Nice brown trout caught with a pheasant tail nymph

Complete Guide to Fly Fishing with the Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Pheasant tail nymph is one of those fly patterns you would most definitely come across when starting out. Whether you started fly fishing 50 years ago or last week, the Pheasant Tail Nymph would have been in any kit or part of any recommended purchase.

Close up picture of Pheasant Tail Nymph
Close up picture of Pheasant Tail Nymph

This pattern has been around for over 50 years and is still one of my go-to fly patterns. I avidly believe this pattern can turn your day around in any circumstance. The beauty of this pattern is that it suggests many an insect and can be mistaken for most underwater critters that the trout would be feeding on. This nymph catches fish in shallow, fast water or deep, slow pools.

Referred to as the PTN by most, this pattern is a must in your fly box. Weighted and unweighted versions are deadly in the right situations.

One of my favorite rigs is to fish an unweighted PTN under a CDC caddis and drift it over a slow tail out. This ALWAYS works and has yielded some of my best results.

Below we will go through the ins and outs of how to tie and fish the famous PTN.

Brown Trout Scales
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Why the Pheasant Tail Nymph is Great

What makes the PTN such a great pattern? By looking at it, you can see that it is a pretty buggy-looking fly. I’m a sucker for buggy-looking patterns. When the word buggy is used, I immediately think of the PTN, the ZAK nymph, and the classic Wooley bugger. These patterns slay fish, and for a good reason.

They imitate an array of various insects and aquatic life and can be fished as suggestive patterns as well. The PTN was specifically designed to imitate the slender types of the Baetis family, also known as ‘Olives,’ but the PTN also covers the mobile nymphs, certain caddis species, and stone flies.

A Little History of the Pheasant Tail Nymph

Steeped in history, the PTN was originally designed and tied by Frank Sawyer, Frank was an English riverkeeper on the River Avon in Wiltshire. The fly was originally tied to imitate the Baetis mayfly but has since become a suggestive nymph for a few other aquatic insects. (Source)

The nymph was thought to imitate the skinny water nymphs of the chalk streams around the UK. These Baetis nymphs are found in all the shallow riffles and grass lanes.

The original way of fishing the PTN was by using the ‘induced take ‘method. This method is thought to be invented specifically for this pattern and is just as important as the fly itself. The method has since lent itself to many other patterns over the years.

The ‘induced take’ method is a simple dead drift of the nymph nearest the river bottom as possible. Once the fly is down and in a dead drift, the fly is gently lifted up toward the surface. This action imitates most emerging insects and often triggers an eat. The fly could be lowered back down and allowed to drift again if no interest was shown.

While the PTN and ‘induced tale’ method work wonderfully in moving water, the PTN is also a very deadly pattern to fish in still waters as well. It can be fished as a dead drift or static nymph on a suspension rig. The suggestiveness of the PTN is what makes it such a deadly pattern for the still waters. I never leave home for a still session without a few in the fly box. Better yet just throw your nymph’s box in your still water bag in case.

What Fish Does a Pheasant Tail Nymph Catch?

The PTN was originally tied to imitate the Baetis mayfly family, but because of the way it has been tied, with its slender body and small thread head, it can imitate many other insects. This makes the pattern very attractive to other fish species, and I have caught trout, bass, carp, and grayling on the PTN.

Fly Fishing Brook Trout
Fly Fishing Brook Trout love Pheasant Tail Nymphs

The PTN is one of my go-to patterns to start with on my local streams. It is also a great choice on those tough still water days. The PTN can also be fished like a midge would and imitate the Chironomidae hatch.

One of my favorite ways to fish the PTN is on a slow retrieve through the grass beds.

How to Setup a Pheasant Tail Nymph

The river- setup is the same as you would fish any nymph, really. A euro nymph rig or a dry dropper-style New Zealand rig is also a great way to fish the PTN. Czech style wouldn’t work very well as you need to have a heavily beaded fly for this, and the PTN is generally un-beaded or very lightly weighted with a 2mm or 2.5mm bead at the most. Leader 12-17 feet down to a 4X-7X tippet will work fine.

