When tying flies, sometimes close is good enough

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But any time I “invent” a fly, invention has another
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They say necessity is the mother of invention. But any time I “invent” a fly, invention has another parent — not having the correct materials for a pattern that already exists.

Over the winter, I decided it was necessary to tie some Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear nymphs, but found myself with no hare’s ear and no gold rib. So I cobbled together a fly with the stuff I had on hand, and it has served me pretty well this season.

Actually, I did have some hare’s ear, which is actually the tannish-gray fur, including downy underfur and longer guard hairs, of a rabbit’s head. (In case you’re wondering, I’m told that rabbits are a very common food in some countries and their pelts are a byproduct of the food-rabbit farming industry.)

A little pouch of hare’s ear fur comes with every beginner’s fly-tying kit, and I’ve bought many more pouches of the stuff in fly shops over the years.

But rather than using the stuff in the pouch, I’ve come to prefer plucking the fur directly off a pelt. While I’ve never owned a natural-colored hare’s mask (as rabbit head pelts are called by fly-tiers), I do, for some reason, own one that is dyed a dark chocolate brown.

Whenever I’ve pinched off a bit of fur and guard hairs for a part of one fly or another, I’ve liked the result. I could vary the ratio of fur to guard hairs to suit my purposes, in a way that isn’t possible with pre-blended fur.

So even though my Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear would be the wrong color — dark brown instead of tannish-gray — I elected to go with the pelt rather than the pouch. Plucking the fur allowed me to really load up the guard hairs on the front half of the fly, where they suggest legs protruding from the bug’s thorax.

I think the original pattern calls for a slip of goose or turkey wing feather to form the little wingcase shell on the GRHE’s back. As for the tail, to be honest, I forget what you’re supposed to use. For a long time now I’ve simply used pheasant tail feather barbs for both.

Pheasant tail is darker than natural hare’s mask and always looked kind of funny on a standard GRHE, but as it happens, it looks just right on the dark brown version.

That brings us to the gold rib. I rummaged through 10 Tupperware boxes full of stuff, but couldn’t find any of the gold tinsel the original pattern calls for. I did, however, have a package of pearl Krystal Flash sitting right there on my tying bench. I tightly twisted together two strands and spiraled it up the back half of the fly. Like the tinsel, it created buggy-looking segments and added a bit of attention-getting flash, but the Krystal Flash definitely had a look of its own, with a green tinge.

I thought the resulting fly looked pretty darned good and tied up a bunch more, in sizes 12 and 14. Fish seem to think it looks good, too. I’ve used it to catch brown and rainbow trout, both stocked and wild, from Amawalk Outlet in Westchester County to the West Branch of the Ausable in the northern Adirondacks.

I haven’t caught enough trout with it to claim that something about the pattern is inherently better than the original Hare’s Ear or any other nymph. I have, however, established that it catches fish.

The brown GRHE is not original or innov­ative enough to call it a new pattern and give it a name of its own, but to distinguish it from traditional Hare’s Ears I sometimes refer to it as a chocolate bunny.

Tied chubby, it’s a pretty good imitation of the nymph of the March Brown mayfly, and tied long and slim, it looks sort of like an Isonychia nymph, in case you’re interested in matching hatches.

But like the original Hare’s Ear and other time-honored nymphs, such as the Zug Bug and the Prince, the chocolate bunny mostly just looks like a wriggly bug drifting helplessly in the current, and that’s something few trout can resist.

Categories: Sports

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