parachute emerger fly

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

There’s an often quoted few lines from J. M. Barries’ story of Peter Pan that resonates with the many fly anglers who rely on Emerger patterns to target trout. “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you [Tinker Bell says to Peter Pan]. That’s where I’ll be waiting.” Metaphorically that is what an Emerger pattern is—not yet an adult but not still a pupa or nymph. A fly that is stuck in the Neverland of the water’s surface tension struggling to free itself from its former self and the constraints of its youth to emerge as an adult.

From whence the term "Emerger Fly"

It is difficult to say when the term “Emerger” took hold in fly tying parlance but sometime in the 1970s-80s we start to see fly patterns being called emergers. Pete Hidy coined the term “flymph” in the 1970s to characterize aquatic insects in the process of emergence. Not yet a fly but not still a nymph. In reality, flies simulating emerging aquatic insects had been around for centuries. Emergence is that journey from the bottom of the water column by mayfly, caddis and midge nymphs and pupa to the eventual metamorphosis into the adult stage of the insect. Throughout that journey, those metamorphosing nymphs and pupa are vulnerable to feeding trout and most vulnerable when they are trying to break through the surface tension at the top of the water column.

When anglers encounter consistently rising fish, especially when adults can be seen on the water, it can be difficult to ascertain with the naked eye whether the fish are targeting emerging adults or fully formed adults or maybe both. In 1976, Vincent Marinaro of SW Pennsylvania angling fame published “In the Ring of the Rise” in an attempt to help anglers make that very distinction.  When I encounter pods of rising fish in local rivers and see a few PMD, Trico or BWO adults floating along, instinct says tie on an appropriate dry fly and charge ahead.  However experience has taught me that there’s a much higher probability of connecting with those rising trout be using an appropriate emerger pattern.  Decades of swinging soft hackles through pods of rising trout have convinced me that trout like easy pickings.

Although there are a large number of “emerger” tying styles, two—the parachute and Klinkhammer (a parachute variant), illustrate the emerger’s dilemma and why emerger patterns are effective on the water.

Stages of Emerger Flies

Emerger fly

Klinkhammer Style Emerger Fly

As the mayfly, caddis or midge nymph/pupa rises up the water column it begins to transform.  Klinkhammer style emerger flies mimics that penultimate stage of emergence where the emerging wings, legs and thorax have broken through the surface tension while the emerging adult abdomen and resulting shuck remain below the surface.

This presents a tying challenge as the abdomen of the Klinkhammer must break through the surface tension from above while the hackle and thorax must behave like a dry fly.

emerger fly

Parachute Dry Fly

The final stage of emergence is well represented by the Parachute style dry fly. The tail is fully formed along with the abdomen, legs and thorax.  The mayfly, midge or caddis adult is ready to take wing but remains flush against the surface tension as things dry out.

Dry fly

Adult Dry Fly

Once everything is dried out, the adult may take off and land again on the water, but this time the dry fly representing the adult rests comfortably on top of the surface tension and can leave the surface at its pleasure.

I don’t think the moniker “Peter Pan flies” will ever catch on, but the Emerger style of flies, those Klinkhammers and Parachutes that represent the last stages of mayfly, caddis and midge emergence are here to stay.  When the bugs are in Neverland, the trout are in heaven.

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