Building a Better Woolly Bugger

Producer: Tim Flagler

How you tie a Woolly Bugger is really up to you. This is a style I like, with proportions that look good to me. It’s also my favorite color: olive with grizzly hackle dyed olive.

For a hook I found that something in the 3x Long size is kind of the ideal length, here a size 8.  I’ve chosen a 5/32 of an inch gold bead.

Begin by inserting the point of the hook into the small hole of the bead, then slip the bead around the bend and up to behind the hook. Get the assembly firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise. I’m going to use point aught lead-free wire to add weight and to stabilize the bead. So as not to waste wire, I’ll pin the bitter end of it against the hook shank with my fingertips, then take ten or so touching wraps forward before helicoptering to break the wire off close.  A small drop of superglue applied to the hook shank between the bead and the wire wraps is used to stabilize the bead. With the adhesive applied quickly shove the wire wraps forward into the back end of the bead and then hold them there for a couple of seconds while the glue sets. In addition to stabilizing the bead this also allows you to wrap in the tag end of the wire without all the wraps, simply spinning around the hook shank.

For thread there’s no reason not to go a little heavier, so I’m going to use UTC 140 denier in a light olive color. Get your threads started on the hook shank immediately behind the wire and take a few wraps rearward before snipping off the tag. Take more thread wraps up the hook shank in over top of the wire wraps all the way to the back edge of the bead. Then wrap rearward over the wire. While you’re at it, build a small thread ramp down to the hook shank and with your tying thread at about the halfway point on the shank.

Olive-colored marabou is used for the tail of the fly. I’m pretty picky when it comes to the look so I’ll choose a single fluffy feather and pull it free from the rest. I don’t like Woolly Buggers with stringy tails so if the feather has long thin tips that look like this when the fibers are pulled together, I’ll use my fingernails to rip them off. This can take a little time but the result is worth it. Simply snipping the tips off with scissors doesn’t work once I’m happy with how the Maiar blue looks. I’ll wet the feather to make it more manageable.

To me short tails look best on buggers, so measure to form one that’s a hook shank in length, then transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the bend. Anchor the marabou on top of the hook shank, but leave a little space behind the back edge of the bead. Continue taking thread wraps rearward down the shank to firmly anchor the marabou on top. Pulling the marabou up at an angle as you take thread wraps helps to do this. Continue taking wraps all the way to the start of the hook bend. Then lift the tail up and take thread wraps around just the hook shank beneath it. Follow this with another wrap around the marabou to help stop the tail from twisting to the far side of the hook. You can then reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess butt end off close.

Advance your thread forward up the hook shank to right behind the wire wraps. Just the smallest amount of flash here, gold crystal flash, really helps a bugger to pop, but too much simply doesn’t look natural. Snip three strands free from the hank and then find their midpoint. Place the midpoint on top of the hook shank at the location of your tying thread and take thread wraps to begin securing it to the near side of the hook. Go all the way back to the base of the tail. Pull the remaining strands rearward so they lay against the far side of the hook and pin them at the base of the tail with a wrap of tying thread. Continue taking thread wraps forward once again to the back edge of the wire wraps. Trim the crystal flash off even with the end of the marabou tail. Now return your tying thread back down the hook shank, stopping just shy of the base of the tail for the body of the fly. I’m going to use olive-colored ultra chenille in the standard size. Two-and-a-half card widths is a good working length for this particular hook. Get hold of one end of the chenille and place it on top of the hook shank above your tying thread and take nice tight thread wraps to lock down just the very end of it. Start making touching wraps with this chenille behind your tying thread. Pushing the thread up and forward will help to keep the wraps together and even.

You want to leave a little space behind the bead so don’t try to force in an extra wrap of chenille. Use three or four turns of tying thread to anchor the chenille, then snip the excess off close. Take a few more wraps of tying thread to really lock the chenille down and create a smooth space for tying in the hackle. To hackle the fly I’m going to use a single grizzly dyed-olive feather. You want one that’s fairly long but with barbules that are reasonably soft and of the correct length. Before pulling the feather from the skin, use a hackle gauge to measure and check that the lower fibers on the feather match the size of the hook. Here my hackle gauge only goes to ten, but you can see the fibers would fit in the size 8 range, so this one’s perfect. When you’re happy with the size, pluck the feather from the skin. You want to keep the feather as long as possible, but you don’t want to tie in a stem that’s too thick, so use your judgement and strip off all the lower webby fibers up to the point where the stem begins to thin.

Give your bobbin a good clockwise spin to cord up the thread and with the shiny side of the feather facing you lay the bare stem against the near side of the hook. Take nice tight thread wraps to secure it. Pull the stem up until it bends at a right angle then reach in with the very tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess off as close as possible. Pull the feather forward out over the bead to bend it out of the way. Give your bobbin yet another clockwise spin to cord up the thread and start making open spiral wraps rearward over top of the chenille. Five or six is about right, and with your tying thread at the base of the tail get hold of the very tip of the feather with hackle pliers and begin taking wraps with it. It’s important to complete two full touching wraps of hackle right behind the bead first, then start making angled wraps rearward, going over top of the thread wraps you just made and down the chenille. When you reach the base of the tail, take three or four wraps of tying thread to anchor the hackle tip, then remove your hackle pliers. You can use your tying scissors to snip the excess tip off, or if you’re feeling lucky just get hold of it with your fingers and pull forward to snap it clothes for the final time give your bobbin a clockwise spin to cord up the thread the first wrap up under the chenille can be tricky but hold your thread at a good angle and don’t take no for an answer make open spiral wraps forward with your tying thread, doing your best not to trap hackle fibers as you go. When you get to the bead, sweep the hackle fibers rearward and take just a wrapper tube to hold them back. You can then complete a four- or five-turn whip finish. Seat the knot well and snip your tying thread free. If you trapped a few hackle fibers in the process, now is a good time to trim them off nice and close. Finally, apply an ample drop of head cement to the thread wraps at the back edge of the bead. Don’t be shy. The adhesive will sink in and really help to lock everything in place.

And that’s how I like my Woolly Buggers to look. But there’s no reason not to develop a style of your own.