As a Smallmouth fly-fisherman, if there is one fly you should be very familiar with, it will have to be the PTN (Pheasant Tail Nymph). Mastering this very simple and basic nymph will help you tremendously, laying a solid foundation for all your other nymphs. It is not flashy and fancy, but it is effective in both still water and rivers and it is very easy to tie.
I’m aiming this SBS at the novice fly tier and I hope the novice can learn something out of this, saving a lot of time on future attempts at the vice!
If we look at a nymph pattern you can divide it into three parts:
The thorax, the body and the tail section.
- The tail should be at least, but no more than one and a half times the length of the body of the fly.
- The body should cover about half the shank of the hook or a little more.
- The thorax should be clearly defined and should be thicker than the thickest part of the body.
For the PTN we are going to need the following:
- Nymph hook of choice (I’m using a #14 R72 Mustad hook in this step-by-step)
- Ringneck Pheasant center tail feather
- Peacock herl
- Fine copper wire
- Tying thread: 6/0 Danville waxed brown thread
- Brass/tungsten bead and lead wraps to weight the fly.
If you want to weight your nymph a bit you can place a brass/tungsten bead on it and give it a few lead wraps.
For this SBS I’m going to tie an unweighted PTN.
Tie in your thread and also secure the copper wire at the base of the hook. When tying in your thread, wrap it till it is in line with the barb on the hook. Further than this and you run the risk of tying on the bend of the hook and not on the shank.
Take about 5 strands of the pheasant tail barbs, making sure they are long enough to cover the whole shank when we are going to wrap them later.
Tie in the tail. A tip is to tie in the tail too long, wrapping it once with your thread only to hold it in place. Now take the barbs at the thick base part and pull them into place till you are satisfied with the length of the tail. Wrap it again once to secure it into place. Be mindful not to use to much thread turns here otherwise there will be a bulge near the tail which we would want to try and avoid.
Wrap the pheasant tail barbs forward, forming a tapered body as you move towards the thorax area. A tip is to spread the barbs our in the beginning to ensure a tight thin tail section and to bunch the barbs together as you move forward making it easier to add volume and form a tapered body.
Wrap the copper wire in the opposite direction than you wrapped the barbs in, overlapping the barbs securing and strengthening the somewhat fragile pheasant tail barbs.
Wrap the wire loosely and evenly spaced, around 5-6 wraps (depending on the hook size) would do nicely. Secure the wire with a couple of thread wraps and remove the waste.
You can use a thicker wire to create a more ribbed effect and even tie it with different colours, gold and silver wire also being very popular.
Take 2-3 peacock herls, snip of a centimetre or two from the tips removing the most fragile part of the herl. Tie in the herl at the tips.
Wrap the herl towards the eye of the hook forming a nice dense thorax. For trout flies one can strengthen the herl by first covering the shank with head cement or super glue, or take one or two loose wraps of thread through the herl to strengthen it. I found this not a necessity for Smallmouth Yellowfish since they have a very soft mouth and very, very rarely rough up a fly.
Bring over the rest of the pheasant tail creating a wing case. Try and flat it out as much as possible to create a well defined wing case. One tip is spread the barbs out like a fan and try and secure it like this with one or two thread wraps.
Tie off the thread, half hitch or whip finish, and snip of the excess as close to the wraps as you can without cutting the thread. A drop of head cement to secure the wraps and you are done.
Like I said in the beginning, this is the foundation for almost all nymph patterns, like the orange hot spot, flashback nymphs, etc.