The original Pheasant Tail Nymph was tied by Englishman Frank Sawyer, a riverkeeper on the River Avon for more than 50 years. His pattern was designed to imitate the nymphs of various mayflies, especially those of the Baetis genus, although according to Tom Rosenbauer, in The Orvis Guide to the Essential American Flies:
It’s amazing that an artificial fly with shades of brown and orange is so succesful for the brownish-olive nymphs of the Baetis genus, and Sawyer himself was mildly perplexed at the discrepancy of color.
But there was simply no denying that the fly caught fish.
Al Troth—inventor of the Elk Hair Caddis—liked Sawyer’s pattern, but wanted something bulkier and with more prominent legs, so he created the American version shown here. Although Troth weighted his fly with lead wire, the beadhead version is now probably the most popular variation today.
In this video, Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions walks you through each tying step for created an unweighted American Pheasant Tail Nymph, and as usual, he offers a couple tricks you can use to make the process simpler and to help you whenever you’re tying any nymph pattern. His method for creating just the right proportions for the nymph’s body, thorax, and legs is quite useful, and I love the coffee-cup trick at the end.