The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, commonly just referred to as a Hare’s Ear, is one of the oldest nymph patterns known. However, the history on the fly is shaky at best. If I’m being honest, the history of this fly is so vague and cumbersome that I just got tired of looking! But there are numerous references in many of the old English fishing journals to a similar fly that, at the time, was more of a wet fly. The more current nymph version of the fly appears to have been around since at least the 1880’s. There are two unrelated tyers, James Ogden and Frederick Halford, who both frequently receive credit for its origin.
When I write my comprehensive history on American trout flies, I’ll dig a little deeper. But for purposes of this newsletter article, let’s just say that it has been catching trout for a LONG time!
The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear gets its name from the materials that are used to tie it. It seems they weren’t quite as creative with fly names back in the day. Should we call it the Sex Dungeon?!?! No. It’s tied with materials from a hare’s mask and a piece of gold tinsel for a rib. Let’s call it a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.
What the fly lacks in name creativity, it more than makes up for in productivity. It is easily one of the most popular and effective nymph patterns of all time. Most agree that it is intended to imitate a mayfly nymph, but it is also an excellent representation of a caddis nymph and many crustaceans. And while the original natural rabbit color is still quite productive, there are countless color variations. Personally, in addition to the natural color, I love a black Hare’s Ear in the winter and an olive in the early spring to imitate Quill Gordon nymphs.
in addition to color variations, there are countless other variations. Many will have some kind of sparkle rib or sparkly back. Some might have a wingcase made of peacock herl. Of course, there are beadhead versions and micro jig versions. Like many great flies, its versatility is a big part of its effectiveness.
If you’ve been trout fishing for a while, you undoubtedly already know this fly. If you’re new to trout fishing, you need to know it. Since this is originally appearing in a winter newsletter, included one of my favorite winter variations of a Hare’s Ear below.
Hook: #18 – 12 2x long nymph hook Thread: 8/0 Black Bead: Gold tungsten to match hook size Rib: Gold wire Tail: Guard hairs from hares mask. Dyed black. Wing Case: Pearlescent Flashabou Abdomen: Black hares ear dubbing Thorax: Black hares ear dubbing (picked out)
Hendricksons have long been a favorite springtime hatch for Eastern fly fishermen. In the Smokies, they typically follow the Quill Gordon and Blue Quill hatches by two or three weeks. Most years, that means we don’t see Hendricksons until mid to late April. Because a warm stretch of weather in February triggered an early Quill Gordon hatch, things are a little out of whack and we are beginning to see Hendricksons now. I expect them to be around until about mid April.
Like many hatches in the Smokies, Hendricksons rarely come
off in enormous, widespread numbers. But in the right place at the right time,
you can find enough of these bugs to inspire some steady rises from trout. And
while generic, attractor fly patterns will get you through most situations,
having a fly that more closely matches what the fish are seeing never hurts!
Hendricksons hatch sporadically throughout the day in the
Smokies but tend to be most active in sunny areas during the warmest part of
the day. Most days this time of year, that means in the 2pm – 5pm range. They
inhabit all types of water but I tend to see emergence occurring most in slow
to medium currents.
The nymphs are not particularly good swimmers and they have an unusually robust profile. This combination of traits makes them very popular with the trout. Their color varies from reddish tan to dark, reddish brown. Tan and olive Hare’s Ear Nymphs work well for imitations. Whitlock’s Red Fox Squirrel Nymph is another great pattern during this hatch. Pheasant Tail Nymphs provide a nice color match but are pretty slender compared to the beefy naturals. In any case, they range in hook size from #14-12.
The adults also vary a bit in color. Much of that depends on the gender of the bug. The males tend to be darker, varying from grayish olive to grayish brown. However, the females are often a little lighter, sometimes taking on a tan or even pinkish hue.
