Before and After

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Frank Sawyer's Pheasant Tail Nymph

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.

Comments for Before and After

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Jul 03, 2019
Observations on "Before and After"
by: Mike Schelp

I've had similar "luck" with a fly that started new, then got torn to shreds but still kept producing. In the case of the Pheasent Tail Nymph, the "before" shot looks like the fly could be either a small minnow or any of a dozen different insect nymphs. The "after" shot looks like a drowned spider. Either one would be an "easy meal". I like your tie of the nymph, classic, simple and effective!

Jul 03, 2019
Chewed-Up Flies
by: John Evans

Mike,
Thanks for the note. The way I think about it is, once fish start chewing on a fly, other fish look at it and say, "Hey, that looks like something I ought to chew on." Or, more probably, there's something increasingly natural about a fly that's been chewed. Little bits of hair and fuzz start sticking out that's hard for fish to resist.

Jul 06, 2019
Everywhere
by: Craig

I've used ptns everywhere around the world for trout. With high success. My fav go to fly. Still fishing and still nymphing with it. Open my box and it's full of variations. Chris knows I tried and tried the killer bug in my country over a decade when he first mainstreamed it, but without any return - I eventually figured out that here i dont have the saw fly larvae. I even bought a small amount of Chadwicks at ridiculous prices. But I do see insects that a ptn can reasonably imitate pretty much anywhere around the world in trouty places - Europe, N and S America, and Aust/NZ.

With Sawyer's simple tie you can do it short with a fat tail or longer or skinny tail. Change the hook or tie and change the fly shape. Change the wire and change the depth. I also like the longer tails. All I do in a new place is check under the rocks to see the locals then choose the body shape and size hook.

They last until lost even when chewed, very robust and get better as chewed up.

Simple two material and can be done in hand held forceps on the side or a river.

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