the base of the wing, dropping the bare thread on the far side of the hook.
Pull both hackle feathers down along the far side of the hook with their insides oriented skyward. Note the bare stems at the top of the post allow for about a half turn before the fibers begin to splay out. Stack the feathers neatly inside to outside and grab the tips in your hackle pliers.
Make the first turn of hackle at the very top of the post, again, clockwise for lefties and counter-clockwise for you “normies.”
Make the next turn directly under and tightly up against the first turn. Finish with a third turn right at the base of the wing post. Don’t be tempted to pack in an extra turn; it’ll just displace the previous wraps and look like hell.
Finish the last turn by pulling down on the hackle tips along the near side of the hook shank. Reach over the vise with your material hand and pick up the bobbin, inverting it as you lift. Make three tight horizontal turns of thread between the dubbed thorax and the wrapped hackle, and in the same direction you wrapped the feathers around the base of the wing.
When the third turn of thread completes its revolution and reaches out over the hook eye, guide the thread over the far side of the hook, under the hook eye, and up again on the near side. The thread should now be going around the hook in the conventional manner behind the hook eye.
Use the tips of your finest scissors to clip the hackle stems as close to the base of the wing post as you can. Clean up any stray hackle fibers.
Whip-finish behind the hook eye, drawing the knot up from the bottom so you don’t trap any hackle fibers in the knot.
Clip the thread. Rotate the hook and trim the wing to one shank length long. Add a drop of thinned head cement to the base of the wing post—right on the radiating hackle fibers—to lock everything in place.
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 feathersâ€”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).