Jeff Selser shares his pheasant tail nymph pattern called the P.T. Cruiser in this article with the pattern and instructions.
The pheasant tail nymph has been a mainstay for nymphing anglers searching for trout. Sometimes it is an overlooked pattern for really big salmonoids like the steelhead here in the Great Lakes.
By Jeff Selser
Lets face it, steelhead can be finicky. Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops and throw something other anglers are failing to tie on the end of their tippets. One of those patterns that can be deadly on salmonoid in Michigan is the tried and true pheasant tail nymph.
Usually anglers are thinking big flies for big fish. When the fresh salmon and steelhead hit the rivers for the first time the aggressive fish will clobber a spey or large streamer. After the word get's out and anglers work the waters hard it's time for the naturals.
After the fish have been in the river and are getting a little spooky, the savvy angler will go for the natural presentation. Sure eggs work wonders as the fish hit the runs behind the beds gobbling up salmon eggs as they drift bye. However, once a fish has been stung by the hook a couple of times, eggs may not look so appetizing.
Pheasant tails imitate mayfly nymphs so common to our streams and rivers. Englishman Frank Sawyer, who created the original pheasant tail, or P.T. for short, tied this pattern using only copper wire instead of thread and nothing but pheasant tail. The thorax was created by wrapping the copper wire around the shank and covering the wire with a wing case. The original still fishes well and the weight probably has a lot to do with it. Adding legs is an American addition and many tiers like Al Troth and others do it.
So here is my humble implementation of the pheasant tail nymph.My simple variation called the P.T. Cruiser, is based on the tried and true P.T. and uses hungarian partridge which creates the swimming exaggerated legs as the fly tumbles in the current. While six legs is correct anatomically, I don't think the steelhead can count. Another touch is the nice effect that maxima chameleon mono gives for nymph eyes. It has that translucent quality.
This pattern can be weighted. If weighted, non lead wire is used (read no lead) in the thorax as a base for the pea***** herl. Another simple trick is adding a bead head to your tippet before tying on the fly. This can be an easy solution to sinking that fly at stream side. An egg sucking version would have you adding a orange bead head for example. I usually fish this fly in tandem with another pattern like a black stone, but many a time, this has been the one that fooled them.
Hook size can be important here. If the water is clear and low like it is right now, using to large of a hook will detract from the action of the nymph and make it look unnatural. I am using a size 14 Kamason which is close to a Tiemco 200R in style with less of a gape. You would be surprised at how large a steelhead you can actually land on a size 14 hook. Key issue is matching your tippet to the wire so that you won't overpower the hook. Play with your hook selection and see what works for you. Steelhead are finicky so I like to keep it small and matching the natural beatis which it is designed to imitate.
This steelhead and trout fly pattern takes only a couple of minutes to complete on the vise after a few tries. Add a couple or a couple of dozen to your fly box for your next trip to the rivers. You might just be darn glad you did. Plus I think they look really cool too.
Remember only you can turn around the economy. Go buy something at your favorite fly shop and get out and fish! Hey and don't forget if you shop, shop our online store. It costs money for me to run this site and I can use your support plus you get great prices on thousands of everyday items.
Jeff's P.T. Cruiser Nymph
Hook: Kamasan B220 Size 14
Thread: Uni 6/0 Camel
Tail: Pheasant Tail (about 12 fibers)
Ribbing: Copper Wire - SM / MED
Thorax: Pea***** Herl
Wing Case: Pheasant Tail
Eyes: Burnt Maxima Chameleon Mono
Legs: Hungarian Partridge (Natural)
Gills: Pheasant aftershaft feathers.
Step one: Start 1/4 back from hook eye and lay thread base to point over hook barb. Wrap back up 1/3 and tie in copper wire, wrapping back to barb.
Step 2: Take a dozen or so bunch of pheasant tail and tie in at tail. Tail should be length of body. Now wrap clockwise up 5/8 of the shank. Tie in and counter wrap with copper wire. Lay pheasant back to rear for wing case.
Step 3: Tie in eyes with figure eight wraps un till secure. Return thread to wing case position. Now tie in 3 pea***** herl feathers and wrap around thread to create a rope. Build thorax with this rope. Tie in behind eyes.
Step 4: Size appropriate partridge feather and strip towards base leaving small tip. Cut a "V" in the tip to separate. Position shaft over eyes and secure with 3 thread wraps. Now tie in aftershaft and hackle around eyes. Small aftershaft feathers are key here.
Step 5: Line up partridge feather so it is even over body and take pheasant tail for case and fold over thorax. Tie in in front of eyes. A wiggle here will get the material to seat between the eyes. Whip finish and cement thread. Your done!
About the Author:
Jeff is a technology buff by trade and created this site as a resource for Great Lakes fly fishers. He contributes his personal time, photos, finances and musings to suppport this site and is always looking for help. If you have something to share you can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This material is copyright by Jeff Selser. Do not copy or use without the authors permission. You may print this for personal non-commercial use only.