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Pull The Ripcord, Adams!
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS


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 around here."

"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 deep.

Well now...it would appear that brook, rainbow and brown trout don't have the market cornered on admiring the Parachute Adams dry fly.

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 the surface.

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

About 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 'day job.'

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