While there are certainly numerous fly patterns specifically designed to imitate all of the variations of a Hendrickson, you can do pretty well with generic patterns as well. A Parachute Hare’s Ear works well, particularly when you’re seeing more of the lighter colored adults. And there’s always the Parachute Adams, especially when you’re seeing the darker variations. Like the nymphs, you’ll best match the naturals in sizes #14 – 12.
Finally, trout love taking the emerging insects during this hatch, so a wet fly can be an excellent choice. One of my favorites is the Early Season Wet Fly. I often fish it in tandem with another fly. Try it as the top fly of a nymphing rig with a Hare’s Ear or Red Fox Squirrel nymph down below. Or tie it as a dropper off the back of your dry fly of choice.
Warning! This article contains terrible illustrations!
Several years ago, I was fishing a stream in the Smokies that I probably know better than any other. It was an early spring day and the water temperature was marginal at around 50-degrees, and the water level was a little high because of recent rainfall. I’d been fishing for two hours and hadn’t even had a strike. I knew it wasn’t a dry fly kind of day. Therefore, I continued to switch nymph patterns, trying to find something that would fool one trout.
Eventually, I decided to stick with one fly pattern, a Pick Pocket, that I had a lot of faith in and to begin altering the way I fished it. Since it was an un-weighted wet fly, I already had one split shot about 8” above it. I began swinging the fly a little more, but the result was the same. Next, I added a second split shot and fished with a mix of swing and dead drift techniques. Nothing. Finally, I added a third split shot and hooked a fish on my second cast. I proceeded to catch another 30 fish or so over the next couple of hours.
I should have known better but we all seem to get too caught
up in fly patterns and lose sight of other important factors like drift and
depth. Well, I had been fishing good drifts all day, but these fish were
hugging the bottom. My fly was not getting, or at least staying, down in their feeding zone.
Do you use split shot when you’re nymphing? There are
definitely times when you need to. One of the best nymph fishermen I have ever
fished with is Joe Humphreys. It is excruciating to watch him fish because
every time he moves to a different spot, he adjusts the amount of weight on his
line! But he often catches fish that others don’t because of those adjustments!
Being willing to add or remove split shot to your line is the first step. Knowing where and how to place those weights is the next. For instance, if you put three split shot right next to an already heavily weighted fly, you may have a hard time keeping it off the bottom. So, you have to figure a lot of things, like how heavy your fly is, how deep the water is and how fast the water is. Just the weight of the fly may be all you need to get the nymph near the bottom in slow water, but faster currents may move that fly all over the place. Extra weight can be used not only to get the fly deeper, but also to slow the drift and keep things where they should be.
Shot placement is tricky in places like the Smokies where depth and current speed can vary significantly, even in the same run or pocket. Short casts and good line control can significantly help combat this. Strategic split shot placement can also make a big difference.
The closer you put the additional weight to the fly, the more you’re going to put the fly on the bottom. As a result, you’ll probably hang up more. But if you put a concentrated amount of weight on a section of leader above the fly, that portion of leader will be what drifts deepest, and the fly will ride above it. The farther the split shot is above the fly, the farther off the bottom the fly will drift.
Of course, there are variables like how heavy the fly is and
how much split shot you use. Sometimes you just have to play with it a little
bit. When you get as good as Joe Humphreys, you can make those calculations in
your head and adjust perfectly for each new spot you fish. Here are a few
examples of how you might want to adjust your setup.
The Clinch River often has long, slow slicks that maintain fairly consistent depths. Consequently, the weight of the fly alone should be sufficient to get and keep the fly where I want it. In a 6’ deep plunge pool in the Smokies, I’m going to need a lot of weight to get my fly deep and keep it there because of the water depth and turbulence. I’ll likely use a heavily weighted fly plus a few pieces of split shot placed near the fly. But fishing pocket water in the Smokies, the depth in one pocket probably varies from 12-24”, with a lot of fast currents. Here, I would probably use a lightly weighted (or un-weighted) nymph with one or two split shot placed 6-8” above the fly. This will keep everything down but allow the fly to drift just off the bottom where it won’t hang up as much.
