Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Learning from the River

Neer Hair - The author's favorite post material!
Neer Hair – The author’s favorite parachute post material!

Years ago, I thought parachute style flies were an unnecessary curiosity. Slowly over the years, I have come to appreciate them more and more. Over the last couple of years, they have become part of my core group of “go-to flies.” By the time this is posted, two of my earlier posts detailed using parachute flies (Bobber Fly Fishing and Speed Nymphing – It Really Can Work!). I believe there are two issues that influence how effective these flies can be: post color and post material.

Choosing the Best Color – Seeing the parachute fly on the water is a key issue. If you can’t find the fly, it is tough to know when to set the hook. I first ran into this issue several years ago on my second trip out west to fish the Madison.

Our guide had given us a list of places to try on the days we weren’t fishing with him. It was mid-afternoon on our first day alone and fish were rising all over the place. It was BWO hatch and the fish preferred an emerger pattern, but I could not see the fly on the water. The angle of the sun caused the fly to disappear in the glare on the water. I elected to use a two-fly rig with a hi-vis lead fly and the emerger as the dropper. White, yellow, and even orange hi-vis post materials all disappeared in the sun’s glare. Out of desperation, I put on a flying ant pattern with a red post. Eureka, I could see the ant and that helped me locate the emerger. Better yet, the fish split fairly evenly between the two flies. It was mid-April – not your typical time for a flying ant hatch – but if that’s what the fish like, that’s what I was going to give them.

Over the ensuing years, I have found through trial and error, which post colors work best, in different conditions. The chart below summarizes my experiences. Others may, or may not agree. That’s fine, as in the end the fly has to be visible to the one using it whether or not others agree. I use these basic colors. There are numerous other shades of each color and other colors. I try to minimize the number of flies I have. This set seems to cover most situations.

Fishing Situations Vs. Parachute Post Color

Red White Hi-Vis Orange Hi-Vis Chartreuse
Sun Glare Best Not Visible Partially Visible to Not Visible Rarely Visible to Not Visible
Foamy Water in Daylight Best Rarely Visible to Not Visible Good Partially Visible to Not Visible
Foamy Water in Low Light Partially Visible to Not Visible Partially Visible to Not Visible Best Partially Visible to Not Visible
Low Light (Sunrise/Sunset) Partially Visible to Not Visible Good/Best Good to Partially Visible Good
Shade Partially Visible to Not Visible Good/Best Best Good

If you are like me and want to carry the fewest possible flies, I would recommend carrying sizes #12, #14, and #16 with red posts for sun glare situations and hi-vis orange for low light conditions. I cheat and carry a couple of #12 white posts for sunrise and sunset. However, I would suggest you experiment and determine which colors are most visible for you.

Choosing the Best Material – I have evaluated numerous qualities* to evaluate the different post material and whittled it down to the following list:

  • Visibility – how well does the material show on the water
  • Durability – how well does the material hold up to catching numerous fish
  • Weight – the weight of the post material can cause the fly to lose flotation, lighter materials require less treatment with a floatant
  • Water Shedding – how well does the material shed water during false casting, if the material holds water it adds weight causing the fly to sink
  • Bulkiness – how much bulk does the material cause during tying, bulkiness makes it difficult to get a fly body with proper proportions
  • Stiffness – how easily is the material crushed to flatten the post, this can occur in your fly box or after catching multiple fish, once the post crushes it is more difficult to see the fly on the water

*These are terms I made up. It is purely coincidental if you happen to find other sources that refer to the qualities I am considering. I actually assessed other qualities but eliminated them, as they did not provide differences between the post materials considered.

I tied a #12 parachute fly with each of the following materials: 1- Calf Tail, 2- Poly Yarn, 3 – Dyed Deer Hair, 4 – Z-Lon Post, 5 – SLF Fine Dubbing, 6 – Para Post (Orange) and 7 – Neer Hair. All but one were tied with red (Para Post was tied with ii-vis Orange). Front and Top view pictures are below. All of these post materials are available at J. Stockard!

