Top Trout Flies Course
Lesson 4 – The Hares Ear
The Hares Ear Nymph
One of the Top 10 Trout Flies Ever Created
The hares ear nymph is one of those flies that doesn’t look like anything, but imitates everything. The primary ingredient of this fly is the hares ear dubbing from the mask or face of a bunny. I wish they would have called it the bunny beard, but alas, I wasn’t around when it was invented. This fly catches some serious fish and has a reputation for being the most consistent pattern in most anglers boxes.
Though James Ogden is the inventor of this pattern, he originally designed it to be a dry fly. Over time it became a popular nymph because as these materials get wet, they imitate nymph stages of nearly every insect aside from a midge. The hares ear materials is pretty bulky and when tied with the right dubbing has large guard hairs from the mask of the rabbit. This imitates legs of nymphs perfectly. It can be tied in any color that has synthetic hares ear or natural hares ear dubbing. The pattern is also traditionally tied with gold wire to trap the dubbing, making it more durable and creating segmentation similar to that of most nymph abdomens. With a few simple modifications and additions, the hares ear nymph can imitate mayfly, caddis, stonefly nymphs and scuds and sowbugs as well. Let’s spend some time now learning what makes this fly so incredibly successful on the water.
Graphs – Seasonality, Size and Color
The Secret to Why This Fly is So Productive
The hares ear nymph is super productive both because of its simplistic design that imitates so many insect nymphs, and because they can all be imitated with very few changes. Most flies can imitate a variety of insects with modifications, but making one modification simply switches its look so that it imitates one, but no longer the other. This means that you can only imitate one or two insects at a time with success. A hares ear has the ability due to its generic shape and coloration to convince fish on several different levels. This is the definition of a search pattern. The hares ear doesn’t really look like anything exactly, but does look like a lot of things closely letting a trouts stomach fill in the gap and convince it that the fly is what they want to eat. With this ability to do this all at the same time, all you need is a good drift and this fly can do the rest, imitating what is going through the water for the trout on a number of levels at the same time. There is probably no other fly on this list that can do that as well as a hares ear nymph and is the secret to why this fly is so successful.
The Entomology Knowledge on This Fly
You will see as we go through this list, that very few modifications are needed to imitate the following insects. Color is by far the most important with a hares ear and size is next. Lastly, adding rubberlegs as with most nymphs adds a new profile for the pattern and helps it more accurately imitate certain bugs. Overall, you can’t go wrong with a naturally colored, olive colored or black colored hares ear, but there are a few variations we’ll mention below to help imitate specific species or categories of insects more accurately once you find what is on the menu for the trout.
BWO – Baetis – Blue Wing Olive | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #16 – #24 | Colors: Olive, Dark Olive, Brown, Purple | Seasons: Year Round (Late Fall to Early Spring)
A hares ear nymph can imitate a baetis when tied small and sparse in sizes 16 – 24. The large guard hares should be removed from the dubbing in sizes 22 and smaller, just pull them free when you are done as they are much too large for flies of this size. There is really no need to do anything special with these bugs other than match the right color and size. A size #18 is likely the best option to imitate both a BWO mayfly and a green drake nymph and a scud and sowbug. The color olive works well for all of them.
Callibaetis | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #14 – #24 | Colors: Tan | Seasons: Summer to Fall
A callibaetis nymph is best imitated with a beadhead version in tan or natural hares ear dubbing. A beadless version is great just below the surface in lakes as callibaetis are hatching. No modifications are needed to imitate a callibaetis, just have sizes #14 – #20 in your box, which should be there for other purposes as well since natural tan is the best search color in general and both beadhead and beadless options should be included for stillwater and river fly boxes.
Hendrickson | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Tan, Brown | Seasons: Spring to Early Summer
Grab a standard beadhead gold-ribbed hares ear in sizes 12 – 18 and you should be set on imitating hendrickson nymphs. Emergers can be imitated with beadless options. I told you this was going to be easy. So far for all mayflies, we just need sizes #12 – #20 in tan and olive.
