Russ Blessing, Inventor of Woolly Bugger, Dies

November 2, 2009 By: Marshall Cutchin

Combining the constant-motion softness of marabou feathers with a woolly worm fly, Russell C. Blessing’s Woolly Bugger did what most great flies do: it improved on an already workable idea, and it helped those of us less apt to make a perfect presentation catch more fish. Blessing passed away at the age of 74 last Wednesday at his home in Pennsylvania.
Tom Rosenbauer recommended the Woolly Bugger as one of eight essential patterns in his The Orvis Fly-Tying Manual, “the Woolly Bugger was first tied in 1967 by Russell Blessing of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who added a marabou tail to a Woolly Worm in an attempt to imitate a hellgrammite, a big mean larva of a dobsonfly. I saw the fly about five years later on the upper Beaverkill. I was sitting on edge of a deep pool with Ron Kusse, a bamboo rod maker who was running the old Leonard Rod Company at the time. It was one of those midday breaks in August when you realize you won’t catch a fish for seven hours, when the sun leaves the water. ‘Wanna see something amazing?’ Rod asked.”
As Gary Soucie wrote in his book Woolly Wisdom, Blessing had some specific advice on how to fish his favorite pattern, starting by “dead-drifting the Bugger, ‘to see what happens.’ If that doesn’t produce, he will add jigging motions on the strip, jig it back at the end of the drift … and across the current and let it swing, use hand-strip retrieves. ‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘it takes fast strips. Some of the guys around here will strip it as fast as they can.’
Almost everything works, some of the time.’ Amen to that.”