FRONT VIEW OF PARACHUTE FLIES
FRONT VIEW OF PARACHUTE FLIES
TOP VIEW OF PARACHUTE FLIES
TOP VIEW OF PARACHUTE FLIES

The pictures provide a sense of how well the fly might show on the water. One of the problems is consistently getting the same amount of post material for each fly – obviously, I was not that consistent. However, you get the picture.

I have fished with each type of post material and made a table assessing on a scale of 1 to 5 how well each post material fulfilled the qualities discussed above. One is the lowest score indicating the material was poor for the quality and five is the highest indicating it was best. This is a qualitative rating, as I did not attempt to use measurements of some sort. So take this as an attempt to be semi-scientific.

The table below tabulates my scores for seven post materials for the six qualities.

Table Rating Post Materials in Six Qualities

1-Calf Tail 2-Poly Yarn 3-Dyed Deer Hair 4-Z-Lon Post 5-SLF Fine Dubbing 6-Para Post 7-Neer Hair
Total 23 22 23 28 22 23 28
Visibility 5 3 5 4 5 3 4
Durability 5 3 4 5 2 3 5
Weight 3 5 3 5 5 5 5
Water Shedding 3 4 3 5 3 4 5
Bulkiness 2 4 3 5 5 5 5
Stiffness 5 3 5 4 2 3 4

Neer Hair and Z-Lon Post scored identically in all categories and had the highest score. The only differentiating factor between the two is cost. Neer Hair is about 3-times less expensive than Z-Lon. For that reason, it is my top choice.

You can look at the ranking table to make other comparisons. Below I summarized the pros and cons of each material in another chart. Again, these are my opinions based on my experience. I would be happy to hear from others who differ.

Pros and Cons of Each Post Material

Post Material Pros Cons
1-Calf Tail Excellent Visibility, Durability, and Stiffness It is bulky and heavy and requires more frequent floatant treatments. It sheds water well initially, but once it absorbs water, it is even heavier.
2-Poly Yarn Excellent on weight and Very Good for water shedding and bulkiness The colors tend not to be as vibrant so they don’t show as well on the water. It is softer and tends to crush easily.
3-Dyed Deer Hair Excellent on visibility and stiffness. It is bulky for tying and is heavy requiring more frequent floatant treatments. It also water logs fairly quickly.
4-Z-Lon Post Excellent durability, weight, water shedding, and low bulkiness The fibers are thin and don’t show on the water quite as well as the best ones, but still quite visible.
5-SLF Fine Dubbing The best visibility in the group and low bulkiness make it easy to tie It is very soft, crushes, and deforms easily. It floats extremely well but becomes water logged after a couple of fish and is difficult to dry
6-Para Post A very light material with low bulkiness make it easy to tie I think the crinkled texture makes it harder to see on the water. It is a softer material that crushes easily
7-Neer Hair Excellent durability, weight, water shedding, and low bulkiness The fibers are thin and don’t show on the water quite as well as the best ones, but still quite visible.

A Quick Tying Tip – I don’t recall where I saw this first. My preferred method for attaching post material is to hold the post material parallel to the length of the hook and make 3-4 wraps around the post material and hook. Then pull the two ends of the post together and lift up from the hook. Now wrap thread 1/8”-3/16” up the post and back to the post. Another slick trick is to add a drop of cyanoacrylic (CAN) to the thread wrapped post area. This stiffens the area making it easier to wrap the parachute hackle.

So there you have it. My experience indicates that Neer Hair scores high in all the qualities assessed and is substantially less expensive than Z-Lon. So it is my preferred material for parachute posts. After the top two, all of the other materials were essentially the same. There were trade-offs between the different qualities. In a pinch, any of these materials are serviceable.

If you need help on methods for tying a parachute fly, you can find numerous videos with a quick internet search on “tying a parachute fly.” I recommend watching 3-4 as each tier offers something you might find helpful.

