A Question of Color

Discussion in 'Fly Tying' started by GAT, Jan 18, 2013.

  1. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    Most of us know how to tie a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear. Some say it is the best universal nymph in your arsenal of patterns. I, as most everyone else, tie mine using the packaged dubbing material indicating natural hares ear.

    One day I was kind'a bored so I decided to tie a GRHE using a bunny face with ears. I followed the original instructions for tying a GRHE (except for the gold oval tinsel... I used flat tinsel).

    I was shocked when I compared the pattern to a store bought GRHE. When tied using the hare mask and cutting the dubbing from the ears, the fly ended up much darker than the version sold at stores.
    The pattern sold at stores was made with the packaged dubbing and not the hair from the hares ear.
    Sure enough, I looked at the patterns I had tied using the packaged dubbing and they were much lighter in color than the pattern tied using the hair from the ears.

    Not only that, the texture of the pattern tied with the natural hares ear hair is much more coarse.

    This is a store bought pattern sold as a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear:


    This is a pattern tied using the materials as indicated for an actual Gold Ribbed Hares Ear:


    There's a significant difference in the colors of the patterns.

    As I discovered this difference many years ago, I tried using both the darker GRHE and the patterns tied with the packaged dubbing at a stillwater fishery. The darker fly, using the original recipe for the pattern, did indeed catch more fish than the pattern tied with the packaged dubbing.

    The devil is in the details.

    So, when you use the packaged "hares ear" dubbing, are you really tying a genuine GRHE?
  2. Jack Devlin Active Member

    Posts: 1,216
    Western Washington, Puget Sound area
    Ratings: +989 / 1
    Most hares masks contain light, dark and medium colors and the colors can vary from different shades of grey, tan, black and everything in-between. The blended stuff in the packages comes the in various colors and mixes.
    Many fly fisherman won't admit it but the hares ear nymph tied light, med, dark, weigted, unweighted, big, med, and small is the only nymph we all really need. Tie the fly to match what's in the water you are fishing ie by size and color.
    That's my four cents worth:)
    Krusty likes this.
  3. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    As I look at a bunny face, the majority of the fur on the ears is a dark color of brown with tan ends. ..as is the fur on the face of the mask. If you used the light color of fur on the inside of the ears, the pattern would end up almost white.

    I once asked one of the guys at Hareline about the discrepancy between their packaged hares ear dubbing and that of the hair on the bunny ears. I received no answer.

    Why? Well, because they are using the body hair for the dubbing. It would hardly be cost effective to trim the hair off bunny ears and sell it in packages... the stuff would be very expensive.

    I know this because they had "bales" of rabbit pelts in their storage area. Don't get me wrong. I use the packaged dubbing much more often then I do the hair from the bunny ears and for the most part, it works fine.

    This thread was simply to point out that sometimes, somewhere along the way, the materials used for the original pattern are tweaked and that tweaking can have an effect on the end result of the looks and texture of the pattern.

    I do agree that the GRHE design, tied in different sizes and colors, will work to represent a vast majority of natural nymphs. Some believe the Pheasant Tail is superior to the GRHE but I can't go along with that.

    Virginia can out-fish me with a GRHE while I'm trying a plethora of patterns tied to represent specific aquatic insects.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  4. Gary Knowels Active Member

    Posts: 1,113
    Seattle, WA
    Ratings: +418 / 0
    I always use hair from the mask when I tie them, unless I want to tie some lighter ones and then I use Australian possum.

    Sent from my SGH-T679 using Tapatalk 2
  5. Ron Eagle Elk Active Member

    Posts: 1,742
    Yelm, WA, USA.
    Ratings: +110 / 0
    I prefer to tie from a hare's mask, either pinching off the hair or using a dubbing rake to get the hair from the mask.
  6. Norm Frechette Active Member

    Posts: 606
    Norwich, CT
    Ratings: +78 / 0
    i learned many years ago to use the light and dark to tie a hares ear. still works for me

    GAT likes this.
  7. Jack Devlin Active Member

    Posts: 1,216
    Western Washington, Puget Sound area
    Ratings: +989 / 1
    Here's what I would normally use as my go-to hares ear as far as color is concerned. In other words, my idea (right or wrong) of what a hares ear should be. Then I would make em darker or lighter as required. Norm and GAT I like yours. I just add the partridge legs - a habit I guess. Picked out dubbing works fine.
    Jack 012_12_2.JPG
    GAT likes this.
  8. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    Well, you guys are just wrong :D

    Seriously, Norm, I like how you used both the light and dark colors. And Jack, I've also taken to adding soft hackle fibers for legs and tail for tying most of my GRHEs.

    Like this:


    Virginia primarily uses GRHEs she purchased from a shop at a great price long ago. As she doesn't fish as much as I, she has store bought GRHEs to last for years. Like I mentioned, when we're stillwater fishing and she's catching trout and I'm not and ask her what she's using, normally she'll have tied on one of her GRHEs.

