By Nick Simonson
No matter what water you visit, no matter what you fish for, the pheasant tail nymph (or “PTN” as it’s known in fly fishing circles) is the staple nymph pattern in any fly box. From a fast-moving stream filled with browns, to still lake loaded with bluegills, or cold mountain pond stocked with rainbows to a warm farm pond packed with crappies, the PTN is the workhorse of the fly fishing world and has an allure that draws in all species. It can be customized in hundreds of different ways for each flow and for various applications, is super easy to tie and almost impossible to fish wrong.
While generally designed to imitate mayfly nymphs, this do-it-all pattern hits all three posts for any good wet fly: half-inch, brown, and buggy-looking. With just three simple materials – pheasant tail fibers, copper wire and peacock herl – you can tie up dozens of these flies in no time and be well on your way to catching fish next spring with a fly for all purposes.
Hook: Nymph Size 10-16
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: 6-8 PT Fiber Tips
Abdomen: Wrapped PT Fibers
Rib: Counter-Wrapped Copper Ultrawire
Thorax: 2 Strands Peacock Herl
Wingcase: Folded PT Fibers
Legs: Folded Back PT Fibers
Start the pheasant tail nymph by tying in six to eight pheasant tail (“PT”) fibers so that the tips hang about one-half of the hook length out over the bend; this will form the tail. At the same time, tie in a strand of copper ultrawire and advance the thread two-thirds of the way up the hook shank (1). Wrap the PT fibers forward to the thread in order to form the abdomen, taking care to cover the tie-in point in front of the tail as you do, and tie them off with a couple wraps of thread (2). Then counter-wrap the ultrawire to help secure the fibers and form the rib of the fly, before trimming it and securing it with a couple wraps of thread (3).
To form the thorax, tie in two strands of peacock herl (4). Gently wrap the herl forward to just behind the hook eye, tying off and trimming the excess (5). At that point, fold the PT fibers forward over the herl thorax to form the wingcase of the nymph and tie off just in front of the last herl wrap (6). Spilt the fibers in half and fold each group back along the thorax to form the legs of the fly, trimming them even with the back of the thorax (7). From there, build a slight thread head, whip finish and add a drop of head cement for posterity – the fly is done (8)!
Tie the PTN up on a variety of nymph and curved hooks, add beads and different colored wire or even died feather fibers to change up the color scheme. Odds are the fish will take after those variants designed following the mastery of this basic pattern. Make plenty to share with angling buddies and streamside bushes as this frequently-fished nymph becomes a big part of any fly box.