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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.
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.
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