Not So Humble Pheasant Tail


.YOU probably have more of these in your fly collection than you realize, sitting there unappreciated and overlooked like a pack of ramen noodles at the back of the cupboard are your Pheasant Tails

We live in a world dominated by midge pupa and buggers but even when its time comes fancier flies with eyeballs and elbows tend to come out of the fly boxes first. Familiarity it seems breeds contempt.

The Pheasant Tail, and its cousin the Hare’s Ear, are the definition of standards _ certainly these are the only two nymphs common, or famous, enough to have their own listings on Wikipedia.

Normally  at this time of year I’d be kicking myself for not having started tying summer pheasant tails sooner. But the vagaries of weather and water for a second year in a row have kept the Sulphurs off the water through June.

If there is a lonelier gig than being one mayfly who is days early for the emergence, I don’t want it. Imagine spending your whole life waiting for one day of beauty, grace and romance and no one else turns up for the party.

But I digress _ the late winters and cool springs of this year and last have pushed the mayflies back into July. The upside is we are still dry fly fishing to caddis in June, particularly on the low water we are getting right now.

Pheasant Tails have become my summer mayfly bug, though perhaps I’ve become too much of a creature of habit, there are more uses for those buddy fibres than just a mayfly imitation..

The PT was devised by Frank Sawyer MBE, an English River Keeper to match mayflies on the chalkstreams of Southern England, and came to prominence after the publication of Sawyer’s Nymphs and the Trout in 1958. The Sawyer PT  twisted pheasant tail fibers around one copper wire, for durability, flash and weight, and its skinny profile matched a lot of mayfly patterns.  You can see Sawyer tying his nymph on this video.

Sawyer’s original, which still can be deadly, also spawned a myriad of copies. What became the standard US version, used lead under the thorax, a peacock herl thorax, and legs (or wings) for a chestier profile.  A strip of flashabou and a dot of epoxy and you have the flashbacks. Brass then tungsten beads came along.

But the essence of Sawyer’s design remains. Tie his version on a shortshank, or even scud, hook in small sizes and they can serve very well as a midge pupa. Diverge a little further and the Pheasant Tail soft hackle is more than serviceable, though less popular than say a Hare’s Ear.

Add a hot spot collar in flouro orange to a regular PT or try tying Egan’s Frenchie. The possibilities are endless, which is why those long Phesant Tail feather remain one of my favorite materials. But equally its way too easy to pass them over until summer.

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