HARE'S EAR PATTERNS, PART ONE
A history and discussion of the versatility of this fascinating material
By Tom Travis
Over the past one hundred years most of the major authors have mentioned the popularity of fly patterns constructed using Hare's Ear Fur. In American Fly Fishing history the current most well known pattern is the Hare's Ear Nymph or Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph and prior to that it was the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Wet Fly however the history and use of the Hare's Ear Fur goes way back into the far reaches of fly fishing history.
In the world of today the Hare's Ear Nymph or Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph is very popular but remember the art of nymphing began with G. E. M. Skues and the publication of Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, in 1910. You also need to be aware that the art of nymphing did not sweep through the world of fly fishing like a runaway brush fire, rather it grew slowly to gain the popular acceptance that nymphing enjoys in the modern world of the fly fisher. Even today there are fly fisher's to refuse to nymph and of course that is their right to do so.
As a side bar I will try to determine where and when the Hare's Ear Nymph or Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph first appeared. Many of the famous fly patterns have been clearly documented in the history of fly fishing is the Hare's Ear Nymph one of them? To find the answer we must delve into the misty pages of history to find the answer therefore if you have no interest in the history of the sport then I suggest you skip ahead to the modern pattern section of this article.
Therefore I will list the progress of the Hare's Ear Fur and the various Hare's Ear patterns down through fly fishing history and I will try to cover the progress of this rather interesting material and patterns in a detailed in depth coverage of the subject.
The first mention of using Hare Ear Fur comes from the fly patterns listed by Charles Cotton in 1676 (Being Instructions How to Angle for a Trout or Grayling in a Clear Stream, Part of Izaak Walton's 5th Edition of the Compleat Angler). Cotton used the hare's ear fur in Bright-Dun Gnat, Fern Fly and the Black-Blue Dun.
In 1746 Richard Bowlker used Hare's Ear Fur in the Brown Fly-Dun Drake and the Granam Fly or Green Tail (The Art of Angling) Bowlker was one of giants of the day.
As a point of interest one of the early popular fly tying materials was Water Spaniel fur, I assume that local dogs or personal pets were carefully trimmed to obtain this material. Just think how this would be received in today's world with groups like PETA wandering the sidelines waiting for a chance to pounce and create headlines, silly though they may be.
Another popular material was wool however up to 1882 all wool was impregnated with lanolin and would float, now isn't that an interesting fact. A German Scientist Otto Braun developed a method for separating the lanolin from wool in 1882.
In 1789 Thomas Best also listed Hare's Ear fur as a component in several of the patterns list in A Concise Treatise of the Art of Angling—The Complete Fly-Fisher.
In 1800 Samuel Taylor list two Hare's Ear Patterns in Angling in All its Branches. Furthermore he is the first author that I have found that listed the Hare's Ear pattern as such. In his volume he records two dressings.
The dressing was wings from the light part of the Starling's wing and a body of dark fur from a hare's ear and the fur is pick out a little at the base of the wing. An alternative dressing was recommend for deep water where the same body is used but the wing fis created with a feather from a rail's wind and a red (brown) hackle is applied. Thus as far as I can determine was the birth of the Hare's Ear pattern, was this pattern always fished as a wet fly or did perhaps the trout take on the surface is not clearly stated in the text.
During the period of twenty six years several notable anglers used Hare's Ear Fur in the construction of various patterns however none of these patterns were so named a Hare's Ear patterns.
The next reference that I can find was in 1826 when J. Coad listed the Hare's Ear & Yellow in The Angling Excursions of Gregory Green Drake in Ireland he actually lists a total of different patterns as Hare's Ear patterns. This volume is available in PFD form at:
In 1838 The Angler's Handbook by Anon listed the Hare's Ear pattern and used Hare's Ear Fur in several other patterns.
1839 Thomas Hofland listed the Hare's Ear Dun in The British Angler's Manual.
In 1841 George Pulman listed the Hare's Flax in Vade Mecum of Fly Fishing for Trout. This was followed in 1842 with William Blacker listing the Hare's Ear and Yellow in The Art of Fly Making.
William Blacker listed the Hare's Ear and Yellow in his 1842 publication entitled The Art of Fly Making. This was followed in 1847 by James O'Gorman also listing the Hare's Ear & Yellow in his volume The Practice of Angling, Particularly as Regards to Ireland.
In 1861 Henry Wade published Halcyon, or Rod Fishing with Fly, Minnow and Worm and he listed the Hare's Lug and the Hare's Ear patterns in his volume.
