Lightning Bugs – Pheasant Tail Nymphs

October 22, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors

Nick Simonson

Of all the game birds sportsmen pursue, none is more colorful than the ringneck pheasant. Which makes it a pretty odd fact that the most popular fly used by outdoorsmen is the generally drab looking pheasant tail nymph – or simply, the PTN. Of course, trout, bluegill and other fish don’t seem to mind, considering most of their food sources are brown in color and about a half-inch in length. Sometimes though, little additions make a big difference in triggering fish, and dressing up the PTN with some flash or color can help put fish on the line and electrify your outings.

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Pheasant Tail Nymph

So with the materials piling up on the fly tying desk after the pheasant season opener, now is the time to learn some new twists on a classic pattern to help you fire up some fall trout or some spring bluegill. From the addition of beads and flashy wingcases to accented thoraxes and wire bodies, these patterns turn the PTN from drab to dynamite and give you new options to try on your favorite fly fishing flows.

The most common way to highlight the PTN is to add a bead head. Before you start tying the fly, slip a bead to the front of the hook next to the eye and tie the usual nymph body up to it, but take note of the smaller tying area to keep things proportionate. A standard brass bead is still a bit boring, so feel free to experiment with different colors. Black metal beads make for subtle options while providing some extra weight. Or make the fly scream “eat me!” with a blaze-orange metal bead. For a neat color highlight, add a glass bead to the nymph’s head in red, pink, blue or other hue. The options are only limited by the colors you have available, so invest a couple bucks in a variety pack of glass beads or pick up a few brass or tungsten options.

Another body part that can be modified on the PTN is the wingcase, which is pulled over the abdomen of peacock herl. Instead of creating the case with the tail feather fibers, tie them flat and add in a piece of pearlescence, tinsel or other flashy material. Wrap in the herl as normal and fold the pearlescent material up toward the head. Tie it down and trim, creating the legs with the remaining feather fibers and form a thread head. A quick detour from the normal pattern adds some flash to the back of the fly – resulting in this variant’s common name: The Flashback PTN. The same tactic can be applied to any nymph with a wingcase, such as the popular Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear.

For an egg-laying appearance or just something different, start your PTN off with a dash of color. After anchoring the tail fibers in place, tie in a small ball of dubbing in pink, orange or chartreuse to fire the fly up from the butt section. From there, wrap the standard body in place and finish the fly as normal. This variant is known in many tying circles as the Hot Butt PTN, for obvious reasons.

Finally, feel free to borrow from another popular pattern to put a new twist on Ol’ Reliable. Using wire, you can combine the flashy abdomen of a popular midge pattern – the brassie – with the bulk of the PTN. Simply form the body of the pheasant tail nymph by twisting the wire over the abdomen area to provide both weight and flash. Tie in two pieces of different colored wire and wrap them side-by-side up to the herl thorax area for added attraction.

All of these variations on the classic pheasant tail nymph will expand your skills at the vise and should give fish something new to consider next season. The options are limited only by your imagination and by experimenting with material and pattern combinations during the tying season you might just find next year’s hot pattern on your vise, just waiting to be tested on your favorite trout or panfish waters…in our outdoors.

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Pheasant Tail Nymph


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