This rather easy-to-tie nymph is an extremely versatile and effective steelhead pattern. Simply by changing the colors of the materials used, you can produce a wide range of nymphs that steelhead find hard to resist.
I’m going to start with a Partridge Patriot Czech Nymph hook in a size 10. The wire on these hooks is nice and heavy, a really good thing when it comes to steelhead.
For thread, I load a bobbin with a spool of 140 Denier brown UTC. Start the thread on the hook shank immediately behind the eye and take wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag. Continue taking wraps well down into the hook bend.
Pheasant tail fibers are used to form both the tail and the wing case of the fly, these have been dyed chartreuse. Pull 6-8 fibers down, perpendicular to the stem and, while keeping their tips aligned, snip or strip them free. Hold the fibers with their tips exposed, and measure to form a tail about a hook gap in length. Lay the fibers against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure them to the top of the hook shank. Continue taking thread wraps forward to a little ways in front of the hook point and then wrap back down to the base of the tail. You can then hang the bobbin somewhere on your tying vise so it’s out of the way.
Now, load a second bobbin with thread that will be used to form the body of the fly, here, 140 Denier fluorescent chartreuse. Start this second thread at about the midpoint of the hook shank and take a few wraps rearward before snipping off the tag. Wrap a short way down the shank and then back up again. What this sequence of wrapping down and then back up does is help to build a nice, smoothly tapered abdomen, which I feel is really quite important to the overall look of this pattern. On the final wrap back up, make sure all the underwraps are thoroughly covered and that you even out any lumps or bumps. Pull the wing case fibers back and take wraps in front of them down toward the hook eye. Do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish to tie off the thread. You can then snip it free as it won’t be used again.
Retrieve the bobbin left on your tying vise and, while it’s hanging straight down, give it a healthy clockwise spin to cord up the thread. Start making open spiral wraps over top of the fly’s body to segment it. End with your tying thread in front of the wing case fibers.
Get hold of the same pheasant tail feather as before and pull down another 6-8 fibers and snip them free from the stem. This time, however, spin them around and trim off the brittle tips. While holding on to these tips, pull the other fibers back and tie down the new ones in front of them. All you’re doing here is adding additional material in order to form a more substantial wing case.
I’m going to use Caddis green SLF prism dubbing to form both the thorax and the legs. Place the material within easy reach of your right hand. Give your bobbin a gentle counterclockwise spin to flatten the tying thread. Pick up your bodkin and place it behind the thread to spread the fibers out. This will make it easier to then split the thread roughly down the middle. Insert the index finger of your left hand between the two strands to keep them separated. Get hold of a small amount of prism dubbing and place it between the strands. Continue adding material until you have a 2-3” length established then pull your index finger out, allowing the strands of thread to sandwich the dubbing material. Give your bobbin a few really good clockwise spins to cord up the thread, trap the dubbing and form a nice bushy dubbing noodle.
Start taking wraps with the noodle to build up the thorax of the fly, pulling back occasionally as you go. The idea is to get the dubbing to end immediately behind the hook eye. Gently tease the dubbing out to either side of the fly to simulate legs and, at the same time, make a smooth landing pad for the wing case.
Pull the pheasant tail fibers forward, out over the hook eye and hold them down securely. Using your left hand, take several thread wraps to anchor the fibers. Pull down tightly with your tying thread and take wraps beneath the fibers behind the eye. Finish with a few more wraps over top of the pheasant tail fibers. You can then reach in with the tips of your scissors and snip the excess fibers off close. Take additional thread wraps to build up a small head on the fly.
If you can remember, give your bobbin a gentle counterclockwise spin to un-cord the thread as thread that’s too tightly corded can wreak havoc with a whip finish. Once the thread’s reasonably flattened, do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, as normal, and snip or cut your tying thread free.
Pick up your scissors and preen out the dubbed thorax. Then do some pruning so the material sticks out on either side to resemble legs. A little less than a hook gap in length on either side generally looks pretty good.
Although not essential, I’ll apply a thin coat of Sally Hansen’s Quick Drying Top Coat to the abdomen to increase durability and ensure the segmenting wraps don’t slip. Also optional is to use your favorite UV cure resin to build up the wing case a bit. I like to carry the material out over top of the thread wraps, over the entire wing case and then just a little onto the abdomen. Once you’re satisfied with the amount and placement, give the wing case a shot of UV light. It should be completely dry to the touch when you’re done. I really like the way it makes the fly look and I’m sure it helps to hold things together as well.
To change the overall look of the fly, stick with the same basic pattern and tying procedure but change up the color of the thread used for the body, anything from wild fluorescents to muted earth tones will work, and change the color of the thorax dubbing to complement that body. If you like, you can even change the color of the pheasant tail fibers used to form the fly’s tail and wing case, although natural colored pheasant tail will work just fine.
I’ve found that with steelhead, some days it’s all about color, and having a good variety to choose from can make the difference between getting takes or getting skunked.