1879 James Ogden who published Ogden on Fly Tying listed the Hare's Ear Blue Dun.
In 1886 Frederic M. Halford published Floating Flies and How to Dress Them and in this landmark work the Hare's Ear Quill, Hare's Ear, Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear were listed. Of course these were dry flies and Halford went on to popularized the various Hare's Ears as a dry fly patterns. Several authors writing of dry flies followed Halford example and listed various Hare's Ear dry flies in their volumes.
In 1903 E.M. Tod listed the Woodcock and Hare's Ear pattern in his volume entitled Wet Fly Fishing Treated Methodically.
In 1910 G. E. M. Skues listed the Hare's Ear pattern in his classic Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream. However the Hare's Ear that he is listing is the Wet Hare's Ear and he discusses its uses as an emerging nymph. However with the publication of his book the art of nymph fishing was launched.
Now Skues was working on the methods of Nymphing prior to this but it was the publication of the book that made the methods and style of fishing he had developed available to the general fly fishing public and seeing as how we are now into 2013 that make the art of nymph fishing 103 years old. Furthermore by 1910 various Hare's Ear Wet and Dry fly patterns were already established as successful patterns, the nymph variation was possibly a no-brainer addition by just when did it appear is the question.
As time progressed more and more fly tiers began to use Hare's Ear Fur in the construction of various fly patterns and by the 1890's the Hare's Ear was firmly established as both a dry fly and a wet fly in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.
Let us take a look at a couple more anglers who contributed to the art of nymphing and who promoted the use of the Hare's Ear patterns in the United Kingdom. We will begin with Eric Taverner and Trout Fishing From All Angles published in 1933, throughout this volume he makes several mentions of the Hare's Ear however all the patterns of wet flies and on Page 172 he list the Hare's Ear among other wet flies which suggest nymphs.
Furthermore many authors following in the footsteps of Taverner wrote of the effectiveness of the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Wet Fly being fished on or just beneath the surface film and believed that the trout took this pattern a nymph hatching out.
Of course G.E.M. Skues continued to write about nymph fishing and published several books on the subject between 1910 and 1939 and there were two volumes published after his death in 1949 in 1950 and 1951.
He used Hare's Ear fur in some of his patterns and continued to discuss the Wet Hare's Ear as an effective hatching nymph pattern.
However in Terry Lawton's Nymph Fishing, A History of the Art and Practice published 2005 on Page 143 he talks are Oliver Kite fishing and having the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph in his fly boxes and of the Hare's Ear importance as a pattern. Oliver Kite published Nymph Fishing in Practice in 1963, therefore the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph as a pattern was already established by this time, yet Oliver Kite makes no claim as the designer.
Now let us travel across the pond to North American and see what can be discovered about Hare's Ear fly patterns and the use of Hare's Ear as a general fly tying material.
In early American fly fishing we were long impacted by the patterns of England and Europe which is not surprising as our serious angling literature didn't really begin until the 1840's.
Now remember during the early years of American Fly Fishing the Brook Trout was the only species found in the Eastern part of the country the Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout didn't appear in the east until the 1890's. The Rainbow's use found in the far west and the Cutthroat Trout were found throughout the Rocky Mountain area.
The differences between American fly fishing and that found in England and Europe quickly discussed by leading authors of the day. In 1849 Frank Forester's Fish & Fishing of the United States was published by Henry W. Herbert. On page 253 of his volume he offers a discourse on the difference between the artificial flies of England to the real insects of American water and he reflects on some of the English flies he preferred.
He listed the Hare's Ear pattern as number twelve on his pattern list and used Hare's Ear Fur on several other patterns. On page 429 he describes a fishing method with Gray Drakes that sure doesn't appear to be wet fly fishing to this author.
In 1864 The American Angler's Book was authored by Thaddeus Norris this was the first major work on American fishing. Norris was also very aware of the differences between the fly fishing of England and America and he offers this information on American Fly Patterns on page 314; "There is still a harmonious blending of color or attractive hues, as well as the neat and graceful tying of a fly which makes it killing."
This quote was very appropriate in 1864 at the height of the reign of the Brook Trout; however this quote is surprisingly modern and applies to fisheries and flies of today.
Sadly he didn't list any of Hare's Ear patterns by name however several of his patterns used Hare's Ear Fur in the makeup of the fly. Furthermore one of his favorite fly pattern was the Grannom which has a body of Hare's Ear Fur.
Now it important to remember a couple of points first off the art of fishing the nymph was not known in American until after the publication of G.E.M. Skues' Minor Tactic of the Chalk Stream in 1910. Furthermore fly fishing and fly tying was still heavily influenced by patterns and writings of the English authors.
