The Tried and True Pheasant Tail

Since I can't seem to find the time to actually make it out onto the water, I thought I'd finish up a post that I started a while back about tying the reliable Pheasant Tail - which is also referred to as a PT. But not to be confused with PTs here in Denver, which is a strip club of some sorts. Get the two mixed up and you may have to answer to your better half.

So, this is actually one of my favorite flies to tie, for both it's simplicity, as well as it's effectiveness, and is a staple of most any fly box (and for good reason). Run a Google search on this pattern and you will be buried by the amount of information that is returned on this fly.

Because of that, I am not going to waste a lot of time dissecting and ruminating on the nuances of this one - why wallow in redundancy? Why wallow in redundancy?

This fly (like Dick Clark) has been around forever and, over the years, has seen it's share of modifications (also like Dick Clark). The original Frank Sawyer pattern was extremely simplified, and used nothing but wire.

Al Troth took Sawyer's pattern and turned it into what you essentially see today - and that's the pattern that I base my flies on. Actually, it's my version of Charlie Craven's version of Al Troth's version of Frank Sawyer's original pattern. Did you get all that?

One area that I get a lot of grief, is that I like to tie my PTs on a hook with a little more 'curve' to it. Why? For starters, I like to buck authority just to rub people the wrong way. But also, I find the 'organic' profile to be more appealing to the peepers.

Most Pheasant Tails that I've seen use a straight-shank hook - and without question, they work, since I've managed to catch fish with those (and if you've seen me fish, you'd be surprised that I catch anything at all). But I've also managed to stick some fish with this one, and, being a slave to my primitive instincts, I've decided curves are it for me.

Like I mentioned above, I love tying this one - it is simplistic in form, yet quite beautiful when completed (although you can't tell from the shitty frame-caps that I use). And a stark contrast to the All Shall Perish, Satyricon or some other bombastic, in-your-face-assault-your-senses-music that I usually have playing as I tie.

As an FYI, the fly below was tied while listening to Lamb of God's Sacrament. Probably not the choice of 99.99999% of fly-tiers out there...but, if you happen to fall into the .00001% niche, this album delivers a brutal kick to the stones, while keeping others at bay so that you can tie, undisturbed.

So here it is - a Pheasant Tail pattern:

Hook: #16, 18 or 20 Tiemco 2487
Thread: 8/0 Red UNI-Thread
Tail: Pheasant Center Tail (4-5 from the tip)
Ribbing: Copper Brown Ultra Wire SM
Body: 2-3 Peacock Herl
Wing Case: Turkey Wing Quill (Mottled)*
Legs: Soft Hackle Hen Saddle Patch (Speckled)

Step 1

Funny how it always starts with this - but begin by attaching your thread to your hook, and clipping off the tag end.

Step 2

Next, attach your copper wire to the shank, and tie that wire on down - to around the 1/4 mark of the hook's bend...like so.

Step 3

Using your sticky little digits, get yourself 4 pheasant tail fibers. Now, not being one to embrace 'rules', and other anal-retentive stuff, I do realize that at times, there is a need for some consistency. And this is one of them. I usually make the length of the tails 3/4 the length of the shank. Were those gasps of disgust I just heard?

Step 4

Get the fibers secured to the hook a fraction of an inch above the initial wrap of thread - this is to insure that, once the fibers are wrapped, the fly ends up with a....little red butt.

Trust me, a little red butt never hurt anyone.

Once you have the pheasant fibers secured with a couple turns of thread, start wrapping some thread around the hook to build up a taper that stops about a 1/4 shank shy of the eye. This is to give your PT a more rotund, plumpy abdomen, like Alec Baldwin.

Once that's complete, wrap the fibers forward on the hook, stopping a little past the taper, and QUICK! Secure 'em down so they don't unravel.

Now here's where there's some room for discussion. Some folks like to use the tail-ends of the fibers as the wing case - which is all good, since it makes sense to use the same pieces.

But since I seem to have suffered a debilitating, closed-head injury somewhere along the way, I like to complicate things up a bit for the sheer hell of it. Which is why I prefer to use the quills from a turkey wing.

For one, I like the 'harder' texture and contrast that the turkey provides, as opposed to the streamlined, blend-right-in look of the pheasant.

It's strictly a preference at this point so spare me the hate mail, please. Unless it's something truly creative and offensive, then by all means, email away.

Step 5

Now, take the copper wire and begin wrapping it forward along the abdomen, being sure to go in the opposite direction that you've wrapped the fibers (but I didn't need to tell you that, did I?)

