Woolly Bugger - Step-by-Step
Here’s a pattern that’s well known and is generally regarded as a streamer. This fly was developed by Russell Blessing in 1967 and was originally meant to imitate a hellgrammite. Hellgrammites are plentiful in Blessing’s home water; the Little Lehigh River, in Eastern PA. According to the lore, the fly was named by Blessing’s daughter, who looked at the fly and said something to the effect of: “that looks like a woolly bugger!” And that was that – the name stuck.
This is arguably the most popular fly ever designed and can be fished almost anywhere in the water column and for almost all freshwater species; as well as some salt water species. In order to get it down quickly once cast, lead or a lead substitute is often added to the body.
This fly is also seen in more iterations than any other; everything from plain ties, like the one below, to beadheads, coneheads, egg-sucking leaches, with and without legs and in just about any color and/or color combination that you can imagine. The fly below is pretty close to the pattern originally described by Blessing.
Here’s the step-by-step (click on the pics to enlarge them if you need to):
1. Here are the materials that you’ll need to tie up this pattern; a few more than for the P&O, but not many more. I used a 3xl streamer hook (Daiichi, 1720, #6), but any equivalent hook will do just fine. The other materials include: 1. 6/0 thread, black, 2. olive chenille, medium, 3. lead or lead substitute, .020, 4. Krystal flash, any color you want to use, 5. marabou, black, and 6. hackle, black.
2. Thread the front 10% of the hook.
3. Wrap approx. 20 turns of .020 lead around the hook; equidistant from both ends.
4. Secure the lead with tying thread and build up a taper at both the back and front ends of the lead. [Note: You can actually leave the back end of the lead un-tapered, it may make it easier to get a smooth body after tying in the marabou.]
5. Now, take two black marabou plumes and place them back to back (the concave sides of each feather facing each other) and tie them in at the back of the threaded hook with 6-8 firm wraps. Cut the marabou waste ends so that they’re about equal to the distance to the back end of the lead.
6. Next, bind down the ends of the marabou plumes so that they taper into the body. [Note: some tyers will run the marabou waste ends all the way up to the eye of the hook, in order to give the body more bulk, but when I’m using a lead barrel on the body, I don’t do this; I think that the lead gives me enough bulk when over-wrapped with a medium chenille.]
7. Next, tie in 3-4 strands of Krystal Flash of other sparkle material. There are many ways to do this. I tie them in on the bottom of the hook, by folding the Flash in half and wrapping it around the thread. Bind the Flash down with 3 wraps.
8. Then, take the ends of the Flash and hold them out to the left of the hook (if you’re a right handed tyer). Bind them into the position that you want along the tail by winding the thread down to the point where the marabou plumes were tied in. Cut the Flash off about ½” longer than the marabou tail.
9. Now, take your chenille and strip off about ½” of the fuzz from one end. Tie the chenille in using the stripped end; get it right up against the marabou tail. Use 4-6 wraps. I like to tie it in on the bottom of the hook, but you can tie it in anywhere that you like.
10. Take one wind of chenille and see where it lies on the hook. Now, unwind it. Then take a black hackle, prepare the tip the same way that you did for the P&O (see the P&O step-by-step) and tip tie it in right where that single wrap of chenille ended, with the dull side facing you. I also tie in the hackle on the bottom of the hook, but like the chenille, you can tie it in wherever you want. For me, it helps if the chenille and the hackle are tied in at roughly the same position on the hook. [Note: some tyers will tie in the hackle first, then the chenille. This is fine, as long as you take your first wrap of chenille behind the hackle.]
11. Now wind the chenille at an angle up the hook toward the eye. Stop with about 1/8” of hook showing before you get to the eye and tie it off with 3-4 wraps.
12. Finally, cut off the chenille waste end and wind the hackle at an angle toward the eye; keeping the hackle on its edge as you wind it, shiny side of the feather facing forward and, in general, winding it between the chenille wraps. When you get to the point where the chenille ends, you can either tie off the hackle at that point or you can take 2-3 wraps of hackle butted right up against each other to form a hackle collar. Whichever way you go on that, tie off the hackle with 3-4 tight wraps.
13. Cut off the waste end of the hackle close to the hook. Clean up any stray hackle barbs and form a small head with tying tread. When completed, use 2-3 half hitches or a whip finish and coat the head lightly with head cement.
And that’s it - the Woolly Bugger!
We’re going to see a wide variety of Woolly Bugger patterns from the tie-along members; I can already sense this, based on the P&O variations. So, go ahead and feel free to tie and post your favorite Bugger or experiment around a little.
This is the “first fly” for a lot of fly tyers – I still have mine and I did catch fish on it. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the fish didn’t seem to mind!
Post of PM me with any questions that you have about this pattern.