Photograph by Steve Barnett

Saturday 17 March 2012

A Traditional Anatomy...

The Pheasant Tail dry fly is another I would hate to be without.  It is a simple fly but amazingly versatile and you have already seen one like it when we did the Kite's Imperial. 

Fish it, as it is shewn here, when the olives are drifting down in the sunshine and it is surprisingly effective.  Maybe the gold rib helps? 

Dress it with different coloured herls and hackles and you can have a match for just about any upwinged fly.  For instance substitute the cock pheasant tail herls for those from a hen pheasant and you have instantly made a more olive coloured fly.  Use turkey herls (the long ones not the biots) in cream, with a badger hackle and you have another fake for the Pale Watery. 

The hackle variations can be from plain natural red, through ginger, to honey and then all the variations of honey dun, rusty dun, brassy dun, blue dun and so on. 

The anatomy is a very old one and so good that, years ago, I stopped tying Kite's Imperials with the humped thorax and turned to this traditional formula, but with the materials for the Kite's Imperial and relying on the list in the centre of the hackle to imply a thorax when it is wound into the chimney sweep's brush shape so familiar to us all.  With orange, rusty or red body, you can even use it as a Spinner fake by cutting off the hackle underneath to get it to lay flat on the surface.  Not as effective as the PPS but a good standby if all your real spinner patterns are no longer available to you that evening...

Here's the recipe:
Run on a bed of thread like this.  Here I've used orange but it could easily be any other colour.
Tie in a bunch of cock hackle fibres for a tail a little longer than the hook shank.  This is a bunch of Honey Dun.
Next bite off a length of fine gold coloured wire and tie it in under the hook shank with a couple or so turns of thread.  Adjust the waste end by gently pulling it through the turns of thread until the end is level with where the front of the body is going to be. 
Tie in two herls from a cock pheasant centre tail feather with the waste ends also under the hook shank and aligned as per the ribbing wire.
Tie the whole lot down with tight touching turns of the thread to make an underbody finishing at the front of where the body will be.
Wind the two herls forward to make the body and tie the waste ends in and trim off any excess.
In open ribbing turns, wind the wire rib in the opposite direction from the way you wound the herls up to where the thread is dangling.  Tie in the waste end of the wire and rock it to and fro until it fatigues and breaks off.  DO NOT CUT IT OFF.  The little hook on the end of the wire created by the rocking helps to anchor the rib securely and make the fly last longer.  Make a bed of thread to tie the hackle onto.  (This got rid of that annoying loose fibre in the previous stage above)
Tie in the hackle, this is Honey Dun, with the concave side facing you.  Use the tying-in turns to make a bed on which to wind the hackle.  Leave the thread dangling at the front of the body.
Wind the hackle back to meet the front of the body and catch it in with the thread and then quickly wind the thread through the hackle to behind the eye.  Break off the waste hackle tip that is still clamped in your hackle pliers.  Put down the pliers with the hackle tip still inside the jaws.  Make a whip finish.  Varnish the head.  Take the hackle tip out of the pliers and use it to pull through the eye of the hook to clear it whilst the varnish is still wet.
The Pheasant Tail in its standard form.
Here's an example made with primrose thread, Pale Blue Dun cock hackle and a couple of dyed green herls of turkey feather.  Quite an effective Olive Upright methinks. 
The possible varieties are endless.  With this anatomy, you can use any herl, any hackle, any rib to suit your flies on your waters. 
How about deep yellow thread, Dark Blue Dun hackle and tail, a body of Canada goose wing primary, ribbed with the yellow thread (just leave the waste end of thread dangling after the first stage of tying in the thread and running it down the body to make the bed then use it as the rib) and all on a size 18 hook, for an Iron Blue Dun? 
What suggestions do you have?

Regular Rod


  1. Hackle it with varying coloured CDC for some real lifelike movement ......... but accept that they may die a bit sooner - cos the fishies love 'em :)

  2. Very nice tie and I think hackling with CDC would also work well. Thanks for posting!

  3. I think they are great as is.
    They look to be a simple and very effective pattern.