Therefore as the new century began the first mention of the Hare's Ear in American fly fishing literature 1913 the publication of Samuel G. Camp's Fishing with Floating Flies and the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear is listed in this volume. This was followed by George M. L. La Branche and his publication of Dry Fly in the Fast Water, in 1914 where he also listed the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear in both cases as a dry fly. Also published in 1914 was Trout Fishing in America authored by Charles Z. Southard where he listed both the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Dry Fly and the Hare's Ear Wet Flies as patterns that would be effective.
However the art of fishing the nymph was noticed by a few angler and by 1921 Louis Rhead published a small book entitled How to Fish Dry Flies and Nymphs however the Hare's Ear in any variation is not mentioned, yet this may be the first American mention of nymph fishing in a published book.
The next American author to key in on the nymphs was Edward R. Hewitt with the publication of Hewitt's Nymph Fly Fishing 1934 however Hewitt had his own ideas on nymphs and nymphal imitations and the Hare's Ear was not mentioned.
In 1935 Preston J. Jennings published A Book of Trout Flies, incidentally this was the first book on American fly hatches where accurate identification was used by including the scientific manes of the insects. On page 108 of the 1973 (7th printing) at the end of the chapter on nymphs Jennings had this to say:
"For upstream fishing, a trimmed Hare's Ear wet fly with the stubs of the wings left on, is about as good a nymph as has come to the attention of this writer."
Therefore, I must conclude that the Hare's Ear or Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear had not yet made its transformation into the nymphal form that was to become so famous in the years to come.
The next angling author to refer to the Hare's Ear pattern was Ray Bergman who published Trout in 1938. Bergman was perhaps the most widely read fly fishing author of his day and he introduced a whole generation to the new and upcoming art of nymph fishing. On page 52 of Trout (the author edition is the 1952) Bergman talks about using English nymph and how he had the same luck by using wet flies where he had trimmed back the wing. In his book he also mentions using a dry fly as an indicator while nymphing and clearly talks of using the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear wet fly with trimmed wings for a hatching nymph.
The next major contribution to the advancement of the Hare's Ear came in 1941 with the publication of The Art of Tying the Wet Fly by James Leisenring. The patterns that Leisenring developed were the flymphs which were tied to imitate hatching nymphs and among the patterns that he developed was the Hare's Ear Flymph. He is also credited with creating the first practical dubbing brush or dubbing loop if you will along with his famous Leisenring lift method of fishing the imitations he created. However Leisenring work cause little stir at the time as Europe was locked into the grips of World War Two and at the end of 1941 we too would drawn into the War on December 7th, 1941.
Leisenring passed away in 1951 however his protégé Vernon S. "Pete" Hidy would has Leisenring republished in 1971 as The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph.
In 1950 J. Edson Leonard published Flies, and in this volume he listed some ten Hare's Ear fly patterns both wet and dry but the Hare's Ear Nymph is not listed.
In 1951 saw the publication of Fishing Flies and Fly Tying by William F. Blades and in this volume he list the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Wet Fly, and in the nymphing section outline a tying method which would have been close to the method use to tie the Hare's Ear Nymph yet it was not listed in the nymph patterns. I believe it would have been if the pattern was by now developed and proven to be effective. Blades was the master who taught Ernest Schwiebert and Poul Jorgensen how to tie flies and misses very little of what was transpiring in the world of effective fly patterns during his day.
In 1952 Ray Ovington published How to Take Trout on Wet Flies and Nymphs, it was again republished in 1974 which is the copy that I have and in the 1974 edition page 32 Ovington state: " Another wet fly I am very partial to is the Hare's Ear, either Gold Ribbed or with fluffed-up body. Furthermore as a point of interest on page 50 he mentions using a bobber fly when nymphing and this is possibly the first mention of this practice since Bergman mentioned the method in Trout in 1938. On page 80 he claims that the development of nymph imitations started to gain a foot hold in this country during the 1930's. Yet he does not mention the Hare's Ear Nymph pattern.
A. J. McClane published The Practical Fly Fisherman in 1953 and an updated and revised edition came out in 1975. McClane wrote a wonderful section on nymphing and talked fur dubbed nymphs being very effective however the Hare's Ear pattern listed is that of the Wet Fly.
The gifted Ernest G. Schwiebert Jr. published his Matching the Hatch in 1955 and the only Hare's Ear pattern he mention is a size 12 or 14 Wet Hare's Ear to be used as an imitation for a hatching Epeorus pleuralis.
By this time period everyone know that the art of nymphing is an effective to take trout and many of the great anglers of the 20th century are writing about the effectiveness of form of fly fishing and still I can find no mention the Hare's Ear or the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph!
