Perfect Parachutes

Discover the simple tricks for mastering these fish-catching dry flies.

by Caleb Boyle


When I started tying flies, one of the most difficult techniques was mastering parachute hackles. They were messy and awkward, and they took forever to make. I suspect many tiers have the same trouble and avoid them altogether; others just keep their fly boxes closed when fellow anglers are around. Tying parachutes does not have to be hard, and once you know how to tie them quickly and accurately, they should become as common in your fly box as deer-hair flies on Slough Creek. Parachutes are excellent dry flies for all trout, selective or not. From the front, a parachute post resembles the wings of a mayfly held perfectly upright above its body. These mayflies have a greater chance of remaining on the water longer than the insects that are fluttering their wings, and the trout know it. The hackle extends from all angles much like the legs of a mayfly. And for fishermen, parachutes land right side up almost every time. They also float very well, at least much better than nonhackled patterns such as Compara-duns. They are great imitations for catching selective trout and fishing choppy water.

Parachute Hare’s Ear
Hook: Mustad 94840 or an equivalent dry-fly hook, sizes 16 to 12.
Thread: Tan 8/0 (70 denier.)
Parachute: Calftail, white or your choice of color.
Tail: Bucktail or other non-flaring deer hair.
Body: Hare’s-ear dubbing.
Hackle: Grizzly.

The Wing Post
Up until the recent synthetic-materials craze, the wing posts on most parachutes were tied with calftail or some other natural material. These ingredients still work, and I love the look of a neatly stacked calftail post. Although it is not a requirement, stacking calftail before tying it to the hook gives the fly a neat appearance. Because of the curly nature of calftail hair, however, it can be hard to insert into a regular hair stacker. A large-diameter stacker is easiest to use and tends to stack best because the hair is not packed so tightly.

The height of the wing post usually equals the length of the body. This is not a hard rule, however, and on a heavily hackled parachute, I sometimes make the post a little taller to remain visible on the water. After you tie on the hair, always trim the butt ends at an angle to help create a smooth body. To force the post into an upright position, pull the hair up and wrap the thread as close as you can directly in front of the base. Keep forcing the post up and back, and fit a little more thread in the crack in front of the base. Once the post is in a near upright position, wrap thread around the base to hold the hair together.

Some synthetics make fabulous wing posts. You may use numerous materials, including Antron yarn, polypropylene yarn, Hi-Vis, and Z-Lon. An additional plus is that synthetics are dyed in many colors so that you can closely match the color of the naturals you are imitating. Enrico Puglisi, an inventive fly designer and materials distributor, recently introduced a material called EP-Trigger Point International Fibers. This material, which is specifically designed for making posts, comes in a series of dyed and blended colors to imitate a variety of mayflies.

Using a bright color for wing posts is another option. Orange or yellow wing posts will increase the visibility of your flies on the water. I use white or tan posts for most of my parachutes. These posts are very visible, but there is less chance of the trout noticing a funny color. Sometimes, such as when fishing a very turbulent stream containing a lot of white water, I’ll select a fly containing a wing post that is a bright color other than white.

Synthetic wing posts are tied differently from hair. In a way, synthetic materials may be trickier but quicker to use. Since they are not so stiff as natural hair, it may be harder to learn how to wrap hackle tightly around these posts. The advantage, however, it that you don’t have to stack synthetic materials; just clip small pieces and make the posts.

To begin, fold a small piece of wing material around your thread. Position the post by pulling on the ends of the material and lowering it to the hook shank while making
the first wrap of thread. Secure the post with three to four more wraps of thread. Next, pull the post up and make a series of X wraps around the base. This tying method creates a stronger wing post that is less likely to shift or rotate on the hook.

Parachute Ant
Hook: Mustad R30 or an equivalent dry-fly hook, sizes 16 to 12.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier).
Abdomen: Black Superfine dubbing.
Parachute: Z-Lon or polypropylene yarn, your choice of color.
Hackle: Brown.
Head: Black Superfine dubbing.

Parachute Hackle
The hackle is the most important part of a parachute. You can make a perfect wing post, but if you don’t wrap the right hackle the correct way, your fly will look horrible and may not work as well as it should.

