How to Tie a Phat and Phunky Pheasant Tail

Producer: Tim Flagler

“I call this fly the Phat & Phunky Pheasant Tail with ph’s all around. It’s basically three of my most favorite fly tying materials – pheasant tail, wood duck and pine squirrel packed into one tight little package.

For a hook, I’m going to go with a Fulling Mill 35 085 barbless nymph hook in size 16. After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of my tying vise, I load a bobbin with a spool of super thin, yet remarkably strong Veevus 12/0 thread. Get your thread started on the hook shank leaving a little space behind the eye and take a few wraps rearward before snipping off the tag.

For the tail of the fly, I’ll pull down a dozen or so wood duck fibers and, while keeping their tips aligned, snip them free from the stem. It’s amazing to me just how similar the dark markings on the wood duck are to those on the tails of many mayfly nymphs. Measure to form a tail a little more than a hook gap in length, then using the hook for a brace, snip the butt ends off at the location of your tying thread. Give your bobbin a light counterclockwise spin so, when you take the first wrap of thread, it’ll want to jump rearward and catch the butt ends of the wood duck. While holding the fibers up at an angle, take wraps of tying thread to bind them to the top of the hook shank, all the way back to the start of the bend.

Small, copper Ultra wire is used to rib and segment the fly. A 6” length is enough to make a few phat & phunkys. Place the wire on the far side of the hook, and align one end of it with the original tie-in point. Then, take wraps of tying thread to secure it. The thread will want to push the wire around the hook shank as you take wraps forward.

I like to use chocolate brown pheasant tail fibers for the back of the fly and bleached ginger for the belly. You can, of course, use any mix of light and dark colors to match the naturals. Start by pulling down a dozen or so of the darker pheasant tail fibers perpendicular to the stem. Then strip them off. It’s a good idea to get rid of the remnant curls so they don’t get caught on your tying thread and the like. Reorient the fibers so you’re holding the tips in the fingers of your left hand. As with the wood duck, place the fibers on top of the hook shank and snip the brittle tips off at the location of your tying thread. Give your bobbin another counterclockwise spin, so the thread once again jumps rearward, this time to catch the pheasant tail. Here again, pull up on the fibers as you take wraps rearward to bind them to the top of the hook shank, all the way back to the base of the tail. Advance your thread forward to the original tie-in point.

For the lighter colored pheasant tail which will be used to create the belly of the fly, you only need a half dozen or so fibers. Prep them and tie them in, in the same manner as you did the wood duck and the darker fibers. Here too, bind them down all the way to the base of the tail. Leave your thread there and start taking wraps with the lighter fibers behind your thread. As you take touching wraps forward, pulling up on the tying thread will help to keep the fibers sandwiched together. Continue taking touching wraps all the way to the initial tie-in point. Then, use your tying thread to firmly anchor the fibers. Once you have them all locked down, you can snip the excess off close.

Pull the darker fibers forward over the back of the fly and take thread wraps to bind them down. You can then get hold of the copper wire and make two or three touching wraps with it at the base of the tail to form a shiny little tag. Continue making open spiral wraps with the wire to rib and segment the abdomen of the fly. Notice the two-tone look of the abdomen. 5 or 6 turns of wire usually looks pretty good. When you reach your tying thread, use it to anchor the wire then brace the hook with the nozzle of your bobbin and helicopter the wire to break it off close.

Reposition your tying thread slightly rearward then pull the butt ends of the pheasant tail back and bind them down on top of the hook to about the 1/3 point on the hook shank. This distance will dictate how long the wing case will be. Smooth out the area behind the hook eye with tight wraps of tying thread then end with your thread at the back edge of what will be the wing case.

Both the thorax and the legs of the fly are created with tan zonked pine squirrel. As with the wood duck, the dark markings on the pine squirrel are hard to beat. Snip a half inch length from one of the zonkers and preen the fur perpendicular to the hide. If there are any extra-long hairs, you should find them fairly easy to pull out from the rest. Place the clump aside for safekeeping.

Pull down on your bobbin to expose about 5” of tying thread and double it over to form a dubbing loop. Take a thread wrap or two around just the hook shank and then one or two around both legs of the loop to close it down. Do a few more thread wraps to ensure nothing comes undone, ending with your tying thread at the back edge of the hook eye.

Reach for your dubbing wax, I like the super sticky kind for this procedure. Apply a light skim to both legs of the dubbing loop. With the middle finger of your left hand in the bottom of the loop, place the clump of pine squirrel between the two legs then squeeze the legs together with the thumb and index finger of your left hand. You want those rearward-pointing tips of fur to be slightly less then a hook shank in length.

The next part’s a little fussy. Just take a deep breath, go slow and be gentle. Snip the lower part of the pine squirrel off leaving 1/16” of the butts extending from the dubbing loop. Get hold of a dubbing whirl and insert it into the bottom of the loop then remove your middle finger, while keeping the legs of the loop closed. Give the dubbing whirl a good clockwise spin, which will twist the pine squirrel fur into a good looking micro-dubbing brush.

Rather than wrapping with the whirl, I like to get hold of the dubbing loop with plunger-style hackle pliers and take a wrap or two around the tool’s hook before closing them. This ensures they won’t slip down the thread and allows you to snip the excess dubbing loop off close. Lift the dubbing loop up, wet your fingers and preen the tips of the pine squirrel rearward so they almost resemble a folded hackle. Keep preening and taking touching wraps with the noodle to build up a thorax that begins at the back edge of the wing case and goes forward all the way to the back of the hook eye. There, use wraps of tying thread to firmly anchor the loop then reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess off close.

Pull the pheasant tail fibers forward, out over top of the hook eye to form the wing case and, while pinching the fibers in the fingers of your right hand, take tight wraps of tying thread to lock them down. After a few wraps, pull the butt ends back and take a few more wraps under the fibers but behind the hook eye. Follow these with a few more wraps rearward over top of the pheasant tail. Lift the butt ends up and carefully snip them off close, doing your best not to cut your tying thread in the process. Take a few more wraps of tying thread to clean up the head area then reach for your whip finish tool and use it to do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free.

A drop of head cement, here Sally Hansen Hard as Nails, applied to the wing case and the exposed thread wraps will over time sink in, dry and increase the fly’s durability.

I really like the dark back and lighter belly on this pattern along with the yummy-looking dark markings, as well as the illusion of movement from the pine squirrel thorax and legs. The Phat & Phunky may be just another pheasant tail variation but it’s a lot of tun to tie and incorporates only the best of the best tying materials.”