Pheasant Tail – Tying how to?
Author: Scott Loudon
I have a few friends that are members of the Milngavie Fly Dressers club and when one of them mentioned to me that Paul Procter was doing a demo I felt I had to jump at it! If you haven’t heard of Paul, firstly where have you been living? And secondly get researching – he is a wealth of information in all aspects of fly fishing from casting, to fishing techniques and fly tying, and he freely gives away many tips through his blog and other resources.
I’d been looking forward to this evening all week, a nice break from the monotony of work and hopefully the kind of demo where I might pick up a hint or two. Paul started the evening with a tying of a timeless classic, the pheasant tail nymph, although believe it or not there wasn’t any pheasant tail used. The traditionalists amongst you might be cringing at this thought or complaining that it cannot be a pheasant tail nymph if pheasant tail is not even used. I understand these concerns but I can assure you that for all intents and purposes it looked like it was made from pheasant tail. Let me explain Paul’s rationale for the deviation from tradition. As anyone that has used a pheasant tail nymph can probably attest to, it is 1) a great general representation, 2) deadly, and 3) rather fragile. Paul wanted to maintain the look of the fly whilst making it bomb proof, well, at least more than one or two fish proof! To this end, Paul has been using strands of florists ribbon instead of pheasant tail. With a small cut to the ribbon you can comfortably pull out a few strands to use. I was sceptical at first but it really does look great; it looks great for the tails, the body looks just like pheasant would and it looks great for the legs. Despite my best attempts at taking a rubbish picture, you can see Paul’s alternative, much harder wearing PT nymph below. It’s a new one that’s going to appear in my box, that’s for sure.
Secondly he tied a bead head nymph which was the logical progression for when you need something a bit heavier to get you down in the current. The bead head was just a standard pattern although I did really like the green wire used for the body, very nice effect indeed. Instead of faffing around with dubbing (or pheasant tail!) you just tie in a coloured wire of your choice and wind this to create the body. It makes one heck of a durable fly that looks not half bad either. I was shown this a while ago by a friend, Alex Laurie, who uses brown wire as the body to create another deadly, general nymph pattern. Pro tip from Paul: when putting on lead wire or a wire rib, insert it into the bead to achieve a smoother transition and keep the bead in place as you tie the fly.
I’m not going to go through the rest of the flies in great detail but rather point out some of the tips that I found very interesting that can hopefully help others too. The next fly tied was a pearly CDC spider, just as it sounds, a spider with mole fur dubbing, some pearl at the thorax and a CDC feather used as hackle. May sound simple, and it is but it was the fishing tip that caught my attention. Paul explained that it could be used as part of a team for traditional spider fishing but also used on its own to represent emergers or drowned adults in the surface film, a really versatile fly. This fly really might just open up a new field of possibilities when I can’t hit those smutting fish.
Next up was a foam beetle in more tame sizes than I am used to seeing after a season in New Zealand! The pro tip here was to mix up your casting when you are using beetles and other terrestrials. You needn’t always look to present your fly as gently as possible but rather you can utilise ‘the plop’. The plop? Yes, the plop! Don’t be afraid to whack it down with a bit more gusto than usual, imagine the beetle falling out of a tree onto the water… the fish will key in on that and nail it or bolt for the nearest cover as you’ve just spooked the hell out of it! Paul said he witnessed this in NZ when after gently presenting the fish showed no interest but a plop down brought the take, this is something I have experienced too. He did point out though that the trout’s response in this country is likely to be a bit more hit and miss but if nothing’s doing then give it a plop!
The last three flies Paul tied were a dropped arse gnat, a general CDC dun and a general CDC spinner. The CDC dun brought another great pro tip from Paul – when tying a CDC wing you want to tie it in a few millimetres back from the eye just as where the wings are on the natural. All too often the CDC wing is tied in right up at the eye. Paul also adds two turns of hackle infront of the CDC and then trims the underside. This is to add flotation and imitate the insect’s legs. It’s a bloody great looking fly and another that is going to be appearing in the fly box of yours truly in the very near future. The CDC spinner was a novel approach to a spinner pattern that I hadn’t seen before, utilising a curved hook, a quill body and CDC wings. Paul’s pro tip was in regard to shaping CDC wings and that was not to cut any straight lines but cut individual CDC barbules to help keep that natural look and boy did it pay off, his fly looked impeccable.
On the whole it was a top night, Paul was a thoroughly nice bloke and shared some great tips with us. The picture above really does not do his flies justice, they were absolutely first class. I hope that you get some help from Paul’s tips too and that you are able to incorporate his ideas into your fly tying and your fishing. I would love to post a step by step here for one of Paul’s flies but I just would not do justice to them so you’re stuck with one of mine I’m afraid… My NZ killer nymph, a PT bead head with glister collar. This nymph in various sizes has accounted for almost all of my nymph caught trout and it’s easy to tie!
Hook: Tiemco TMC 2499SPBL sz 16,18
Bead: 3mm Tungsten
Underbody: Lead wire
Tail/body: Pheasant tail
Rib: Copper wire
Collar: Brown glister
Place bead onto hook and create underbody with lead wire.
Tie in copper wire and wrap over the lead wire to hold it in place.
Tie in 3 or 4 strands of pheasant tail, the tail length should be the same length as the body of the fly.
Pop a dab of superglue on the body and then wind the pheasant tail towards the eye. Tie off about 1mm from the bead.
Wind the copper rib up the body and tie off in the same place as the pheasant tail.
Dub the glister onto your thread and wind on to create the glister collar then whip finish.
The fly doesn’t look great in this photo, looks a bit better here:
And as a final note here’s another one of my killer patterns, my caddis pupa and a mangled NZ killer! Still works though, the trout don’t care, as long as it roughly fits their prey image (this is worth looking up, or get a hold of Bob Wyatt’s ‘Trout Hunting’) and you have presented it naturally, i.e. not dragging, they’ll eat it. Have fun tying!