Pheasant Tail Nymph
Lift a stone in any trout stream and clinging to the underside will be a host of nymphs. The most prolific will be Deleatidium vernale, they are usually in the slow quieter water.
When fishing once at Coe’s Ford there were a few trout rising but not taking. I took a look at a stone: there were a few caddis nymphs and the ever-present Deleatidium family. I tied on a size 14 pheasant tail in a slightly dark copper colour, a bonus when you tie your own because you are only limited by your imagination.
Walking upstream, (never walk downstream if you can see the bottom, because before you can see the fish they will see you, I have found it impossible to catch a trout doing a hundred miles an hour to the closest cover) I moved above Coe’s towards Chamberlains Ford when I spied a trout about midstream. I carefully got in behind and laid a cast up and to one side of the fish. He moved over and then back. With a lift of the rod tip home went the hook and off went the trout under the overhanging willows! A little side strain and eventually out he came and into the net, a nice 2.5 lb brown.
I tie the pheasant tail to match the river I’m fishing and vary size and colour to suit. When fishing small streams like the South Branch of the Waimakariri River I don’t add any weight, other than the copper wire ribbing and the thorax, whereas for the big pools and faster water I use heavier copper wire. If I need a heavier nymph I add lead wire, and for bigger rivers like the Waitaki, and even the Ahuriri, lead and copper wire together make a nymph I call the Ahuriri bomber. It sinks like a stone and is very good for those deep pools where the fish hug the bottom in the hot summer months.
Other variations to the nymph include adding a pearl Flashabou wing case. This gives the impression of trapped air as the nymph moves through the water, and for lakes I make two changes. I use long shank hooks and tie a slim body fished on a long leader greased within a foot of the nymph and fished dead drift. You have to keep your eyes on the leader. All you will see is leader draw under the water! Use a quick flick of the rod to set the hook.
Another different method is to add a thorax of dubbing, either olive or a natural rabbit mix by picking out a few fibres with a dubbing needle to give the impression of legs.
Pheasant tail feathers are now available in a lot more colours – dark chestnut, rusty orange, and olive. You can vary in colours to meet your needs.
My first fish caught on a nymph was taken on a pheasant tail nymph on the Selwyn River. We caught three fish that day in vastly different water types. My fish was taken in knee-deep water and Stewart’s was taken in a deep swirly pool. The fish were hard to see because of moving currents. It was hard to get the fly to the fish. Now my fly box has many Pheasant Tails in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours; hook sizes 8 to 16 in the medium shank and long shank in 10 to 16.
Start by tying in four tail fibres of a cock pheasant tail, and then decide what body you want. If you are tying a standard pattern, wind a body of copper wire to form a carrot shape, leaving enough wire to use as a rib, then wind your tail fibres around the shank to the eye, tie off. I then take the thread back to the start of the thorax and tie in a wing case of tail fibres, pull to the front and tie off. This is much easier than trying to make the tail fibres do the lot.
When winding the rib go the opposite way to where you have wound the body. When adding lead, only wrap two layers in the thorax area, the top layer smaller than the first.
For a slightly different pattern tie in a fur thorax, tie in your tail and wind up to where you start your wing case. Then dub your body, pull over the wing case and tie off.
Normally the pheasant tail nymph doesn’t have any legs, but you can add them if you want. In slow water, it gives a bit of life to a fairly rigid pattern. Play around with some of these ideas or try some of your own.