Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pheasant Tail; or, Endrick Spider




2-3 coppery pheasant tail points

Fine copper wire

Coppery pheasant tail

Brown or grey partridge

In The Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), Sylvester Nemes notes that the Pheasant Tail “is very common in England today, and when a Britisher says he is nymph fishing, he generally means he is fishing with the pheasant tail only. There, however, the pattern does not use any hackle, but the thorax is built up with continued winding of the pheasant herls and copper wire. Some British tyers use the copper wire as the tying thread. The thin copper wire is not available from any fly tying material house I know of, but can be obtained from any small appliance repair shop.”

Nemes is describing Frank Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail nymph rather than the soft hackle he depicts in his book. I include Sawyer's directions from the Nymph and the Trout (1958) for his dressing, as they might provide an interesting, reinforced variation for tying the body of Nemes’s soft-hackled version of a Pheasant Tail. Sawyer tied his Pheasant Tail nymph thus: 

“First grip the selected hook firmly in the vice and then give the hook an even covering from bend to eye with fine red-coloured copper wire. The wire we use is a little thicker than a human hair and this one can obtain at little cost from various sources. It is used for the windings in small transformers, dynamos, or electric motors. After the hook has been covered and the wire locked so that it cannot spin around the hook shank, wind the wire in even turns to the point where the thorax of the nymph is to be constructed, and there build up a hump. Then wind the wire back to the hook bend and let it dangle. Wire is much easier to use than silk as it will not spin off or loosen if the tension is relaxed. The wire with its red colour forms the base for the dressing and at the same time gives additional weight to the hook. I dispense entirely with the use of silk and use the fine wire to tie in the dressing. The wire is now dangling from the hook bend. Take four centre fibres of a browny-red cock pheasant tail feather. Hold the fibers by their tips and then tie them on the wire so that the fine ends stand out about one eighth of an inch from the hookbend. They form the tails, or setea of the nymph. Then spin the four fibres of the pheasant tail on to the wire so that they are reinforced, and then lap fibres and wire evenly to the hook eye. Hold the wire firmly, separate the fibres from it and then wind the wire to the point behind which the thorax is made. Bend the fibres back and fasten for the first lap of the thorax, then forward to the eye of the hook again. Fasten here securely with half a dozen turns of wire and then cut away spare fibres.”


N.B. Mark Wittman, the blogger who maintains Fishing small streams (linked under Angling Blogs to the right of this post), alerted me that this fly is also known as the Endrick Spider. While I have not been able to find a definitive print record of its origins, online sources all seem to indicate that it was initially developed by John Harwood to fish on the Endrick Water, the fly's namesake and a feeder of Loch Lomond, and was later adapted for rainbow trout by Peter MacKenzie-Phillips. 

Additionally, Mike Harding, author of A Guide to Tying Northern Country Flies, generously explained to me how he prefers to tie the fly: "The Endrick Spider was originally a beadless N Country fly with a pheasant tail body and tail and a partridge hackle. I believe the original tyer was a Scot. I got it from another angler years ago and added the bead. I know use almost exclusively pheasant tail dyed olive green (yellower the better) a green tungsten bead and a full well barred partridge hackle - I also rib it with gold wire. I always now tie the hackle in front of the bead to give it more kick. I use this as my point fly with a Partridge and Orange (with a small peackock herl thorax) on the dropper - a killer combination in early season here in Yorkshire."


Although Roger Woolley assigns no thread for tying the fly, this dressing takes a cue from Nemes' rather than G. E. M. Skues' dressing for the Pheasant Tail, but it also reverse ribs the body in order to "secure the herls from being broken."

The Pheasant Tail wet fly is sometimes dressed with poultry hackle, as in the dressing Roger Woolley lists under the heading of “Devon and West Country Wet Flies” in the third edition of his Modern Fly Dressing (1950). He dresses his Pheasant Tail thus:

Body.—Cock pheasant tail fibres, ribbed gold wire.
Hackle and Whisks.—Golden dun cock.”

Although Woolley lists it as a wet fly, G. E. M. Skues offers a similar dressing of the Pheasant Tail in The Way of a Trout with a Fly (1921) as spinner for “in the long hot evenings of July, August, and September, when the blue-winged olive is on, and the deep ruddy brown sherry spinner is plentiful.” Skues cites the pattern as a well-known established dressing, offering no history or information on its development, but rather his experience with returning to the pattern.

Silk.—Hot orange.
Whisks.—Honey-dun cock’s should hackle, three strands.
Rib.—Fine bright gold wire, several tuns, to secure the herls from being broken by the teeth of the trout.
Body.—Three or four strands of herl from the ruddy part of the centre feather of a cock-pheasant’s tail.
Wings.—A sharp sparkling golden-dun cock’s hackle of high quality.”


  1. Nice tie! This fly is sometimes referred to as an Endrick's spider and I can attest to it's effectiveness! Also fishes well with a copper (brass or tungsten) bead at the head if you need a little more wt.

    1. Thanks, Mark! I suspect sometimes that Nemes was a bit less interested in the origins of flies than me and maybe more interested in how they fish.

  2. Neil
    The simplicity of this pattern is what makes it so attractive to trout. This pattern proves bright color is not vital at certain times of the year. Nice job at the bench. Thanks for sharing

  3. Neil, the Pheasant Tail nymph in one form or another has been a very productive pattern for me over the years. Tying them soft hackle style, as you have presented here can be incredibly effective. Simple and non-assuming. Thanks for sharing a great pattern.

    1. I appreciate it, Mel. I think I've fished this one more without the tail in what seems to me to be much more of a traditional soft hackle.

  4. Neil, I found your blog from your profile on Instagram. Soft hackle flies are obviously a labor of love for you. You have a very elegant web site. I look forward to following you on Instagram and checking out your blog frequently. I might be in North Carolina in the fall. Are you available for suggested stream destinations should I have some time to fly fish?

    1. David, I'm pleased to hear you found the blog through Instagram - it's been my primary means of promoting Soft Hackles, Tight Lines. And thank you for your kind words. I live in Knoxville, TN now, but I spent most of my life on NC streams. I'm happy to suggest plenty of destinations there or here, if you have the chance to visit.

    2. Neil - I'll likely be back in touch closer to our visit. My blog is totally different than yours, but you might enjoy checking it out. It's more of an online fishing (and skiing) log. It's

  5. I am trying to establish the origins and history of the Endrick Spider for an article on the fly for our club website any information would be welcome. Lawson.

    1. Hi, Lawson - I posted everything I know here