Building a Better Baby Bugger
by Peter Frailey

The Woolly Bugger is one of the most effective and versatile flies ever conceived. My wet-fly box always contains several size 6s in the original colors and materials. Each is tied with a black marabou tail, 8-12 wraps of lead wire under an olive chenille body, and a black rooster saddle feather. Tied on a 3xl hook, a size 6 is generally the largest size with which I chase trout and fresh water bass. Wonderfully simple, this recipe is likely to be one of the first attempted by new tiers, and it can be tied in an infinite number of color combinations.

Muskrat Dubbed Bugger
A baby bugger sporting a muskrat fur tail and an ice dub body with ginger hackle.

But for me, this leech-looking fly is definitely not a joy to cast. Most of my freshwater fishing is with an 8 or 9 foot 5-weight rod, and chucking a weighted size 6 Woolly Bugger down and across a river is not exactly a relaxed or smooth operation, especially in wind-assisted conditions.

In contrast, I have found that a size 10 casts very nicely, and turns over smoothly on the end of a 4x tippet. If you buy your buggers you know that size 10 is usually the smallest size available. However, with a few modifications Woolly Buggers can be incredibly effectiveness in even smaller sizes. Hook sizes 12 - 16, in 2x or 3x lengths, make delectable "Baby Buggers", and the smallest of these turn over smoothly on a 5x or 6x tippet, and can be cast enjoyably on lighter rods.

Small buggers benefit from modified recipes. Starting with size 10, I tie buggers as small as size 16 using alternate materials. In his book "No Hatch To Match", Rich Osthoff offers the recipe for one of his favorite prospecting flies, a size 12 Soft Hackle Woolly Worm. Rich uses a clump of rabbit fur for a tail, a dubbed body, and two or more webby hen neck feathers for a soft but densely hackled appearance. Because the photo in his book shows a tail of about the length of the hook shank, I believe he has actually tied a Woolly Bugger, not a Woolly Worm. But, no matter what the name, he has created a very buggy and seductive fly.

The recipes below have proven themselves time and again. Although I have indicated a range of sizes, if I had to choose one size to be my favorite it would be size 14 3xl for trout, size 12 2xl for smallies and panfish, and size 10 3xl for largemouths. One final note is that the recipes call for hen neck feathers rather than the traditional rooster saddle feathers. This is because hen is typically softer than rooster. Either way, rooster or hen, I recommend stripping off one side of the fibers for a more subtle appearance.

Dubbed Buggers
Black Squirrel Tail Bugger Muskrat Fur Bugger
Use your favorite buggy- or flashy-looking dubbing. In these examples I used Hare's Ear and squirrel.
Hook: Size 10 - 16, 2xl or 3xl Thread: 3/0 Danville (6/0 Danville for size 16)
Weight: 8-12 wraps of thin lead wire and/or beadhead Tail: Clump of rabbit or other fur. Zonker strips of rabbit fur are available in many colors. Body: Fur dubbing Hackles: One or more hen or rooster neck feathers, depending on the length of the feathers or the effect desired. On each of the samples shown here I stripped one side of the feather before wrapping for a softer appearance.


Hare and Herl Buggers
Hare and Herl Bugger Beadhead Hare and Herl Bugger
The "Hare and Herl Bugger" is my favorite bugger. I fish it upstream and downstream, and at all other points of the compass. Play around with swinging it, dead-drifting it, or stripping it. Tied on a size 14 3xl or size 12 2xl hook, this is the most versatile wet-fly I have ever used.
Hook: Size 12 - 16, 2xl or 3xl Thread: 3/0 Danville (6/0 Danville for size 16)
Weight: 8-12 wraps of thin lead wire and/or beadhead Tail: Clump of rabbit fur
Body: 3-4 peacock herl fibers and 2 black Krystal Flash strands, twisted together to make a durable chenille rope Hackles: Dun colored hen neck feather with one side of the hackle stripped off


Ostrich Herl Buggers
Orange Ostrich Herl Bugger Olive Ostrich Herl Bugger
When wet, ostrich herl makes a slender yet motion-filled body. A bit more fragile than peacock herl, I like to use a wire rib to fortify this fly. Ostrich herl comes in many dyed colors, so there's plenty of room to experiment.
Hook: Size 12 - 16, 2xl or 3xl Thread: 3/0 Danville (6/0 Danville for size 16) Weight: 8-12 wraps of thin lead wire and/or beadhead Tail: Bunch of ostrich herl fibers Body: 4 strands of ostrich herl. Tie-in point is the front of the shank. Wrap rearward and then forward to form two layers. Hackle: Hen neck feather with one side of the hackle stripped off Rib: Fine gold wire, counterwrapped

User comments
From: Rick - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted September 12th 2014

I have tied & used these for the last couple of years. Using a 14-16 hook, but I also make my tail just a little bit longer. Even when I tie a #10, have found that making the tail just a little bit long and putting some flash in it that I have had exceptional luck.