Once you reach the end of the pheasant tail fibers, go ahead and tie the wire off with a few nice turns of thread and cut off the excess.

Step 6

Alright, here's where the turkey comes in. Pick about 3 or 4 quills from the feather and snip 'em off. You'll notice that there is a difference in color between the two sides of the feather - usually, I'll go with the darker side for the wing case - which means you will tie it light-side up.

And yes, I have used the lighter side as the wing case - and while it had more of 'cyber-punk' feel to it, it still caught fish. So there.

Step 7

Next, take two or three strands of peacock herl and tie those on to the hook, and then wrap them forward just shy of the eye. And when I say 'just shy of the eye' I mean leave enough room at the end to tie your fly off. So what is that in measurements? I don't know...we're tying flies here, not splitting atoms, so guesstimating is ok.

Alright, tie off the herls and clip the excess.

Step 8

Now, go ahead and pull the turkey quills (or pheasant fibers) over the top of the herl and secure it down with a few turns of thread. For those of you that used the turkey, sit back now, and congratulate yourself for coloring outside the lines.

And those kids that used the pheasant fibers...um, good job!

Step 9

Now reach on over and pluck a feather from the hen saddle - we're going to use the fibers from this piece to make the legs. Now, usually, what I will do is grab enough so that the width of the fibers is about equal to the profile of the body, as you can see from the picture above.

Once I have those, I tie them in - making sure the tips are at about the mid-way point on the abdomen. Once I have a few turns of thread on them, I will bend the forward fibers back and secure them down with another couple of turns.

Clip off the excess and repeat for the other side. Once both sides are done, give the front of the fly a few more turns of thread, whip finish, clip the tag and apply a drop of head cement.

The end result should look something like this....and when you see this, it means it's time to drift that bad-boy!

On a serious note, there's a reason we call these 'recipes'...nothing is set in stone and they're open to experimentation - the whole point is to have fun and catch some fish. Trying to mimic a tired old cliche' like 'Chad', who works at the Orvis shop, and talks about insects while using their Latin names, won't make you a better fisherman.

Instead, bend the rules, develop your own style, and enjoy the ride...


November Slam

Well, so much for only being off the river for a month. As it turned out, it was more like two, really long, painful months. So when the stars finally aligned, and I was laying in bed the night before, I couldn't sleep. I'm pretty pathetic like that.

Having tossed and turned the entire night, I was up early and my stupid ass was out the door and on the road by 4:45 am, with two months worth of stories, pictures and scenarios whirling through the recesses of my head like a category 5 hurricane.

Needless to say, I was the first one at the river that morning...and the first one to exclaim "It's f***ing COLD!" to no-one in particular (more than once). Yeah, I doubt the fish were feeling any sympathy for me - if anything, they were saying something like "Ah shit, that idiot with the scud is back AGAIN."

Flows (as expected) were down - and at the Family Pool (where I usually start the day) there was a nice, deep seam that had a lot of nice fish parked within it. So, being a man-child of ritual (and superstition) I started out with the Best Damn Scud Pattern. Period. My apologies to Fox sports.

And it didn't disappoint. One after another took that fly - with two of them being nice, large fish, which I got on video. I've posted the pattern because it's consistently proven itself deadly on a lot of tail-waters out here in the west - and it's just too good of a pattern to keep to myself.

Have I mentioned that I've caught more big fish on a scud than any other pattern? I have? Hmmm...

Anyway, the bigger fish were clearly visible in the seam, but what I didn't see, were quite a few smaller trout that were hiding along the sides. So, while trying to hit the larger targets in the current, I also managed to pull out quite a few of the smaller ones in the process. Scratch. A little bonus tossed in by the fish Gods.

By the time the sun managed to light the water, I had pretty much decimated that section so, as is my custom after the sun has risen, I changed out my fly. I chose to tie on a pattern that BIGERRFISH had sent me a while back - it is a well-tied fly, and an interesting change for me, being that I am not one to use flies with rubber legs and such.

I chose a shallow section of river, chock full of rocks with a lot of algae on the bottom - dark green, faster water, where I had seen an occasional flash, and tossed that fly down the middle. First cast, and I nailed a nice little Bow. This was turning out to be an epic late-November day.

After that, I wound my way upriver - but with the lower flows, there wasn't a lot of big targets to aim for. I spent the afternoon hitting a few smaller fish in some flats - and pulled a nice brown from beneath a boulder. About 1 pm I decided to start working my way back down the opposite side of the river, and found myself at the top of the Ice Box, staring into a deep seam, at two very large fish (in the 23-26 inch range).

