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How to Tie a Woolly Worm

Producer: Tim Flagler

The Woolly Worm is kind of like the less-famous, somewhat maligned, older brother of the Woolly Bugger. But I’ve always found it very effective for both trout and panfish.

I start with a Lightning Strike SN3 3X long streamer hook in size 12. After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of my tying vise, I’ll pick up just the smallest amount of super glue, here Fly Tyer’s Z-Ment, and apply a light skim at about the 1/3 point on the hook shank. You don’t need much. This will help to secure the wraps of .015 lead-free wire used to weight the fly.

While holding the bitter end of the wire, start taking wraps with it at the midpoint of the hook shank. Keep taking touching wraps forward through the super glue until you’re about two eye-lengths behind the hook eye, then helicopter to break the wire off close. Because of the super glue, you can tuck in that pesky wire tail and snug it up close without all the wire wraps moving or spinning on the hook shank.

For thread, I’ve loaded a bobbin with black UTC 70 denier. Even on this relatively small hook, you can bump up to a heavier 140 denier if you like. Get your thread started on the hook shank in front of the wire and take a few wraps rearward to lock it in place. Pull the tag over top of the wire wraps to help keep your thread wraps from sinking into the wire. When you reach bare hook shank, take a few more wraps then snip or break the excess tag off close. Return your thread forward to the initial tie-in point.

Although many materials can be used for the abbreviated tail or tag of the fly, I prefer red angora rabbit yarn. A two-card width segment is enough to make numerous flies. Get hold of one end and snip it off square then place that snipped-off end above your tying thread. Give your bobbin a good counterclockwise spin. This will uncord your tying thread and cause it to jump rearward as you take the first wrap, and catch the very end of the yarn. Continue taking thread wraps rearward to bind the yarn to the top of the hook all the way back to the start of the bend. With this done, use your tying scissors to snip the yarn off so it extends just beyond the back edge of the hook bend.

In an effort to keep the body of the fly somewhat slender on this size 12 hook, I use black micro-sized Ultra chenille – a three-card width segment is plenty. Place one end of the chenille against the near side of the hook so it butts up against the wire wraps. Then begin securing it to the top of the hook shank with nice tight wraps of tying thread. Continue taking thread wraps forward, making sure to leave a little space behind the eye. Get hold of the chenille and start making tight, touching wraps with it up the hook shank.

Ideally you want to create a fairly smooth body on the fly. When you reach your tying thread, use it to firmly anchor the chenille then snip the excess off close. I’ve crowded the eye a bit here so I’m going to take thread wraps rearward to kind of mash down the chenille and give me some room.

For hackle, I’m going to use a single feather from a somewhat webby, grizzly saddle. Measure using a hackle gauge to ensure the barbules are of the correct length. Here, they fall nicely into the 12 ring. Once you’ve confirmed the feather is the right size, pluck it free from the skin. Some of the lower fibers on this feather were actually larger than a size 12 so I’ll pull these down and snip that part of the feather off. Trimming a half dozen or so of the lowest barbules on both sides of the stem into a small triangular tie-in anchor will ensure the stem won’t pull free after you’ve taken several tight wraps of tying thread to secure it. Pull the feather forward to get it out of the way and this time give your bobbin a clockwise spin which will cord the thread up, decrease its diameter and make it stronger. Start making open spiral wraps over top of the chenille body with the corded thread, all the way to the base of the tail. You’ve now effectively counterwrapped the chenille.

Get hold of the hackle feather and make a full two wraps, one right behind the other, in front of the chenille. Then, begin making open spiral wraps down the body of the fly. The first two flat wraps will help to keep the fly from corkscrewing in the water and twisting up your tippet. When you reach your tying thread at the base of the tail, use it to firmly anchor the hackle feather then start making open spiral wraps forward. Doing this will counterwrap the somewhat delicate hackle stem as you go. Do your best not to trap hackle fibers in the process. Preen any forward-pointing fibers rearward when you reach the eye, then take a few thread wraps to hold them back. If you’re feeling brave, break the excess hackle off at the tail or snip it off with the tips of your tying scissors.

It’s very important at this point to give your bobbin another counterclockwise spin to uncord your thread. Otherwise, when you go to do a 5 or 6 turn whip finish, the thread may kink up and break as you seat the knot. Once the whip finish is complete, snip or cut your tying thread free. Although not essential, I do like to add a drop of head cement, here Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails, to the thread wraps just to make sure nothing comes unraveled.

Don’t discount the Woolly Worm. You can tie a bunch fairly quickly and in some situations they may even work better than a Woolly Bugger.