Ultimate Pheasant Tail Nymph Guide [Tie, Fish, Catch]

Ultimate Pheasant Tail Nymph Guide [Tie, Fish, Catch]

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of the most versatile and effective flies used in fly fishing. This guide will walk you through its significance, history, the materials needed, the tying process, variations, and effective fishing techniques.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of the most versatile and effective flies used in fly fishing. This guide will walk you through its significance, history, the materials needed, the tying process, variations, and effective fishing techniques.

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Pheasant Tail Nymph was developed in the 1950s by Frank Sawyer, a river keeper on the Avon River in England. Sawyer’s minimalist approach resulted in a fly that resembles the natural insects fish feed on and moves realistically in the water, increasing its effectiveness. Over the decades, this fly has become a staple in anglers' fly boxes worldwide, praised for its adaptability and success in different fishing environments.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the rich history of the Pheasant Tail Nymph, explore the materials needed to tie it and provide a step-by-step process for creating this iconic fly. Additionally, we will discuss various Pheasant Tail Nymph variations and offer tips on how to fish them effectively. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a beginner just starting in fly fishing, understanding how to tie and use the Pheasant Tail Nymph will enhance your fishing experience and increase your catch rate.

What is a Pheasant Tail Nymph?

A Pheasant Tail Nymph is a classic fly pattern designed to imitate the nymph stage of various aquatic insects, particularly mayflies. This fly is renowned for its simplicity, effectiveness, and versatility, making it a staple in anglers' fly boxes worldwide. The Pheasant Tail Nymph can be used in various water conditions and is particularly effective in imitating small, dark-colored aquatic insects that are a primary food source for trout.

Mayfly LIfecycle

The nymph stage is a critical part of the life cycle of many aquatic insects, during which they are particularly vulnerable to predation by fish. Nymphs live in the substrate of rivers and streams, moving around to find food, making them an easy target for feeding fish. With its natural coloration and realistic movement in the water, the Pheasant Tail Nymph effectively mimics these insects, enticing fish to strike.

History of the Pheasant Tail Nymph

Avon River in England

The Pheasant Tail Nymph was created by Frank Sawyer, a river keeper on the Avon River in England, in the 1950s. Sawyer designed this fly to catch the selective trout of the chalk streams, and it quickly gained popularity for its effectiveness. According to the book The History of Fly-Fishing in Fifty Flies, the Pheasant Tail Nymph's success is attributed to its natural appearance and the movement it mimics in the water.

Frank Sawyer pioneered nymph fishing, developing techniques and flies that are still in use today. His minimalist approach used just a few materials to create a lifelike and effective imitation of the natural nymphs. The original Pheasant Tail Nymph was tied without dubbing, relying solely on pheasant tail fibers and fine copper wire for the body and ribbing. This simplicity allowed the fly to sink quickly and move naturally in the water, making it highly effective.

Materials Needed for Pheasant Tail Nymph

Pheasant Tail Materials for Fly Tying

To tie a Pheasant Tail Nymph, you will need the following materials:

  • Hook: Standard nymph hook, sizes 12-20
  • Thread: Brown or black, 8/0 or 70 denier
  • Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Body: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Ribbing: Fine copper or gold wire
  • Thorax: Peacock herl
  • Wing case: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Bead head (optional): Gold or copper bead

Each material plays a crucial role in the construction and effectiveness of the fly. The pheasant tail fibers are chosen for their natural color and texture, closely resembling the body of a real nymph. Copper wire adds weight and durability, helping the fly sink quickly and withstand multiple strikes. The peacock herl used for the thorax adds a bit of flash and movement, mimicking the natural gills and legs of the nymph.

How to Tie a Pheasant Tail Nymph

How to Tie a Pheasant Tail Nymph

Summarizing the process from Tim Cammisa, here are the steps to tie a Pheasant Tail Nymph:

  1. Attach the thread: Start by attaching the thread behind the hook eye and wrap it down to the bend of the hook. This provides a base for attaching other materials.
  2. Tie in the tail: Select a few pheasant tail fibers and tie them in at the bend of the hook. The tail should be about half the length of the hook shank.
  3. Tie in the ribbing: Secure the copper wire at the same point as the tail. The wire will be used later to rib the body, adding segmentation and durability.
  4. Form the body: Wrap the pheasant tail fibers around the hook shank to form the body and secure them with the thread. The body should taper slightly towards the hook eye.
  5. Wrap the ribbing: Wrap the copper wire in even turns over the body to add segmentation and durability, then secure it with the thread.
  6. Add the thorax: Tie in a few strands of peacock herl and wrap them to form a thorax, securing them behind the hook eye. The thorax should be slightly bulkier than the body.
  7. Create the wing case: Pull the remaining pheasant tail fibers over the thorax to form a wing case and secure them behind the hook eye. This adds realism and helps protect the thorax.
  8. Finish the fly: Whip finish the fly and apply a drop of head cement for durability. The finished fly should have a sleek, natural appearance.

Pheasant Tail Nymph Variations

The Pheasant Tail Nymph has several variations, each designed to mimic different stages of aquatic insects or adapt to specific fishing conditions. Here are a few notable ones from an assortment of flies:

Bead Head Pheasant Tail Jig:


Adds a gold or copper bead to the head for extra weight and attraction. The bead helps the fly sink faster and gives it a slight jigging action in the water.

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph:

Flashback Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph

Incorporates a strip of flashy material for the wing case to increase visibility. This variation is particularly effective in murky or deep water where extra flash can attract fish.

Experimenting with these variations can help you find the most effective pattern for different fishing conditions and target species.

How to Fish a Pheasant Tail Nymph

How to Nymph Fly Fish

Fishing a Pheasant Tail Nymph effectively requires understanding the behavior of aquatic insects and the feeding patterns of trout. According to the Basic Guide to Nymphing When Fly Fishing, here are some tips:

  1. Dead Drift: Cast upstream and allow the nymph to drift naturally with the current. This mimics the movement of a real nymph in the water. Use a strike indicator to detect subtle takes.
  2. Indicator Nymphing: Use a strike indicator to detect subtle takes. This is particularly useful in deeper or faster water. The indicator also helps you maintain the correct depth and presentation.
  3. Czech Nymphing: A high-sticking method where you keep a tight line to the nymph, feeling for any strikes. This technique is effective in fast, pocket water where traditional nymphing methods might not work.
  4. Swinging: At the end of a drift, allow the nymph to swing across the current. This can imitate an emerging insect and trigger aggressive strikes. The swinging motion often attracts fish that are following the nymph.
Brown Trout caught Nymphing

Additional Tips for Fishing Pheasant Tail Nymphs

  • Adjusting Depth: Use split shot or a heavier bead head to get your nymph down to the correct depth. Fish are often found near the bottom, where nymphs naturally drift.
  • Matching the Hatch: Observe the natural nymphs in the water and adjust the size, color, and profile of your Pheasant Tail Nymph to match them. This increases your chances of fooling selective fish.
  • Using Multiple Flies: Fish a Pheasant Tail Nymph in combination with other nymphs or attractor patterns. This increases your chances of finding what the fish are interested in.
Catch More with Drifthook Fly Fishing Shop Now

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is an essential fly for any angler's collection due to its effectiveness and simplicity. By understanding its history, mastering the tying process, and learning how to fish it effectively, you can significantly increase your chances of success on the water. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced fly fisherman, the Pheasant Tail Nymph will undoubtedly prove to be a valuable addition to your fly box.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.