Lockdown Day 4

A focus on parachute hackles

I can still remember the first time I was introduced to “parachute hackle dry flies”, when a fishing companion on a reservoir in the UK proudly told me that it was the “only dry fly he used”..

At the time I was so brainwashed by the “Halfordian” or “Catskill” style of tying dry flies that I was convinced the above proponent of this style must be a certifiable idiot. After all EVERYONE knows that a dry fly has hackle wrapped perpendicular to the hook in a specific arrangement of measurements. The tails should be so long, the hackle this long, the abdomen this portion of the hook length.. It was a mantra, a mantra blithely followed by nearly everyone. Anything else was “newfangled rubbish” at best and signs of early onset dementia at worst..

“Standard Dry Flies” come with a set of required measurements and ratios without which they don’t function well, in contrast parachute patterns are for the most part unencumbered by such limitations and one can fashion them in virtually any configuration you wish.

To be fair this sort of thinking has been a blight on fly tying for years, the concept that things should be done in a certain way for little reason other than they always have been done like that and thankfully we have now pretty much broken free of such limitations.

Today it is quite normal to tie dry flies without hackle, with deer hair, with poly-yarn, with CDC and of course in parachute style.

As in so many other fields of human endeavor one person’s dogma easily becomes the norm, stifling innovation for years.

Frederic Halford , the man who believed with religious fervor that it was unbecoming to do anything other than cast a dry fly upstream to a rising trout and who pushed that agenda to a point of obstinacy did much for the sport of fly fishing. He did equally in my opinion do a great deal of damage.

I find it most amusing that today it seems likely that the success of Halford’s floating dry flies was more likely a result of their imperfections than any efficiency of design.

In his excellent new book “Trout and Flies: Getting closer” Peter Hayes strongly suggests (and I agree with him) that the much vaunted style of Halford was mostly likely effective simply because the flies didn’t float “high and dry” as Halford imagined, but rather better imitated stillborns, cripples and such. To quote from the book Hayes writes:

 “One unexpected result of this is a new insight into the success, a century ago, of the English Dry Fly Revolution led by F M Halford. It is a bit odd, but the supposed pinnacle of our sport is actually based on a fallacy. Ironically for the dry fly purists, their fully hackled flies have never been purely dry, but have pierced the surface, representing emergers and casualties rather than the hatched fly. Had they succeeded in imitating the fully hatched dun ready to fly away in an instant, they would have deceived many fewer trout into a take. Their flies have instead been widely and preferentially taken, but for the nonconformist reason that they were not fully dry.”

Both of Peter Hayes’ books “Fishing outside the box” and “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” are an object lesson in not being conformist, not simply going with the flow but rather challenging everything we think we know. I heartily recommend both books to you if you have yet to read them.  You can even download a Kindle version of “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” on line whilst safely locked down in your own home..

It doesn’t matter that whilst I agree with most of the things therein I don’t agree with all of them, that is the point, over the years fly fishing has seen a growing degree of innovation and free thought, which is exactly as things should be. Which brings us back to parachute hackles.

Some free thinking fly tyer, unencumbered by the dogmatic approach of his predecessors decided to wrap the hackle around a post, one suspects with the original intention of having the pattern alight more gently upon the water.

I don’t actually know if the softer landing issue is paramount, but I do know that parachute style flies have a number of advantages compared to the more “standard” Halford or Catskill style of perpendicular hackle wraps.

Some considerations:

  • In the parachute style one isn’t so strictly bound to set proportions, with “standard” dry flies if you manufacture the wings a tad too long or the tails a bit too short they have a terrible tendency to fall over. If one looks at various upwinged flies they do not have the same proportions at all, in some the wings are longer, the tails longer or shorter, the bodies fatter or slimmer. Parachute patterns allow the tyer to mimic these variations without negative effect on presentation.

A look at these different mayfly species demonstrates that they don’t come in standard proportions

  • Parachute flies, because they have the hackles splayed “on the surface film” rather than having points penetrating the film, require less hackle to float them and can even be manufactured with lesser quality feathers. The idea of the super stiff dry fly hackle isn’t as important with parachute styles.
  • A key factor in my affection for parachute patterns is that they don’t twist up the tippet, no matter if you fish large flies on thin tippet. A problem with the “standard” tying style.
  • The low floating profile is likely a better imitation of the cripples, stillborns and failed flies which trout likely focus on. (see Optimal Foraging Theory, Trout and Flies Getting Closer ).

So if those are some of the elements that I consider hugely advantageous to the parachute style are there any disadvantages we should consider?

Historically, and particularly when referring to commercially manufactured patterns, Parachute style flies have a bad reputation for being considerably less durable than their Catskill style cousins. Even today many commercial parachute patterns will last perhaps a fish or two before complete failure.

