Pheasant Tail – How to?

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.

Paul Procter's flies

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

Step 1


Step 2


Place bead onto hook and create underbody with lead wire.

Step 3


Tie in copper wire and wrap over the lead wire to hold it in place.

Step 4


Tie in 3 or 4 strands of pheasant tail, the tail length should be the same length as the body of the fly.

Step 5


Pop a dab of superglue on the body and then wind the pheasant tail towards the eye. Tie off about 1mm from the bead.

Step 6


Wind the copper rib up the body and tie off in the same place as the pheasant tail.

Step 7


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!

Caddis Pupa


Pike Fly Fishing Tackle

I haven’t been at the pike fly fishing game long at all but the experience of casting very large, bulky flies and hooking into pike lets you in on the secrets pretty quickly.

At first I thought I would be able to happily use my #6 weight rods, a Sage TCX, which as you probably know is a very stiff, powerful rod. I thought it would cope with pike no problem… wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, it is fine for small jacks and casting smaller flies but that is where the biggest limitation comes in – the flies themselves. I can upline it, stick an #8 weight line on it, even a #9 weight line and it works but it really slows down the recovery speed of the rod and makes casting size 4/0 bunny patterns a bit of a pain. But hey, if you only have a #6 weight and you’re only going to cast small flies for small jacks on a local canal then by all means give it a go! You will be outgunned for bigger fish though, bear the welfare of the fish in mind at all times.

I was told by a few well respected anglers that I should be looking at an #8, #9 or #10 weight, something beefy that will handle 20lb+ fish if you come across them, which on my local waters is a distinct possibility, and will handle heavy lines to chuck big air-resistance flies. They were right. I use a 9’ #9 weight rod and it is a far better tool for the job both in handling the flies and the fish. Which rod is up to you, pick one that you have tried and get on well with, whether that is a softer or stiffer rod is your prerogative. You should also note that pike are going to give a fair bit more of a pull than your typical sized trout which is definitely part of the appeal, so take the right rod with you.

Ok, onto the fly lines – this is probably the most important bit of kit as it will make or break your setup in terms of casting. Get something with a heavy loaded front taper, you need the weight up front to turn over the large flies. If you imagine a typical trout taper as having most of the weight in the middle to rear of the head with the line tapering out thinner towards the tip for delicate presentation, we want the opposite. We want a short front taper that is heavily front weighted. Anything designed specifically for pike fishing or throwing salt water flies will probably be a good bet. A line weight to match your rod should suffice, but don’t be afraid to overline if you feel you need a bit more weight. I use a floating line or an intermediate most of the time and use both full lines and integrated shooting heads depending on circumstance, have a play around with different setups and see what you like best. The shooting head is easier to cast further but it’s not as delicate. In simple terms that is the trade-off.

Now onto the leader make up. There are some pretty cool products on the market ranging from hard mono, a very stiff monofilament, to knotable wire, to non-kink titanium wire. Again this is a personal decision and you should probably experiment. I have used hard mono and haven’t had a problem but my preferred setup was one detailed by Dougie on Fly Forums. It’s a fluorocarbon leader joined to American fishing wire single strand 40lb titanium attached to a fastach clip. I’ve had very positive experiences casting and fishing with these. No kinks at all and very strong. The clip also makes changing flies a doddle and they will never accidentally open.

The last thing to remember is take a pair of long nosed forceps with you. Pike have large mouths; even the small ones and they have an intimidating number of teeth lying in wait to shred your fingers if you get them too close. It’ll also aid you in removing the hook as fast as possible and returning the fish to the water, oh yeah… last thing – fish barbless!


Misty morning fly fishing for Pike

Let me set the scene to start with. Imagine leaving the house before 7am in pitch darkness, the air filled with dense fog and a heavy frost on the ground. You plan to fish a venue that you have never fished before but have instructions from a friend so you are confident you know roughly where you are going. Arriving at your destination after a slower paced drive than normal you are greeted by two young deer prancing across the road. You park up, set your fly tackle up and start following the directions. When you arrive near the water the water level is very high, well above the bank and in the fields, there are trees in the water, the mist is so dense you cannot make out much of anything, there is an eerie silence about the place and then it happens, the first fish of the day is spooked and all of your senses hone in, your heart gives a few thumps and your inner fish bum instinct kicks in.

Ok, I realise that is a departure from my normal writing style but that morning was magical, it was so wonderfully eerie, hopefully the following pictures will help convey that.

The first spooked fish was a smally, nothing to worry about but a great sign all the same. There were a few fish crashing about on the surface, difficult to say if they were pike or not as there’s a few other inhabitants in this particular water. One thing I can say for certain is that the water was freezing! I started off covering the water with a white and chartreuse split bunny pattern with no success. After a short time Craig joined me and we meticulously fished the bay. Nothing seemed to be doing, a few fly changes, a lot of areas covered and nothing. It took until about midday before we came across a fish when Craig hooked into a nice Jack that fell to a yellow deceiver. Here’s a short video of the fish, be sure to play it in HD.

That was Craig 1-0 up and something had to be done about that! Craig and I were working in opposite directions along the bank away from each other and not long after I had one have a couple grabs at my fly but it didn’t stick, got the adrenalin rushing again though! Presumably a Jack that missed the hook, could even have been a perch for all I know.

After covering a bit more water, I finally hooked into a spritely jack that gave a good account of itself. It was a white bunny pattern with a burnt orangey/browny/reddy marabou collar. Result! Fish on the bank and the score level at one a piece.

We decided to head back to the cars not long after this but on the way back Craig decided to try and outdo the 1-1 scoreline and upped the anti to 1.1-1. He found a piece of a pike! The full lower jaw was found in two pieces, a seriously impressive set of gnashers.

And that raps up this weekend’s fishing excitement. It was great to finally fish this water, one I’ve been looking at for a while and one that definitely warrants some time being spent on it. Hard to beat that for quality fly fishing after wild species in the winter outside the trout season! The weather is starting to get really cold though so it might soon be time to switch over to chasing Grayling instead.