I got back to Kansas three weeks ago from a combination
trout fishing/camping trip on the North Platte River in
southeastern Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest. On
the drive home, Parachute Adams dry flies were on my mind
a good deal of the time.
As they showed me again (like first happened in Idaho
two years ago), trout will very quickly pull the trigger
on a Parachute Adams if one drifts overhead through their
attack zone. The PA is the pattern I used most during
my Wyoming trip, but only because it works so good: of
the total flies I tried, PA's drew more strikes by probably
a 10-to-1 ratio, in the process helping me catch and release
a mixed creel of brookies, browns and rainbows. Mostly rainbows.
The last evening of my Wyoming trip I was standing in
calf-deep water on the North Platte concentrating on
keeping my fly in sight as it got swept downriver amidst
bouncing waves, when suddenly I had a brain flash: "A
Parachute Adams," I told myself, "catches trout because
its design mimics the medium-sized mayflies I'm seeing
"Correct," myself answered, "and if you recall, we have
medium-size mayflies in Kansas, too. Maybe you should
try this pattern on panfish when you get home, just to
see what, if anything, happens?"
"Great idea!" I agreed, "I'll do it."
So on Labor Day I drove west out of Baldwin City to
a state lake located in adjacent Osage County. This
is a lake I've fished only a couple of times - not
because it doesn't look good, but it's located about
30 miles from where I live, and with today's gasoline
prices...A stiff south wind was blowing that morning
but I opted to burn some fuel and go fishing anyway in
hopes of finding some relatively protected water in one
of the lake's five main arms.
After launching my canoe, I paddled across a lake arm
whose water was close to kitchen faucet clear - unusual
for Kansas. I attribute this clarity to the presence
of a certain type of aquatic weed that seems to be present
anywhere I encounter such clear lake water. Anyway, after
I reached a shoreline area that looked promising I began
casting to its weedy fringe using a #10 flashback Hare's
Ear nymph. Strictly habit, mind you, using the FBHE, but
a habit borne of many successful outings using the pattern.
This morning, though, I was getting very few takers on
the nymph. Nevertheless, I stuck with the nymph for two
hard hours before finally going with a yellow Yager's
panfish popper. It was late morning now so it felt all
wrong tying on a popper. But I'd given up on having any
luck, so what the heck. Throwing a popper would be a bit
of "target practice" - something to pass a few minutes time
until I decided to physically leave: mentally, I was
already out of there.
Absentmindedly, I shot the tiny popper into the center of
a 15-ft. wide, 6-ft. deep trough along the shoreline where
the bank slopes sharply into the lake then flattens out
until dense underwater weeds create a reverse-angle slope
that brings the (effective) water depth back up to about
1-ft. I could see the bottom below me clear as a bell,
but saw no fish anywhere; nothing was going to happen here.
The popper landed, I imparted the obligatory twitch to
generate some concentric rings and...CRUNCH...an 8-inch
green sunfish bolted from the depths and smeared the popper.
Releasing the fish, I glanced at my wristwatch and had
another brain flash: "Hey! It's 10 a.m., very late in
the morning, the sun is shining down brightly into this
clear water, yet a keeper-size green just came out of
nowhere and hammered a popper. If the fish in this lake
are taking surface prey right now, here's my chance to
test fire a Parachute Adams on Kansas panfish."
I hastily stripped in Yager's popper, clipped it off
and boxed it, then surgeon-knotted first a section of
5X tippet followed by a section of 6X tippet to my 4X
main leader, progressively stepping down my line diameter
to accommodate the lightweight dry fly. After this
preparation was completed, onto the tippet went a #8
high-visibility Parachute Adams ("high-visibility"
meaning it's the version tied with a blaze orange topknot
instead of the traditional white topknot). Ready.
Lifting my anchors, I quietly relocated to a new spot
30 feet farther down the trough then, well, let fly.
The PA settled gently onto the lake surface, followed
by my tippet which came to rest bearing a slight left-hand
curve imparted by the cast. As my tippet, buoyed by surface
tension, began straightening itself out it scooted the fly
slowly to the right about one foot. The PA might have
scooted farther right except it never got the chance; a
fish of some sort rose and engulfed it. This was one of
those strikes that describe an arc, where the fish as it
breaks the surface puts the upper half of its body in the
air, like the porpoises do at Sea World in Orlando, Florida
when the girl in a bikini flips a sardine into the tank.
And maybe I was overly excited, but this fish's take sounded
just about that loud.
I lifted the rod and was into a good fish that turned out
to be a keeper-sized 'gill outfitted in orange-tummy battle
fatigues. It required the use of curved forceps to extract
my PA from the recesses of its mouth; the fish took it that
Well now...it would appear that brook, rainbow and brown trout
don't have the market cornered on admiring the Parachute Adams
I stayed with it another 30 minutes and caught some more
bluegills before the wind got totally out of hand and chased
me off the lake. But I left determined to try again someplace
closer to home, perhaps later that afternoon if the wind allowed.
Immediately after supper I checked the trees outdoors. The
wind speed looked favorable. So I headed to the lake that
I normally fish most often, because it's closer to where I
live. By the time I arrived the wind speed had dropped to
near dead calm, causing the lake arm I selected to resemble
a mirror. Ordinarily this is ideal, except as I studied the
lake I saw no evidence of surface feeding. Still, a Parachute
Adams was parked in the hook keeper of my fly rod and I was
going to test that fly today at this lake, no matter what.
