I always wanted one as a kid. I begged my parents each time we went to a tackle shop and for every holiday and birthday to come around, but the request always went unfulfilled. Until one Christmas my childhood dreams came true. The fishing vest of my dreams was unwrapped quicker than the smile that painted my face. Over the moon, I put it on and pretended to cast with my fancy new sporting garment. I grabbed all of the flies and tippet I had, including the empty and discarded fly boxes my dad threw away and collected out of the garbage without him knowing and began placing them in each compartment.
The vest had as many pockets and compartments as it had fabric, and despite my best efforts to fill it, I couldn’t and a sadness crawled over me. Sadness followed by questions, and later, further requests for birthdays, holidays, and Christmas’s of the future to fill these voids on what I thought was the greatest invention of fly fishing at the time.
I saw it in pictures in magazines, of men and woman casting into Blue Ribbon trout streams with a picturesque background and thought that was what I needed to be a professional fly fisherman. I needed a vest to look the part and couldn’t catch a large trout if I didn’t have one on.
As the years went by and the nineties could now be seen in the rearview mirror – Thank god – the realization came that the vest might just be the most ridiculous piece of equipment in the fly fishing world. And towards the end of my craze, I simply didn’t understand it.
A trout angler, doesn’t need a vest and the outrageous number of compartments to stow gear. There may be a need for an angler that lives in a mixed fishery where everything from trout and bass, to pike and bluegill all collide and feels the urge to mix up there system without the walk back to the car. But after my Christmas gift that year as a child, I not only cringe at anglers that wore them, but simply don’t understand the logic of a vest to begin with.
Perhaps where I live now in the Northern Rockies is a destination where your setup is pretty straight forward and the need to diversify and change up the system is simply out of curiosity, not necessity. Perhaps I am bitter at the fact that it took years of begging my parents for a vest before I finally got one, all for it to come crashing down and fade as the years went by. And maybe perhaps, I am just a simple angler, one who limits the amount of gear needed, tying material purchased, and loves the idea of being light and moveable to go around the next bend or up the trail with as little equipment as possible.
Over the years, that has been my motto. My drum beat that I dance to each time I see a forecast that excites me, summer or winter. Whether it is a hot summer day begging for alpine exploration, or an overcast day in winter flirting just above freezing, I have narrowed down my gear to a very simple and very straightforward setup, without the need of a vest. It is a five-weight nine-foot rod, a five-weight reel with floating line, 3X tippet, and two fly patterns. Yes, two fly patterns for a full years worth of angling.
Now with this setup, I have steered away from the indicator, nymph rig systems. I hated going down in tippet size, threading the needle with a size 22 or smaller fly, and casting, watching, and waiting for that indicator to bob down to set the hook. That system always reminded me of the old worm days of my childhood and should I never have to fish that way again, I wont. So that already narrows down a disturbing amount of gear that many, I am sure, used to fill the pockets of their vests as well. But for a sub aquatic system, the one fly I choose to fish with is the woolly bugger.
This leech like, fish imitation can get into fish year round and has garnered more success given the day than any knuckle drag system I have personally used. The variety of ways you can fish with this fly is also a really rewarding aspect. Of course, you can swing for trout with a single spey or two handed trout spey setup and attempt to get into some of the hottest fish in the river system. You can cast along the bank and retrieve, hoping to entice that large trout to come out of hiding to smack the fly, or for anyone that is attached to their bobbers and nymph setups, you can dead drift it and have success as well. In lakes, a slow retrieve and even a troll in a float tube or drift boat will bring fish to hand.
Now I never mentioned color and these patterns can come in every color of the rainbow. My setup for the Northern Rockies is almost always green. Sometimes with a bead of silver or gold, but for the most part, just green with a little sparkle to it. Without question, when I rig up in winter to go and hit the river while others are hitting the slopes, the green woolly bugger is the only fly I use and honestly, I use throughout the year whether snow is on the ground, spring run off is in full effect, leaves are drifting down river in the fall, or if I am exhausted catching fish with a dry fly and want to mix it up in the summer months.
Even in summer, I love casting out into alpine lake bliss and slowly retrieve my woolly bugger. I enjoy rocking up to the river post sunset to hit a quick run to see if a swung streamer will entice that large trout to feed while the drift boats are hitting happy hour. And I do enjoy the occasional rainy and overcast day when most of the dry fly action is down. But when it comes to late spring, summer, and into fall, the parachute adams gets pulled out.
I love this fly. I have been using it for years all over the western United States and have had success with it beyond the borders of my home. With this fly, you can imitate a litany of insect life throughout the year. In summer, it can be a great small grasshopper. In spring during the Mothers Day caddis hatch, you can either tie a tan version or bust out the sharpie and color in the body dark brown and have action. And in fall, the October caddis are disturbingly similar to even entice an eat. But the most surprising aspect that parachute adams has is in its imitation for the midge cluster. If one is tied small enough and with more black than normal, a large brown will have no trouble slurping one up in the dead of winter.
The parachute adams is the only fly I’ll even consider bringing when I decide to go hiking up into the backcountry for an overnight jaunt. And when you’re backpacking, even the thought of a vest with a bunch of gear makes the sweat begin to bead off my forehead. So when you narrow down the fly selection for a particular area or fishery, the size of your kit drastically drops. The parachute adams works as a hopper for those exploratory terrestrials above alpine and also works as those pesky mosquitoes that buzz your ear while you try and cast.
Arguably backpacking for trout and needing to hike in to a fishery is what started this craze of narrowing down my kit. With backpacking, the less weight you carry the happier you’ll be, and it took years to figure it all out and get to where I am now. Overlapping that concept to winter when the backpack gets stored and collects dust until the next thaw, the concept is the same. Many areas along the lower elevation classic systems are either over-hit or ice jams have built up, so a walk down or up river is prompted and your experience lugging gear with waders, boots, and layers on all inhibits that overall experience of being in the water fishing.
The point being that, with a variety of colors at your work bench or simply a sharpie, you can imitate a number flying insects, all with one design, the parachute adams. With the woolly bugger, a simple color palette and maybe some sparkle and no matter the hatch, time of year, or weather window, there will likely be a fish just waiting for that swung fly or dead drifted streamer.
This system of course, throws caution to the wind when it comes to the classic hatches that many anglers salivate over. The parachute adams wont do jack when the salmon flies start to buzz around or if the rainbow spawn in spring begins and the eggs are all the fish are interested in. But the point of the matter is that there seems to be no need for not just the vest, but an overwhelming amount of gear to get to the water and even get into fish. Year round these two patterns have bent my rod. Two fly patterns, one rod, one reel, waders, and a perspective and desire to spend more time on the water instead of staring at your fly box with dozens of choices hoping you made the right decision.
And P.S., these patterns work on everything from blue gill, bass, and whitefish with the parachute adams, to even surf perch and barracuda in salt water with the woolly bugger. Have fun!
Article written by Sean Jansen @jansen_journals. Sean Jansen is a freelance writer for Flylords Magazine, and spends his time in Bozeman, Montana where he guides tours through Yellowstone National Park.
Great article. Wade fishing is hiking and movement. An Adams and a small streamer that can be swung or drifted slowly covers top and middle water….will add one fly..a Copper John to get deep in those drop offs and you have the whole water column.
The rod in the pictures isn’t what you recommend?