Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”
by Rusty Dunn
You probably don’t think of Leonardo da Vinci as a fly angler, but he invented a truly great fly design in 1483. Long before Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he invented the parachute. Not the parachute dry fly, but the real parachute, a wood and canvas contraption with which you could jump from high places and land safely. Over four centuries later, his invention gave its name to the parachute dry fly, a modern masterpiece. You must visit Paris, France to see the Mona Lisa or Milan, Italy for The Last Supper, but you’ll find Leonardo’s parachutes – and lots of them – in any fly shop. Admire their beauty, for they are simple works of art.
The hackle of parachute dry flies is wound horizontally atop the hook shank like an open umbrella. The angler who first affixed a parachute hackle to a dry fly is unknown, but it likely occurred sometime in the 1920s. William A. Brush of Detroit patented the parachute fly design in 1931 in both the US and Great Britain. Brush was an engineer and co-owner of Brush Motor Company, maker of the “Brush Runabout” automobile. The Runabout is long gone, but Brush’s parachute dry fly is still chugging along nicely well into the 21st century. Brush described the design as:
“an artificial fly in which the hackle is so related to the hook that when the latter is in its properly suspended position, the position of the fly will closely correspond to the position that a live fly would have on the water.” That’s legal-speak for “This is one helluva’ good fly!”
Brush’s parachute design was initially tied and sold commercially as the “Gyrofly” by the venerable William Mills and Son Company on Park Place in New York City. Brush later licensed other fly makers to produce the parachute fly. In England, Hardy Brothers of Alnwick marketed them as “Ride-Rite” flies. In Scotland, gun maker and outfitter Alexander Martin of Glasgow tied and sold parachute flies. Commercial production, however, was restricted to licensed firms. Thus, the supply of parachutes and their popularity among anglers were limited. An expired patent and continuing testimonials made the pattern increasingly popular through the 1950s and 60s. Angler attention increased considerably in 1971 with publication of Selective Trout by Swisher and Richards. This influential book emphasized the importance of fishing emergers during a hatch. It advocated use of lowfloating fly patterns that ride awash in the surface film to better imitate adult insects struggling to emerge. Parachute flies, which Swisher and Richards called “paraduns” (short for “parachute duns”), imitate hatching mayfly duns very well. The body rides on or in the surface, not above it as with conventional hackle. The vertical post offers a realistic wing profile to trout and good visibility to anglers. The splayed horizontal barbs better imitate legs of a natural than the points of traditional hackle, which pierce the surface.
Parachute is a style, not a pattern. Tie them in sizes and colors to match the hatches you might encounter. Be sparing with the hackle wraps, because the horizontal fibers present a lot of surface area. Heavier hackling does not increase floatation. Parachute flies are unmatched for delicacy and stability. Wind drag of the hackle, together with its location above the weight of the hook, cause parachute flies to land straight, true, and gently every time. When tied on a curved-shank hook that hangs below the surface, parachute duns are similar to Klinkhamer Specials, also a cracking good emerger imitation.
When you next encounter a hatch of mayflies, think of Leonardo da Vinci and his original parachute. Then, tie on a parachute dun of the right size, jump in the river, and enjoy the ride. Afterwards, you just might be wearing that endearing little satisfied smile of the Mona Lisa … the one that says “What a great day!”. Copyright 2017, Rusty Dunn
Parachute duns can be tied in colors and sizes to match anything from giant Hexagenia to midge-sized BWOs or tricos. The fly pictured is a size #16 BWO.
Hook: Dry fly, size to match the natural
Thread: 8/0, color to match the natural
Tail: Bundled hackle fibers, splayed slightly
Body: Dry fly dubbing to match the natural
Ribbing: Tying thread or very fine wire; optional
Wing: Vertical antron, poly, or feather post