Fly Tying for Beginners Part 3: The Beaded Hare’s Ear

The Hare’s Ear fly

The Hare’s Ear fly
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Scruffy, weighty and darned useful for river and stillwater fly fishing alike, the Hare’s Ear is one of the truly indispensable patterns in any angler’s box. It’s also an absolute piece of cake to tie, even if you’re all thumbs at the vice. In fact, you could argue that the scruffier the finish, the better the fly. In his new series of step-by-step fly-tying guides, Dom Garnett shows you how to tie the Beaded Hare’s Ear.

Tying your own flies

The Hare’s Ear will bring bites all year round, on still and running waters alike.

The Hare’s Ear will bring bites all year round, on still and running waters alike.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

So far in this series, we’ve shown you a dead simple dry fly, along with an equally straightforward hackled wet fly. As we move into autumn, though, our next fly is going to be a slightly weightier affair. Quite literally, with the addition of a small brass bead.

The practice of adding small metallic beads to flies seems to have been going on since Izaak Walton was in nappies, but to this day it remains a really simple way of adding extra mass and attraction to all sorts of different flies. Few are more universally effective than the Hare’s Ear.

Scruffy does it

Like all the flies in this series, the Hare’s Ear (sometimes abbreviated to GRHE –“Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear) is not an incredibly realistic creation. It’s suggestive or “general fit”. It’s not origami or master craftsmanship – it just looks seriously edible in the water. Don’t be fooled into thinking its rough simplicity makes this fly inferior to the amazing little works of art you see in glossy magazines and tying shows. Does it resemble a shrimp? Or perhaps a caddis larva? The fish seem to care even less than we do, because more often than not they’ll try to eat it.

In fact, my older brother and I experimented over many seasons comparing different flies. He got the tying bug bad, making Rhyacophila, Heptagenids and the rest (typical scientist, he gets off on this stuff). But the more we fished, certainly on our wild streams at home, the more apparent it seemed that a scruffy fly, finished in five minutes flat, would routinely outfish some incredibly accurate little work of art. And when you cast that scruffy five-minute fly into a tree, there’s less wailing and gnashing of teeth.

What am I driving at here, then? Well, I don’t want to denigrate realistic fly tying. It’s beautiful, creative and clever. It’s like painting a wonderful portrait, rather than just quickly taking a selfie. If you fish on rivers where the fish are very selective or see a lot of angling pressure, it can be useful, too. But for most of your fly fishing, the Hare’s Ear is a simple, brilliant pattern you just have to have!

What you need to tie the Hare’s Ear

A very simple recipe: hooks, beads, fur, wire and thread… and that’s it.

A very simple recipe: hooks, beads, fur, wire and thread… and that’s it.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

There are loads of variations on the classic Hare’s Ear fly. You can mess about with different dubbings, beads and the rest. You can add fancy tails or a thorax. Once you’ve sussed it, go ahead and knock yourself out. For now though, we’re going to make this most basic of fly patterns seriously easy to tie with a few basic tools and ingredients.

One notable main material is the namesake “hare’s ear” dubbing. Yes, you can substitute this for modern dubbings, but do try it with the real hare’s fur first. Nothing is quite so beautifully spiky and full of life. Buy yourself a full, natural “mask”. Yes, it’s a bit grim. If you live with any vegetarians, you might want to hide it so they don’t freak out.

Take a look at the material though, and marvel at it for yourself. There are lighter and darker coloured bits of fur. There are softer and spikier parts too. All of this can be used- if you pinch firmly with thumb and forefinger and tear out in little pinches. Less is always more with dubbing!

Here’s what you need:

Hook: Nymph or grub hook, size 12-18
Head: Brass or coloured bead, to suit (typically 2mm-3.5mm)
Thread: Tan or Brown
Rib: Silver or gold wire
Body: Dubbed hare’s mask, natural

Tying the Hare’s Ear, step by step

Pass a suitable sized bead onto the hook. run some thread onto the hook just behind in close turns. Pinch in place at first, before overlapping until it catches tight.

STEP 1: Pass a suitable sized bead onto the hook. If you catch the hook in the vice at a slight slope it should stay put. Now run some thread onto the hook just behind in close turns. Pinch in place at first, before overlapping until it catches tight.

STEP 2: As you proceed down the hook shank in tight, touching turns, bind in a length of gold or silver wire as you go. This will form your “rib” (which gives the fly a segmented look and also helps keep the body neatly secured so you don’t end up with a dog’s breakfast when a few trout have savaged the thing). Stop just above the barb of the hook, or just beyond the point on a barbless hook.

STEP 2: As you proceed down the hook shank in tight, touching turns, bind in a length of gold or silver wire as you go. This will form your “rib” (which gives the fly a segmented look and also helps keep the body neatly secured so you don’t end up with a dog’s breakfast when a few trout have savaged the thing). Stop just above the barb of the hook, or just beyond the point on a barbless hook.

STEP 3: Prepare your dubbing. Pinch and tear off a few fibres as shown. You can pick light or dark as you please. I try to get a mix of soft and spiky bits, to give the fly suitable “bugginess” (if that’s even a word). Don’t go too bonkers, as you only need a little to make a single fly.

STEP 3: Prepare your dubbing. Pinch and tear off a few fibres as shown. You can pick light or dark as you please. I try to get a mix of soft and spiky bits, to give the fly suitable “bugginess” (if that’s even a word). Don’t go too bonkers, as you only need a little to make a single fly.