In 1957 Trout Fishing and Trout Flies was published by Jim Quick and on page 131 he list the Hare's Ear Nymph as one of his suggested nymph fly patterns and furthermore has the pattern marked an asterisk "Are, in the author's opinion, the best with which to start if no other evidence of type is available." However his is the first volume where I have found the Hare's Ear listed as a nymph pattern. His second volume entitled Fishing the Nymph was published in 1960. Now I can tell you that many anglers have not read this book nor have they heard of Jim Quick however on page 114 he list the Hare's Ear Nymph including variations with a Gold Tinsel or Yellow Floss ribbing and legs of grizzly hackle tied as a sparse collar. Also on page 124 he list the Hare's Ear Partridge Nymph.
Furthermore on page 104 he covers with reasonable illustrations two methods of tying ribbed fur dubbed nymphs.
Now Jim Quick's small book is full of excellent information on nymphing that was over looked by many anglers and at no time does he make any claims about originating these patterns. From a historical standpoint Jim Quick's have never received the credit it was due and that puzzles me for I own copies of both volumes and found them to be very informative.
The next angling author to write about nymphs and to include a Hare's Ear Nymph in his list of patterns was E.H. "Polly" Rosborough who published Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs 1965. A second edition was published in 1969 which is the copy that I have also with the newest edition published 1978. However in the 1969 edition on page 150 to 153 you will find Polly's Hare's Ear Nymph pattern.
Polly Rosborough was one of the American pioneers in the development of tying and using nymphs effectively on the American waters.
In 1972 Joe Brooks published the final book of his long career entitled Trout Fishing and in this volume he listed the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph and the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Wet Fly as two of flies that the angler needed to be successful. In none of the other volume he wrote was the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear mentioned.
As an interesting side note to this story I ask my friend John Bailey the owner of Dan Bailey's Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana when his father Dan Bailey first added the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph to the Dan Bailey catalog?
After some research on John's part he told that the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph was added in 1974 and prior to that the Gray Nymph was the most popular nymph in the Montana area.
I might mention that in his 1973 edition of Nymphs Ernie Schwiebert again only mentioned the Hare's Ear wet fly; however this volume did much to inform the reader on nymphs to found in American trout streams and gave history on the subject of nymphing. His classic work needs no apology for leaving out the Hare's Ear Nymph.
However by now the ground swell of popularity nymphing and of the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph began and Terry Hellekson listed the pattern in his 1976 volume entitled Popular Fly Patterns.
1979 saw the publication of one of the finest volumes on Nymph fishing published to date with the arrival of The Masters on the Nymph which was edited by J. Michael Migel and Leonard M. Wright Jr., and contained chapters from the finest nymph anglers of the day including A.J. McClane who listed the Hare's Ear Nymph as one of his four favorite nymph patterns. Pete Hidy listed his Honey Dun (Hare's Ear) Flymph. Chuck Fothergill the very talented nymphing angler from Colorado listed the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph and the Hare's Ear Stone Fly Nymph among his favorites and Byron W. Dalrymple when writing of nymphing for other species such as Bluegill, Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass also listed the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear as one of his go to flies.
After this the Hare's Ear Nymph or the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph was seldom left off a list of the most productive nymphs for the angler to use. In 1986 Randall Kaufmann stated in The Fly Tyer's Nymph Manual that; "The Hare Ear Nymph is the most popular nymph pattern in the fly fishing world. It can fished anywhere, anytime, with just about any method and the angler will have a reasonable chance of hooking trout."
In his 1987 volume entitled The Book of Fly Patterns by Eric Leiser he simply said; "This is the American Express card in the nymph category of flies, you don't want to go astream without it".
Also in 1987 Paul Schullery published American Fly Fishing-A History and after interviewing countless anglers, guides and shop owner concluded that the Hare's Ear nymph was among the most popular of nymphs.
With the coming of the Bead Heads the popularity of the Hare's Ear Nymph or Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph grown and most of the modern writer including your truly keep going back to this impressive pattern time and time again.
However in all this research and rambling we still don't know who actually tied the first Hare's Ear Nymph, now if it was the Pheasant Nymph then the story was be much shorter as that nymph has a well-documented history.
Today we can obtain Hare's Masks and Rabbit Furs dyed in any number of colors and therefore the number of effective imitations that can be constructed using these materials is limitless and the angler/tyer is only limited by their own willingness to experiment and innovate with the materials we have been discussing. As history has clearly demonstrated Hare's Ear Fur can and has been used in the construction of both wet and dry imitations.
Enjoy & Good Fishin