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...