5 pheasant tail nymph patterns to tie

Pheasant tail fly patterns are great for trout and grayling on lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Here are five great fly patterns to tie.

5 pheasant tail nymph patterns to tie
© Fly and Lure
5 pheasant tail nymph patterns to tie
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
5 pheasant tail nymph patterns to tie
Estimated reading time 4 - 6 minutes


The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a classic fly pattern invented by Frank Sawyer, a famous river keeper on the Hampshire Avon. It's still an effective and widely used fly pattern on both rivers and stillwaters and resembles a wide range of underwater nymphs, so can work throughout the year.

While Sawyer's original pattern was tied with only two materials - pheasant tail and copper wire - modern variations of the pattern have evolved this fly into a range of related patterns. Here is a selection of some of the most commonly seen variants of the pheasant tail nymph for you to tie.

1. Sawyer's pheasant tail nymph

Hans Weilenmann's fly is the closest to the original Sawyer's pheasant tail and uses copper wire instead of thread. This adds a bit of weight to the fly to help it get down into deeper water faster.

Hans Weilenmann / YouTube.

Hook: Partridge barbless ideal nymph Size 10-18
Thread: Dark copper wire
Weight: Dark copper wire
Rib: Dark copper wire
Tail: Pheasant tail feather tips
Body: Pheasant tail feather
Thorax: Pheasant tail feather tips
Wingcase: Pheasant tail feather

2. Cove's pheasant tail nymph

Not quite the same thing as the original, Arthur Cove's pheasant tail nymph - tied here by fly tying legend Davie McPhail - uses the same materials to take a different form. It uses a mix of hare's mask fur to give the fly a spikier appearance and a different shape to Sawyer's version. These work in all sizes on rivers and stillwaters.

Davie McPhail / YouTube.

Hook: Kamasan B110 size 12
Thread: Uni dark brown 8/0
Rib: Small copper wire
Body: Cock pheasant tail
Thorax cover: Cock pheasant tail
Thorax: Hare's mask dubbing
Legs: Cock pheasant tail fibres

3. Polish pheasant tail nymph

Again, a nymph made from pheasant tail, but far removed from Sawyer's one. This bead-headed nymph is a tiny one that's great to fish with modern short-line nymphing techniques or as part of a klink and dink set up.

Davie McPhail / YouTube.

Hook: Fulling Mill Ultimate size 20
Thread: Uni 8/0 Fire Orange
Tail: Natural brown cock or hen fibres
Tag: Fire Orange thread
Rib: Extra small copper wire
Body: Cock pheasant tail
Thorax: Black Peacock Diamond-Brite
Head: 1mm gold tungsten bead

4. Claret pheasant tail nymph

Makflies uses a sedge hook on his claret pheasant tail nymph which gives it a different shape and form to the other patterns here. It's a good example of what you can achieve with dyed pheasant tail fibres and a bit of lateral thinking - or when you've run out of nymph hooks! 

Makflies / YouTube.

Hook: Size 10 sedge hook
Thread: 8/0 Camo thread
Tail: Claret pheasant tail
Body: Claret pheasant tail
Thorax cover: Flashback
Head: Claret pheasant tail
Thorax: Green peacock herl

5. American pheasant tail nymph

The American pheasant tail is the closest to Sawyer's and is one of the most commonly used pheasant tail nymphs because this variety is the one you'll often see on sale at most online fly suppliers. It's quite a simple pattern to tie, so is a good choice if you're a beginner. As it looks a lot like many things it's effective pretty much anywhere all year round.

Tightlinevideo / YouTube.

Hook: Dai-Riki #730 Size 16 Nymph Hook
Thread: Danville's 70 Denier Flymaster 6/0 brown
Rib: UTC Ultra Wire copper small
Body: Dark brown pheasant tail
Tail: Dark brown pheasant tail
Thorax cover: Peacock herl

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