The Hare’s Ear Nymph Fly Pattern

The Hare’s Ear is the very definition of an iconic fly pattern.

The Hare’s Ear is one of the most popular patterns in the world.  It’s been around seemingly forever and has a seemingly endless number of variations.  It’s very “buggy” looking and imitates a huge variety of food sources found in tons of different waters.

Noted fly fishing sage John Geirach has this to say on the Hare’s Ear:

“I carry two all-purpose nymphs that I usually fish as droppers behind dry flies. One is a Hare’s-Ear Soft Hackle with blued bead-chain eyes…If you backed me into a corner, I’d say the Soft Hackle is a caddis, In practice [it serves] as interchangeable sunken bugs for days when the fish seem shy about coming all the way to the surface for a dry fly.”

Description of The Hare’s Ear Fly Pattern

The thing you notice right away about the Hare’s Ear is that it’s shaggy and kind of ugly.

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Soft hair and stiff bristles from a hare’s mask – the fur from a rabbit’s head (no surprise given the name) are wound around the shank of the hook and fastened with gold wire that’s supposed to suggest ribs.  The thorax is meant to be shaggy and buggy looking.

Often this fly has a tungsten or copper bead head added to it, both for a bit of flash and to help get it down to depth quickly.

A strand of pheasant feather is added for a tail.

What Does The Hare’s Ear Fly Imitate?

By varying the size, color, and texture of dubbing on the fly and by making modifications such as adding a soft hackle, this fly can imitate nearly anything aquatic. 

The shaggy appearance resembles many species of nymph as they shed their skins and progress into the next stage of their life.  In that sense, it’s a searching pattern more than a perfect imitator, and it does an excellent job of mimicking midges, mayflies, stoneflies, and even small minnows.

The occasional long hair coming from the body adds some movement, giving the illusion of life.  Ultimately, the more scruffy this fly looks, the better it’s going to appear to fish.

How to Fish the Hare’s Ear

There are some variations, but generally, you should fish this fly below the surface with a small strike indicator or as the dropper in a hopper-dropper set-up.  You can add split-shot to help it sink if you need it deep and there’s no bead head on your fly.

As with a lot of searching patterns, there are no special techniques needed with the Hare’s Ear.  If you’ve got the basics of nymph fishing down, you know how to fish a Hare’s Ear.

History

The Hare’s Ear is a pretty old pattern.

While I’ve heard some people say it goes all the way back to Izaak Walton’s “The Compeat Angler” I couldn’t find it in my copy. That said, nothing in there is labelled in modern terms and there are dozens of editions of this book out there.  I’m definitely not the authority on this.

The first definite reference that I can find is in John Kirkbride’s “Northern Angler”, written in 1837.

However, Frederick Halford probably deserves all the credit he gets as the popularizer of the pattern.  Interestingly, he tied it as a dry fly, with upright duck quill wings.  That idea – of the Hare’s Ear as a dry fly – came back around eventually, but Halford’s design doesn’t seem to have lasted.

Variations of the Hare’s Ear

Given its reputation to imitate nearly anything, there’s little surprise that the Hare’s Ear has been tied with a ton of variations over the years.

I don’t think I could possibly make a comprehensive list of all the modifications done to this fly over the course of its history.  It would be a daunting task, as its available in a dizzying variety of colors and sizes and shows up with all sorts of interesting modifications.

Rather, I’ll just give a couple of the more notable variations that I’ve seen – ones that stand out as being really different from the standard.

Dry Fly Variations

I first heard about the parachute Hare’s Ear (which resembles the typical Hare’s Ear in most ways, except it’s got a parachute wing tied to the top) in a John Geirach piece. He calls it the “most versatile dry fly” that he fishes.

It makes a great mayfly or dun imitator, especially in slow to medium currents.

Stoneflies

The only thing that stoneflies have that the Hare’s Ear didn’t it that big, distinctive twin tail.

By adding some goose biots (just like the ones seen on a Prince Nymph), the Hare’s Ear turns into a pretty convincing stonefly.

Conclusion

I’ve heard that the Hare’s Ear is the best-selling nymph pattern in the world and I can believe that.

It’s sold everywhere that you can buy flies and does the job of a dozen highly specialized patterns – and does it just as well as any of them.  If you include the dry and stonefly modifications, it does the job of even more.

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