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What are Parachute Flies?

Parachute flies are so named because they lend themselves to gentle landings on slow or still water. If you’re lake fishing then you should definitely consider them.

The early parachute flies were marketed as patterns in their own right (the concept was even patented), but today the words ‘parachute fly’ now indicate a style of tying that is a design variation applied to other patterns. Popular dry flies such as the Royal Coachman, the Pale Morning Dun and the Cahill – and many more – can be tied as parachutes.

Not a Pattern, but a style of Dry Fly Tying

Dry flies that use hackle in their construction can be tied so that the hackle spreads out in different directions to represent the wings and legs of an insect. The Royal Coachman, for example, has hackle pointing upwards and outwards to represent an up-winged insect with wings in a ‘V’, and then also downwards and outwards to indicate the legs spread out from its body. The hackle is wound around the body of the fly to achieve this.

In a parachute variation, the hackle spreads out in a horizontal circle above the body of the fly so that, from underneath, it appears a little like a helicopter (and indeed, one of those two early patented products was called ‘The Gyro’). This arrangement of the hackle is achieved by winding it not around the body of the fly, but instead around something that sticks up from it: the ‘post’.

Often constructed from animal hair, the post is tied to the hook so that it looks a little like a tiny palm tree, or perhaps a dandelion seed. Thread is wound tightly around the hair closer to the body of the fly to create a ‘trunk’ sticking up at 90 degrees; above the trunk, the hair then spreads out in a tuft. The hackle is then wound around the post to create the circle.

The parachute fly as an invention was patented in the US and the UK in the early 1930s, but in these early designs the post was made from metal, wire, or gut. So, although these flies landed in a representative way that delighted anglers, the extra weight of the post meant that the illusion didn’t last long. Nonetheless, the concept had found its way into the fly fishing community and the approach continued to be developed and refined.

Parachute Flies are very versatile

Today, parachute flies are made to sit low in the water’s surface film, and they can be a convincing imitation of any of the following:

  • an emerging insect, with wings not yet dry;
  • an insect that has not been able to emerge properly;
  • a spent insect, dead or dying on the water after mating / egg-laying;
  • an insect that has been blown or knocked into the water, or capsized.

Some tips on fishing Parachutes

Parachutes are easily waterlogged and so do not lend themselves to anything but the gentlest of currents. Some anglers also recommend that they are only cast downstream because with such a delicate technique even very fine leaders can be a distraction for trout. Another tip which can work even on faster-flowing streams and rivers is to look for ‘pockets’ of slow water. Whether they are hatching or dying, mayflies that have been swept away by faster currents can collect in these slow-flowing areas of water.

Popular Parachute Flies

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