When editor Ross Purnell asked me recently to become Fly Fisherman’s regular Fly Tier’s Bench columnist, it was an open-ended invitation to demonstrate bimonthly either how to tie the most exciting new patterns, or how to improve foundation skills to help readers tie all flies more effectively.
Some might find it odd that I am opening my first column with a pattern has been around forever, and is already well known to most anglers and tiers. It hardly falls into the category of new or different, as many novices learn to tie the Hare’s Ear as their first project because it has the fundamental components of most basic nymphs—a tail, spiral-wrapped rib, abdomen, wingcase, and thorax. This simple chassis can be adapted to imitate a wide range of insects, from long skinny Callibaetis nymphs, to big burly stoneflies, with just minor variations in tying techniques and materials.
Despite the fact that this fly relies on foundation fly-tying skills, is an amazing all-around fish-catcher that belongs in every fly box, and can be modified to fit most mayflies and stoneflies, the truth is that even many longtime fly tiers have trouble tying a proportionate and attractive Hare’s Ear.
Craven Hare’s Ear
There are many variations of the Hare’s Ear, but to save you some trouble I will present only my personal version here.
All good flies begin with the proper materials. I start with a 2X-long, 2X-heavy nymph hook such as the Tiemco 5262 with the hope that all the flies I tie are going to be someday embedded in the jaw of a large and angry fish. The heavy wire hook will hold up in the epic battle I hope to wage in the future.
I prefer a slightly longer hook to accommodate a slender, tapered abdomen to better replicate the shape of most mayfly and stonefly nymphs.
I eschew the traditional fur tail in favor of more realistic mottled Indian hen saddle hackle fibers. These feathers are easier to work with, commonly available, and an inexpensive saddle provides tails for thousands of flies.
I use small gold wire for the rib, rather than the more common flat Mylar tinsel, in an effort to add durability. The wire is subtler and more natural than the wider tinsel, and sinks more tightly into the dubbing to create better segmentation.
While the wire is rib is less obvious on a dry Hare’s Ear, it sparkles and adds life when the fly is wet.
Most importantly, the dubbing used on the abdomen and thorax of a Hare’s Ear should come from a real English hare’s mask. You need to go out and buy one of these creepy, smelly rabbit faces at your local fly shop. Prepackaged dubbing labeled as hare’s mask is typically generic rabbit fur in a mousy tan color, and the difference between this and the real thing is huge.
A real hare’s mask provides a beautiful and practical mix of short, soft underfur and mottled spiky guard hairs, which blend wonderfully together to create a dubbing that twists tightly onto the thread while allowing the guard hairs to protrude and breathe in the current. If you don’t start with the right dubbing, you’ll never tie a Hare’s Ear that looks and fishes as it should.
The wingcase is an area of contention and debate among many tiers. My favorite material is turkey tail feather segments because of their slightly darker earth-tone mottling, which complements the rest of the fly. Goose, duck, or other feathers can also be used, but their typically monochromatic color scheme seems to take away from the overall tone of the fly.
Some tiers pre-coat the feather slips with flexible cement, but I find that this prevents the individual fibers from slipping and sliding into place to fully encompass the thorax.
Tie in the uncoated turkey segment by the tip rather than the butt to alleviate the common problem of the wingcase splitting as it is pulled over the thorax. Proper overlap of the wingcase onto the top of the front edge of the abdomen also helps keep the feather section in one piece as the large diameter of the front of the abdomen keeps the feather from pinching tightly around a bare, narrow hook shank.
Practicing and perfecting the details on this pattern will reward you with the skills needed to tie dozens of other common nymphs. When you break patterns down into their simple parts—tail, rib, abdomen, wingcase, and thorax—you see that most other mayfly and stonefly nymphs share at least a small part of the same lineage as the Hare’s Ear.
Of course you can dress this pattern up with the addition of a brass or tungsten bead, a weighted wire underbody, a flashback wingcase instead of a turkey feather, and even a soft-hackle collar. Hare’s masks also come dyed in many colors to match different hatches or preferences. Golden yellow and chocolate brown are two of my favorite hare’s mask colors.
Don’t be too proud to take a step back to your roots, and try to polish the details on an old favorite like the Hare’s Ear. You’ll catch trout with it whether you dead-drift it, swing it, or crawl it back with a slow hand-twist retrieve, and you’ll also become a better tier in the process.
HOOK: #8-18 Tiemco 5262.
THREAD: Tan 6/0 or 8/0.
TAIL: Mottled Indian hen saddle fibers.
RIB: Small gold wire.
ABDOMEN: Hare’s mask dubbing.
WINGCASE: Turkey tail feather.
THORAX: Hare’s mask dubbing.
Hare's-Ear Nymph Tying Steps
1. Start the thread and wrap a thread base back to the bend. Even the tips of a small clump of mottled hen saddle feathers, peel them off the skin, and measure them against the shank so they are about half a hook-shank length long.
2. Tie the hen fibers in at the bend and wrap the thread forward over the butt ends.
3. Clip the excess hen fibers flush. Tie in a piece of small gold wire and wrap back over it to the bend.
4. Dub a tapered abdomen with the prepared hare’s mask dubbing. Spiral-wrap the wire forward over the abdomen to the front and tie it off. Clip the excess wire.
5. Clip a segment of turkey tail that is about as wide as the gap of the hook. Clip the ragged tip and tie it in on top of the front edge of the abdomen with the inside of the feather facing up.
6. Dub the thorax, forming an elongated ball up to one eye length behind the eye.
7. Pull the turkey tail forward over the top of the thorax and tie it down behind the hook eye. Clip the excess turkey.
8. Build a smooth thread head, whip finish and clip the thread. Pick out the dubbing in the thorax with a dubbing brush to simulate legs.
*Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s FlyBox in Arvada, Colorado, and authored Charlie Craven’s Basic Fly Tying (Headwater Books, 2008). He tied and photographed the “Foundation Forty” tying seminar on flyfisherman.com.