This is a stripped down, more English version, of a Pheasant tail nymph and it’s quite small, real small. I really wish trout didn’t like these little things as much as they do, my aging eyes are much better suited to size 16 and above particularly in low light conditions. But, I’ve found, going small is at times the only way out of a thorough skunking.
Getting your tippet through the eye on these wee bitty offerings is tough enough but a hook eye partially clogged with tying materials makes the task darn near impossible, so we’ll focus on keeping the eye clear throughout the tying process.
Although nearly about any nymph hook with do, I really like the look of a Dai-Riki #270, because it looks just plain sexy, there I said it. Anyway, this one’s a size 22. As when handling almost all small hooks, EZ Hackle Pliers make the job much easier.
If you don’t already do it as habit, seriously consider mashing the barb on this pattern before securing it in your tying vise, it’s easy to do and takes just a couple of seconds. Because these nymphs are so small, getting them quickly out of a fish’s jaw can be problematic and a barb only exasperates the situation. Even barbless hooks often times require fine point forceps for expeditious removal. A Midge Size Ketchum Release tool also works exceptionally well.
For thread, on all types of small flies, it’s hard to go wrong with 6/0 Danville Flymaster, as it just seems to do everything right. Here I’m using Olive.
Start your thread on the hook shank leaving some space behind the eye. Take a few wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag.
For durability, segmentation and a bit of shine, extra small, copper colored Ultra Wire is used to rib the fly. About a 3 inch length is plenty. With thread wraps, secure the wire to the hook shank and continue taking wraps rearward to just above the barb while allowing thread tension to carry the wire to the far side of the hook.
Pheasant tail fibers are used to form both the tail and the abdomen of the fly. These have been dyed a dark brown. Pull 3 or 4 fibers down and perpendicular to the stem and then strip them off. It’s a good idea to cut the curlies from the butt ends so they don’t get hung up during tying. Keeping the tips aligned, measure the fibers to form a tail slightly more than a hook gap in length. With a pinch wrap, secure the fibers to the shank just above the barb. Two to three thread wraps are usually enough to hold the fibers in place. Now, get hold of the fibers and begin making touching wraps around the hook shank behind your tying thread. The tying thread really helps to keep the fibers together and wrapping correctly. When you reach the initial thread tie-in point, make 3 thread wraps over top of the fibers then pull the fibers back and take one wrap of thread only around the hook shank followed by one more around the pheasant tail fibers. This sequence allows you to cleanly break off the excess material without fear of it coming unraveled. We’ll use the same procedure a couple more times going forward.
Get hold of the copper wire and pull it under the hook shank so it doesn’t jostle the tail. Start taking wraps over top of the pheasant tail. On flies this small, I believe counter-wraps are more trouble than they’re worth but feel free to use them if you like. When you reach the front of the pheasant tail body, secure the wire with 3 tight turns of tying thread. You can then raise your bobbin up to brace the hook while you helicopter the wire and break it off close.
Using the same pheasant tail as before, this time pull down 8 to 10 fibers and strip them free from the stem. Once again cut the curlies off so they don’t get in your way. Now flip the fibers around so you’re holding the tips in your left hand. With your tying scissors, snip about a half an inch of the brittle tips off square. Place the clump on top of the hook shank leaving a little bit of space behind the eye. Give your bobbin a counter-clockwise spin. This will cause your thread to jump slightly rearward and catch the tips rather than jump forward and miss them. Take thread wraps to secure the pheasant tail to the top of the hook all the way back to about the halfway point of the body of the fly.
Separate out 2 or 3 of the fibers closest to you and once again, begin making adjacent wraps behind the thread, up the hook toward the eye, this time to form the thorax. Now we’re going to do that same tie-off procedure for a second time. So, 3 wraps over the fibers followed by 1 around the hook shank in front of the fibers and finish with a final wrap over the fibers. You can then break off each fiber individually with confidence that it won’t come unraveled. Next, pull the remaining fibers over top and forward to form a nice little wing case.
For the third and final time, do the tie-off procedure. Three wraps over top, one around the hook in front and one finishing wrap over top of the fibers. Remember to only break off one or two fibers at a time. Give your bobbin a clockwise spin to cord up the thread a bit. Do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish and snug it down nice and tight. You can then snip or cut your tying thread free.
As you can see here, with this method, you end up with a neat little head and a hook eye that’s clear of obstructions. A very small drop of head cement applied to the wing case and down onto the thread wraps isn’t necessary but really adds something in terms of look and durability. Just make sure to keep it out of the hook eye. You can vary the pattern simply by changing the color of the pheasant tail. Sometimes smaller is better.