There is another method that some anglers use where a
separate piece of tippet is added to the leader or to the back of the fly. The
desired number of split shot are then added to that piece of tippet, allowing
the fly to remain above the weight. It works, but I find that split shot
hanging on a loose, vertical line like that have a greater tendency to get hung
up and pulled off on rocks. As with most things, you sometimes have to play
with a few methods and figure out what works best for you.
There are, of course, different sizes of split shot and what
size you use can certainly determine how many you need to use. I typically use
small to medium size shot because it gives me more flexibility and versatility to
add or remove as needed.
In any case, if you are only nymphing with a weighted fly
under a strike indicator, you are just scratching the surface of nymphing. I
encourage you to experiment with different amounts of weight and different
weight placements. You’ll probably start catching a few more fish… and maybe a
few bigger ones, too!
Whether describing a nymph, dry fly or streamer, an “attractor pattern” refers to a fly that doesn’t really imitate anything in particular. It could be that the fly is relatively generic and looks like a lot of different things. An Adams dry fly, a Pheasant Tail Nymph or a Wooly Bugger would all match that description. An attractor could also be a fly pattern that really doesn’t look like anything at all.
I think the Prince Nymph definitely matches that second description. Its body, hackle and general color scheme might suggest some sort of mayfly nymph or caddis larva. Though it’s thick, split tail is more reminiscent of a stonefly nymph. But those white “horns” on the back? While I don’t know of any aquatic insect that has anything like that, perhaps it is suggestive of the white back on an Isonychia nymph. But there certainly don’t need to be Isonychia nymphs present for this fly to work.
That’s because this fly works well nearly all of the time and in most any environment. In mountain streams and tailwaters, this fly catches trout. In spring, summer, fall and winter, this fly catches trout. It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular nymphs of all time and why it would be on nearly every trout fisherman’s must-have list. Nobody seems to care what it imitates or if it makes sense. Because it makes sense to the trout and that’s all that matters.
Apparently, it also made sense to Doug Prince, the originator of the pattern. Doug was an innovative fly tyer who didn’t get a lot of recognition because he mostly tied for himself, rather than producing fly patterns for shops and catalogs. It is believed that he created the Prince Nymph sometime in the early 1940’s. He called it a Brown Forked Tail Nymph and fished it primarily on the King’s River in California.
One of Doug’s fishing buddies was Buz Buszek, a fly shop owner in California. Apparently Buz was in a rush one year to put out a catalog and wanted to include a peacock body nymph pattern. He decided to use Doug’s pattern but couldn’t remember that it was called a Brown Fork Tailed Nymph. He did, however, remember that it was Doug Prince’s pattern, so he put it in the catalog as the Prince Nymph. The name stuck.
Because of its popularity, there have been countless variations of this fly over the years. Everyone seems to think they can take a great fly and make it better. While some are made with wire bodies and some have rubber legs, others use a flashy dubbed body or have a flashy, reflective material on top, in place of the traditional white goose biots. One of the earliest and probably most popular variations was the addition of a bead head.
Over the years, I’ve had success on most all of the
variations. But in my opinion, nothing beats the old standard for catching fish
in the Smokies. I tie and fish them in sizes #16 – #8, but most often use a
#14. And I have success with them all year, but seem to do best with them in the
“fringe months,” when the water temperature is a little colder than ideal. In
fact, the Prince Nymph is one of my most productive winter patterns, fished
deep and slow.
So, if you’ve done much fly fishing, you likely know this pattern already. If not, definitely add some to your fly arsenal. The pattern for the traditional version is included below.
Hook: 2XL nymph hook, sizes 16-8
Thread: 8/0 claret
Weight: Non-lead wire to match hook size (typically .015 or .020)
Rib: Small to medium gold oval tinsel
Tail: Two brown goose biots, divided
Body: 2-4 strands of peacock herl (more on larger hook sizes)
Many fly fishing purists cringe at the idea of fishing a worm pattern. I’m not sure why since a major part of fly fishing is matching the food source of the fish. And worms are a major food source for fish everywhere.
