Tying Parachute Dry Flies—My Turn

A master fly dresser shares his tips and tricks for making high-floating dry flies.

by Dennis Potter

I tied my first fly 42 years ago. was a Dark Hendrickson Parachute. I was tying for my first outing to Gates Au Sable Lodge on the banks of the main stem of the Au Sable River, located in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. I was targeting the fabled Hendrickson hatch.

Sulfur/PMD Parachute
Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 16 or 14, or Tiemco TMC101, size 18.
Thread: Yellow 8/0 (70 denier).
Tails: Tailing Fibers or Microfibbets, dun.
Abdomen: Sulfur yellow dry fly dubbing.
Wing: EP Silky Fibers, gray.
Hackle: Light dun or sulfur yellow.

Since those early days, I have made somewhere north of 150,000 flies. Most of them have been parachute dry flies, size 12 and smaller.

The parachute is the most versatile style of dry fly. You can wrap a parachute hackle on just about any fly, making it dry: floating nymph, emerger, dun, spinner, caddisfly, stonefly, grasshopper, and more. If you want it to float well, make it a parachute.

Most tiers who make dry flies try fashioning parachute patterns. Many, if not the majority, of their flies perform poorly, often landing sideways on the water. This is frustrating and leads to refusals from the trout.

Proportions, Proportions, Proportions!

Good parachute construction is primarily a matter of using good proportions. Although selecting quality materials, particularly good genetic dry fly hackle, plays a role, it is of lesser importance than using proper proportions. First up: a properly proportioned wing.

It’s time to do away with hair wings on your parachute patterns. Give your winging hair to someone else to deal with. All hair, even the stiff waxy types used for parachutes, gets waterlogged. I understand there is a tradition of using hair for the wings on parachutes and other dry flies, but when it comes to parachutes in particular, I forgo tradition in favor of tying flies that catch more fish.

Opal Drake
Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 12.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier).
Tails: Moose body hair.
Abdomen: Medium opal tinsel.
Wing: EP Silky Fibers, gray.
Thorax: Brown dry fly dubbing.
Hackle: Brown and grizzly

Parachutes made with synthetic wings float better and longer than, have superior outlines to, and are far more durable than their hair-winged cousins. Any of the waterproof, slightly crinkled fibers available today make parachute wings far superior to those made with any type of hair. I use the original EP Fibers and EP Silky Fibers for constructing all synthetic wings.

When using a standard-length dry fly hook, mount the wing one-quarter—or no more than one-third—of the way down the shank from the eye. We’ll get into more of the particulars about fashioning a proper synthetic wing when we make the patterns in the accompanying tying exercises.

With respect to selecting hackle for a parachute fly, the number of wraps or even the quality of the feather is less important than the diameter of the wrapped hackle in relation to the height of the wing. The diameter of the wrapped hackle should measure roughly 1½ times the height of the wing. Here’s an important tip: if your parachute falls over when it lands on the water, the diameter of the wrapped hackle is not wide enough in relation to the height of the wing. On a parachute, it’s always better to have the hackle too big than too small.

This is another important tip: when designing a new fly or learning a new fly tying technique, it’s always best to start with a large pattern. We’ll study my method for tying a parachute using two flies: a Hendrickson Parachute and the pattern I call Potter’s Drake. That second fly is a substantial yet simple upgrade of a venerable old Michigan pattern, Clarence Roberts’s Yellow Drake. I use this size 10 (and sometimes larger) fly for matching drake and Hexagenia mayflies. I make the deer-hair body tough as cork, use EP Fibers for the wing, and select the best hackle I can find. These modifications take this old pattern from being a one-fish wonder to a fly that will catch several fish.

Dennis Potter has contributed many important articles to this publication. In addition to designing new flies and being a commercial tier, he is one of the fi nest instructors in the craft. Be sure to follow him through his website, riverhouseflyco.com

Pro Tips for Parachute Flies:
  • To ensure the durability of your flies, keep the thread tight while tying; the tighter, the better.
  • Good tying is not about speed and numbers, it’s about proper proportions and durability. As a commercial tier, I can make any pattern faster, but I choose not to. When you tie too fast, consistency, good proportions, and durability go out the window.
  • Use lots of hackle on your parachutes. (If a fish refuses your parachute pattern because it has too much hackle, you didn’t want to catch it anyway.)
  • Good proportions are of particular importance when constructing a parachute pattern, especially smaller flies. Taller and heavier wings require wrapped hackles of larger diameters.