Now comes the fun, using the flies to catch trout. Go get them!

12 Comments

  1. Joe,

    Great post. Although I don’t tie a lot of parachutes, I do like the looks of your flies and they’ve given me some ideas. I tie on the posts slightly differently from your method. Taking a cue from the sparkle dun patterns, I tie in a clump of z-Lon or para post with the butts about 1/2 shank and tips facing forward. Bend the material 90 degrees back and wrap in front until the clump stands upright. Then I rotate the base of my vice 90 degrees and the vise itself 90 degrees. This allows me to wrap the post just like you would wrap a hook shank. Before returning everything to normal, I secure the hackle(s) to and parallel to the post, leaving the thread at the base of the post. This allows the hackle(s) to be wound down the post and easy to secure with half-hitches around the post.

    1. Hi Mike,
      I used to use that method as well for tying in the post. I don’t like wrapping thread in front to get the post to go vertical. Just a preference – both ways work well. Great idea on turning the fly so you wrap the parachute like wrapping around the hook shank. I will have to give that a try!
      All the best, Joe

  2. Thanks Joe; I’ve not tied parachutes up to now, although I recently got interested in trying some as indicator flies, so I got hold of some white calf body hair thinking it would be useful for para-posts. Have not tried it yet. You rate calf tail but not the body hair…which I think has the rep of not being the easiest post material to work with. Do you avoid it for that reason? Will it be similar to calf tail in performance, in your opinion? (Or is it useless for parachute drys and best used as a shaving cream applicator?)

    – Mike

    1. Hi Mike,

      No I don’t avoid the white calf body, at least not deliberately. I became aware of calf body after writing the post (figures, right?), so I have not tried it. I would guess that it will still be somewhat bulky – but excel at visibility, durability, and being crush proof. If you tie some, let me know how it works for you. Try some Neer Hair if you get a chance so you can compare the two.

      All the best, Joe

      1. Thanks Joe. Next time I put in an order to my favorite-by-a-mile tying supplies store (and we all know who that is), I’ll pick up some Neer Hair. (I had not bought any up to now because I’d been worried about the wild Neer population, but I cannot find them anywhere on the endangered lists, so I’ll get some and just hope it comes from road kill–you know, accidental “Neer Death experiences.”)

        Calf body feels just a little short and a little slick, but that’s probably because I’m coming off of playing with deer hair, which is child’s play to work with. Calf body hair is doable with a little care.

        I do think you’re right that calf body will be a tad bulky, but if it is then that just means I can use fewer strands to still get a decent post. Unless a hair is hollow and thread-crushable like deer & antelope & caribou, the bulk of a hair will be directly proportional to the width of its visual profile as a post. So I’ll try with a smaller number of fibers and see what happens. I might also see if hitting it with bright permanent markers can yield different serviceable post colors. That might allow anglers to tie up white and then choose a color stream-side, per your visibility test reports.

        Tnx again Joe, nice article.

        – Mike

  3. Hi Mike,

    I like the magic marker idea. That would make tying different colors a snap. You could even carry an orange and red marker in your vest and make a “line of scrimmage audible” on what color would work where you are at! I am liking your idea more and more!

    When you tie in the calf body hair there’s a couple of things you can do to get around the slipperiness. After you make several wraps around the hair, cut the butts off diagonally so there is a taper towards the hook shank. Then pull your tying thread parallel to the hook shank and through the tapered hair when you hit the original wraps, pull tightly and bring the thread around to the front. Repeat this 6-7 times at different levels in the taper. Finally, add a drop or two of CAN glue. While it is drying, build up the wraps in front of the hair to get it to stand up.

    Let me know how this works. I am a “lazy tier” always looking for the shortest way to make a fly that catches fish.
    All the best, Joe

    1. So I’d be making smaller portions of the bundle go vertical at t time, bringing some up, then more, finally the rest. That technique would embed the thread in multiple places within the hair bundle. Yes, sounds like a nice trick. I’ll try it and let you know. Thanks Joe.