This is essentially, to my mind, the failing again of following an overly dogmatic approach to fly tying, the innovation of wrapping the hackle in a different orientation has been limited by not changing the manner in which they are tied. Such that although the hackles go around in a different manner, the tie in points and tie off points remained the same as with standard hackles. This results in a serious problem with respect to durability.

In short, if you are going to tie the hackles in a different orientation you equally then need to change the manner in which you tie them in and tie them off.

So starting off, what are the options of a “post” onto which you can wrap the hackle?

Much older flies may show the use of all manner of posts, nylon loops (Goddard and Clarke’s USD paradun for example), hog bristle, or some other contrivance, even complicated “Gallows tools”.. Today probably the most universal post for parachute hackles would be “Poly-yarn”.

Poly-yarn is cheap , doesn’t get waterlogged, comes in an inordinate array of colours and can be easily divided to make thinner or thicker wing posts at will. Poly-yarn is pretty much my first and only choice when tying parachute posts.

There are a few different ways in which one can attach this post to the hook:

The tied down on the shank method:

This was the style I used for a long time; it does however tend to produce thicker bodies which are not suitable if imitating more scrawny naturals. I have for the most part switched over to the loop method shown next. Do note though that this method is the only option when using tapered materials such as natural hair for the post.

The loop method of attaching the post works better for me, it only adds a small amount of bulk and at the thorax area which is generally thicker in most upwinged flies.. Today this is my method of choice.

Once you have the post tied in how best to attach and tie in the hackle?


As previously mentioned there have been numerous parachute hackle methods used, some complicated and others not particularly effective. The method that I now use for almost all parachute patterns is an amalgamation of techniques from various fly tyers and has proven to be tremendously effective in terms of producing durable and imitative flies.


One of the great problems with parachute flies was lack of durability, much of the problem stemming from the fact that hackles were generally tied to the hook in the same manner as with standard dry flies and then wrapped up and back down the post.


This is ineffective for several reasons. Done like this the hackle winds through itself trapping fibres and not giving a neat finish. Because the hackle was generally wound around the post in a clockwise direction (seen from the top), and then tied off against the hook in the same manner as standard flies the hackle was loosened slightly causing problems with it falling off later.


Key points in tying more durable parachute hackles

Firstly make sure that the base of the post is long enough to allow sufficient room to add enough hackle, think of how much space you would use for a standard dry fly, the post needs to offer a similar if slightly reduced amount of room if you are to tie effective hackles. Many tiers just wrap the hackle around and around in the same spot where there is insufficient room for nice neat touching turns, this will not produce a neat or durable fly.

Secondly, tie in the hackle to the post and NOT to the hook, that way the hackle is wound from top to bottom and cannot slip off during fishing.

Thirdly wind in touching turns nice and tightly around the post and whip finish or super glue finish underneath the hackle and around the post. By doing this the torque of the thread tightens the hackle rather than making it looser, an important part of tying durable flies.

Whip finishing under the hackle and around the post is more than possible, but for durability and lack of bulk using a super glue whip finish is hard to beat. I generally don’t glue things to hooks when tying flies but for this finish I am prepared to make an exception, the method is quick, simple and very strong.

As mentioned the ideas came from different sources, the method of tying the hackle to the post came from Skip Morris, and exceptionally talented American fly tyer, the idea of whip finishing under the hackle and around the post was demonstrated first to me in the Oliver Edwards book “Fly Tying Masterclass” and the concept of finishing flies with thread slightly dampened with cyanoacrylate glue (Super Glue) was shown to me by members of the Italian National team at a fly tying session at the World Championships in Spain. Added together all these methods in combination provide the best means possible of manufacturing parachute hackles providing, simplicity, durability and realism. .

Tying durable parachute hackles




Tying the BSP:

The BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) is a fly based on little more than a reproducible and durable upwinged fly pattern. It can be infinitely modified to imitate almost any upwinged fly simply by changing the hook size, body materials or colours, post length, tails etc.. So it isn’t really a pattern, more a design which can be adapted.

In conclusion, parachute style flies provide a lot of advantages in terms of visibility on the water,  floatation, and the ability to vary proportions, if one can overcome the previous disadvantages of lack of durability with the correct tying methods they end up being the mainstay of your dry fly boxes.. or at least my dry fly boxes..


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

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4 Responses to “Lockdown Day 4”

  1. Pieter Says:

    I am searching for your book on smashwords but not able to find it

    • paracaddis Says:

      Thanks Pieter, at the bottom of the page are two links to the two books,(the titles are in blue and clicking on them will take you straight to the correct page at Smashwords, there is a discount code next to each which will automatically give you a 50% discount if you enter the code during purchase. Hope that helps, I have just checked the links and they appear to be working fine.. Regards

  2. paracaddis Says:

    Sorry the links may be in red or another colour,but should be obvious. regards

  3. Nick Says:

    Again, awesome thanks. I really enjoy tying this parachute hackle.

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