STEP 4: Add the dubbing to your thread – you might need to have the bobbin a bit lower under the hook to give room. Do this by spreading out the dubbing material between your thumb and index finger and “roll” on the thread, as above. It can take practice to get perfect, so keep at it. If you resolutely fail to get the dubbing to stick to the thread, treat the thread with a touch of hair gel. We won’t tell anyone. You may end up with not enough or too much dubbing on the thread. This is quite normal! You can always pinch off a little or roll a tad more as you go.

STEP 4: Add the dubbing to your thread – you might need to have the bobbin a bit lower under the hook to give room. Do this by spreading out the dubbing material between your thumb and index finger and “roll” on the thread, as above. It can take practice to get perfect, so keep at it. If you resolutely fail to get the dubbing to stick to the thread, treat the thread with a touch of hair gel. We won’t tell anyone. You may end up with not enough or too much dubbing on the thread. This is quite normal! You can always pinch off a little or roll a tad more as you go.

STEP 5: Once you have the dubbing on the thread, apply it to the body in nice even turns so that you get a tidy profile. That said, we want plenty of those wiry fibres sticking out, so don’t panic if there’s a bit of mess.

STEP 5: Once you have the dubbing on the thread, apply it to the body in nice even turns so that you get a tidy profile. That said, we want plenty of those wiry fibres sticking out, so don’t panic if there’s a bit of mess.

STEP 6: Now for the rib. Bring the wire from back to front, in nice even turns, trapping the dubbing in place. It’s easiest to do this by changing hands as you go up the hook. When you reach just behind the head, trap the wire with a few tight turns of tying thread. Notice I’ve left a little gap behind the bead.

STEP 6: Now for the rib. Bring the wire from back to front, in nice even turns, trapping the dubbing in place. It’s easiest to do this by changing hands as you go up the hook. When you reach just behind the head, trap the wire with a few tight turns of tying thread. Notice I’ve left a little gap behind the bead.

STEP 7: Now, if you wiggle the wire back and forward, it will neatly break clean off. Much better than knackering your scissors trying to trim wire!

STEP 7: If you wiggle the wire back and forward, it will neatly break clean off. Much better than knackering your scissors trying to trim wire!

STEP 8: Now take another, smaller pinch of dubbing, and apply to the thread. Use some of the darker fibres from the hare’s mask, to create a bit of contrast. You could also go for a touch of bright colour such as red or orange though.

STEP 8: Take another, smaller pinch of dubbing, and apply to the thread. Use some of the darker fibres from the hare’s mask, to create a bit of contrast. You could also go for a touch of bright colour such as red or orange though.

STEP 9: Build up just enough dubbing to finish the fly, before whip finishing just behind the bead

STEP 9: Build up just enough dubbing to finish the fly, before whip finishing just behind the bead (this is easier watched than described, so take a peek at Peter Gathercole’s online tutorial).

TOP TIP: Your fly is ready to fish. However, many fly tyers like to liven it up a bit by picking out the fibres with a bit of velcro. This isn’t a pretty, faultless fly – those straggly bits all help to add life! Whether the fish take them for legs, feelers or little breathers, they move in the water and suggest life.

TOP TIP: Your fly is ready to fish. However, many fly-tyers like to liven it up a bit by picking out the fibres with a bit of velcro. This isn’t a pretty, faultless fly – those straggly bits all help to add life! Whether the fish take them for legs, feelers or little breathers, they move in the water and suggest something edible.

Further Hare’s Ear tips and variations

Variations and twists on the Hare’s Ear fly.

Variations and twists on the Hare’s Ear fly.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

If you fished little other than the fly I’ve just shown you, you could catch plenty of fish from streams and small stillwaters alike. In fact, the trout won’t begrudge your lack of artistry one bit. Keep your flies nice and scruffy and fish them where the trout expect to find things like shrimp and hog lice (i.e. the weedy margins of a small lake, or the bed of the stream) and you won’t go far wrong. On rivers, this tends to mean trundling along with the speed of the current, whereas on small stillwaters I like a picky figure of eight retrieve.

The simplest of Hare’s Ears will catch plenty of fish. That said, it’s fun and useful to add some extra touches to your Hare’s Ear flies. My favourite twists are:

  • Use a different type of bead. Try hot orange for dirty water, for example, or tungsten for extra weight.
  • Hackles and tails aren’t strictly necessary, but can add extra attraction. Partridge fibres or Coq de Leon make lovely tails and legs. Or add a CDC hackle for extra, wispy movement when wet.
  • Dubbings are also wide open for experimentation. Original hare’s mask is excellent, but you can get sparkly substitutes that are easier to dub. You could even add some brighter colour, such as red or orange, just behind the bead as a bit of a “hot spot”.
  • Of course, different hooks will also give different effects to your fly. You can tie a Hare’s Ear on any straight nymph hook, but a curved shrimp hook gives a lovely effect too.
  • But perhaps the biggest change for many anglers has been the switch to “jig hooks” (like the right-hand fly in the shot above). This design of hook will make the fly fish “point up” and seems to reduce snagging the bottom on rivers, while many believe it also leads to more hook-ups when fish bite.
  • Don’t forget to tie your flies in a good spread of sizes, too. I find a size 12 ideal for rainbows, especially for trying the edges of smaller, weedy lakes. Meanwhile, a size 16 with a smaller bead is ideal for most small to mid sized trout and grayling fishing on the river. That said, weeny little Hare’s Ears in sizes right down to a 20 can be superb for roach and dace.

Wherever you fish, you’d be hard pressed to find a more useful all-round fly pattern than the good old Hare’s Ear. Happy tying and fishing!

Read more from Dom Garnett

Regular Fishtec blogger Dom Garnett can also be caught every week in the Angling Times, while you can also find more on his site www.dgfishing.co.uk and the Angling Trust’s Lines on the Water blog.