Besides, my morning trip had educated me that the absence
of observable surface feeding activity can be deceiving.
No other boats were in sight as I eased in and double-anchored
25 feet away from a patch of floating weeds in about 3 feet of
water. By happy luck, my first cast dropped the PA about 6
inches away from the weed edge. I barely twitched it and it
got gently sipped in by what I assumed was a tiny bluegill.
Wrong. As my rod bent down with the struggle and the struggle
continued a bit too long and too bitterly, I got the distinct
impression this was a redear sunfish. It was, too, one about
9 inches long.
We Kansans - pious custodians of the nation's worst surface
water quality - should pray that the witch's brew of
contaminants we tolerate in our streams and lakes never causes
our redear population to mutate into creatures with adult body
lengths of 6 or 7 feet. Because if this ever happens, that
evil, grudge-holding stare in the eye of today's redear will
make such mega-mutants a threat to attack any human swimmer
foolish enough to enter the water. Ounce for ounce, redears
are some bad motor scooters, boy.
When this little spot played out, I moved forward to
the weed bed's point and began throwing back the other
way, casting parallel to its opposite side. Working my
PA back toward me in little twitching advances, nothing
happened for three or four casts. I knew from earlier
trips that deeper water lay adjacent to this weed bed
edge, so out of curiosity I sent a cast into that deeper
area just for a drill.
It got drilled, alright. 10 feet from the canoe there
appeared beneath the fly a silvery flash, then came a
splashing take and a good fish was on. The silvery flash
belonged to - no, it can't be, but yes, it was - a crappie,
a good one almost 12 inches long.
Now isn't this something? Here I haven't seen a photo
of a crappie since May, and on this hot Labor Day afternoon
I catch one in open water using, of all things, a dry fly
invented for catching trout in Michigan streams. Some twenty
casts later I caught another crappie - a smaller one but, hey,
better small than not at all.
As the daylight kept fading, I decided to move to the
other side of the lake arm where an even bigger weed
bed sits (possibly more crappies there). This is a
trickier weed bed to work due to its checkerboard
character that offers narrow casting lanes and lots
of pocket water. You have to be extremely cute in
how you drop a fly into these spots; a mistake and
you're hung in the muck and there goes your luck.
What I do in places like this is anchor out and nibble
at the periphery, deliberately casting short of the edges
until I feel my courage and stroke are both up to the task
of risking a snag-up cast. But I had extra motivation to
be cautious here: the Parachute Adams is a very lightweight
fly with considerable bristle that gives the fly considerable
drag as it passes through the air (whereas a heavier and more
compact nymph will shoot out there smartly).
Lucky for me, I was still somewhat adjusted to casting
a PA from my Wyoming trip. Most of my throws on the
Platte, though, were done in the standing position. But
here at the lake, kneeling in a canoe, my right elbow and
wrist were only two feet above the water - a much lower
pivot point which alters the timing of your cast. Anyway,
I managed to put the fly in the lake every time I heaved it,
and the 'gills and redears lurking below were quite pleased
to spot a poor little "mayfly" struggling so pitifully on
About the only hassle when using a Parachute Adams for
panfish is that each strike results in the floatation
bristles getting gommed up with mucous or whatever. Spending
time underwater inside a fish's mouth causes the fly to
completely lose its buoyancy. Luckily, I was still carrying
in my fanny pack a little squeeze bottle of Cabela's floatant
gel. A quick treatment to the bristles fore and aft, followed
by some false casting, and I was back in business.
Any notion I might have developed that the Parachute Adams
is a panfish-only fly got nipped in the bud when, around
dusk, largemouth bass started banging away at the little
mayfly imitator. After releasing the first two or three
small bass, I began searching the weed bed for someplace
likely to harbor a larger version. One small dead branch
was found poking a couple inches out of the water, and I
targeted that spot on the hunch that where a small branch
is visible there's probably more branches connected below,
creating good cover for ambush predators.
I made probably my best cast of the day, a 30-footer that
sent the PA drifting sweetly through the air to land only
a couple of inches away from the branch. If a good bass
was lurking anywhere nearby it...
WHAM! The surface exploded under the PA and my line got
pulled tight. I never saw the fish, but it had to be a bass.
It did nothing fancy, just swam at high speed straight into
an adjacent weed patch and that, amigos, was that. When
you're using 3-lb. test tippet in thick weed beds, your
big fish combat options are limited. I tried gently
dragging the fish out. No go. I tried using slack
line pressure to trick the fish into swimming out on
its own. That didn't work, either. Finally I had no
choice but to pull back and break off.
So...I have to report here that my dry fly experiment
using a Parachute Adams in Kansas water was pretty
successful. Five kinds of gamefish caught in one day
- four panfish species (green sunfish, bluegill, redear
and crappie) plus largemouth bass. Not too shabby.
It occurs to me now that when I left the lake a fresh
Parachute Adams was sitting in my rod's hook keeper
(replacing the fly I lost in the weeds). Usually I
leave a #10 flashback Hare's Ear Nymph on the rod. I
may clip off that PA sometime before my next outing,
just out of habit. Well...unless the wind is light
again and I decide to gamble that the pannies will be
happier taking an offering up top. ~ Joe
From Baldwin City, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the