Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

A viable alternative?

Posted 6/14/23

According to the historical record, the parachute dry fly was likely invented sometime in the 1920s. That same record also indicated that the pattern was first patented in the U.S. and England by …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

A viable alternative?


According to the historical record, the parachute dry fly was likely invented sometime in the 1920s. That same record also indicated that the pattern was first patented in the U.S. and England by William A. Brush in 1931.

Since that time, the parachute fly has been tied and fished by thousands of anglers in a variety of iterations.

Although my friends Bill “Willie” Dorato and Del Bedinotti were big fans of parachute-style flies, I frankly was not. I found that traditional Catskill-style dry flies worked just fine.

That is, up until 2020, when I began to observe that more trout were feeding on emerging mayflies, and not so many on duns.

It appeared that emergers were being taken in the surface film, just prior to hatching.

Confounded by this type of feeding behavior, and not finding an immediate solution, I tried to figure out a way to fish a fly pattern dead-drift in the surface film.

In the past, I cast small nymphs under a strike indicator, or drifted a small wet fly in front of feeding trout, with little success. I’ve written about the frustration associated with my inability to rise trout under these circumstances in several previous columns for the River Reporter.

Then one day I had an idea. How about tying some parachute flies with a nymph body, then fishing them like a dry fly?

Small blue-winged olive mayflies were hatching at that time of year, so I tied some number 16 and 18 parachute flies to test. I used turkey-tail fibers for the tail and body and yellow Neer Hair for the post, and wrapped it with very small blue-dun hackle.

I found tying parachute flies this small to be a real challenge, especially whip-finishing the head once the fly was complete.

On the positive side, upon returning to the river, and once again finding a decent hatch of small olive mayflies taking emergers, I fished my little parachutes—and they worked.

While I didn’t rise every trout I cast to, enough were hooked to deem this experiment a success.

As a result of that outing, I decided to tie some larger parachutes in different patterns—including Hendricksons, pale evening duns and March browns—and made the decision to give those flies a fair trial when the naturals were hatching. All of those mayfly nymphs have dark bodies, perfectly matched with turkey tail feathers. Essentially, I was tying pheasant-tail nymphs parachute-style, using turkey tail feathers instead of pheasant-tail fibers. Turkey-tail fibers are stronger and more durable than pheasant tails.

Compared to traditional dry flies, as I previously noted, parachute-style flies are more difficult to tie, at least for me. So I decided to modify the rusty spinner dry fly that has been described and discussed on several occasions in this column. It is my favorite go-to fly.

I tie the rusty spinner with dun hackle and superfine rusty-brown dubbing for the body. The hackle is wound radially, as are all traditional Catskill dry flies. When complete, the hackle is cut off from the bottom of the fly. In that way, the fly floats flat in the surface film, and is easily visible by feeding trout.

To match emerging mayflies, I substituted turkey-tail fibers for the tail and body, then completed the fly with blue dun feathers for the hackle.

I do not use a yellow post when I tie these spinner-type flies (except for this column’s photo). But for those folks who prefer to add a post for ease of visibility, that must be tied as seen in the first step.

In addition to some parachute Hendricksons, I tied up some spinner-style Hendrickson nymphs, in mid-April. The first time I went to the river and found Hendricksons on the water, I rose trout on both parachute and spinner-type nymphs. So it appears, based on limited actual fishing, that the spinner-type nymphs work as well as the parachute nymphs—plus they are much easier to tie than parachutes, especially in the smaller sizes.

Fly tier/anglers can adjust the size of the fly by the size of the hackle they use. I recommend using the smallest hackle that will keep the spinner nymph afloat in the surface film.

In the long run, if these spinner-type nymphs work as well as parachute nymphs do, I’ll be a very happy angler, because they are so easy to tie. I’ll use this type of fly exclusively whenever trout are feeding on hatching flies—even on those rare occasions when trout are taking duns off the surface.

Hopefully, I’ll be rewarded, despite a fairly radical change in the type of flies that I’ll be fishing this season when mayflies are hatching. I’ll know as the months pass how well my spinner-type nymphs will work. For now, the question remains: will this pattern, based on my rusty spinner, be as effective as a parachute nymph? Or to put it more succinctly, will this modified spinner be a viable alternative to a parachute nymph? If that turns out to be the case, we’ll need a better name for this type of fly, something other than “spinner-type nymph.” Any suggestions?

parachute dry fly, Catskill-style dry fly, trout


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here