Trout Unlimited
Top Trout Flies Course

Lesson 9 – The Parachute Adams

Scroll Down to Read

The Parachute Adams

One of the Top 10 Trout Flies Ever Created

As with most flies on this list, the parachute adams needs little to no introduction.  99% of anglers already have a few of these in your box, but what we’re here to teach you is why this fly is so valuable and how a few simple changes to the size and color and materials can turn this fly into the last mayfly dry you ever need.


The Details

Designed by Leonard Halladay for his friend Charles Adams, the parachute adams was invented to imitate mayfly, caddis and midge dry flies.  Though it most accurately imitates a mayfly given its profile and body shape, it can effectively imitate midges in smaller sizes often removing the tail, and imitate caddis as well.  The parachute adams is itself a variation on the adams, which is a thorax style dry fly.  The parachute adams made our list over the thorax because it is easier to see and rides lower on the water and out performs the traditional adams for most anglers.  Let’s dive into the seasonality size and colors of the parachute adams and learn when to use this pattern for each season.

Graphs – Seasonality, Size and Color


The Secret to Why This Fly is So Productive

There are many reasons this fly is so productive for anglers.  First, the profile of the fly is suggestive enough to imitate mayfly, midge and caddis dry flies to trout giving it a wide variety of opportunity to entice a trout on any given day.  In addition, it’s profile is low to the water which is important.  The more time you spend watching mayflies and other insects on the water, the more you will see how low the sit.  Emergers are half in and half out of the water, and dry flies are just above the surface typically only one body height above the water.  This low riding profile is well imitated by parachute style dry flies because there is nothing in the way below the fly.  With thorax style dry flies, the hackle often keeps the fly body significantly higher off the water.  The parachute adams and any parachute fly for that matter keeps it riding low and induces more strikes.

Secondly, it’s ability to be tied in so many different colors and variations allows it to imitate 90% of the insects we imitate as anglers.  While it is most commonly thought of as a mayfly dry imitation, a tail-less version imitates a midge dry well, and it works well as a caddis imitation as well.  Adding rubber legs to the side imitates both hoppers and stoneflies in the correct sizes and colors.  You can even imitate ants by tying it in black and making the abdomen double tapered to imitate an ant body profile.  It doesn’t take more than a step or two extra to turn this fly into anything you want to imitate.

I’m sure you are learning by now as you read through this course that one of the reasons these patterns make it to this list is due to both their simplicity in design and their ability to expand into any insect category with ease.  It’s hard to argue against this being a top trout fly when you consider all the variations, colors, and sizes available and how those correspond to nearly any insect you’d want to imitate.  Patterns that can variate into dozens of other patterns are always superior to patterns that can only imitate one insect only.  To be fair, the only time this isn’t true is if you are the type of angler who fishes the same river all the time and has the insects so dialed in on that river that you’ve create perfect imitations for your fishing trips.  At this point your customized patterns win out.  Most anglers, however, fish several different rivers every season and the versatility of their patterns in a fly box gives them an edge.  The more diversity in your fishing locations, the more versatile your patterns have to be.

In summary, the reason the parachute adams is the king of all dry flies, is due to it’s profile and versatility on the water to function as any insect you’d like with minimal variations.


The Entomology Knowledge on This Fly

This section made me chuckle a bit on the parachute adams.  Get ready for an entomology lesson here.  Because the parachute adams can imitate nearly anything, we’re just going to list it all and describe what you need to do to create a variation of that insect. In addition, we are listing the colors and sizes that we recommend tying a parachute adams in for that insect. You can tie a parachute adams in a size #8 – #26 and in every color imaginable if you can find thread, dubbing or biots in that color. For that reason it can get a little overwhelming, but this course is here to break it down for you. If you want to know what sizes and colors you need to make the parachute adams a parachute BWO, find the BWO section below and read the section to know what you should look for or tie.  Refer to “The Basics Lesson” to get an overview of each insect or check out our entomology course for greater detail.

Midge Dry Flies
Sizes: #16 – #26 | Colors: Gray, Black, Blue | Seasons: Year Round (Late Fall to Early Spring is Most Important)

To imitate a midge dry fly with a parachute adams, we recommend keeping a very short tail or removing the tail all together.  Adjusting the hackle to a gray, black or grizzly color hackle helps keep the midge colors prominent.  When tying smaller sizes, make sure to make every wrap or step count.  There is no room for error on small flies, so don’t make extra wraps except where needed.  For those who buy the small flies, make sure the eye isn’t covered up and that the fly isn’t too thick for the hook bend to get a good hook set.  70% or more of the hook gap should remain open after it’s tied.

