It is my observation that nearly every fly tying innovation is inspired in some way by something that existed before. This is certainly the case with the Turkey Tail Nymph, which follows lines of construction similar to the venerated Pheasant Tail. Created in Europe many decades ago, the PT Nymph has become a staple for fly fishers worldwide, and its reputation as a reliable producer of trout is largely unchallenged. However, devising a viable alternative to any existing pattern is what keeps the creative juices of any fly tyer flowing, and no fly works all of the time.
Introduced to the tail feathers from wild turkeys by a hunter friend in the 1980’s, I studied their fly tying potential for several years before coming upon the idea of incorporating the splendid plumage into the construction of an experimental nymph pattern. The long fibers radiating from a stout center stem can be managed in a way similar to those from a pheasant tail in forming the body of a fly in a way that is quite pleasing to the eye of both angler and trout. Turkey tail fibers can also be incorporated into the tail, legs, and wing case in a manner nearly identical to the PT Nymph. Color is the primary difference between the tails of these two abundant game birds, and this is why the Turkey Tail Nymph has become an excellent companion pattern for the reddish brown PT Nymph.
The generally oak colored turkey feathers are mottled with a lighter shade of brown creating a lovely marbled effect when applied as herl on a hook shank. When wrapped with gold wire for ribbing and weight, the Turkey Tail Nymph takes on a distinct personality of its own when compared to the copper wire used for the PT.
Like its revered predecessor, the Turkey Tail Nymph is at home in both still and moving water, and it can be tied with or without a bead. The broad feathers from which it is formed provide adequate working fiber length to accommodate hooks up to size 10, and a single quill will usually yield at least two dozen flies.
I fish the Turkey Tail Nymph as specific imitation for several mayflies like Baetis, Flavs, and some varieties of PMD’s. This is often while sight nymphing to a known target in clear, shallow water. Fishing the same pattern in tandem with a PT Nymph is a technique I use in lakes or while fly fishing blind along the banks from a drift boat. Tied on a long shank hook, the turkey tail pattern serves as a credible imitation for Damsel flies and other insects that call for more length in the artificial.
Turkey Tail Nymph
Hook: TMC 3761 Size 10-20
Thread: Dark Brown 8/0
Tail: Tips of wild turkey tail fibers
Rib: Gold wire
Abdomen: Wild Turkey Tail fibers
Thorax: Same as abdomen
Wing Case: Wild Turkey Tail fibers
Legs: Tips of Wild Turkey Tail fibers