By Nick Simonson
No matter where, no matter what is being fished for, no matter the season, the woolly bugger is a pattern no fly angler should be without in a variety of sizes, colors and variations. From a simple forward-and-back of chenille, hackle and wire to a more intricate model adorned with beads, legs, flash and other accoutrements, this go-everywhere, do-anything streamer can be as simple or complex as an angler or the fish need it to be. There’s no wrong way to tie it and getting the basics down can load a streamer box up in no time with this all-around imitator of edible things underwater.
Hook: 3XL Streamer, Size 10-4
Thread: 6/0 Black
Head: 1/8” Gold Bead
Weight: 12 Wraps of .02 Lead
Tail: Brown Marabou
Body: Medium Chenille
Hackle: Brown Wet Hackle
Rib: Medium Ultrawire
Start by placing a bead head on the streamer hook and securing it in the vise. Add twelve wraps of .02-lead wire and pack them tightly against the bead head, before starting the thread and securing both items in place, before advancing the thread back to the bend of the hook (1). At that point, tie in a tail of marabou feathers (2). Some folks prefer long, flowy tails when using the fly for aggressive, bigger-mouthed species like smallmouth and white bass, and other times a squatter tail keeps certain fish like bluegills and stocked trout from short-striking the offering and missing the hook. Adjust the pattern to the species pursued for better results or trim the tail streamside as needed.
Once the tail is secured, tie in a strand of medium ultrawire and a three-inch length of chenille and advance the thread to just behind the bead head (3). Palmer the chenille forward, so that each wrap touches the previous one forming an even body (4). Behind the bead head, tie in a wet hackle by its base with a few of the fibers trimmed off, this will ensure that the front hackle fibers are slightly longer than the back ones, and a nice, tapering profile will be created (5).
From the hackle tie in point, wrap the feather back toward the bend of the hook using a hackle pliers to keep tension. Use the wire to grab the last of the hackle and wrap the wire over the end of the feather to secure the hackling (6). From there, gently wrap the wire forward to just behind the bead head, wiggling the wire around and over the hackle so the wire locks the hackling in place along the body of the fly; trim off the excess wire and hackle feather (7). Add a few extra wraps of thread to secure the wire behind the bead head, whip finish and add a drop of head cement for posterity (8). Repeat the process until the hook supply is exhausted!
As flies go, fishing the woolly bugger is about as idiot proof as a fly comes, and as it is easy to tie and fish, it’s often the first pattern learned by many anglers. Slow drift it through eddies in a favorite trout stream, speed strip it through a school of white bass in summer or those autumn trout in one of the many area stocker lakes, or gently twitch and jig it along structure in springtime for smallmouth bass. Tie them up in blacks and browns to imitate leeches, olives and grays to look like aquatic insects, or whites and silvers to emulate scattering baitfish. Better yet, tie them up in pinks, purples, oranges and chartreuses to really freak fish out and trigger a crazy reaction strike. It can’t be tied wrong, it can’t be fished wrong and that makes the woolly bugger the right fly for the job in almost any angling situation.