If you want to get very imitative, then drop the tail, switch to a curved hook and then use a foam parachute post.  The foam helps it stay more buoyant in smaller sizes and keeps it from sinking every cast and the curved shank makes the perfect midge profile shape on the water.  It is hard to resist this pattern as a trout when they are feeding hard on the midges in winter, early spring or late fall.


BWO – Baetis – Blue Wing Olive | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #16 – #24 | Colors: Olive, Dark Olive, Brown, Purple | Seasons: Year Round (Late Fall to Early Spring)

All the mayfly species are easy to imitate with a parachute adams because all the is really required is a color change and matching the size to the size of the insect.  For BWO, sizes #16 – #24 cover the gambit in olive and dark olive.  If you get into some tough trout refusing the dry, try purple, it seems to do the trick well in a baetis hatch.

If you want to get a little fancy, using olive and dark olive goose biots to biot wrap the body give an excellent, extra thin profile to the insect and the fish seem to really like it on slower water or flat water presentations.


Callibaetis | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #16 – #22 | Colors: Gray, Brown, Tan | Seasons: Mid Summer to Fall

The Callibaetis is well imitated by a standard parachute adams in sizes #16 – #22, but tying it in brown and tan can work well too.  To get very imitative with the pattern, use gray goose biots and then instead of the brown hackle, just double up with grizzly hackle to create the mottled black and white profile.  If you struggle to see them, you can substitute a pink parachute post or orange McFlylon as the post for an easier view.


Hendrickson | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #10 – #16 | Colors: Gray, Pink, Brown, Tan | Seasons: Spring

Hendrickson mayflies, also referred to as Red Quills and other names around the world are very prolific on a number of rivers in spring, especially in the Eastern US.  Nothing more is needed to imitate a hendrickson with a parachute adams other than a potential color change, though the gray works very well for this imitation.  Keep it simple and only bring a couple with some red bodies and gray bodies and that should handle the hendrickson hatch.


PMD – PME – Pale Morning Dun – Sulphur | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #14 – #20 | Colors: Yellow, Tan | Seasons: Summer

The best way to tie a parachute adams to imitate a PMD is to use a yellow or tan body and then substitute gray hackle instead of the standard brown/grizzly.  The light gray hackle with the yellow wings is a near perfect match for a PMD or PME.  The trout have never had much hesitation with that variation for me over my lifetime of fishing, and I suspect the same will be true for you.


Isonychia – Slate Drake | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #8 – #16| Colors: Brown, Black, Gray | Seasons: Summer

Iso’s are fun to imitate with a parachute adams and while the standard gray in larger sizes will work just fine, you can get pretty fancy with these variations too.  Using some rubberlegs gives a wider profile for these grand drakes and using dark brown grizzly hackle is a great way to further the profile and color imitation of the Iso’s.  Tim Flagler has a great variation he made with a tying video you can see here. As he mentions in the video, the PMX was the inspiration for his variation which ultimately has roots in the parachute adams.  Another one of the reasons this fly is simply so valuable for your fly box.


Green Drake | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #8 – #16 | Colors: Gray, Olive, Dark Olive, Brown | Seasons: Summer

Green drakes can be imitated easily with a parachute adams.  All that is needed is to adjust the body and hackle colors to a olive, green or dark olive and replace the tail with black hackle fibers or moose hair.  Green drakes are quite large, so if you’re newer to tying them, this will be an advantage as larger flies are often much easier to tie than super small flies like a BWO.  You can use a BWO pattern as we described above, but just tie them in sizes below a #14.  


March Brown | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Brown, Tan, Gray | Seasons: Spring to Summer

Imitating a march brown with a standard parachute adams is a worthy pursuit and if you don’t come across many hatches of march browns, then just stick with the gray and fish it as needed since gray is often anglers default choice anyway.  If you want to get a little more selective with imitating march browns, you can swap to brown or golden brown dubbing colors and hackle colors.  The profile of the insect should stay the same as the standard pattern.  Using goose biots for the body if you can find a good golden color is a great option as well.


