I settled on parachute-style flies for virtually all my mayfly imitations years ago. I believe parachutes look more natural and work better than standard dry fly patterns that employ hackle wound around the hook like a bushy collar. Mayflies just don't look like that. On parachute flies, the hackle is wound around the base of the wing in a horizontal fashion to better simulate legs and to allow the fly to sit on the water more like the real insect, which I'm sure contributes to the overall effectiveness of parachute flies.
Armed with an assortment of parachutes in several sizes and color schemes, I can usually match many of common the mayfly hatches I'm likely to encounter. The Adams has always been one of my best all-around dry-fly patterns, either as an imitation for many dark-colored mayflies or for just fishing the water, so I always carry Adams Parachutes in sizes 12 to 18. Next would be some parachutes with yellow or cream bodies and cream or light ginger hackle in sizes 12 through 16 for Sulphurs and Light Cahills. If you fish streams that have those little Orange Sulphurs that are around in late May and early June on many streams, you'll probably want to have some with an orange cast to the body in sizes 16 and 18. I round out my parachute selection with flies having rusty brown and black bodies in sizes 14 though 18.
For those who tie their own flies, I'll share two tips I use when crafting my parachutes. Instead of tying a tail from a clump of hackle fibers, I prefer widely split tails tied from synthetic fibers like Microfibetts, using about three or four fibers per side. Not only do the split tails balance the fly on the water better, but they also present a more natural appearance for the fish's perspective. And instead of the traditional white calf tail or calf body hair, I tie most of my parachute wings from a fluorescent green material like Antron yarn, which makes the fly so easy to see at a distance even in low light. That high-visibility wing really allows me to track the fly more precisely, and I'm convinced it doesn't bother the fish.
Photo courtesy Walt Young
Dry flies: Three favorite dry fly patterns (from left) Rusty Brown Parachute, Tan Deer-Hair Caddis and Yellow Stimulator.
Caddisfly imitations are important to fly anglers on just about every trout stream in Pennsylvania. My favorite caddis dry flies have always been hair-wing patterns like the popular Elk-Hair Caddis. I prefer to tie the wings of my caddis dries with deer hair rather than elk because deer hair is finer, tends to be easier to work with and typically floats better.
I carry four basic color combinations of caddis dry flies that will cover many of the important caddis hatches encountered on many waters. The first has a black body and natural brown deer hair for the wing. This imitates the Grannom caddis that usually hatches about now in our area, especially on streams like Penns Creek and the Little Juniata River. Another version would have a dark-brown wing and body. Next would be one with a tan wing and an olive body. Finally, a fly with a light tan wing of bleached deer hair and a tan to cream body. Usually flies in size 14 and 16 are right for most caddis dries, and if you encounter other sizes or color combinations of bugs on the streams you fish, you will obviously want to cover those too.
If you tie your own flies, I recommend tying Deer-Hair Caddis patterns both with and without hackle wound over the body of the fly. Those without hackle produce a cleaner silhouette, which can be effective for fussy fish feeding in flat water. Hackled caddis dry flies float well even in broken water or heavy riffles and can be skittered on the water surface, a trick that often works when trout are slashing all around at hatching caddisflies but refuse your flies.
The next dry fly made my "favorites" list as the result of an experiment back in 1998. Throughout the entire season, the only dry fly I used was a Stimulator in various colors and mostly did as well as with boxes full of different dry flies, and I certainly had just as much fun. The Stimulator was designed as a large attractor pattern for western streams, but I tie them on 2XL dry-fly hooks in sizes 12, 14, and 16, which better suit the tastes of our eastern trout. I also eliminate the elk-hair tail the pattern calls for. Stimulators are tied in variety of body colors. Body colors I have found most useful include black, green, and yellow, but I have also done well with some other offbeat colors, such as bright orange and gold holographic tinsel.