I think it’s the same hangup that many traditionalists have with strike indicators. They just don’t want to participate in any sort of activity that resembles bait fishing. I suppose that fishing a worm pattern under a strike indicator is about as close to bait fishing as you can get. However, when you really think about it, it’s no closer to bait fishing than using a Prince or a Pheasant Tail. It’s not as if the worm is real, or even scented. In either situation, you’re using an artificial imitation of a food source to fool a fish.
The San Juan Worm has been the main target of ridicule for many years. It gets its name from the San Juan River in New Mexico, where it imitated the many aquatic worms in this river. But worms are not isolated to the San Juan River. They are abundant in nearly every body of water, even more so where softer, muddy banks exist.
Worms tend to burrow in muddy banks and when water rises, it floods worms out of those burrows. We see the same thing at our homes. After a good rain, you see an abundance of worms found on the pavement. They were flooded out of their homes. Worms that live in a river bank don’t end up on the driveway when their burrows are flooded. They end up in the river and fish seek them out.
Worm patterns can be intermittently effective anytime. But the best time to fish them is during, or just after, a good rain when the water level rises. In essence, you’re matching the hatch in these situations. Again, isn’t that the idea? So, in freestone streams like the Smokies, these changes in water levels are periodic. But on tailwaters like the San Juan, changes in water levels are daily.
The Squirmy Worm is not exactly a ground breaking fly pattern. You use the exact same technique as a San Juan Worm with a different material. Traditional SJW’s used vernille or micro chenille for the body. The Squirmy Worm uses a rubbery material which makes it more lifelike.
I’ve tied them for years, long before Squirmy Worm was in the fly fishing vocabulary. Many fly tyers have. But what is now mass marketed as Squirmy Worm material didn’t exist. We used things like rubber tentacles off of children’s toys. They worked great, but the new material is made for fly tying and allows for longer, more uniform bodies.
The Squirmy Worm is available in a number of different colors. Pink and red are my two favorites. And you can get them with or without beads. In either case, note that the rubbery material of this pattern can give it sort of a neutral buoyancy when using minimal weight. If you really want to get it down, you may have to use a little more weight than normal.
For you fly tyers, it’s not a complicated pattern to tie. However, the Squirmy Worm material can be a little awkward to work with, as it rolls on the hook. It’s also easy to cut through the material with fly tying thread. There are a few ways to deal with that. My preferred method is to apply a small amount of dubbing to the thread before wrapping around the rubber material.
It’s ugly and it’s trashy, and it very well may be one step away from bait fishing. But it sure does catch fish!
Once again, this is my variation of an existing pattern. Pat’s Rubber Legs is a stonefly pattern created by Idaho guide, Pat Bennett. But keeping it real, Pat’s pattern is really just a variation of an older pattern called a Girdle Bug. I talked about this before, but what constitutes an original fly pattern and what is simply a variation on an old standard is a REALLY fine line!
The Girdle Bug also originated out west and is a very effective imitation for stoneflies, hellgrammites and any other big meaty nymph. Found most commonly in size #8 and bigger, it consists of lead wire, a black chenille body, and white rubber legs on the rear, front, and sides of the fly. Pat’s Rubber Legs is the exact same thing but has variegated chenille rather than solid black, and uses a material called Spanflex rather than traditional round rubber legs.
Both are great patterns. I personally don’t see any added value to the Spanflex material, but I do think the variegation provides a great and simple color contrast. Other stonefly patterns like the Bitch Creek Nymph and even my own pattern, Rob’s Hellbender Nymph, have used a weave to achieve this contrast. But I sure like simple. And using the variegated chenille is way simpler than weaving!
While I have had a lot of success with the traditional Pat’s Rubber Legs, it, like many big stonefly patterns, has a real tendency to hang the bottom. All heavy nymphs do. Many fly tyers, including me, have tried to strategically weight flies to reduce bottom snags with varying degrees of success. Of course, fly tying, like most anything else, has evolved over the years. And in recent years, the evolution of European Nymphing has given us the micro jig hook.
