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Parachute Hackles
A History & Current Developments

Tups Indispensible tied with a Parachute Hackle

I have often thought that fly tying is all about methods and proportions and after so many years tying flies, I have found no reason to change my mind.

But recently questions have come to pass about the correct positioning of the post on the hook shank whilst tying standard parachute hackled flies.


The reason I am trying to source the answer is that I have been asked to be a judge at a fly tying competition being run by Greenwell’s Fly Fishing Club in Albury NSW.  In discussing the various categories of the competition, I made the suggestion that a fly tied parachute fashion would be a good idea but this post business has opened a can of worms.


Who invented this style of hackling is a very debatable question in its own right. Should the credit be given to Mr William Bush of Detroit who was granted a patent on a hook design to tie this fly in 1934?   All I can say is, “most likely.”


The story goes somewhat like this; it is all about hooks and patents and as far as I can glean, this hackling method was invented way back in the beginning of last century.


To open this part of the chat, let Peter Leuver take the rostrum, for he states in his great Australian book, Fur and Feather, and I quote:  Helen Todd, a young lady from Scotland, came from a family of keen fly-fishermen.  Although she didn’t fish herself, her interest in fly tying led her to an apprenticeship with a firm called Wallace and Kerr of Edinburgh.  There she learnt her craft the old way without vices or tools of any kind, just her fingers.


She read an article in an American magazine where a writer suggested tying hackles by dividing them and tying them “spent”; this resulted in better floatability. The article stimulated her imagination and during the winter of 1931-32 she developed the Parachute Fly.  Alex Martin, the Glasgow firm she was working for at the time, patented and marketed the pattern in 1933.  They ceased production of all their other patterns to concentrate on the Parachute. The American who wrote the original article got a penny for each fly sold, while Helen Todd got nothing but praise.


What a nice lady but Peter also states: When Helen Todd tied wingless parachutes she used a pig’s bristle as a “mast”.  This was tied at right angles to the hook shank pointing up. Since then all sorts of methods have been used.  Hooks were manufactured with little masts “built in”; but their weight was a drawback.  Unquote.

The fly above is a spent version of a Parachute-hackled Butcher (note the excessive amount of head cement used to seal the hackle to the post)

Both of the Alex Martin flies were sent to me by Terry Moore of Birmingham UK and believe me, they were gratefully received as they have added considerably to this article.

Pattern Unknown

A close look at both of the Alex Martin flies would suggest that they were tied on the hook designed and patented by William Brush, as the post is situated close to the 2/3rd of the length of the shank.


Pic taken from "Trout", by Ernest Schwiebert

As we can see by this picture, he chose a Perfect Round Bend and placed the “Mast” well forward of the half-way mark on the hook shank, which is the accepted position if tying in wings on a standard fly - “The two thirds of the shank guideline”.


It is also interesting to note that the House of Hardy in 1934 were selling Parachute-hackled flies on specially made “Hardy hooks”.  They called the flies “Ride Rite”, British Patent Number 379343.

John Veniard claims in his book “A Further Guide to Fly Dressing” that Alex Martin manufactured special hooks, so designed to make parachute hackled flies and this is most probably correct but I can no further reference to this claim.  We know that the American, William Brush of Detroit, got his patent in 1934.  And would you believe, in the same year so did the House of Hardy in England.


William Brush applied for his patent in 1931 and it took three years for his application to finally come through in 1934.

 Hook courtesy Tom Edwards of Melbourne


The hook featured in the 1934 House of Hardy Catalogue was a “Sproat” styled hook and the “Mast” was placed half-way between the eye and the point.


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