The most common of the pheasants and most easily obtained. The ringneck pheasant is arguably the most useful single bird to the fly dresser, just about every single feather on the bird can be used.
The small church window feathers on the back are used as wings for many patterns, while the coppery black tipped neck feathers are used to imitate the Bracken Clock and Cockchafer beetles. The shoulder feathers can be dyed, resulting in beautiful feathers that can be put to many uses on both trout and salmon flies.
The tiny white feathers from the neck, the ring itself can be dyed to produce substitutes for such rarities as toucan and Indian crow. The green rump feathers are used (in three pairs) for the Mrs Simpson Lure from New Zealand. The rump feather can also be dyed and make a decent substitute for spey hackle. Also found on the rump is the so called ‘pheasabou’ a small patch of short fluffy marabou type feathers, that are very useful for streamer wings and tails.
Under each flank and rump feather you can find the after shaft feather. Their Latin name is Hypor rachis these are commonly misidentified as filoplumes. The after shaft feather is a short fibred natural grey marabou that has hundreds of uses, but can be put to especially great effect as a herl on nymphs and streamers as in Jack Gartside’s Sparrow.
Pheasant tail feathers
The tail feathers provide us with tails for many mayfly patterns, knotted legs for crane flies & hoppers, wing cases on nymphs and the herl for probably the most famous nymph pattern of all: the pheasant tail nymph.
The best feathers come from the centre of the tail of the male bird (cock pheasant). These long centre tail feathers have the longest fibres and normally the best chevron barred markings. At first glance, one pheasant tail feather, looks like any other pheasant tail feather, or does it?
Before buying pheasant tail, take a good look at a few cock pheasant centre tail feathers side by side, and you will see they are very different! Not only does the background colour and shading on each tail differ immensely but the black chevrons vary from light to dark and thin to thick. But probably the most important factor is the fibre length.
And thats just the cock bird!
Hen pheasant feathers
The hen ring neck pheasant is hardly less useful, with beautifully marbled plumage in shades of brown, mottled over pale buffs and tans and almost olive khakis. The hen pheasant tails furnish the wing for the famous Invicta, while the wing quills are used in various caddis patterns.
In recent years whole skins of both cock and her ring neck pheasants have become more available. The great usefulness of the ring-neck pheasant in fly tying is further extended by the common occurrence of melanistic, light phase and albino variations from the normal coloration.
If you know a shooter, ask for a bird or the tail feathers they are quite commonly discarded.