Now, this time of year, this part of the canyon will be in shadows by early afternoon, and it's tough to see into the deeper runs. And it's in these deeper runs that you're going to find a lot of the larger fish - so being there with the sun still lighting the water was a blessing. Looking up to the sky, however, I saw that I had about 30 minutes or so before the water went dark and, if I wanted the benefit of sight-fishing to these guys, then I needed to get busy.

It took me a while to find the drift - I was casting around a huge boulder into a current that was moving away from me - plus, I had a hard mend to the opposite side to try and get the drift to flow diagonal to where I was standing, and after about 20 minutes and several fly changes, I was starting to think that getting a perfect drift was going to be impossible from where I was at.

During the time I was trying to throw my line, another fish moved up and parked alongside the other two - and it dwarfed them. It was massive and my pulse picked up when I saw it park and start feeding. No kidding...I was filled with nervous energy and it took a lot of control to keep from blowing the deal. Rifle hunters know this feeling all too well and many a trophy has been lost to Buck Fever. Well, I had Fish Fever.

I had sunlight that was about to disappear, and I was frantically trying to roll through my flies to find something (anything) that these three actively feeding fish would hit - and then it occurred to me - I needed to adjust my weight. Damn it! I was so focused on getting the drift going that I had completely forgotten the other critical component: depth. I've been fishing for how long now? I should get my ass kicked for that.

So I pulled in my line, changed out my fly to a San Juan, and added some more split-shot. While I was doing this, the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall and the water went dark. Ah well...I knew where they were parked, and I tossed my line. First cast through with the extra weight, and I nailed him. How do I know it was the big one? I just knew.

When he took off, it felt as if my line were attached to a dump truck - and he ran like a bat out of hell, making a total mockery of the drag that my reel was attempting to apply. And he ran upriver - under the boulder to my right and out the other side....my line dragging along the rough surface of the rock...and there was nothing I could do but wait for the inevitable.

As I sat there putting on a new section of tippet, split-shot and fly, I thought about how different it would have been had that tub ran downstream instead of up. To the left, the Ice Box is open water with relatively few obstacles - and with lower flows, it would be the ideal place to try and subdue a monster.

Yeah, what-if. Oh well, there is a 26-30+ inch fish in that section of the river with my fly in it's mouth, and I'm ok with that. After I retied my gear, I tossed a few more times in that stretch and managed to pull out a nice fish. I'm not big on blind-fishing, so decided to call it a day after that.

But what a day it had been.


Best Damn Scud Pattern. Period.

If I had a dime for every puzzled look I've received when answering 'Scud' to the question of "What are you using?" I'd have....well, not enough to push me into a new tax bracket, but it might be enough to buy me a double cheeseburger at Mickey D's.

Not sure why, but it seems like there are a lot of folks out there that, for one reason or another, have never heard of a scud, or have just never given them much thought. Which is a shame, considering that this pattern, in my opinion, deserves it's place among the heavyweights, such as the Pheasant Tail and RS2.

A guy I once fished with scoffed at the idea of using a scud. He was more of a dry-fly purist, and had a tendency to look down upon wet flies in general, but using something as gnarly and dirty as a scud? Uncivilized. Damn straight. I take pride in the fact that I'm one DNA base away from being a primate.

As it is, conventional wisdom and traditions are wonderful - but keeping an open mind is even greater. Plus, it will keep you from smelling like 'old man and sour butt' (which are Eva's words, not mine).

And yes, I really should get my ass kicked for using the word scoffed.

Anyway, for me, this scud pattern is the undisputed champ when it comes to big fish - I've caught more big'uns using this pattern, than any other fly that I carry - which isn't really saying much, since I only use a handful of nymphs to begin with. I guess it's the minimalist in me. Or maybe because I'm an idiot.

So what is a scud? It's a small, fresh-water crustacean that is prevalent year-round, in most tail-water systems, spring creeks and some large bodies of water, and they are an important component to a fish's dietary intake. Plus, when they go forth and multiply, they do it by obscene amounts, making even the staunchest of Mormons envious of their pro-creation skills.

Note: a scud is also a type of missile, and you should never, ever get the two confused, otherwise, bad things could happen. Really. Bad. Things.

For the most part, these ugly little bugs hang out amongst the aquatic vegetation. They are aggressive eaters and can swim quite well, using their 14 little legs to get to where they're going. While swimming or crawling, they tend to flatten out some, but their most common state while floating is in a curled configuration, much like the shrimp in your cocktail, or me, in the fetal position, after eating a Don Juan's combination burrito.