Tricos | Mayfly Dry
Sizes: #18 – #26| Colors: Black, White, Gray | Seasons: Summer to Fall

Tricos are small…really small.  For this reason small parachute adams are essential to hitting the target.  A gray works fine, though a black often works better.  Trout can be notoriously picky when eating trico and rarely do the dry flies land on the water alive.  Instead, they fall as spinners to the water.  The trick I use with a trico imitation with a parachute adams pattern is to tie one size larger hackle than you would for the hook.  If you were going to size a parachute adams to a #20 hook, then just size the hackle to an #18 hook and tie on as normal.  This widens the wing profile to imitate a spinner.  Using a goose biot body helps a lot here and instead of a hackle tail, using micro mayfly tails helps with the design too.


Caddis Dries | All Species
Sizes: #10 – #18 | Colors: Gray, Tan, Brown, Orange, Black| Seasons: Summer to Fall

Often times, it’s the color and size that matter more than the shape of the bug.  When fish are aggressively eating caddis, matching the color of the adults is the key.  Aside from changing the color and size to what you find in your rivers, the only modification needed is adding a back to the parachute adams.  Caddis have tented wings, not sailboat wings, so having the back of the body show wings is important.  Use some turkey feathers, a piece of foam, or anything else to make a back out of the parachute and you’ll be in good shape imitating a caddis.


Stonefly Dries & Hoppers | All Species
Sizes: #8 – #14| Colors: Orange, Tan, Black, Gray| Seasons: Spring to Fall

Stoneflies are probably the biggest stretch that a parachute adams can imitate and by itself, it really doesn’t do it well.  You’ll need to add some rubberlegs and extend the wing profile backward as you did with caddis to be ultra effective.  Luckily flies like a PMX do a good job of imitating stoneflies and is similar to a parachute adams.  This is a bit of a stretch, but when you see the two patterns together, it is pretty close.  Buy them in gold, orange or tan for good success in larger sizes.  For smaller sizes, try black or tan as winning colors during the spring to fall.

You will use the same strategy and variation to create hopper style patterns as well.  In addition to the colors mentioned above, you can do green, red and purple as good hopper colors too.  A parachute hopper is a parachute adams that just gained some legs and a back in exchange for the tail.


Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Black, Red, Gray | Seasons: Spring to Fall

Ants are often overlooked, but can be a strong part of a trouts diet during the late spring to early fall.  In order to make a parachute adams a parachute ant, you’ll just need to adjust the body profile a bit.  Instead of a tapered body going from small to large, you’ll want to do large to small to large again.  Two humps makes an ant and is the key to the underbody of the pattern.  Tied in red or black are the best colors, though gray seems to work on anything as well.


Sizes: #12 – #16| Colors: Black, Gray, Green | Seasons: Summer to Fall

Beetles aren’t hard to imitate as a parachute adams.  Make the body taper even and add some foam to the back of the body to help it float better and widen the body profile and you have a good beetle imitation.  You can add some rubberlegs as well depending on the kind of beetle you’re trying to match.  2 pairs of X legs is often best, but 1 pair is fine too.


Damselfly Dries
Sizes: #10 – #16 | Colors: Blue, Red, Black, Gray | Seasons: Summer to Fall

Damselflies are good flyers and trout rarely predate on them as dry flies, but many other warm and stillwater fish do as well so we thought we’d include it on the list.  I keep it real simple for a damsel imitation and add a piece of chenille along the body to extend the tail to the desired length and you’ve got a simple damsel imitation.  Take the parachute off and add a beadhead and you have a good nymph version too. 

When You Should Throw a Parachute Adams

When should you tie on a parachute adams?  Well considering it is able to imitate any dry fly within a few variations, anytime is a good time.  Let’s take a look at a few signals and reasons to throw the parachute adams on:

  1. Anytime you see fish actively rising
    1. Gentle methodical sips usually means midges or mayflies
    2. Splashy eats often mean caddis or stoneflies
  2. Morning or Evening with or without a hatch along the banks or structure
  3. During an active mayfly hatch with rising fish
  4. When no activity is happening on top, but you suspect fish will eat a dry.  It works good as a search pattern to find trout
  5. When you’ve tried a more imitative pattern to rising trout and it isn’t working.  Often times you are unable to identify what they are eating, and using a more generalized pattern can convince them

Those are really just a few examples.  In reality, there isn’t a bad time to throw a parachute adams if you think fish are willing to rise.  You just need to use the seasonal info listed above to decide when to throw the right size and colors.