    I think the reason I like using the hair from the ears and mask is because it is short and multi colored. BUT using the hair from the mask is a bitch. You don't get much from the ears before the ears are bald and the hair It is difficult to dub. Sooooo.... yup, the majority of my GRHE are tied with the packaged dubbing.

    When I first started fly fishing and tying, I was so dumb that when we fished The D with nymphs, I tied large GRHE to represent the stonefly nymphs. Silly me. I was catching trout with a large GRHE when I was supposed to be using a pattern designed as a stonefly nymph. As time passed, I started tying patterns designed specifically to represent stonefly nymphs... they didn't work as well but at least I was using what I was supposed to use :rolleyes:

    To this day, the standard size nymph pattern that works the best for me on The D is a GRHE with or without a gold bead head. I fished The Yak once and again, the nymph pattern that worked best for me was a GRHE.

    One of my fishing buddies was doing well at East Lake with what he told me was a "black bead head GRHE". Weird, I thought. I black GRHE??? Well, if that's whats working. I tied some black GRHE with a gold bead head. They didn't work worth crap. That's because I misunderstood what he was telling me. I was supposed to use a GRHE with a black bead head.

    Once I figured out what the devil he was actually saying, I tied up some GRHE with black bead heads and sure enough, they were a hit. To this day, I catch a lot of trout at East with a GRHE with a black bead head. Which brings us back to the theme of this thread... the use of the correct materials for the pattern.

    So, okay, you're fishing with Jack, Norm or I and we are catching trout. We all tell you we're using a GRHE... which version? It does make a difference. That's why I ask to take a look at the pattern someone is using to catch fish and do not rely on what they call it.
  9. Krusty Active Member

    Posts: 928
    Spokane, WA
    Ratings: +613 / 0
    I stopped carrying a huge variety of nymphs (and other flies) years ago...the hare's ear is quite adequate. I think it became obvious when I'd run out of a meager supply on fish that were hitting hard...and would substitute something else (sometimes something that wasn't even vaguely similar, but fished in the same fashion...depth...retrieve, etc) and found it worked just as well. I like having fewer patterns, but a lot of size variations on the patterns I carry....and a shitload of each.
  10. Tim Cottage Formerly tbc1415

    Posts: 1,694
    Outer Duvall
    Ratings: +249 / 1
    With five distinct color and texture areas on a mask I can't think of a more versatile piece of fur or feather. If you could only have one material to tie your flies it would be hard to make a better choice than a Hares Mask. The guard hair makes great tails, legs and hackle in a split thread or dubbing loop.

    Allen McGee's, Tying & Fishing Soft Hackled Nymphs does a good job of explaining the use of different parts of a Hares Mask. This info can also be found in other much older books and you can probably dig it up on the internet.

  11. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    I've noticed that "new and improved" nymph patterns come and go but the GRHE is still around. There's a good reason for that. It's like an Adams. It doesn't necessarily represent one bug but has the components that fish believe is edible.

    I remember a hot nymph pattern for a few years was called a Super Fly. I don't hear of anyone uses it anymore. The Serendipity was also THE fly to use for a few years and I don't know of anyone using them today. Right now, in Oregon, the "hot" nymph pattern is a Possi Bugger. Will it still be popular in years to come? I doubt it. Sometimes folks believe a nymph pattern is superior to a GRHE because they didn't try the new pattern and a GRHE. They go with the pattern everyone is raving about. Such is fly fishing. Here today, gone tomorrow.

    That's the way of the sport. We all like to try new rods, reels, lines and patterns. This doesn't mean the old tried and true patterns stopped working, it just means folks stopped using them.

    Rocky and I came up with what we thought would be a good test. We'd pick a river, like The D, and have two teams of fly anglers. We'd fish the river for four days. Two of the four days, one team would use older, traditional patterns. The next to days, the teams would switch patterns and one team would again only use traditional patterns while the other used the "new and improved" patterns.

    At the end of the four days, we'd compare notes to see who caught the most fish using which patterns...

    I ran the idea for the test article past an editor and he basically told me I was crazy. If it turned out that the traditional patterns worked just as well or better than the new patterns, why would anyone be interested in the new patterns? And flyfishing magazines are in the business of publishing articles in regards to new patterns, rods, reels, lines etc.. It would make the point of their magazines irrelevant if there was no reason to change to something new.

    So, the idea never got off the ground. Fly anglers WANT new patterns, materials and gear.
    The fish really didn't hold a convention to announce that they no longer would attempt to eat the older patterns so why wouldn't the patterns of old that worked well not continue to work?

    Truth is, they still do. But if no one is using them, everyone figures the new stuff works better.
    Krusty likes this.
  12. Tim Cottage Formerly tbc1415

    Posts: 1,694
    Outer Duvall
    Ratings: +249 / 1
    I agree. We all like to try new things but really if your focus is just on catching fish you can certainly forget everything from the last 25 years and do just as well. You could say the same thing about the last 50, 75 or 100 years depending on your perspective but that was then and this is now. There is certainly nothing to be lost by exploring new things.