Fly Fishing Setup for Nymphs
Complete Guide to Fly Fishing Setup for Nymphs

Stillwaters- Again, nothing needs to change in reality for the still water setup; the PTN is fished as a single nymph just below the surface on a midge rig. Long leaders and floating/ hover lines will be just fine.

What Does the Pheasant Tail Nymph Represent

The PTN was tied to imitate the Baetis mayfly family. They are long, slender-looking nymphs you find underneath most of the rocks in your local stream. But, as mentioned earlier, the PTN has, over the years, become somewhat of a suggestive pattern. Covering an array of species found in the local waters.

Pheasant Tail Nymph Favorite Size and Color

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph Pattern
Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph Pattern
Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph Fly Pattern
Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph Fly Pattern

Below are my go-to PTN patterns

  1. Classic Pheasant Tail Nymph is the standard nymph fished in sizes #14- #18. The colors can be varied to black as well. This is the perfect pattern to fish on a suspension rig or under a dry fly in a shallow freestone run.
  2. Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph– I love this variant. The flashback thorax is the perfect little trigger that often makes all the difference—fished in a Size #14 and #16 mostly.
  3. Beaded Pheasant tail Nymph– The beaded version is a great point fly and can be the very effect when fished in larger sizes. This version in dun grey or black is also a great pattern.

Where to Buy Pheasant Tail Nymph

The joy and pleasure you get from catching a fish on your patterns are hard to beat, and thus try to advocate that you tie or at least try to tie your flies. I do, however, understand that if you don’t or can’t tie your own, that is why we have fly shops and online stores that tie wonderful patterns.

So, if you don’t tie your flies, please buy them from your local fly shop and support them where you can.

If you don’t have a local shop in your town, then I would recommend the Umpqua online store. They have signature tiers and a massive selection of great patterns.

How to Tie Pheasant Tail Nymph


  • Hook: Size 14 Wet Fly Hook
  • Thread: 8/0 Brown
  • Rib: Copper Wire
  • Tail: Pheasant Tail
  • Body and Wingcase: Pheasant Tail
  • Thorax: Peacock Herl
  • Optional: Gold Beadhead

Download the FREE PDF Materials list for the PTN with high resolution pictures 👉 Pheasant Tail Nymph Fly Tying Materials List


  1. Secure hook in the vise.
  2. If you are tying the pattern with a bead, now is the time to add it.
  3. Wrap a tapered thread base from behind the hook eye to juts on the hook bend.
  4. Tie in 4/5 strands of pheasant tail fibers to form the tail.
  5. Note; the length needs to be 2/3rd of the shank in length.
  6. Tie in the copper wire, making sure it’s on the side of the hook shank.
  7. Wrap thread forward ending 2/3rd sup the hook shank.
  8. Wrap the pheasant’s tail towards the hook eye, tying the fibers off where the thread starts.
  9. The body profile is important to keep in check here. Make sure the abdomen length is 2:1 to the thorax.
  10. Wrap the copper wire forward in the opposite direction to the pheasant tail. Ensuring you lock the fibers down nicely. This is a crucial step, and it will be the difference between a fly that breaks or not.
  11. Tie in 3-4 strands of pheasant tail on top of the hook shank to eventually wrap over the peacock herl as the thorax cover.
  12. Tie in the three peacock herl strips and wrap them forward to form the thorax. Tie the peacock herl off and start a thread head.
  13. Fold the pheasant tail over the herl to form the cover and tie it off.

GUIDE PRO TIP- you can finish this part with a red thread to create a trigger. The color red is a great trout trigger.

One Last Cast with the Pheasant Tail Nymph

Whether you are a purist, pro, or beginner, we can all agree that the classy PTN belongs in everyone’s fly box. It’s an effective fly choice in any circumstance and, in most cases, will get the fish to eat.

Along with its effectiveness, the simplistic method to tie the PTN makes it a great, quick fly to tie.

So, the next time you look at the empty spots in your fly box, throw a few Pheasant tail nymphs in. You won’t be disappointed!

Happy Fishing and tight lines!

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Kyle Knight writer Guide Recommended

Kyle Knight

Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.

Sources and References

  • A Special thanks to Umpqua for fly picture use. Umpqua “World’s Best Flies”
  • Wikipedia description and history for the Pheasant Tail Nymph – Wikipedia
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