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


Czech Nymphing

Whilst Czech nymphing, I generally tend to concentrate on fast, poppily water with a fair depth. This distinguishes quite easily where the fish (you’d think!) would be lying up. Any little crease in a run, boulder with a back eddy or where two currents meet, should hold a fish or three.

Making sure your flies travel downstream at the same pace of the river is crucial, this is called dead drift. If a nymph is moving faster than the current, it becomes unnatural and most educated fish would leave it alone. But, sometimes, if there are stockies in the river, or its a hard days fishing, leading your flies downstream a faster than the current can sometimes provoke a take depending on the situation.

‘Jigging’ is one of my favourite ways to induce a take. By casting the flies upstream, and leaving them trundle along the bottom downstream can become pretty repetitious, to you and the fish. If there’s a fish in the run your fishing that’s already seen or had a go at your flies, it can become put off. By jigging the flies, lifting the rod tip a few inches, causing the flies to come up from the bottom to about mid level, and allowing them to drop back to the bottom can provoke the fish into taking again. There has been many a time where I have been fishing the river Rhymney and caught the same fish in the same pool, on the same fly, twice! Just simply by changing the behaviour of the flies.

Czech Nymphing is a generally a sight fishing method, so casting short and keeping the rod high, at about a 45o angle, will give you a good view on your fly line. Each take you have whether fishing dries or nymphs,  you will always certainly see before you feel as most takes by the time they are felt, they are missed. This is why I think this method is so effective. If the fly line does anything – pull, flick, stop, dart or delays, LIFT. Any movement on the end of the fly line could mean fish! Eight out of Ten times, its probably the bottom, but the other two times, it will probably be a fish.

A Typical set up for Czech Nymphing is a long fly rod – the ideal being up to 10 feet in length. Rod weight should be around a 4 or 5 weight although for smaller rivers a lighter and shorter rod may be more appropriate for this method. Czech Nymphing is quite intensive work, the physically lighter the rod the better. Personally I use  Airflo Streamtec 10ft 4-5weight fly rod. A good sight indicator will also help, be it braid or a czech nymphing leader.

Leader setup is also crucial. Having your flies to far apart, or to close could mean the difference between a few fish or a bag full. I tend to have my droppers around 16-20 inches apart. This means that I can fish shallow runs and also deep pools without changing the length of the leader, only the weight of the flies. By keeping the rod high and the fly line out of the water, having a considerably longer distance between flies could mean that in shallow water the top dropper could evidently be out of the water and not fishing.

Czech nymphs

Czech nymphs are probably one of the most varied flies available. They come in many different sizes and colours. But most czech nymphs seem to all have one similarity, its shape.  Their shapes all tend follow one trend, thin at the ends and fat in the middle. Profile is everything with Czech nymphs. The thin profile helps the fly cut through the water layers, sink fast and smoothly to get to where the fish are lying.

Below is one of my favourite and easiest Czech nymphs to tie.

Fly Tying materials

Hook: Kamasan B110 Grub hook

Silk: UTC shell pink

Under body: Small Lead

Rib: Airflo Sightfree G3 3lb + UTC copper wire Small

Shell Back: Body Stretch Pink

Back Strip: Pearl Opel Med

Body: Pink Marabou

Head: Clear Varnish

Mount A hook in the vice and run one wrap of thread down the shank. This acts as a base for the glue to set and lead to be wrapped onto without slipping.

Apply a drop of super glue to the hook, and wind an under body of Lead wire. Taper each end by building up layers of thread, Just to give it that “grubby” shape.

Tie in all the essentials. Firstly the 3lb G3, the shell back, copper wire, pearl tinsel and finaly the marabou for the body

The order in which the materials are tied in will help here and in the further steps as you will see.

Wind the Marabou up the body in touching turns, covering the lead and tie off.

Apply a small amount of varnish along the underside of the pearl (the side that touches the back of the fly), pull over and tie off. (The varnish helps secure the pearl in place so it doesn’t twist/turn when you wind the rib). Wind the copper rib, the opposite way to the body as it aids it’s durability.

Pull and stretch the shellback over the back of the fly. Try and judge so that the shellback sits evenly on each side of the fly. Tie in, cut off and do a small half-hitch at the head to avoid any unwanted accidents and the whole fly unravelling.

Finally wind the nylon through the fly in touching turns with the (underneath) copper rib, tie in, whip finish and varnish.

The colour intensity of the marabou does not fade, wash out or get water logged and loose its colour like some dubbing does. Ovcourse, tying with the appropriate colour thread as a base beneath any of the materials used for a body will have a massive impact on its colour once wet.

Marabou is strong and very mobile. The ‘legs’ created by its herls give great movement and also give it a very lifelike look, albeit pink.

This fly works extremely well fished on the point of a team of three flies. If I was Czech Nymphing, id generally have three Czech Nymphs on my cast, the middle dropper being the heaviest, to get all flies as deep as possible without causing too many snag ups.

photos courtesy of Steffan Jones at

photos courtesy of Steffan Jones at

Personally, I prefer to use this fly whilst Czech Nymphing for grayling. Through the winter grayling tend to switch onto brightly coloured flies, pink being their favourite but this can only be determined by trial and error. To fish all day comfortably through the winter, the appropriate clothing is needed. Fishing in the winter can sometimes mean standing in water at around 4-8oC and sometimes colder!

This fly works extremely well fished on the point of a team of three flies. If I was Czech Nymphing, id generally have three Czech Nymphs on my cast, the middle dropper being the heaviest, to get all flies as deep as possible without causing too many snag ups.

Written by Kieron Jenkins