      – Mike

  4. I do avoid calf tail or body hair as parachute post material. It’s abominable stuff to work with; why do it unless you are tying a particular pattern precisely to recipe? For large parachute patterns I like deer hair. It makes a nice wing, the hollow hair floats well and compresses easily for a relatively low-bulk tie-down, and the hackle stem bites into the soft hair and doesn’t slide around. Neer Hair does make wonderful parachute posts on small flies. I have found the “peach” color to be highly visible under a variety of light conditions. Here’s a great method for a very low-bulk attachment. Position your thread on the hook shank where you want the post. Cut a length of Neer Hair sufficient to handle easily. Separate out a clump of fibers half the desired diameter of the wing post. Fold the material in half around your working thread, grasp the ends with your off-dominant hand thumb and index finger. Tension the loop of yarn against the working thread as you bring the working thread over the top of the hook and back under and toward yourself. Hold the Neer Hair loop above the hook shank, and as you pull the thread back toward yourself you’ll be able to guide the yarn precisely down on top of the hook shank. Take a couple of locking wraps around the hook shank, then post up as desired. A drop of cement at the attachment point will increase durability.

  5. Some nice techniques coming out of this thread. Your attachment method, Mary, is similar to how many tiers attach throat flash to Deceivers and Clousers and such. You can position things right where you want them.

    I do wonder why floatability of a post is such a concern though. Weight, sure, but the post is supposed to ride well above surface level, which means a hollow and a non-hollow fiber, if the same weight, ought to have the same effect on a fly’s ability to ride out the riffle standing on its hackles.

    Unless the horizontal hackles are in such a flat plane that the post itself is in the water? I guess the parachute flies I’ve seen still have some “bushiness” to them, and I’ve always assumed that the hackle fibers tilted slightly downward were supporting the fly via surface tension. But maybe I’m wrong and the thorax and abdomen (and base of the post) are in the water.

    – Mike

    1. Yes, Mike, I do use this technique for flash materials and also for rubber legs. I think that a lot of the time our assumptions about how a dry fly will behave on the water do not prove to be true. You have to take the time to observe the fly at close range to see what’s really happening. I always thought, too, that a parachute hackle ought to be tied concave-side down so that the fly would sit up on the hackle tips. Then I read a contrary opinion that it was preferable to have the hackle wound convex side down so that the body of the fly would be right down in the film and visible to the fish. In practice, my personal opinion is that unless the hackle is severely cupped it really doesn’t matter all that much. As the fly is fished and gets wetter, it will start to sit down in the film regardless of how the hackle is configured. This is when a buoyant post can give you a few more casts before the fly disappears below the surface and has to be dried and re-dressed, or replaced with a fresh one.

  6. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for weighing in on the calf body hair! Saves me the trouble of ordering some to try it!

    I believe you gave a better and more detailed description of what I suggested for tying in the post material. The only difference between the methods is I like to wrap the tying thread around the base of the post. I usually wrap between 1/8-3/16″ up from the attachment point and back down to the hook. It sounds like you don’t do that.

    Otherwise, I agree it is a quick, handy, and durable method for attaching post material.
    All the best, Joe

  7. Tried some calf body hair this evening (I promised I’d report in when I got the chance). I realized I neither know much about tying parachute flies nor how and when to fish them, so to avoid miserable failure I tied a winged mayfly imitation in the usual way instead of wrapping the hackle around a post. I used the calf body hair as the divided tufts of wing.

    I’d struggled with calf once long ago, but this time around I can’t say it deserves its ‘hard to work with’ rep. The wings went on as easily as any upright hair wing does, synthetic or natural. Very white, so they look real nice. Didn’t have to use very much, either, since the hair is so white.

    So I still can’t speak for single posts but I do like calf for tying divided wings…which I guess are just a double post. I remembered what you said about weight and used as little as I could. Properly treated (it’s soaking in some silicone treatment now), I suspect it’ll float pretty well.

    – Mike

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