How to Tie the Pheasant Tail
(Mayfly Nymph Pattern)

To properly learn the techniques and flies presented in this website, work your way through the Basic Skills sections and then do the listed flies in the recommended order. Each fly builds on previously learned skills. They become harder as you move along. Make sure you build several of each fly to solidify your skills at each step.


Importance to Fly Fishing

In late spring and summer mayfly nymphs work their way to the surface to emerge. When this kind of a hatch is on, fish get excited and gorge themselves on this easily caught food. When this kind of activity is noted, tie on a mayfly nymph pattern and enjoy yourself.

Mayfly nymph
Photo courtesy of Philip Rowley

Rather than looking at this as one pattern, you need to look at it as one of a family of patterns. If you look at a book that has a selection of mayfly nymphs in it, you’ll notice that most of them have the same elements and proportions. The colour and materials vary but the design is similar. Mayflies vary greatly in size and colour. Don’t let that overwhelm you. The pattern presented here is a good start and will give you plenty of success. It was originated in England and is presently a very popular fly in both Europe and America.

NB: You will probably have to build this fly several times before you get the technique and proportions right. This is normal. Even the most experienced fly tiers, when learning a new fly, have difficulties. They need to do it several times before they have one they like.


A = 1/2 to 2/3 hook shank length

B = a little more than 1/2 hook shank length

C = a little less than 1/2 hook shank length

D = about 1/2 hook shank length

The Pheasant Tail
Originator: Frank Sawyer
Hook: Mustad 3906B size 10 (To make it easier to learn, you may want to tie one or two on the larger Mustad 9672 size 8)
Thread: 6/0 black
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers
Ribbing: Copper wire, medium
Thorax: Peacock herl
Wing Case and Legs: Pheasant tail fibers

In the Basic Skills sections you learned how to

  • smash down the barb
  • put the hook in the vice
  • start the thread

Please do the above. Make sure the thread is at the bend of the hook.

Take the pheasant tail feather and separate 4 to 6 fibers. Pull them perpendicular to the stem. This will make the tips even. Cut the fibers close to the stem (As shown with the taylor dragon). The fibers you have just cut will be used for the tail. With this fly proportions are important. Using your right hand place the fibers on the hook as shown with the tips at the bend.


Place your left thumb and forefinger so that a little over half of the hook shank is covered.


Grip the fibers and pull them back until your thumb and forefinger are against the bend of the hook. Use the pinch and secure the tail fibers. Remove your fingers and see if the tail length is right. It should be between 1/2 and 2/3 the length of the shank. If the tail is too long or short, undo the wraps, adjust the length, and cinch down again.


Wrap thread along the length of the fibers to the mid-point of the hook shank. Trim the excess fibers. Return the thread to the hook bend.


Take a 6 cm length of copper wire and lay it along the shank. The wire end should go to the point where you trimmed the tail fibers. Tie in the wire using the pinch.


Next snip off another 6 pheasant tail fibers. Position the fiber tips as shown (the tip ends are about 5 mm over the hook shank). Use the pinch and secure the fibers. After everything has been cinched in at the bend, move the thread to the half way point of the hook.


Now gather the fibers together. Give them a single twist. Then wrap them up the shank of the hook until you get to the half way point.

NB: Since the fibers are short, wrapping them can be tricky. Make a single wrap and tug at the fibers. This gets them settled into position. Next attach the hackle pliers. Only grip enough fibers to be able to hold them. Then wrap in wide wraps just barely covering the hook (otherwise you’ll run out of material).


Next tie off the fibers and trim the excess.


The next step is to wrap the copper wire. Make about 5 wraps to bring the wire to the midpoint of the shank. You can use the same procedure as with the damselfly nymph. Another option, which many tiers prefer, is to wrap the wire in the opposite direction. This prolongs the life of the fly. If the fibers get severed by the fish’s teeth, they won’t unravel. The only difficulty lies when tying off the wire. It will loosen as you wrap the thread over it in the normal direction.

To do this procedure, move the wire under the shank as you move it away from you and over the shank as you bring the wire towards you.


Once you get to the end of the abdomen, make several more wraps around the bare shank.


Then with your left hand hold the wire angled to the back. With your right hand take the bobbin and make several firm wraps of thread over the wire. This will prevent the wire from loosening and unraveling as you tie it oft. Snip off the excess wire.


Now more pheasant tail fibers are needed. They will make the shellback and the legs. Take about 12 fibers and pull them away from the stem until the tips line up straight. Cut them off near the stem.

Next place them on the hook as shown, It is most important that you line them up right. These fibers will also create the legs. If the fibers are projecting too far or not far enough back, there will be problems with the legs. The length of these fibers projecting back should be, from the tie in point, the same length as the hook shank.


Use the pinch to secure the fibers, give several more firm wraps and trim the excess.


Next take two peacock herls. Trim about 2 cm off the butt ends.


Position the herl butt ends as shown


Now tie them in and snip off any excess. Cinch the shellback and hen materials one more time at the point where the abdomen ends.


Move the thread to the front. Take one herl and wrap it in tight wraps to behind the eye. (leave at least 2 mm of bare hook shank exposed) Tie it off. Do the same with the next herl. Clip off the excess.


Now take the shellback fibers and pull them forward over the thorax.


Tie off the fibers as you have been tying off the other materials. Make several extra wraps of thread so that about 2 mm of the fibers have been covered. DO NOT CLIP THE “EXCESS” MATERIAL. Do not build a thread head yet.


You will be bending back the remaining fibers to form the legs. Look at your fly from above. Take a bodkin (or a needle or a toothpick) and separate the fibers into two even bunches.


Now pull the group of fibers nearest you back along the fly. Make two wraps of thread over the area shown.


Repeat this procedure with the fibers on the other side.


Build a thread head, secure with 5 half hitch knots, snip the thread, and add head cement.

Here is the completed Pheasant Tail.


Click Here for more mayfly patterns.

Teacher Support Materials for this Section

How to fish the pheasant tail fly

How to troll flies