Spin fishermen regularly use traditionally jig hooks. But they are just too heavy to cast effectively with a fly rod. However, the newer micro jig hooks come in much smaller sizes. They use a specially cut tungsten bead to fit on the uniquely shaped hook. The result is a hook and bead combo that allows the fly to ride hook up – most of the time. Certainly with the faster and generally varied currents found on most trout streams, you’re going to get some rotation on the fly.
To accommodate for this, I, and many other fly tyers, tie flies on these style hooks “in the round.” This means the fly essentially looks the same from any angle. Flies tied with a very distinct top and bottom can look strange when the fly isn’t oriented properly. Tying the fly in the round insures the fish will get the proper view of the fly no matter how the hook is oriented.
I saw Pat’s Rubber Legs, with its simple, variegated body, as a perfect candidate for a micro jig style fly. The result is a heavy fly that you can fish deep and slow with minimal bottom snags. In addition, I frequently like to incorporate just a little flash to my nymphs for a subtle suggestion of movement. For my variation of this pattern, I added a small amount of Ice Dubbing behind the head. It’s a great fly anytime of the year. I particularly like it in the colder months of winter when deep and slow is the name of the game. Give it a try!
Pat’s Rubber Legs Micro Jig
Hook: Orvis 1P2A Tactical Jig Hook #8
Bead: Black 1/8” slotted tungsten
Thread: Brown 6/0
Body: Brown and yellow variegated chenille
Thorax: Pheasant Tail Ice Dubbing
Legs: Wapsi pumpkin barred Sili-Legs
Note: This recipe is for the golden stonefly nymphs common throughout the Smokies. You can alter colors to better imitate stoneflies or even hellgrammites in your local trout or smallmouth streams.
Caddis have always seemed to be one of the most overlooked and under-imitated aquatic insects in the fly fishing world. Maybe it’s because they haven’t written about caddis as much as their sexier mayfly cousins over the years. I mean, they gave mayflies names like Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, and Gray Fox… just to name a few. They gave caddis names like Green Caddis, Brown Caddis, Black Caddis…
Regardless of the lack of respect given to caddis over the years, they have always been and continue to be abundant in nearly every body of freshwater and a staple in the diet of trout everywhere. I have numerous caddis patterns that I fish seasonally in the Smokies, but one that finds its way into the line-up more than any other is the Soft Hackle Wired Caddis.
There have been a number of wire body caddis patterns over the years and this is simply my variation on similar recipes. I sometimes tie it without a bead, but most often with a black tungsten bead at the head. It fishes well on a dead drift under a strike indicator but, especially when caddis are emerging, can be very effective fished with a drift and swing method. Learn more about this method and other similar techniques in this article on Active Nymphing.
Soft Hackle Wired Caddis
Hook:#18 – 12 TMC 2457 (or equivalent) Bead:Black tungsten to match hook size Body:Small chartreuse wire* Back:Peacock herl woven between wire wraps Thorax:Black or brown Wapsi Life Cycle dubbing* Hackle:Black or brown hen*
*You can substitute other colors to match specific caddis species
My friend Walter Babb said that most people’s favorite fly is the fly they happened to have on the first day the fishing was really good. The implication of his statement is that more often than not, it’s the archer, not the arrow. When you present it well and the fish are feeding, it probably doesn’t matter what your fly is. And if the fish aren’t feeding? It probably doesn’t matter what fly you have on!
But you had that fly on the first day the fishing was good. Now you have confidence in it. Now you tie it on first and leave it on longer. I have countless fly patterns that I abandoned because they didn’t catch fish the first time I tried them. All too often, that first time was after I tried everything else. Nothing was working that day!
