Tom Rosenbauer on His Most Successful Fly Pattern

Editor’s Note: Almost 20 years ago, when I was a guide in Yellowstone National Park, I fell in love with the Rabbit’s Foot Emerger. Fished as a dropper behind a PMD Sparkle Dun on the Lamar River in August, this fly was simply deadly on big cutthroats. That fall, I took the pattern to the Rapid River in northwestern Maine, where the landlocked salmon couldn’t resist it, either. Ever since, I’ve had plenty of Rabbit’s Foot Emergers in my fly boxes.

Some patterns just have it—that ability to imitate no particular insect or food, yet somehow imitate most all of them and attract the wiliest of trout that have thus far snubbed all other offers. Think the Parachute Adams. The Woolly Bugger. The Pheasant Tail. The go-to fly. The rabbit’s foot that increases your luck. This is Rosenbauer’s Rabbit’s Foot Emerger, a fly you simply do not want to be without on the river, especially during a hatch of Hendricksons (or Baetis, or PMDs… you get the picture).

We got together with Tom Rosenbauer to ask him about this proven pattern.

ORVIS NEWS: Why do these flies work so well?

TOM ROSENBAUER: Honestly, I don’t know why, exactly. I can surmise though. And I can say, without a doubt, I’ve fooled more trout during more and different hatches—and while prospecting—on this fly than just about any I’ve ever fished. Many times, trout take this pattern when they won’t take much else, or anything else.

ON: What do you surmise about the Rabbit’s Foot Emerger’s success?

TR: The hare’s-foot fur has a lot to do with it. I was inspired by Bill Phillips’s Usual and some of Galen Mercer’s emergers. (Editor’s note: Bill Phillips named The Usual, which was, in fact, tied Fran Betters.) It was the first fly that used hare’s foot. I love the buoyancy of the material. It keeps the top half floating while the rest is submerged subsurface, which looks so natural. Plus, that “bugginess,” that slightly unkempt look. Trout seem to really love it.

ON: What else?

TR: I think it’s the sum of the parts. The materials are basic. But as a whole, they add up to something special. The curved nymph hook gives it that great classic emerger profile. It half floats and sits low, the body sits just subsurface. Trout prefer emergers naturally over duns because they’re more vulnerable. They take less energy to consume. And then there’s the Antron shuck that gives the look of a fly that’s just sprouted its wings and is sort of riding its shuck like a raft and is very susceptible. The CDC adds movement and traps air bubbles.

ON: What’s the pattern supposed to imitate?

TR: Originally, a Hendrickson. But now I use it for March Browns, Eastern and Western Green Drakes, BWOs, PMDs. That’s another thing that’s so great. It covers so many hatches. Tied smaller or larger, in different colors, it’s one of those great Hendrickson patterns that you can use in almost any situation when you need some luck. Originally, I spent the length of a Hendrickson season studying the hatch and the big brown trout’s reaction to it. I played with the pattern that whole season.

I’ve “invented” hundreds of patterns. Maybe ten I still fish that really work. Most of them looked a heck of a lot more refined or spectacular than the Rabbit’s Foot, but none get trout to jump on it like this one. This one is my best. Trout just love it. I won’t hit the river without some in my vest. They really are that lucky rabbit’s foot when you need it.

          Rabbit’s Foot Emerger
          Hook: Sedge hook, sizes 14-20.
          Thread: To match the body, 8/0 or 70 denier.
          Shuckk: Tan Antron or Z-Lon.
          Body: Rabbit fur, color to match the naturals.
          Hackle: CDC tied with a distribution wrap around bottom 180
                    degrees of hook.
          Wing: Hair from the toe of a varying hare (snowshoe rabbit). Should
                    extend back to beginning of tail shuck and should extend 180
                    degrees around top half of hook for stability.
          Head: Rabbit dubbing the color of the mayfly dun you are imitating.
          Note: Tom ties them with olive, pink (Hendrickson), tan, cream bodies.
                    Often he just uses hare’s ear fur for the head instead of bothering
                    to match the color of the dun.

11 thoughts on “Tom Rosenbauer on His Most Successful Fly Pattern”

  1. A nice read on the use of Rabbit Foot Emerger by a man who knows what he is talking about. Great buoyancy for sure, I will definitely give it a try. Thank You Tight Lines.

    1. That’s a typo. Bill Phillips named The Usual, which was, in fact, tied Fran Betters.

      From Frankenfly: “Fran was experimenting with snowshoe rabbit, common in the Adirondacks in winter, and tied a half dozen. They sat in his shop for a while until Bill Phillips came by and bought the whole lot. Apparently Bill was known to fish the fly everywhere he went and whenever anyone asked him what fly he was using he simply replied “the usual.”

  2. Could be a mistake but I think he’s referring to the actual name of the fly. Bill Phillips was a ADK fisherman who stumbled upon a few of these in Fran’s shop while he was still experimenting with rabbit foot. Not many fisherman were using the fly but Bill fished them everywhere he went with great success. Legend says when asked what he was using he’d reply “The usual”… so it was first called Bill Phillip’s Usual.
    I’d imagine someone out there knows the story better than me….

  3. I thought Fran Betters on NY’s Ausable River was the creator of “The Ususal”. He certainly lays claim to it in several of his books. Who is Bill Philip?

  4. This is a nice pattern with what sounds like great success.
    Why not provide a link from the article to the material list so that one could purchase all of the materials at once from Orvis?
    Just a thought….

  5. Rosenbauer’s Rabbit Foot Emerger is indeed an all time great pattern. I fish the pmd version here on Montana’s Kootenai River part of every day during July. Never leave home without it!

  6. Absolutely my go to emerger pattern not only on my local CNY streams but also on the Willowemoc and Beaverkill. Tied in various colors and sizes will cover all emerging mayflies successfully. The classic tie is my favorite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *