Pheasant Tail Nymph

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Pheasant Tail Nymph
Artificial fly
Pheasant Tail Nymph.jpg
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Type Nymph
Imitates Mayfly larvae
Creator Frank Sawyer
Created 1958
Other names Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail
Primary use Trout, Grayling

The Pheasant Tail is a popular nymph imitation used when fly fishing. It is used to mimic a large variety of aquatic insect larvae that many fish including trout feed upon. It is also widely referred to as the Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail, in relation to the original creator of this fly.


Originally conceived and tied by Frank Sawyer MBE, an English River Keeper, the Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of the oldest of modern nymphs.

Frank devised the pattern for use on the chalkstreams of Southern England. He designed this nymph to imitate several species of the Baetis family, generally referred to as the 'olives'; it quickly became world famous.

Tying the fly[edit]

Frank Sawyers’ book Nymphs and the Trout first published in 1958 describes the method of tying and fishing the nymph. The design of the fly is significantly different from other flies in that Sawyer did not use thread to construct the fly, instead opting to use very fine copper wire. This has two effects; it adds weight to the fly, enabling it to be fished deeper than similar patterns (see below), and adds a subtle brightness to an otherwise drab fly.[1][2]

Frank twisted the wire and pheasant tail fibers around one another, and wrapped them forward together, forming the thorax and abdomen. A few good variations have been developed over the years, but when you strip them away, it's still Sawyer's elegantly simple, devastatingly effective nymph.

Frank’s Pheasant Tail suggests many of the skinny nymphs that flourish in various habitats, exciting riffles to alluring deep holes in the rivers bed of chalk streams or spring creeks; and in stillwaters of all sizes.

Fishing the Pheasant Tail[edit]

In streams and rivers, the Pheasant Tail can be presented below the surface if required, but it is at its most productive when allowed to sink close to the river bed on a dead drift and then gently raised in the water to imitate the behaviour of the natural insect.[3] This behaviour of the fly stimulates trout to regard the fly as natural food, and to try to eat it, at which point the hook can be set. This technique has become known as the "Induced Take", and the development of this technique may be considered to be as important as the development of the fly itself.

In chalk streams and spring creeks trout often take up station at the most advantageous feeding position. Cast upstream and allow the current to present your Pheasant Tail in a natural manner. Alternatively, cast across the stream, allow the fly to sink, and as the fly approaches the feeding trout stop the line and allow the fly to rise in the water. Watch the trout if you can, or alternatively watch the tip of the fly line for any movement and, if seen, lift the rod tip and gently set the hook.

On lakes, this is a very effective fly in the middle of the day during the Callibaetis season. Use a floating line with greased sunken leader, retrieve the fly very slowly just below the surface. Pay particular attention to shallow areas near weed beds

In the UK, Sawyer's Pheasant Tail Nymph is an excellent imitation of "agile darter" nymphs, specifically Lake Olive (Cloëon simile) and Pond Olive (Cloëon dipterum) at any time of day, and can even be used during a midge (chironomidae) hatch.


  1. ^ Sawyer, Frank (1958). Nymphs and Trout. ISBN 0-7136-1074-3. 
  2. ^ Sawyer, Frank (1952). Keeper of the Stream. ISBN 0-04-799039-2. 
  3. ^ "Pheasant Tail Expert Tip". Fish4Flies. Retrieved 8 November 2006. 

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