Project Description

Pheasant Tail

Pattern Description:

The Pheasant Tail is the quintessential mayfly nymph pattern. The dark brown color and slender profile create a highly realistic mayfly imitation. Although it can be tied in larger sizes, I prefer this fly in sizes 16 through 24 because smaller sized Pheasant Tails match blue wing olive and pale morning dun nymphs. For bigger mayflies, I lean toward the Hare’s Ear as it lends itself better to large sizes.
I have perhaps tied as many Pheasant Tails in my life as I have any other pattern and have streamlined the process over the years. I like to keep this fly slender. Most books show the Pheasant Tail using three or four separate bunches of fibers to form the tail, body, wingcase, and legs. This creates too much bulk on the hook and makes a simple fly more complicated than it needs to be. I use the same four fibers of pheasant tail for all of these parts. My method of tying the Pheasant Tail makes the pattern simple to tie and more slender, to more closely match the natural.
Proper selection of both the pheasant tail fibers and the peacock herl used in this pattern is critical.
Not all pheasant tail feathers are created equal. Some have very bushy fibers, like oversized hackle, that create too much bulk on the hook. Some have thin, short fibers that work beautifully for small flies. The feathers that these fibers come from tend to look ratty and ugly, not full and bushy like the pretty feathers you’d like to put in a hat. The ratty ones are the feathers you want to select for your Pheasant Tails. I didn’t say broken, chewed or bent, just thin, as though they came from a bird that didn’t do too well last winter.
As for the peacock, I use only the herls that extend directly out from the very tip of the eyed quill. These herls are smaller and finer than the stuff that is below the eye and look nice on a small fly while keeping the thorax in proportion to the rest of the fly.
I pull only one fiber of pheasant tail back along each side of the thorax to imitate legs. Most tiers pull back two per side but, again, it’s too much bulk on a slender fly.
Don’t forget color options for this pattern. While natural pheasant tail fibers make a beautiful fly, black, olive and red are effective too.
The Pheasant Tail can be fished in a variety of ways. I fish it as a nymph on the stream bottom with split shot on the leader.

Materials Needed:

Hook: TMC 100SP-BL #14-20, TMC 100 #22 and smaller
Thread: 8/0 Rusty Brown down to an eighteen, 10/0 rusty Brown for 20 and smaller
Tail: Ringneck Pheasant Tail Fibers
Rib: Fine Copper Wire
Abdomen: Ringneck Pheasant Tail Fibers
Wingcase/Legs: Ringneck Pheasant Tail Fibers
Thorax: Peacock Herl from the eyed quill

Step 1

Start the tying thread at the sixty percent point and wrap a single layer thread base back to the bend.

Step 2

Preen four pheasant tail fibers out from the quill so their tips become even. Peel these fibers off the quill being sure to keep the tips square.

Step 3

Measure the tips of the pheasant tail fibers against the hook so they are equal to one half a shank length. Tie the Pheasant tail fibers in on top of the bend of the hook with ONE turn of thread.

Step 4

Cut a six-inch length of copper wire from the spool and place the end at the bend of the hook so it crosses the tie down area as shown at right. The tag end that points forward should extend to the sixty-percent point on the shank.

Step 5

Place a single turn of thread over the wire at the bend of the hook. This turn should go directly over the turn holding the tail in place.

Step 6

Lift the long ends of the pheasant tail fibers up and wrap the thread forward over the tag end of the wire to the sixty percent point.

Step 7

Build a smooth tapered thread underbody over the tag end of the wire up to the sixty percent point. The pheasant tail fibers should be held back out of the way as you do this.

Step 8

Wrap the pheasant tail fibers forward forming the abdomen. You want the fibers to lay next to each other with no overlap or twisting. Tie the pheasant tail fibers off at the sixty percent point but DO NOT clip them.

Step 9

Counter-wrap the rib (wrap the wire in the opposite direction that the pheasant fibers went ie. Over the top of the hook toward you) over the abdomen up to the sixty percent point and tie it off there. Pull down on the thread and snap the end of the wire back toward the bend to break it off.

Step 10

Pull the remaining butt ends of the pheasant tail fibers back over the top of the abdomen and bind them down to the fifty percent point on the shank. Make certain that the fibers are spread out across the top of the fly and not bunched up in a single clump.

Step 11

Select an eyed peacock feather with nice herls in the eye. This peacock is much finer than that found below the eye and will be more proportional on a small fly.

Step 12

Select five or six herls from the eyed quill and clip their tips so they are even.

Step 13

Tie the peacock in by the tips at the base of the wingcase with a couple light turns of thread.

Step 14

Pull back on the butt ends of the peacock herl to shorten the front ends down so they are even with the seventy-five percent point on the hook.

Step 15

Secure the peacock herl to the hook with several binding turns of thread then build a slightly tapered thread base for the thorax with the tying thread. Be sure to leave an eye length behind the hook eye bare of any materials during this process.

Step 16

Wrap a single layer of peacock herl forward to the index point (one eye length back from the hook eye). Tie off the peacock and clip the excess.

Step 17

Wrap the thread from the front edge of the peacock to the back edge of the hook eye and back again forming a thread base for the wingcase tie off to come.

Step 18

Pull the remaining butt ends of the pheasant tail fiber forward over the top of the peacock thorax and tie them down at the back of the index point. Be sure the pheasant tail fibers are spread evenly across the top of the thorax, with no gaps or bunching.

Step 19

Pull one of the remaining pheasant tail fibers back along the far side of the hook and bind it in place with a turn or two of thread. This fiber should be in-line with the hook shank, not above or below it.

Step 20

Pull another pheasant tail fiber back along the near side and bind it in place as well.

Step 21

Detail of the pheasant tail legs.

Step 22

Pull down on the tying thread and tug the remaining two pheasant tail fibers that are sticking out over the hook eye toward the bend of the hook to break them off.

Step 23

Build smooth thread head to cover the tie down are and whip finish the thread. Clip the thread.

Step 24

Trim the legs even with the back of the wingcase and add a drop of head cement to the thread head.

Step 25

Side view.

Step 26

Bottom View.