Presentation Tips on the Fly

There are many ways to work with a parachute adams, but here are a few tips on presenting the fly to maximize your success

Pairs well with Other Flies

The parachute adams in all forms makes a great dry fly to use in a dry dropper. A parachute adams, PMX or parachute caddis with a copper john below it is a staple in the fly fishing world and works great on a ton of rivers from spring to fall. In addition, if you are fishing to rising trout, I like to put an imitative pattern on and then also have a parachute adams on. If the trout is feeling picky and needs a parachute adams with a biot body and the right color wings, then you’ll catch him on the imitative parachute adams. If the trout decides the imitative version is no good, they’ll often pick up the standard gray version instead. This covers your chances both ways. Parachute adams fish well alone if you’re a beginner and have not yet gotten to the point where you are comfortable throwing two or three fly set ups, but the sooner you can get there, the better as your odds increase substantially.

Use a Fly Duster to Keep the Fly Riding High

Doc’s Dry Dust, Flyagra, or Frogs Fanny are all good solutions, but some sort of drying dust helps when the parachute adams begins to sink. I would dust after every fish caught, or when you fly begins to sink. Keeping it riding above the water is important with a parachute adams because you aren’t really imitating an emerger, but instead a full adult dry fly.

Lengthen Your Leader When Fishing to Picky Fish or Technical Waters

This is a trick I’ve been using for years to help improve the way my dry fly lands on the water and really applies to all dry flies, but I learned it fishing a parachute adams in Cheeseman canyon. I found that if you take a standard tapered 4x leader and at the end tie 24 inches of 6x leader to it, that when you cast it, it is nearly impossible to pass all the power of your cast right to the fly. What happens is after your cast, your tapered leader lays out just as it should, but the power of the cast is lost and the 24 inches of tippet just softly falls onto the water. This is what I call under-powering your leader and using 24-36 inch sections of a single, smaller taper will kill the power just enough in a cast to make a very delicate presentation. If you’ve heard of a pile cast, this is a micro version of it. Pile casts only work with no wind, but this seems to work well often. That extra 24 inches gives your fly a soft landing plus it gives it a little extra time to dead drift in small pocket water or technical currents. That extra half a second to two seconds makes a huge difference to the number of eats you’ll get from trout. Try it out next time you’re on the water, you won’t be disappointed.


Common Variations and Ways to Modify the Pattern for Success

We went over several variations in the entomology section, but I want to highlight and summarize a few modifications below. Instead of listing pattern names below, for this section we’re going to list the modification you can do and you can choose how you want to mix and match them:

  • Body Color: You can adjust the color to any you want, but the best colors overall are gray, olive, black, yellow, purple, red.
  • Hackle Color: The standard parachute adams has brown hackle and grizzly hackle, you can adjust these to imitate a wide variety of mayfly wings.  
  • Body Material: Dubbing and goose biots are most standard, but there are some synthetic materials like krystal flash that can also be used if you want.  Again, gray is common, but olive, black, yellow, purple, red and any sub color of those work great for their respective insects they imitate.
  • Adding Legs: 1 pair of X legs is typically all you need, match size of legs and color to the insect you are imitating.  Tan, brown and yellow legs seems to work best for hoppers and terrestrials, while black seems to do best for mayflies.
  • Adding a Back:  For caddis, beetle and terrestrial imitations, adding a back creates an important insect profile.  Foam, or feathers from a turkey or hungarian partridge seem to work best.
  • Changing the Parachute Post: If you find the calf hair hard to work with, there are synthetic options like McFlylon and foam parachute posts you can use as well.  I personally prefer foam when possible.
  • Changing the Tail: the tail will need to be modified to match with the hackle, or to substitute out with moose hair or mayfly microtails

As you can see the world is your oyster with the parachute adams.  Common variations I keep in my box are the Parachute BWO, Parachute PMD, PMX, Parachute Hopper, Parachute Caddis, Purple Haze and Parachute Patriot.  Find your favorites and get them in your box to always have the right dry fly.

Image Gallery of Variations and Colors of the Fly

Join Trout Unlimited

Become a member of Trout Unlimited and support conservation on your local waters

Read Introduction Here

Read THE BASICS Lesson

Lesson 1
Lesson 6
Lesson 2
Lesson 7
Lesson 3
Lesson 8
Lesson 4
Lesson 9
Lesson 5
Lesson 10

Read Conclusion Here