Pheasant Tail Nymph Step-by-Step

Pheasant Tail Nymph Step-by-Step:

Accident and observation often go a long way towards innovation. Such was the case when British Angler, Frank Sawyer, conceived the ever popular Pheasant Tail (PT) Nymph in the 1950s. The ubiquitous Baetis mimic came about after Sawyer made a curious observation while fishing a Pheasant Tail Red Spinner dry fly pattern. That observation… the fly continued to catch fish even after it had been submerged.

Utilizing a minimalistic approach based on his belief that “General shape and coloration…is of greater importance than an exact copy…,” Sawyer’s original Pheasant Tail Nymph consisted of nothing more than the titular Pheasant Tail and copper wire. The latter serving as both ribbing and weight.

Quick sinking and displaying a narrow tapered profile, the fly proved to be a hit in the UK and quickly found its way across the Atlantic. It was there that Al Troth, of Elk Hair Caddis fame, designed the first of many notable variants to Sawyer’s original. It is this variant (or rather a close approximation) we’ll be tying in the Step-by-Step below.

Daiichi 1710 Nymph Hook (#10-#20) Veevus 12/0 (Olive or Brown) Brass or Tungsten (sized to hook)
Pheasant Tail (3 fibers) Pheasant Tail (2-4 fibers) Peacock Herl (2-3 fibers)
Pheasant Tail (6-8 fibers) Pheasant Tail (fiber tips) Lead-free Wire
Materials Ultra Wire (XS; Gold)Materials UV Resin

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Step-by-Step Tying Instructions:

(Click images to enlarge)

Alternative Tie:

Sawyer’s Original

While the PT nymph described above is a relatively simple pattern, Frank Sawyer’s original creation was even more so. Requiring no thread, the original PT consisted of only pheasant tail and copper wire. 

Creating a tapered base of copper wire, PT fibers are secured at the rear of the hook shank with tips extending to create the tail. The fibers are wound forward over the tapered wire body to immediately behind the eye. Copper wire is counterwrapped the length of the shank, securing the PT fibers, and then wrapped back to the base of the thorax. The remaining length of PT fiber is then pulled back and secured with wire creating the wing case.

Proof of Concept

While this pattern has brought many trout (and panfish) to hand over the course of my fly fishing career, it was only during a 2022 visit to RMNP that I finally remembered to document such a catch.

Fishing an unweighted PT Nymph as a dropper below a small tan Charlie Boy Hopper, I managed a number of greenback cutthroat including the brightly colored individual shown here.

Tight Line!


Species Caught on the Pheasant Tail Nymph to Date:
  1. Greenback Cutthroat Trout

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