Fly of the Month: Dale Darling's Pheasant Tail Flashback
Some flies you just know will deliver for you, and so you fish them with confidence. And because of that confidence, it seems you catch even more fish. When I came to Colorado a few years ago, the first fly that reached that status for me was the Pheasant Tail Flashback. And I still turn to it when all else seems to fail.
As we work toward naming our top dozen “must have” flies to fish Colorado waters, the Pheasant Tail in some form is going to make a lot of folks’ lists, if not the final list. It’s just a great fly for pulling a trout out of the riffles on a warm summer day. And it’s a classic mayfly nymph that can be tied not only as a flashback, but without the flash, with a gold bead, a mercury bead or any permutation of the above.
Dale Darling’s version is a little more complex than some. He has copper or gold wire for weight and durability, Flashabou down the back for a little extra “sparkle,” and a partridge feather for the legs rather than pheasant tail. It’s a great fly. Dale spoke to an ETU meeting a few years back and tied this fly for us. I’ve been using it ever since and have caught a bunch of fish with it.
The Flashback Pheasant Tail works as a great Baetis nymph imitation, so watch for those hatches. Also, pull out the PT Flashback when you are on a section of stream with a gravel bottom and lots of riffles. While it can be fished anywhere in the water column, it will usually get the best results along the bottom.
And why does it work so well? Some folks think it is because the rust color of the pheasant tail fibers is so similar to the color of many invertebrates in the stream. Then there are the tiny fibers on the pheasant tail and peacock herl that seem to imitate the pulsating gills of the mayfly larvae.
Dale Darling lives up near Drake, CO., along the Big Thompson River. He came out to Colorado to study music and ended up as a fishing guide and fly shop owner in the Estes Park area before getting back into his music a couple of years ago. He stills guides, but is mostly back composing and performing now.
He also has published a series of booklets on different types of flies, when to find them, how to tie them and how to fish them. I can recommend all the booklets, especially for someone new to the area or new to fly tying. You can find and order them over the Internet. Just look up Dale by name.
- Hook: Standard nymph, dry or Tiemco 200R, # 16 – 22
- Thread: UTC 70 Brown or light orange
- Tail and Body: Pheasant tail fibers
- Wire: Small to medium copper ot gold wire (choose size depnding on size of fly
- Wing Case: Flat pearl mylar or Flashabou
- Thorax: Peacock herl
- Legs: Hen back, partridge, or other soft fibers
Start by removing the barb on your hook and then starting your thread at about the halfway point of the shank. Take the thread back to the start of the bend, so that the thread lines up with where the barb was below. This will be the tie-in point for the pheasant tail fibers that will form the tail.
Notice in the first photos that Dale also has marked with black thread where the head of the fly will be so that the body of the fly will not move beyond that point and he will save room to tie off everything at the end.
Select and clip several strands of pheasant tail fibers. You will want enough to equal roughly the diameter of the hook. Dale points out that fibers taken from the bottom of the stem will be thinner while fibers nearer the tip will be thicker. So, on smaller flies you might select fibers from the lower part of the tail and, for larger flies, from closer to the tip.
Once you have your tail fibers, even them up. The length of the tail, from the tie-in point, should equal the distance from the front of the hook eye to above the point of the hook. Using your thumb and forefinger to grip the PT fibers, get the right length set and then set the fibers at the tie-in point. Wrap down with one wrap of thread.
Now tie in your length of wire at the same point with one or two wraps of the thread. Pull the PT material back gently and wind your thread over the wire, moving forward with each wrap until you are back just beyond the original starting point for your thread.
Next, gently twist the PT fibers and wind them forward to where the thread is hanging. At that point, tie off and clip the excess wire and PT material. Tie in four to six strands of Flashabou in front of the abdomen and pull back over the abdomen and tail. Take the wire, which has also been hanging over the tail, and reverse wrap it back over the abdomen so that it traps the Flashabou flat on top. Tie off the wire where you tied in the Flashabou. Clip off the excess Flashabou that extends from the abdomen back over the tail. Save it.
Now take that excess Flashabou you just saved and tie it in again in front of the abdomen. Lift your thread back slightly onto the abdomen. Fold the Flashabou back onto the abdomen and tie it down there.
At the same point, tie in three or four strands of peacock herl by the tips. Wind forward to just behind where the head of the fly will be and tie off. You can just give the excess herl a good tug against the tightly held thread and the thread will cut it cleanly.
Next you will tie in the legs. In the photos, Dale is using dyed orange partridge, but you can use any hen material with soft fibers.
One thing to note is how the tip of the feather is clipped out before positioning the feather for the tie-in. To do this, pull back the longer fibers, leaving only the rounded tip. Clip that out. Now push a dozen or so of the longer fibers on both sides back into place. You will have a V-shaped gap where the tip was that will fit nicely over the eye of the hook to be tied in to form the legs of the fly. Turn the feather so that the bottom side is up, with the tips of the fibers pointing down. Grasp it tightly with your thumb and forefinger.
This is a technique that can be used on a lot of small flies, not just this one.
After tying in the legs with three tight wraps of your thread, clip the excess feather and continue to move your thread to right behind the eye of the hook.
Pull the Flashabou over the thorax, being sure to keep the legs to the sides, and tie down, starting from behind the eye and moving back toward the thorax. Pull the excess Flashabou back once more, make a couple of more wraps right at the front and then clip the excess.
Create the head with your thread and whip finish from the back of the eye to the back of the head. Apply a drop of water-based cement to secure everything just a bit more.
--John Haile. Photos by Dale Darling