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Trout Fly Design
Copper Wire Hare's Ear - Roy Christie

In considering how to build an artificial fly the fly tier takes into account the species he wants to target and its prey which he wants to represent. My preference is to fish small streams and rivers, creeping up like a heron behind my targets and offering them representations of the nymphs, emergers and dry flies which make up most of their staple diet.

My favourite fly is my copper wire hare’s ear.

Tied with copper wire and a half dozen guard hairs from the nose of a hare; mixed with a tiny pinch of soft underfur, this fly can be made to order and picked out as you please. As a midge, smut, emerger and nymph it is an excellent catcher of trout.

By varying the amount of soft/spiky and tying it as you please, you make any shape you want with two materials. In design terms I owe a debt of gratitude to my streamside predecessors. Mr Skues designed imitative nymphs for dead-drift subsurface fishing for trout.

Whether these were ever fished with a little movement to induce a take was denied by Skues in his books. He presented his imitation to the target as a representation of the ascending nymph of the various types of mayfly as they came up; bouyed by internal gases, resting within the shuck. Fished dead-drift to targeted fish, these flies were reasonably accurate copies of the natural fly in profile and in colour.

This was masterful angling indeed.

bare hook nymph

Remember that Skues was experimenting with his presentations of the sunk fly at a point where the dry fly purist had elevated his opinion to a level where moderates sizzled and the purist was inflamed. For his intellectual supremacy in things wet and dry, Skues was awarded ex-communication.

Times change. Decades later, when the purest of nymph fishing again became acceptable, another talented streamside observer modified the nymph. Frank Sawyer developed his Pheasant Tail and Grey Goose nymphs to imitate darting mayfly nymphs. These were to be presented to the target and enhanced with a minimalist action to induce a take from the trout.

An exceptionally effective tactic, this method – which has to be seen as totally distinct from the Skues’ style of presentation – needs not employ a very accurate copy of the insect. The action of the wriggling nymph is the trout’s trigger to grab it.

A disciple of Sawyer, Oliver Kite fished the same water on the Avon and developed the Sawyer nymph to minimalist proportions. Kite reduced the pattern to the point of removing the herl, then the wire and caught trout and grayling by induced action on bare hooks. When he reported this to Sawyer, he was allegedly informed that without any dressing the hook could not be a fly and that he was thus outside the rule book of the Club. Thereafter Kite would attach a knot of silk or a turn of wire to remain within the remit. Hence the infamous bare hook nymph.

You may ask - Where does that take us with regard to fly design? Where do we go from there?

midge & smut

Anywhere we like to go; preferably with a minimum of effort as we want to be able to tie the flies to match the small stream hatch as we go. I want to carry as few materials as possible. I pack a spool of fine wire, a hare’s mask and a handful of mixed hooks in various weights sizes and profile.

The fly is easily tied by hand.

  • Take a hook suitable to the purpose, the spool of wire and a pinch of fur and guard hairs.
  • Hold the hook between forefinger and thumb of the left hand. Lay the wire over the back of the eye and the point. Nip this in your fingers and wrap the wire back over the tag end, halfway down the hook shank. Keep it tight.
  • Tie in a few guard hairs as tails and wrap up the shank two turns to secure.
  • Take the rest of the fur and dub it onto the wire.
  • Wrap this as a thorax.
  • For a dry fly add some guard hairs as wings.
  • Tie in with a couple of half hitches off your little finger.
  • Break off the wire tags and put the wire back in your pocket.
  • Now tweak the furs to the required profile.

mayfly nymph

By varying the amount of fur/guard hair versus the amount of wire, this nymph can become an emerger or a dry fly. The fur can be teased out in virtually any direction and – very important- will generally stay put where you first pull it through the wire.

It may move if cast hard or attacked, so I check it after a few casts or a fish. It is easily modified by grooming the fibres. You will learn lots by examining just what shape the fly is when the fish takes it. Tweaking a guard hair can change a nymph to an emerger and vice versa.

When you find yourself fishing with last evenings HOT but tattered nymph and the fish switch their attention to emergers, you can quickly build a bulky fly to replace it.

Stick the old one in your hat. Now you have two flies. Take care! – if this continues you will have to buy a box to keep them in.

Design –

Tails, if required, for nymphs and dries are guard hairs tied with the points aligned and length to suit the behaviour and appearance of the natural. Midge and smuts need no such adornments. These are easily imitated with a twist of wire and a tweak at the mask.

Surface emergers work best with a good clump of fur and guard hairs on top of the shoulder and well picked out to float in the required profile.

For a dry fly, build it like the emerger and tie in a pinch of guard hairs in a suitable position to mimic the wing. A fur head may be added for caddis and willow flies or just for floatation.

I have spent many hundreds of hours using this system and caught thousands of trout with it.

Does it always work? Well, no.

Roy Christie ( is a flytyer and Sexyloops' board member, who likes to tie flies backwards, upsidedown and inside out.


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