PMD – PME – Pale Morning Dun – Sulphur | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #14 – #20 | Colors: Yellow, Tan, Cream | Seasons: Summer to Fall
While a yellow hares ear is an excellent option for a PMD nymph, a tan will work in most situations too. Bead and beadless options are good to have to imitate both nymphs and emergers. A good variation, which we’ll mention in the lesson later is a soft hackle hares ear. Yellow hackle fibers with a tan body and gold wire for ribbing is a solid variation for a PMD and many other light colored mayfly species.
Isonychia – Slate Drake | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #10 – #18 | Colors: Tan, Brown, Dark Brown | Seasons: Summer to Fall
Hares ear nymphs are perfect for imitating the large, legged iso nymphs out East and the small iso’s occasionally found out west. A single beadhead and double beadhead is a great option for Iso nymphs. Tan and brown color variations are perfect.
Green Drake | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #8 – #16 | Colors: Olive, Dark Olive, Gray | Seasons: Summer to Fall
Green drakes have legs that are large compared to their bodies and extrude outside of their body. The hares ear dubbing and long guard hairs do a great job of imitating these legs. A standard hares ear in olive and dark olive works great. If the olive dubbing you have is too light, mix some black in and when combined it creates a good looking hares ear that is an accurate imitation of a green drake.
March Brown | Mayfly Nymphs
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Tan, Brown | Seasons: Spring to Summer
As with the previous options, nothing is different in order to imitate a march brown nymph. Tan is likely the best color. Simple right? Let’s review. All we need is size #12 – #20 Tan and Olive beadhead and beadless hares ears to imitate nearly all the mayfly species. I hope you can see at this point why the hares ear nymph makes the top trout list. It’s so simple to imitate so much with only a few patterns.
Free Form Caddis |Caddis Nymphs
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Olive, Dark Olive, Brown, Tan, Green | Seasons: Spring to Fall
Free form caddis are prevelant in river systems and a hares ear nymph is a great way to imitate them. Typically you’ll find them in brown, dark olive and orange colors. An olive and brown is pretty much what I use and have had good success. Bring sizes #12 – #18 to the river and make sure you have some heavy beadheads on them as they don’t float high in the water column very often and free form caddis are often eating near the river bottom by trout.
Cased Caddis | Caddis Nymphs
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Colors: Tan, Black, Brown, Green | Seasons: Spring to Fall
The same colors and sizes apply from the free form caddis with tan and olive being the best colors instead of brown, but if you look in your rivers, caddis will make casings from the natural forage which can change in color and texture from river to river and spot to spot. These caddis are usually a bright green and at times, especially when dislodged and floating through the river, peek out of their casing to find a place to shoot their spidey-webs and hold onto rocks (spidey-webs is not the technical term of course, it’s actually a kind of silk). That peeking aspect is a signal to eat for trout. They are pretty well camaflouged as river debris otherwise. The modification you should tie with this pattern is to add a small hot spot of black and chartreuse/bright green dubbing to one side of the fly. That hot spot is the only variation you need and I’d have a few on hand to use for sure throughout the day, you’ll find they are always on the menu for trout as caddis are always in the river and more active during warmer months and water temps above 45º.
Golden Stoneflies | Stonefly Nymph
Sizes: #6 – #14 | Color: Brown, Olive, Tan, Gold, Black | Seasons: Year Round
A tan body with a yellow wing case over the back of turkey feather or some similar material is a great imitation for a golden stone. As always, I use rubberlegs when imitating stones and those spanflex legs you use with pats rubberlegs are a great choice to add in as legs for a hares ear. Gold and yellow are the best colors to use, but tan works as is. A large tan beadhead hares ear will work well in a pinch, but rubberlegs added and yellow dubbing is a more accurate imitation.
Little Black Stoneflies | Stonefly Nymph
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Color: Black, Dark Olive | Seasons: Spring to Summer
If I could pick three colors for a hares ear it would be olive, tan and black. They just seem to work best and cover the vast majority of insects. Little black stones are all over in rivers in those early months that are called spring, but feel like winter. Size #10 – #18 are the best sizes to imitate them and a beadhead hares ear in black is a perfect imitation. You can add small black rubberlegs if you’d like, but I rarely do given these look more like black mayflies than big stones. If you haven’t learned by now, olive, tan and black in #10 – #18 covers 90% of the bugs that a hares ear imitates, so tie or buy accordingly.