    From my perspective most fly fishing magazines are irrelevant.

  13. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    Once the Internet showed up, paper flyfishing magazines are struggling to survive. I believe most will switch to e-magazines you subscribe to or they'll sell subscriptions to magazines where you can read them with a tablet. It's probably just as well I stopped writing articles. The pay was terrible for the articles and now with the Internet, you can find just about anything you want to know about flyfishing online, so the payment for articles either remained stagnet or dropped. Considering the work it takes to write an article and provide photos, there's really no $$$ as a reason to do so.

    If you want to know about a new pattern, all you have to do is ask here. And with Hans onboard, you will get a high quality video of how to tie the sucker. You don't get that with a paper publication.
  14. Big E Moderator

    Posts: 1,431
    Coon Bay
    Ratings: +364 / 0
    Perhaps the conversation is not so much about color but of the advantages and disadvantages of do-it-yourself vs pre-packaged dubbing?
  15. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    Maybe. But I'm not sure there is an advantage over one than the other... it's the difference between the color and texture of the packaged dubbing vs the hare's ear fur that folks should be aware of.
  16. tkww Member

    Posts: 469
    Ratings: +70 / 2
    I'm a dubbing wore and have more of those 12-box compartments than I should. I love being able to take a pinch of one color or kind of material and blending it with another. It's not the most efficient way to tie, but it's fun. And, it's important to keep in mind the color of the material once it's wet. Most material seems to taken, but natural material in particular.

    Which brings me to one day when I was on a small stream and started doing some kick net samples. Turned out that other than some caddis nymphs, every darn bug I found was some shade of black. Or really dark, dark brown, to the point that it takes a bright light to make it seem something other than black. I Couldn't find a single bug that was PT brown, or dry/lighter HE brown. Couldn't find a single copper-colored bug (not to mention red, green, or blue). Couldn't find a single bug with white tails or antenna. Couldn't find a bug with a silver or gold body. The list goes on. But PTs and HEs and Princes work--forgive me, Gene, what is the correct name of that pattern I call the prince?

    (Speaking of which, I've never had much luck with Whitlock's squirrel nymph. Yet Whitlock raves about it. The "molt" stage? I don't know if I buy it. I just know that pattern has never gotten me very far. (Anybody need half a squirrel skin?))

    But ever since that day of kicking up bugs I've always tied my HEs darker than I used to. I do the light abdomen / dark thorax. If I remember correctly that's how it was described in Kauffman's nymph book that I used when I first started tying. And it got me wondering about how the bugs look to fish. Can they tell the difference between deep chocolate brown and black in two feet of clear water? What about 6 or 8 feet? Is enough light getting down there to make that difference clear? I guess the conclusion I've come to is when in doubt, go darker.

    I'm speaking strictly of moving water here. I think lakes are a different ballgame--the translucence of chironomids and damsel nymphs, etc. I don't think of callibaetis nymphs or scuds as being black!

    Speaking of hare's ears: I quite using turkey long ago and switched thin skin. It doesn't bunch up as nicely at tie-in/off points, but it also doesn't split after a fish tooth or two gets to it, the mottling is more consistent, etc. . And I like the shinny aspect.

    Beads? With and without. For smaller streams I like it because I think the fish are more gullible to flash, but on more popular water I often skip the bead. But I have always used gold. Maybe I'll have to try a black bead.;)

    One thing I've become very fond of is adding thin barred rubber legs to the HE. I always tie my thorax with a dubbing loop to get it as spikey as possible, but for some reason the rubber legs just seem to help, even more than feather fibers. (But that said, I think the barring is more important than the material.) I don't like thick legs and I don't like tying with thin rubber--very sensitive to thread pressure--but I always go to the effort for at least a few of them because it just seems to work. I wish I could find some in a more natural brown/tan/gray-brown. But then again, maybe it's the garrish light-tan/black combo that makes them work.... I'll try to post some pictures later.
  17. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,228
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2,702 / 0
    A Brown Forked Tail

    Yes, do try a black bead. Many natural nymphs have a black head. Now, in regards to what a fish does see in regards to colors, there is a book dedicated to that subject. It's titled Through the Fish's Eye by Mark Sosin and John Clark.

    One thing to remember about fish... they ain't rocket scientists. Look at some of the stuff the spin folks use to catch fish. We honestly don't know exactly why a fish decides to eat what it does. We do know what works and what doesn't... that's about it.

    However, it is fun to try and determine why a fish thinks the way it does... which is futile because they have a brain the size of a pea. Nonetheless, that's the way we are as fly anglers and tyers. Otherwise, our only concern would be the correct color of Power Bait to use on any given day.