Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Woolly Buggers. They are America’s favorites. Well the latter is only popular among fly fishers. But it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Woolly Bugger may be the most popular, adaptable, effective fly pattern ever invented. It’s certainly the king of streamer patterns.
The Woolly Bugger is easy to tie, and it’s easy to fish. I’ve had great success with it in high mountain lakes, small Midwestern spring creeks, and large Western rivers.
Here is a profile of this super-effective pattern:
1. How it’s made
There are two main parts to this streamer.
First, the body of a Woolly Bugger consists of chenille wrapped around the shank of a 4X long streamer look (sizes #6 to #10 are the most popular) with hackle wound through it. Then, a marabou tail runs behind the body.
Both the hackle and the marabou make this streamer look active as it darts through the water.
The most popular colors for the Woolly Bugger are black, olive, and brown. I’ve even tied it using red chenille with black hackle and black marabou to catch the big trout in Hyalite Resorvoir in the mountains above Bozeman, Montana.
Normally, the Woolly Bugger is weighted with either a beadhead or wire (underneath the chenille).
2. Where it originated
It is unclear who gets the credit for the Woolly Bugger, but it’s definitely a modification of the Woolly Worm (a Woolly Bugger without the marabou tail).
3. Why it works
Conventional wisdom says the Woolly Bugger imitates leeches, but it likely also passes for crayfish, minnows, sculpins, and large aquatic nymphs such as hellgrammites, damsel flies, stone flies, and dragon flies.
Trout will chase it and go into attack mode because it’s a high-calorie meal. Compared to a tiny may fly, it’s like the difference between an eighteen ounce steak and a Chicken nugget.
4. How to fish it
The key is to retrieve it so that it darts through the water. You can dead drift it down a run, then swing it and retrieve it with deliberate strips. Or, you can simply cast it down river and strip it back against the current.
Depth is important.
Let it sink sufficiently in the lake or river you’re fishing. You may have to experiment to figure out the definition of “sufficient.”
Bud Lilly used to say that color seems to matter a lot with Woolly Buggers. If black is not working, try switching to olive or brown. Your best bet may be to get intel at your local fly shop.
After you’ve spent a fair share of time fishing with size #18 dry flies or nymphs, it’s refreshing to lob a streamer through the air, let it sink in the current, and then retrieve it vigorously. The attack will always take you by surprise, and then the fight is on!