Salmonflies | Stonefly Nymph
Sizes: #6 – #12 | Color: Brown, Black, Orange | Seasons: Spring to Fall
While salmonflies can get as big as 3 inches long, most are in the 1/2 to 2 inch range. Size #6 – #12 black beadhead hares ears work great. If you add just a smidge of orange dubbing under the head of the fly, it does a good job to imitate the soft underside of salmonflies that are pink, tan and orange in colors. Tying the hares ear on a curved hook is helpful as well, but not essential.
Scuds & Sowbugs | Aquatic Nymphs
Sizes: #12 – #18 | Color: Brown, Olive, Gray, Tan, Pink, Orange | Seasons: Year Round
We haven’t talked about scuds and sowbugs yet and although they are different kinds of insects all together, they are commonly found in similar waters and streams. Tailwaters are a great place to find scuds as well as any spring creek or places with a lot of underwater vegetation. They love weed beds and can thrive in a majority of rivers and lakes. Keep the tails short on a hares ear nymph and tie on a curved hook to best imitate these insects.
Sizes: #10 – #14 | Color: Brown, Dark Olive, Olive | Seasons: Spring to Fall
A hares ear in olive, brown or dark olive tied with plenty of bulk imitates a dragonfly nymph very well. I think often fish eat this fly thinking it is a dragon fly nymph though we as anglers forget we are imitating them with our flies. Since a hares ear imitates so many insects, this one gets lumped in with the common colors and sizes. In a lake, these can be fished well when fish slowly near a weed bed or structure with a slow, methodical retrieve.
Sizes: #10 – #14 | Color: Brown, Dark Olive, Olive | Seasons: Spring to Fall
Damsel nymphs are in the same boat as dragonfly nymphs. Fish are eating them, but we often aren’t aware. I have very good luck with panfish and carp on a small #14 – #16 olive hares ear in beadhead and beadless versions as well as for trout in rivers and is among the most productive sizes available for hares ears. Fish them in lakes and rivers and you’ll find good success with nearly any fish species.
Identify the Signals the River Provides to Learn When to Fish It
As with all of our top trout flies, anytime is a good time to fish them, but why would you fish them vs a WD-40 when imitating a blue wing olive or other mayflies? There are a few circumstances where hares ears can outperform sparser, more imitative nymphs, let’s review them now.
When Fishing Fast Water
Patterns that are slim and imitative often are overlooked in faster turbulent water. However, with patterns that have a general shape that is appealing to trout and it passes over them quickly, they tend to eat them without as much hesitation. Trout like something that looks a little like everything in faster water and in their short amount of time to decide, will select a fly like this over exact imitations often. When fishing faster water, especially water that has some whitewater to it, hares ears are your friend.
When you have no clue where to start
There is probably no better fly to start with when you have no clue what is happening in the river. If you are unable to figure it out, don’t have time or are just being lazy, a hares ear is very often a good fly to start with because it imitates so many things well. Pay attention to where you catch fish, how deep, and what color and size when you do catch fish so you can possibly narrow in more specifically later and catch even more.
When Fish are Rising in Foamy Water
It can be hard to identify what fish are feeding on in the foam, but a hares ear nymph without a bead is a great fly to use in the foamy water. The hares ear holds to the foam very well and sits right below the foam as the natural emergers do. Fish the hares ear in the foam when fish are rising and you’ll find some great success
Common Variations and Ways to Modify the Pattern for Success
There are several variations that are worth noting for the hares ear nymph. In general, here are the materials you can commonly modify to get different looks and feel for the fly:
- Color Changes: Black, Olive, and Tan are the best, but yellow, orange, or any dubbing that is messy will often produce well.
- Wire Color: You can adjust the wire color or substitute for tinsel as well for different segmentation and to match or contrast the color of the fly body.
- Hook and Bead Changes: Tying on a curved vs a straight shank with a bead or no bead are all options that work. Curved shanks look more like scuds and sowbugs while straight shanks look more like caddis, mayflies and stones.