From: · contact·at·  Link
Submitted October 30th 2013

I love the baby bugger I find that the yellow and white baby bugger in size 16&20 work best in fall.

From: Ray Kunz · raykunz·at·  Link
Submitted March 21st 2013

A valuable contribution for folks teaching beginners tying .

From: Dennis · sportspicsdtaylor·at·  Link
Submitted April 29th 2011

I like the idea of smaller Wolly Buggers,will get more hook set
Thanks Dennis Taylor

From: Jim Brown · dartonvpr·at·  Link
Submitted June 11th 2010

I've started tying these "baby buggers" with rockchuck tail fur for the tails, makes for some interesting looking patterns, and the fish love them.

From: Herb Dickerson · herb79·at·  Link
Submitted May 23rd 2010

woodchucks are getting scarce used to be able gather them as roadkill.
Fran Betters of the Wilmington area used to practically eliminate the woodchucks from the Adirondaks. He used Woodchuch in just about every fly he tied. You probably heard that Fran is no longer with us, he passed this spring, and is probably seeking
trout in heavan. If there are any there I am sure Fran will locate them. We will all wish him luck and miss him very much.

From: Jack Neely · flytyerjack71·at·  Link
Submitted October 28th 2009

I've used Chris Helms predator as my starter fly in all our classes and at conclaves over the past 9 years but after this article and reading Woolly Wisdom the woolly is going to be the starter fly once again when in Jan we begin teaching our art to the 6th--8th grades in our charter school here in the Villages of Florida.

From: dubmon · dsdubmon1·at·  Link
Submitted October 4th 2009

whats a good w-bugger for fall browns?maybe a zugg buggy looking one ??

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted July 21st 2009


The pictures seem to work fine... can't you see any pictures or can't you click to see the larger versions?

Can you see these pictures below? They are taken directly from the links in the article...


From: Ken Carlson · kcarlson4·at·  Link
Submitted July 20th 2009

I am unable to open the pictures. Any suggestions? Thanks.

From: elder larry · godaddy36·at·  Link
Submitted June 19th 2009

1st fly i ever tyed. brown in color. looked ugly, BUT i used this very fly in california, in the western foot hills and limited out in 30 minutes.(5 fish) Yes i am a believer.

From: David A Swart · davidaswart·at·  Link
Submitted March 6th 2009

Another good article on a simple but good fly,wooly buggers can be changed up in so many differnt shapes,colors,sizes,and lengths,add rubber legs and you add a whole new fly for bass,and panfish,many times when all else fails in the fall I fish a all black unweighted version with a small trailer fly off the bend of the hook using the swing method of fishing with great luck.My friend and I coin the phrase "BUGGER BASHING" buggers work for all types of fish I've got a lot of large fish on small streams,using size #10-14 buggers black ,olive,and brown buggers use a loop knot to add a whole new twist to the action.

From: Tony Stevens · keepingafloat2000·at·  Link
Submitted April 6th 2008

Whoopy Doo for the wooly buggers! This year we have been fishing high country lakes in Canterbury New Zealand for browns and rainbows with bead head buggers in green, black, yellow and hot orange. In cold water fish deep, in warm water fish top layers with a fast strip and in hot go down deeper still and slow. Results an average of 6 fish per person per trip, best brown 8 1/2 lb best rainbow 5 1/2 lb. They just love em!

From: kalastaja · vehvipet·at·  Link
Submitted April 12th 2007

Beautiful flies! These small wooly buggers (we call them leeches) also work very well for brown trout and grayling here in Finland, Europe. I always use marabou for the tail but having seen these patterns I think I should give a try to the fur tails... Being lazy, I sometimes tie them even without the hackle - with no impact on fishing.

From: Edward Straitiff · straitiffedward·at·  Link
Submitted October 19th 2006

Frome: E. Straitiff
I live on the White River and Norfolk river here in arkansas. The only thing I fish is the wooly bugger in small sizes on a 4 wt 8.5 rod Thay never let me down.

From: SheZ · shezli·at·  Link
Submitted June 7th 2006

I really like the variations on materials and tying techniques used in this article.

From: Eric Grove · eric.grove·at·  Link
Submitted January 13th 2006

Always liked the woolybugger but this article has sold me on making better use of it especially for bass and panfish.Wonderfull well written and illustrated.

From: chasbass · chasbass62·at·  Link
Submitted October 11th 2005

Bravo! great patterns that catch fish,,.I feel naked without a box of buggers!

From: E.R.Hayes · ernesto.hayes·at·  Link
Submitted September 6th 2005


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