There are a lot of scud patterns out there, in different shapes, sizes and colors. One of the most popular being the orange UV Scud that Pat Dorsey ties - supposedly, this is the color of a scud that has bought the farm and is easy pickings for feeding trout.

Regardless, the colors I tend to use are an olive, olive/silver mix or a tan/yellow combination, and they've worked quite well for me on a lot of tail-waters out here in the West - in particular, the Platte, Taylor and the Blue.

As far as water conditions go, I've used it in all of the different types of water that a river can throw at you and I've had success in all of them - from drop pools to riffles, flats to deep seams.

Below is the BDSP version that I've been using exclusively for the past few years - and it's my personal ace-in-the-hole. It's the very same fly that I've used to catch most of those big fish in the pictures and videos.

And I give it to you freely. Consider this an early Christmas present. Or Pagan Offering. Or whatever the hell you celebrate in today's politically-correct landscape. Just be sure to remember where you got it from.

Best Damn Scud Pattern. Period.

Hook: #16 Tiemco 2488
Thread: 8/0 Red UNI-Thread
Tip/Tail: Pheasant Center Tail (4-5 from the tip)
Body: Creamy Yellow Dubbing (or Olive w/ Silver)
Back: 1/4 inch Tan Scud Back (or Olive)
Rib: Copper Ultra Wire (Hot Orange also works) / Silver Ultra Wire (with the Olive)

Step 1

Begin by attaching your thread to the hook and making a couple of wraps - yeah, this is the easy stuff.

Step 2

Place your wire along the hook and begin wrapping your thread towards the back.

Note: at this point, some of you may be tempted to add a few twists of lead, and that's fine. Personally, I prefer using split-shot on the line for more control.

Stop the wrap about 1/4 way around the bend of the hook and give the thread a few extra turns.

Step 3

Now wrap the thread back towards the front of the hook, stopping just behind the eye.

Step 4

Pluck, pull or gnaw 4-5 fibers from the tip of your Pheasant Tail and place them (tapered ends forward) along the shank of the hook. How much, you ask? Hell, I don't know. Look at the picture and guesstimate - be a rebel. Er...a sensible rebel.

Now that you've bucked tradition, wrap the thread towards the back of the hook and stop just shy of the few extra turns that you performed in Step 2. You did make a few extra turns, right?

Step 5

Ok, once again, wrap your thread back up the hook to about the midway point, and get ready for some serious fun. Now would be a good time to take a drink of that beer sitting next to you.

Using a lot of dexterity (and patience) attach the scud backing to the hook. I'll wait. And while I do, let me jaw your ear for a minute:

Go out and purchase some scud backing. Don't be a cheap weasel and use ziplock baggies or some other crap you find lying around the house. Backing is soft, pliable and you can stretch the hell out of it - it also holds it's shape well after repeated use. That's all I have to say about that.

After you've managed to get a few turns of thread around the backing to secure it to the hook, gently pull back on the skin and continue wrapping until you make it back to the place on the hook where you made the few extra turns that I suggested in Step 2 and mocked you about in Step 4.

Step 6

Here's an easy part - place some of the dubbing onto your thread, and begin wrapping towards the front of the hook.

When you're finished, it should look something like this.

Step 7

Remember the scud backing that we put on a few steps back? Go ahead and grab it and pull it forward, over the top of the dubbing and slightly down across the eye. While keeping constant pressure on the backing, quickly get a few turns of thread around that bastard to lock it down.

Now finish your beer and get another cold one ready.

Step 8

Now, take your wire and gently wrap it around the body of the fly, applying just enough pressure to create some detail. Once you've made it to the front, you can apply a few turns of thread to secure it, and then cut/helicopter twist the wire off.

Two things that you may notice at this time: one, is that the wire may slide all over he scud backing. If this happens, know that I am laughing with you, and not at you. Consider using a little less pressure on your wrap and that should stop the slippage.

Second, you may also notice that the scud backing is turning on the dubbing (be sure to look on the other side of the fly while you do this). Again, if this happens, you can use your fingers to twist it back into place. A little less pressure while wrapping your wire should solve this problem.

Step 9

Next, pull back on the skin just enough to stretch it - and then trim the excess.

Now, give your thread a few wraps around the front, with the goal being a nice smooth taper into the form of the body. Whip finish that bad boy and apply a drop of head cement.

Step 10

Now we can trim the tail. As you can see in the picture, I am using the scissors from directly above while pulling the fibers out and to the back.

