Last night, I slumped back in my chair and away from the tying desk. It’s lit like an operating room. With three hi-wattage beams shining on one very small object from left, right and center, my eyes don’t miss much. Combine that with 2X-power readers and some steady hands, and I can turn out well-crafted flies as small as you like. I have no trouble inserting details into a fly, but I’ve never approached fly tying with that kind of goal anyway.
Like most good fly tyers who are better fishermen, I learned long ago that realism in a fly is one thing to a trout and another thing to a fisherman. So I scrapped that bias and whittled my patterns down to the elements that I believe attract fish. My guiding theory on fly design is that trout are looking for a reason not to eat my fly. So I limit materials only to what’s necessary. Nothing more.
I leaned a little further back in my chair to stretch my legs under the table, tickling the extension cords for all those lights. Then I crossed my arms and stared at the dubbing materials on my desk while I thought about all of this . . .
I believe too many triggers on a fly is a bad thing — it’s a turn-off to the wild trout that I fish for. What’s a trigger? It’s something that grabs a trout’s attention and helps convince them to eat.
And while many anglers may think about color or flash first, I think of movement as a primary trigger just as often. Motion of materials is endlessly talked about in streamer design. And on the big platform of a streamer — an inches long fly — it makes sense to think about how materials might move. But for patterns that imitate bugs rather than baitfish, movement is perhaps undervalued.
These things move: hackle collars, CDC wings, appendages like rubber legs and more. Peacock herl moves, and even the small barbules of pheasant tail wave in the currents, providing micro movement that seals the deal.
But, as I stared at my open nymph box with empty slots waiting to be refilled, I realized that much of the movement built into my flies comes from the dubbing that was spread across my desk — Hare’s Ear.
What’s so special about Hare’s Ear dubbing anyway?
That’s the Stuff
I’m not the first to fall in love with Hare’s Ear. In fact, it’s a good bet that most of you carry a few flies with the good stuff dubbed onto a hook, in some form or fashion.
I learned to tie flies in the nineties, by following the tutorials in a Skip Morris book. The pics were good, and I remember that somewhere along the line, Skip espoused the values of Hare’s Ear dubbing.
But I was confused, so I talked to Woody, at my local fly shop. I told him I wanted to cut and blend my own dubbing, like Skip said I should. So Woody sold me a bunny mask in a bag that looked like something a toddler could wear for Halloween. Just add the elastic band to hold it on. He also gave me a package of Hare’s Ear Dubbing from Hareline. It had a label that read HD4. And that was the first of hundreds of packages I’ve bought since.
I did blend my own for a while. I used all of that skin mask and then another. I learned about guard hairs, awn hairs and underfur, and how different parts of the mask offered fur that was wiry or soft, short or long, thin or course. All of it was on that one mask.
Cutting and blending hair from those masks was a valuable lesson. And I daresay I know a little more about Hare’s Ear dubbing than most anglers who tie with the stuff. I did the same thing with a few other skins that I bought at Fly Fisher’s Paradise some years later: Fox Squirrel, Grey Squirrel, Muskrat and Beaver are the ones I remember. And I learned that no two fur types are the same — not even close.
After all of that, here’s what I learned makes Hare’s Ear special.
In the Mix
Good Hare’s Ear dubbing has a unique blend of soft and silky fine-fibred underfur and longer awn hairs (secondary fur) that are just barely stiff enough to stick out. It also has a naturally wide variation of color tones, dark to light.
The soft stuff is the base of the dubbing. It’s thin enough to float in the air. It’s easily swept into your nose, and if you’ve ever tied a dozen Walt’s, you know what I’m talking about. But then, look to your lap and you’ll see the other fibers — the stiffer, longer stuff. While the underfur almost floats in the air, the awn and guard hairs drop with gravity as they should.
Again, plenty of animal fur has this mix of underfur, middle fur and guard hairs. But a good Hare’s Ear blend is special. The longer hairs are not very stiff, and they dub easily. The mix forms a perfect dubbing noodle, because the stiff hairs are soft enough to bend and flex. Squirrel dubbing, for example, is spikier, with shorter, thicker and stiffer hair, but it’s not as lively. The shaggy parts of Hare’s Ear that stick out from the fly move more than most other dubbings.
This, That and the Other Thing
I leaned forward in my chair again, back under the halo of warm light. And I reached into my drawer to leaf through my Hare’s Ear selection. I chuckled as I realized that I’ve collected a full row of the stuff.
I used to cut and blend my own. I did that for years, until finally I realized that what I was aiming for was very much the same stuff that came in the Hareline Hare’s Ear dubbing mixes. The texture of dubbing in those packages is just about perfect. There are some variations between packages, and I do like to look through a dozen or so bags to find just the right one, but overall, what comes from Hareline is the mix I’m looking for.
That said, I still mix a lot of dubbing, more for the color than anything, and I often like to blend in a little flash, some sparkle yarn or a bit of antron.
While thumbing through the row of Hare’s Ear dubbing variations and blends I noted these colors most: Natural, Olive and Dark Hare’s Ear. I also have many colors of Hare’s Ear plus, with antron already mixed in.
I glanced up at the small white coffee grinder at the back of my tying desk. The hinge is broken, but I always hold the lid down before hitting the power button.
Over time, I’ve learned to mix the Hare’s Ear Plus with one of the regular bags, because I want a little less antron than what comes standard in the Hare’s Ear Plus packages. A few spins in that coffee grinder is a good thing. And I use the grinder to blend materials together, to add a little flash or some extra spikiness of squirrel hair, or just to fluff a chunk of dubbing before I start working with it.
Hare’s Ear dubbing is one of my confidence materials as a fly tyer. And if you’ve tied flies long enough you know what I mean. It’s just the dubbing that I keep coming back to.
I use it for my Bread-n-Butter and the Black-n-Tan. It’s the key to all my Walt’s Worm variations, and it forms the dubbing collar for many other nymphs in my box. My favorite dubbing makes it onto many of my streamers too.
I like Hare’s Ear so much that I even use it on many dry flies. It’s the extra movement and natural color variation that does it for me. I tie a Parachute Hare’s Ear because Tom Rosenbauer recommended it in a book that I read long ago, and I’ve never looked back. Most of my Klinkhammers are really spin-offs called a Sledgehammer, from Hans Weilenmann. And Hare’s Ear dubbing is used for the sunken . curved part of the body.
Good Hare’s Ear dubbing is soft but spiky. The underfur flutters and undulates in the currents, and the wiry pieces are still thin enough to flex and move with the push and pull of a river.
The stuff looks buggy. And I often use a piece of Velcro or a bore brush to rough it up and make it buggier.
So while modern nymph design seems to push more and more slimline flies like Perdigon variations, the buggy look of well-dubbed flies will never go out of favor, either. I want both styles in my fly box.
— — — — — — —
I leaned toward the desk to sit under the lamps again. Then I picked up the bobbin and lined it with 8/0 Uni-Thread in dark brown, ready to tie a half-dozen Olive Walt’s on a scud hook with a silver bead. Simply, buggy and deadly with one single material — Olive Hare’s Ear Dubbing Plus.
Fish hard, friends.
** I’m sure you have your own dubbing preferences and your own reasons for those favorites. Feel free to share in the comments section below. **
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N