Using quality hackle is one of the secrets for tying a great parachute or any dry fly. For tying parachutes, you want feathers with small stems, high fiber count, and no twist. If a hackle twists and lies on its side so that the fibers flare in every direction, it is essentially useless for tying a quality dry fly. Premium hackle has a reputation for being very expensive, but you can purchase high-quality hackle at some very affordable prices. Whiting Farms, Keough Hackle, Metz Hackle, and Collins Hackle Farm all offer superb full necks and saddles that cost little more that 20 to 30 dollars apiece; sometimes the packages contains both items.

Although cape feathers work fine, I tie all my parachutes with saddle hackle. A saddle hackle has a higher fiber count, so you have more fibers for the same number of wraps and the fly will float longer. With a long saddle feather, you can control the pressure and accuracy of your wraps by letting the feather slide through your fingers as you wrap rather than having your index finger stuck in a hackle pliers. And the best thing is that you rarely need to use pliers unless you are working at the tip end of a saddle hackle.

Now for the fun part: wrapping the hackle! I know of only two good ways of wrapping hackle. In the first method, tie on the hackle at the base of the post and begin the first wrap. Place every new wrap firmly around the post and directly beneath the previous wrap. Each new wrap forces the previous wrap up the post. This technique looks a bit messy, but it comes in handy when you want a parachute for fishing rough water. You can tie a lot of hackle tightly on the post using this method.

In the second method, tie the bare hackle stem to the base of the wing post. Next, wrap the thread smoothly up and down the post, securing the hackle stem as you go. Now you’re ready to wrap the hackle. The direction you wrap the hackle is a debatable issue. I know that almost every tying book says to wrap parachute hackle in a counterclockwise direction, but what would you do if I told you to wrap clockwise? Needless to say, if you are used to wrapping against time, and you tie great parachutes, don’t change what you are doing. However, if you want to try something new, or if you are just learning how to tie parachutes, I urge you to try both directions before making up your mind. I wrap parachutes clockwise because I had never seen anyone tie these flies before, and at 12 years old, I was more interested in tying than reading. I have now wrapped hackle in both directions, and prefer the clockwise method. Here’s why.

First, when tying off the hackle, you should always secure it on the side of the post closest to the hook eye. Instead of wrapping thread over the surplus stem while it is lying parallel with the hook shank, the surest way to tie off the hackle is with the stem coming from the back of the post and lying diagonal over the shank opposite the direction of the thread.

The second reason stems from plain logical thinking. On a normal dry fly, hackle is always wrapped away from you in the same direction as the thread. Now, imagine wrapping hackle on a wing post made of calftail or another natural material before forcing the post up into position. You would naturally wrap the hackle in a clockwise direction! It just seems natural to wrap the feather in the same direction even after completing the wing post.

More Tips
Here are a few more tricks to make better-looking parachute dry flies.
After making the last wrap of hackle and tying it off, strip about half an inch of fibers off the surplus stem. Now you’ll tie off only a bare stem rather than the stem and a bunch of stray fibers.

When wrapping two different colors of hackle, the lighter color or grizzly should create the first top and last bottom wrap. Placing these wraps on the outside makes the colors look more evenly mixed. Also, never wrap two hackles at the same time; wrap one first, leaving tiny spaces between each wrap, and then wrap the second feather between the wraps of the first.

I use another hackling method when tying a sparse parachute or one designed for fishing slow water. Strip the hackle fibers off the side of the stem that will lie against the post. This makes a very tidy, sparsely tied fly such as my Parachute Ant.

Parachutes are fun because you can use them with any body style. Biots, stripped peacock quills, and hackle quills make fantastic abdomens on parachute dry flies. When you use these other materials for the abdomen, always use dubbing to build up the thorax and cover the tie-off point for the body. Krystal Flash makes a great rib over an abdomen made of dubbing.

I hope you attain a new satisfaction from tying perfect parachutes. With a little practice, you won’t be afraid to let your tying buddies get a glimpse inside your fly box.

Caleb Boyle is a fast-rising star in the world of fly tying. Caleb, who lives in North Carolina, is still just a teenager. We think it’s safe to say that the future of fly fishing and tying is in good hands.

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