The pheasant tail nymph is an incredibly effective nymph fly that works well all year round. Many fly anglers count this fly as their go-to attractor nymph for trout – it’s about as close as you can come to an all-rounder nymph for fly fishing.
Curious about this elegantly simple fly? Here’s the Fly Fisher Pro complete guide to the pheasant tail nymph, from its origins to how to tie this fly, and the best ways to fish it.
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About The Pheasant Tail Nymph
The Pheasant Tail Nymph was first created by English fly fishing angler, Frank Sawyer. He designed this fly for the chalk streams in southern England, particularly the River Avon in Wiltshire, where he fished regularly.
Sawyer aimed to come up with a simple fly that would imitate the Baetis mayfly. The Pheasant Tail Nymph shot to fame after Sawyer described how to tie and fish it in his book, ‘Nymphs and The Trout’, published in 1958.
American fly fishing enthusiasts quickly adopted it and it became a firm favorite for trout fly fishing. In fact, it’s one of the oldest existing nymph patterns that continues to be widely used in the fly fishing world today.
The Pheasant Tail Nymph works equally well in still and flowing water, making it an excellent choice for fly fishing both lakes, rivers, and streams.
Sawyer opted to use wire rather than thread for his pattern, which allowed it to sink quickly through the water. The wire also added an extra sheen, making it brighter and more eye-catching to the trout – essential in the cloudy chalkstreams. You can use this fly effectively in both clear and murky water.
What Does a Pheasant Tail Nymph Imitate?
The Pheasant Tail Nymph is an attractor pattern, which means that it doesn’t closely imitate any particular forage for the fish. Instead, it inspires curiosity in the trout and tricks them into taking a bite.
While the Pheasant Tail Nymph isn’t an exact replication of any particular species of insect or baitfish, it does look similar to the mayfly emerger nymph. Trout go crazy for mayfly emergers, as they are the easiest form of mayfly to catch. Immature mayfly nymphs tend to hide or burrow down in the riverbed, while adult mayflies rest on the surface for just seconds.
It’s when the mayfly emergers rise up in the water column and make their way to the surface that they are the most vulnerable to any hungry fish around. The Pheasant Tail Nymph cleverly manages to copy the nymph’s appearance and behavior at this stage.
You’ll have a lot of success with this pattern if you dead drift it along the bottom and then lift it up through the water, recreating the natural behavior of the mayfly emerger.
Pheasant Tail Nymph Materials
- Hook: Long nymph hook
- Thread: 70 denier brown thread
- Rib: Copper ultra wire
- Tail and abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers in dark brown
- Legs and wingcase: Pheasant tail fibers in dark brown
- Thorax: Peacock herl
- Head: Thread – brown
- Adhesives: Head cement
How Do You Make a Pheasant Tail Nymph?
You can buy Pheasant Tail Nymphs from most fly fishing shops, just like you can buy fly rods, fly reels, and other fly fishing supplies.
But it’s also possible, pretty easy, and cheaper to tie your own flies. There’s nothing quite like catching a fish on a fly you tied with your own hands. You just need to stock up on some fly tying materials, such as a vise, bobbin holder, fly tying scissors, and a whip finish tool.
You can buy these fly tying materials individually, which means you’ll get high-quality tools, but it can be more expensive this way. There are also some great, affordable sets around which include all the thread, lead wire, hair, feathers, tools, and other materials you’ll need.
Once you’ve got your fly tying materials, we recommend you spend some time watching some fly tying videos. You’ll find loads of useful fly tying videos online, with specific tutorial videos for every pattern. This is a practical way to learn, practice, and improve your fly tying skills.
Here’s one of the best fly tying videos for the American Pheasant Tail Nymph, one popular variation of this classic pattern:
You can also try the different variations of this nymph pattern. Many fly anglers like to tie it with a gold bead at the head for added dazzle and weight in the water.
How To Fish The Pheasant Tail Nymph
One of the best techniques to use with the Pheasant Tail Nymph is called the Induced Take. Remember when we mentioned how this fly imitates the emerging mayfly? You can recreate the emerger’s behavior by dead drifting your nymph close to the riverbed, and then lifting it gently through the water. The trout will be fooled into thinking that your fly is a tasty bite to eat.
Another top tip is to cast upstream and allow your fly to drift naturally with the current. You can tell when the trout are eating emergers, as you’ll see them swimming to and fro below the surface. When you see this, it’s a good sign to crack out your Pheasant Tail flies.
It’s important to select the right size of fly to use, as trout are notoriously fussy and selective. You can do this by moving around rocks or gravel in the riverbed and looking at the size of the natural mayfly nymphs in the area. Try to match this size as closely as possible with your fly.
The Wrap Up
So there you have the complete guide to the Pheasant Tail Nymph. If you’re heading out for some epic trout fly fishing, make sure you’ve got some of these classic, all-rounder nymphs in your fly box! The browns, rainbows, and brookies all go crazy for them.
Why not have a go at tying your own Pheasant Tail Nymphs, too? Watch a few fly tying videos, and you’ll be all set!
Let us know what you think about this fly in the comments or send us an email with your thoughts. Is it one of your favorite fly fishing patterns, or do you use something else instead? Don’t forget to share on Facebook if you found this helpful!