In this realm of existence, on this planet, at this point in aquatic vertebrate/invertebrate evolution, there is surely nothing living in fresh water that remotely resembles the bright and ornate Parmachene Belle wet fly. It'll be genetic engineering run amok if ever anything does. But that just makes the Parmachene an "attractor" pattern, right? One intentionally designed to be unnatural. Fly fishers suffer no shortage of attractor flies.
The Parmachene Belle is arguably as lovely as any of the many traditional wet-fly patterns. ("Belle" meaning "a pretty or the prettiest girl"; "Parmachene" for Parmachene Lake in Maine, odd because the fly has surely been fished mostly in streams.) Its beauty is why it seems a shame the Parmachene gets tied and fished so seldom now. It's colorful—red and white, shining gold and yellow. It's got all the classic wet-fly parts—swept-back hackles, a tail, a body of floss under a rib (though other bodies and no rib are common in wet flies too), and low, cupped wings. And the Parmachene Belle has that effect on the human eye, one of the many varieties of this effect, that makes flies sell. What's the problem?
The problem is, in part, that today the wet fly is seen by many fly fishers in the same way they see the coal-burning steam-driven locomotive: as obsolete. What stubbornly remains almost a secret is that the old wet can be as effective now on our caught, released, and careful trout as it was back when trout missed all the training and went straight to the dinner plate. And the traditional wet can, in fact, serve as a perfectly viable insect imitation. But perception matters, and thus the wet is currently tied, fished, and appreciated by only a relative few. (If you believe the wet fly has outlived its value, watch Davy Wotton's video "Wet Fly Ways," and expect to see the old wet from a very new perspective.)
Wet flies imitate a good number of important mayflies and caddisflies, those mayflies and caddis that spend time, as part of their natural life cycle, underwater as winged adults. Sounds nuts, but is true, and not at all uncommon. (Check your fly-fishers' entomology books if you doubt it.) Then there are the drowned winged adult insects, small stoneflies, mayflies, caddis . . . Wets imitate those too.
That paragraph presents a sound argument for imitative wet flies. But the Parmachene, imitating nothing and needing to imitate nothing, gets its validation from that same wellspring that validates all attractors: it catches fish.
Fly companies seem to avoid wet flies in general and flies like the Parmachene Belle in particular, and they probably avoid the Parmachene in particular because of the fly's married wings. To "marry," join together, sections cut from duck or goose primary feathers takes some fuss. You hold the sections edge to edge, work them gently until their microscopic zipper-like system fully kicks in—the same interlocking system that holds together the whole blade of the feather from which they came. For the Parmachene Belle you marry a white section with a red one, then another white one with the other side of the red so that you have the appearance of a red band down the center of a white wing. This is the twenty-first century—who has time for that? Not most of the fly companies, because they ask, "Who'll pay for the time it takes our tiers to marry feather sections?" And they're right: few fly fishers will pay, especially for a type of fly they consider outdated.
But if you're a tier yourself, maybe you do have the time. Constructed with reasonable skill, the fly you make will reward your investment of fifteen to twenty minutes at the vise with the sight of an elegant Parmachene Belle. Then, if you fish it with reasonable skill, you can watch the fly slip across the current just inches down and see a trout nose appear and snatch it.
Check out Carol's Etsy store, CarolAMorrisFlyFish for original gifts for the fly fisher:
Top 12 Nymphs for Trout Streams, 2nd Edition, originally published as an e-book only, is now available on Amazon as a paperback...check it out! Click on the links below to go to the information page on Top 12 Nymphs (the link to Amazon is at the bottom of the page...)
Skip's ultra-popular Predator—a hit fly for bluegills and other panfishes and largemouth bass (also catches smallmouth bass and trout)—is being tied commercially by the Solitude Fly Company.