Two questions that you may be asking yourself - how long do I make it, and how did he manage to say tail and trim in the same sentence?

Make the length of the tail long enough to stick out. Easy enough? I don't think I've ever had a consistent length on either end of this pattern for as long as I've been tying them, and the fish really don't seem to mind. As long as you keep the lengths somewhat close to what I have in the pictures, it'll work.

Step 11

Using your dubbing needle, pull out some of the dubbing from the underside of the fly. Don't be shy, get in there and pull some out like a man.

Finally, using your scissor, go in at an angle, and trim the ends of the dubbing (it should be longer in the front, getting shorter the farther back it goes).

You can actually take this pattern an extra step by applying epoxy to the back - it does look really good like that. But, does it make a difference in the long run, as far as effectiveness? I haven't noticed a difference.

So, what can this fly do? See for yourself. The very same fly being tied in the pictures above, was used, several days later, to catch the fish in the first two pictures below (along with a few others). The fish on the bottom was caught with the same pattern on the Taylor.

Hopefully it works as good for you, as it does for me. If you end up with some great pictures, by all means, send me a copy.

Jerry with a kick-ass 'bow, caught on the BSDP. April, 2010

One of several big tubs that fell for the BSDP. August, 2010

...and another. June, 2011

November, 2011


Back in the Canyon...

...meaning, Cheeseman Canyon - an old familiar friend that can be a real tough nut at times. And this was one of those times. Stoopid tough nuts....

At least the weather reports were all pointing to a fantastic late summer day, with temps in the mid-70s and blue skies - and they were right. It wound up being a great day to be out and about tossing a fly (unless one forgets to put on their 'sun-scream'....Eva? Are you paying attention?).

I got up to the river early, with my much, much better-half planning on meeting up with me later in the day - but even at this hour, there were already quite a few folks there gearing up. I guess I'm not the only one that watches the weather.

So, I geared up as fast as possible, and walked the rolling mile to the water's edge, and lo and behold! there were a lot of fish in the river - and they all seemed to be actively feeding. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!

I already had an RS2 tied up from my last outing, so I tossed that their way - and shortly there-after, wound up hooking a little fella - about 8 inches or so. Didn't even see the guy...and I must have got him at the end of my drift - apparently I set the hook as I went to retrieve my line.

After that, I focused on the tubs that were parked in a deep seam in the middle of the river, and wound up striking out with the RS2. So I switched over to BDSP and the first cast through them, I bagged myself a nice 20 inch Bow.

Turning on my camera, I saw that I had about 10 minutes of juice left for filming, so I quickly got some footage and switched over to the GoPro for an underwater shot - only to find out that the batteries were missing from the camera. Ah yes, the pitfalls of having a 6 year old in the house with a need for batteries to run all of his goodies. No underwater shots this time around.

After the release, I went back to the well for another shot (actually, quite a few shots) but the fish left in there had no interest in the scud - and not wanting to change out yet, I walked a little way down-stream and saw a beauty of a fish parked beside a rock.

After a few casts to get the drift down, I wound up rolling this one as well - not as fat as the first one, but longer, and he looked real nice in the net (you know what I'm talking about).

Before the sun lit the water like David Hasselhoff in the middle of a weekend bender, the scud was once again the go-to fly. I bit into one more sub that wound up breaking my line...and then everything stopped.

Seriously, once the sun came out, it was if a switch had been thrown and the fish shut down.

One fish, in particular, was in a nice seam, maybe a foot below the surface. The drift was so perfect that even Stephen Hawking could have made it with little effort. I threw everything I had at this guy and....nothing. Same with the next one...and the one after that.

Fortunately, it wasn't just me - throughout the rest of the day Eva and I spoke with a lot of folks, and they all said that it had been brutally slow - even a guide that I was talking to (out of earshot of his client) said that it had not been the best day to be on the river.

I only managed one more smaller rainbow (12 inches) on a Hare's Ear the rest of the day, and that one I pulled from a deep seam while blind-fishing.

Overall, it was a good day - I netted two awesome trout, and two wee little fish, and lost one sub - and given how slow the river was fishing to begin with, I think that's pretty darn good. Plus, I know that it will be picking up as autumn moves forward - so there's more to be had down the road.

Unfortunately for me, though, I am going to miss the entire month of October due to a brutal travel schedule and workload. Hopefully, Eva will be able to make it out to the river once or twice and, between her and all of the blogs that I follow, I hope to be able to 'fish' vicariously through all of you.

Here's to hoping that I can handle a full month and some change without throwing a line.