The Woolly Bugger

February 4, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

Ice fishing with your significant other can be a very rewarding experience, but dont expect her to approach ice fishing the same as you

Ice fishing with your significant other can be a very rewarding experience, but don't expect her to approach ice fishing the same as you

In my journeys into fly fishing and fly tying, I have not found a more enjoyable fly to put together on the vise and put under the water’s surface than the woolly bugger. The beauty of this streamer comes from its simplicity, both in how it is tied and how it is fished.

The woolly bugger is essentially a three-material fly, and for that reason is often the first pattern a novice fly tier learns. A bushy marabou tail, a chenille body and a wrap of saddle hackle make this bug the original five-minute fly, though lead wraps for weight and strands of flash, wire ribbing and bright beadheads for attraction are often added to increase the utility of the pattern.

Generally tied in dark or earthy tones to mimic naturally occurring aquatic prey, buggers are popular in black, browns, and olives. However there are times and places where brighter buggers are the go-to fly; many salmon and trout offerings incorporate purples, oranges and pinks. When baitfish are present, gray and white buggers are viable options.

With the wide variety of materials available to anglers today, from synthetic ultra-hairs to sparkly substitutes for chenille, there is more than one way to skin a bugger. Try adding in some estaz to give the pattern more glitter or replace the marabou with a rubber curly tail for added wiggle in the water. Adjust the pattern for the species you pursue, or just to see what it looks like on the vise. No matter how the pattern is tied or fished, it will most likely catch whatever you’re angling for.

The woolly bugger can be used for any species. I’ve caught trout, bass, panfish, walleye and even a thirty-inch carp with one form of the fly or another. The reason for this variety lies in the bugger’s ability to look like something on every fish’s diet; whether it is a leech, a crawfish, a sculpin, a dragonfly nymph or a fathead minnow. Fish cannot resist the subtle undulation of the saddle hackle fibers around the chenille body, and the pulsating marabou tail has a proven action that has fueled the tackle industry for decades.

There is no wrong way to fish the woolly bugger. On running waters, it is best to cast it upstream, let the fly sink, and work it back with slight twitches of the rod tip and small strips of the fly line to impart action as the bugger tumbles down with the current. On still waters, the fly can be fished in almost a dead-drift or as rapidly as the fish require. As long as it is in the water and out of the branches of shoreline trees, there is a good chance a fish will take it.

Whether you are stocking a fly box for spring trout fishing or planning to keep company with some smallies this summer, a few dozen woolly buggers will have you prepared for the season. Tie them in various sizes and colors and you will already have a good start on your next fly fishing adventure…in our outdoors.

(For some great woolly bugger patterns and the new Fly Files video podcast, log on to


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