With all of that said, I have, by far, caught more big brown trout in the Smokies on a Tellico Nymph than any other fly. But, you guessed it… the first big brown trout I caught in the Smokies was on a Tellico Nymph. I have confidence in it. And since most of the big browns I caught over the years were either spotted first or caught during “favorable brown trout conditions,” I put a Tellico on in anticipation. So, it’s a bit deceiving. Who is to say I wouldn’t have caught those fish on a Prince Nymph had I chosen to tie one on?
Nevertheless, the Tellico Nymph is a good fly and it’s been around a long time. Its exact origins are unclear, though most think it was obviously created and first fished on the Tellico River in East Tennessee. It has definitely been around since the 1940’s, but some estimate that it may date back to the turn of the 20thcentury. In any case, the Tellico Nymph is the most famous fly from this region. It still accounts for fish in the Smokies and all over the world.
In addition to its origin, there is some confusion as to what the fly imitates. Many contend that it represents a caddis larva. Others are just as certain it imitates a mayfly nymph. To me, there is absolutely no doubt that it represents a golden stonefly nymph. The coloration and size are consistent with that of a golden stone, and the Tellico River is known for its abundance of these nymphs.
As with any popular fly that has been around for this long, there have been a number of variations on the pattern over the years. Rick Blackburn devised personal favorite. I tie most in size #10.
Hook:3XL nymph hook #12 – 6 Thread:Dark brown 6/0 Weight:.015 to .035 lead wire (depending on hook size) Tail:Mink fibers (I often use moose as a substitute) Rib:Gold wire and 2-3 strands of peacock herl Wing Case:Section of turkey tail – lacquered Body:Wapsi Stonefly Gold Life Cycle dubbing Hackle:Brown Chinese neck hackle, palmered through thorax
From the creative fly tying mind of Lance Egan comes one of my favorite carp flies of all time. I’m not too sure what it’s supposed to imitate but for me, that’s true of many carp patterns. Most likely it represents a small crayfish… possibly a dragonfly nymph.
The bead chain eyes give it the perfect amount of weight to get down quickly to carp feeding on a shallow flat without the loud splash of lead. And when the eyes are positioned correctly, it rides hook up, preventing bottom snags.
Present it by leading the carp slightly and retrieve it very slowly into carp’s path. The take will be subtle. Watch for the turn of the carp’s head, set the hook, and hang on!
Hook: TMC 2457 #8
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Red fox squirrel tail
Body: Medium to dark brown dubbing
Hackle: Brown rooster, palmered
Rib: Fine copper wire
Throat: Peacock sword
Legs: Sili-legs pumpkin – orange – black
Head: Bright orange dubbing
Eyes: Medium silver bead chain, positioned just behind the eye.
Few fly fishermen, if any, possess the knowledge and experience of Joe Humphreys. Joe is probably best known as a teacher and an author, but over his many decades in the business, he has also created a number of original fly patterns. By far, my favorite is the Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa.
To be honest though, I’ve always been a little perplexed by the pattern. To me it bears little resemblance to a natural caddis pupa and doesn’t look like any imitation that I’ve seen or that I would create. In his book, “On the Trout Stream,” the only explanation Joe provides is “A good firsthand look at a caddis pupa prompted this tie.” Apparently Joe saw something in a caddis pupa that nobody else did, because his unique pattern has proven to be one of the most effective I’ve ever fished!
The body color can be varied to match caddis in a specific stream. I tie them often in olive and cream, but in the Smokies, most frequently find success with tan bodies. Some species of caddis hatches in the Smokies nearly anytime of year but the heaviest hatches tend to occur in spring.
It works best on any stretch of stream with more of a cobble or even sandy bottom. I frequently fish it as a dropper off a Neversink Caddis or in a tandem nymph rig below a soft hackle.
Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa
Hook: TMC 3761 or equivalent #18 – 12
Thread: Brown 8/0
Weight: Lead wire to match hook size
Butt: Peacock Herl
Body: Natural Hare’s Ear Dubbing (substitute other colors to match naturals)
Hackle: Dark Brown Saddle
Head: Peacock Herl