The Illustrated Fly Swap

The Bead Head Pheasant Tail

Since first being developed by Frank Sawyer the Pheasant Tail Nymph has been one of the most enduring and effective flies in the fisherman's arsenal. It is simple to tie, uses very few materials and catches trout in a wide variety of situations. Anytime that fishermen start compiling lists of their favorite nymphs the Pheasant Tail is sure to number among them. With the introduction of the bead head it was to be expected that one of the first nymphs to be given a bead head variation would be the Pheasant Tail. I was first introduced to the Bead Head Pheasant Tail by H.B. McGowan and have developed the versions that are listed here from his variation and several years of fishing the fly. It has proven effective in East Tennessee on the Clinch, the Hiwassee, the Watauga and in the Smokys on both Rainbows and Browns --- taking among other fish: a 23" Brown on the Watauga, a 18" Brown on the Hiwassee and several +20" Rainbows on the Clinch.


Hook: Tiemco 2487 or equivalent, #12-20
Bead: Copper Bead in size appropriate to hook size
Thread: Black
Ribbing: Copper Wire
Tail, Abdomen, Thorax, etc: Ring Neck Pheasant Tail Fibres

Tying Instructions

1. Slip bead over end of hook and slide it around to just behind the eye. Position hook in vise so that eye is slightly down. This will hold bead in position just behind the eye and keep it from slipping back on you while you are tying.
2. Start thread just behind the bead and take a couple of wraps. Cut a 3" piece of copper wire and position one end of it at the thread on the hook with the other end sticking out the back of the fly. Wrap the thread over the copper wire and the hook working your way towards the back of the fly until you reach a position approx. 2/3 of the way between the back of the bead and the point of the hook.

3. Continue wrapping the thread forward and then backwards on the hook to form a tapered body with the thread. The taper should be slightly smaller than the bead at the front of the hook and only a thread or two thick at the back. Complete the taper with the thread at the back of the hook.

4. Take 3-6 Ring Neck Pheasant Tail Fibres (depending upon the size of the hook) and with two turns of thread attach them so that the tips form the tail of the fly (approx. hook gap in length). The butts should point towards the head of the fly. Spiral the thread forward to just behind the bead leaving the butts outside these winds of thread.

5. Grasp the butts of the Pheasant Tail Fibres and spiral them forward to just behind the bead. Note: you may find it useful to use hackle pliers to grasp the fibres. Take a couple of wraps of thread to secure the fibres in position behind the bead.

6. Spiral the Copper Wire forward in an open spiral to just behind the bead. Five to six turns is usually about right. Take a couple of turns of thread to secure the copper wire and cut off the excess.

7. The butts of the Pheasant Tail Fibres should now be used to form a collar just behind the bead using turns of thread to hold them in position. Trim the excess butts so that the collar is about 1/3 body length.

8. Whip finish behind the bead and cut the thread.


1. There are several different ways that you can use the butts of the Pheasant Tail Fibres to form variations on this fly:
A. Position the excess butts on the underside of the fly and trim to gap width to form legs. This gives you a fly that is similar to a scud.
B. Position the excess butts on the top side of the fly and trim to about 1/2 body length to form a wing case.
2. Substitute red copper wire for natural copper wire.
3. A Blue Wing Olive Bead Head or Olive Scud Bead Head can be made using a gold bead, gold wire, olive dubbing for the abdomen and thorax and wood duck fibres for the tail and wing case or legs. In this version the thread is wrapped forward over the top of the butts of the wood duck fibres to the bead and the dubbing is applied over the top of this before the wire is spiraled forward.
Fishing The Fly

The combination of bead head and copper wire make this a heavy fly. It is most effective in moving water, however, it does not have to be fast water. It is usually fished with a strike indicator just above or bouncing along the bottom. In the smaller sizes (#16-20) it also makes a good midge pupa imitation and can be fished shallower. The best all around size that I have found is the #14.

This is a great fly to fish in high winds. Its weight makes it very easy to punch through wind even with a 5 wt. line. It is also a fly that is durable and still works just as well after being well chewed by a number of fish. One of my best days with the Bead Head Pheasant Tail was on the Hiwassee in 20+ mph winds. The fly that I started fishing with in the morning some 12-14 fish later caught an 18" Brown in the afternoon.

L.J. DeCuir - Bead Head Pheasant Tail