by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)
Frank Sawyer's Pheasant Tail Nymph
The story goes that Frank Sawyer invented the famous Pheasant Tail Nymph back in 1958, while serving as a river keeper in Wiltshire, England. It’s one of the most famous patterns in the world for good reason: it consistently catches fish . . . even in South Central, Texas!
There’s a video on YouTube that shows Sawyer tying his version of the fly, and I’ve studied the old film closely. Sawyer used only two materials besides the hook: some fine copper wire and a few pheasant tail fibers. He also did something interesting that we normally don’t do: he twisted the copper wire around the tail fibers before wrapping the body forward on the hook. The copper wire serves as both thread and extra weight. I also noticed that he tied his tail longer than most of us do.
The result is a scruffier-looking, thicker-bodied Pheasant Tail. Hey, Sawyer was focused on catching fish, not winning fly-tying contests. Watch the video, and you’ll see that he whips out one of these nymphs in no time flat.
I decided to try his version recently, and you can see my feeble effort in the first photo above. Then, I took a handful of these Pheasant Tails to a local stream and tried them out. I ended up fishing the same fly all morning long, and you can see the results in the second photo. That tattered Pheasant Tail was still catching fish when I left.
If it looks buggy, and is presented right, the fly works.
You know what? I think Frank Sawyer was on to something.
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