- Soft Hackle Collars: Adding a soft hackle collar to any of the modifications above is a great way to create additional movement in the fly and make a more generic profile. My all time confidence fly is a soft hackle hares ear with a beadhead tied on a jig style hook. Fish can’t seem to resist in and it gets my rig down deep.
- Flashback and Wing Case Changes: You can make a split back wing case to imitate a actively emerging insect, or you can use flashback to grab the attention of trout to the pattern and separate it out from the natural insects in the river and improve your catch rate.
- Rubberlegs: With nearly any pattern, adding some spanflex or round rubber legs to the pattern add alot of movement and widens the profile to imitate larger nymphs and is recommended on sizes #12 and under if you’re purpose is to make the pattern look like a stonefly or large mayfly.
Now let’s go over a few key variations that I’d recommend having in your box.
Euro Soft Hackle Hares Ear
One of my favorite flies that never seems to let me down. The jig style is great for euro rigs and keeping your fly from getting hung up. The soft hackle shape and motion makes it super fishy and further empowers the fly to look a little bit like anything. I often tie the body with some flash material and then the soft hackle covers it and makes it understated. See the pictures below of the ones I tie and make some of your own for a great confidence fly in your box.
Flashback Hares Ear
Nothing different here than adding some flash material like tinsel or flashabou to the top of the wing case and sometimes lining the entire body with flash. Flash seems to work well when insects are emerging. The flash must be part of the emergence because trout key in on flash during hatches in clear water and sunny days when the flash is very prevalent. Oddly enough it doesn’t do as well in murky water because the flash doesn’t really flash without light hitting it.
Rubberleg Hares Ear
A good stonefly imitation. Using spanflex or round rubber legs as both the tail and body make for a very rubbery, large profiled fly that gets fish excited. Though it looks weird, don’t be afraid to tie on some odd colored legs like yellow or red or white, this makes the pattern more of an attractor fly and can aggravate fish to eat it just as often as they eat it as a food source.
I hope by now you’ve learned how versatile the hares ear nymph is and how a few sizes and colors, and maybe a few variations is all that is needed to have a well prepared box for nymph fishing. It’s an excellent fly that deserves at least 12 – 36 spots in your box during any season. Tie or buy some today and enjoy some hares ear nymphing!
Presentation Tips on the Fly
There are a few tips beyond the normal nymphing presentations that can help you make the most of your fishing success:
When Fishing as a Search Pattern, Fish the same Size, but Different Colors
When you start the day trying to figure out what they are eating, a hares ear is a great start with no information to go on. It’s the best guess if there is not evidence for anything else. But the whole point of fishing the hares ear is to gather more info and catch some fish in the process. Fish a 2 or 3 fly nymph rig with all hares ears and use 3 different colors. An olive, black and tan for example is a good start. Depending what produces fish, it can tell you more about what fish are likely eating for the day. The next step is to pick the color that is producing and adding a few different sizes of that color. Then whatever size produces best will land you in a good area to have a color and size to use for a more imitative pattern and you can hone in from there.
Fish it Shallow or Fish it Deep
I haven’t found much success fishing it in the middle. I find a heavy beadhead version down deep fishes great, or a beadless version as an emerger is good too. Use the hares ear in a 2 of 3 fly nymph set up, but make it the middle or bottom fly instead of the first fly. I’ve seen better results over time this way and is recommended.
Slow Retrieves Matter in Stillwater
A nice slow, steady retrieve in stillwater is an excellent way to fish this pattern. Almost like your fishing a streamer, but everything trimmed down to a smaller scale is the idea behind this presentation. Scuds, damsels and dragonfly nymphs are all in most stillwaters and a slow retrieve on a hares ear seems to work. The key is finding the right depth. Count before starting your retrieve to mark the sink rate and the depth so you know your 5 seconds deep before retrieving when you hook up.
A Great Dry Dropper Option
Using this as a dropper in a dry dropper set up is a great choice. A parachute adams with a hares ear with a bead or no bead works great when searching for trout and a pattern for the day that will produce. Work banks, structure and any side channels during high water with this set up and mix up where you cast until you find some fish.