top of page

Building on the Basic Woolly Bugger - Flies You Can Tie with Techniques You Learned from the Humble Woolly Bugger

Now that you have mastered the Woolly Bugger, there is a wide world of tying open to you! The "bugger" opens up a world of fly tying. It teaches us proportions, the pinch wrap, how to not crowd the head, palmering a hackle, a counter-rib and not trapping hackle fibers (wiggle it, just a little bit), and a number of other lessons. As mentioned in the first bugger post, there are many reasons that "a bugger" is the first fly so many of us learned to tie. Though it was 35 years (wow, am I old) since I tied my first fly, as I remember it, it was a gray Woolly Worm.

Buggers to be incorporated into articulated streamers
Buggers, more or less. These will become the back half of some articulated streamers.

And once we can tie a well proportioned and tied bugger (don't crowd that head!), we can start getting a little fancier. Adding rugger legs makes for a fly that moves differently in the water (see below). We can add a deer hair head like on the Bow River Bugger and any number of sculpin imitations. You can tie them with different "hackles" - like CDC, schlappen, pseudo hackle, emu feathers, or any number of other options. There are tons of ways to create dubbing loops that provide a more interesting bugger body.

While I readily admit to being a dry fly snob, there is probably nothing I enjoy to tie more than big ass streamers. They are the perfect place to tinker and try out different ideas - articulations, colors, how that fly is going to swim and/or push water, move in the water, and any number of other factors are open to experimentation and "mixing and matching". Because they are relatively simple to tie, versatile, provide significant movement without too much bulk, and any number of other reasons, many streamers use the venerable Woolly Bugger as their base. See the list of linked videos below for a whole bunch of streamers built on the Woolly Bugger frame.

That is a very incomplete list of streamers that are built on the Woolly Bugger chassis. I could list several times as many video links but I think you get the point - "the bugger" is a great starting point for a lot more complex fly patterns.

Variations on the Basic Bugger

Speaking of complexity, my favorite bugger has become the complex twist bugger (CTB). To be honest, it is not really that complex to tie. Uncle Cheech of Fly Fish Food ties a number of variations on the CTB. The basic premise is that all the materials get tied in after tying in the tail, spun together similar to how a dubbing loop would put materials together, and create a fly with bulk and movement.

The complex twist is typically a long, flashy chenille like Polar Chenille and some schlappen. It is another great fly concept to play around with. You can tie a huge number of variations on this theme.

As with most flies, they evolve over time, the CBT 2 is an example of that. This idea is open to a wide range of variations on color, materials, and other things. I like the CBT without the dubbing collar. And the CBT serves as an equally effective "back half" of an articulated streamer.

If you can tie a standard Woolly Bugger, you can tie a Complex Twist Bugger. You just might need a tool to twist it up, but other than that, it is not all that complex. And isn't buying new tools part of the fun of tying?

Palmered Hackle Flies

There are a huge number of flies that use a palmered hackle - a hackle that is wrapped along the length of the hook shank - or s significant portion of it - with a fairly wide spacing between wraps. Palmered hackling is not only the domain of buggers and other streamers but of a wide range of dry flies. It is the a component of Troth's Elk Hair Caddis, Kaufmann's Stimulator, Ed Story's Crackleback, Griffith's Gnat, the Delaware Adams, and other dry flies. A bomber - a classic salmon / steelhead dry fly is a palmered fly and while some may groan a bit, aren't Spey flies just big, fancy palmered flies? It is how a number of nymphs and wet flies - like the Halfback Nymph, the Picket Pin which is Pennsylvania standard, the Yallerhammer - an Appalachian classic, and many others are tied.

If flies evolved as life does, flies with palmered hackles would be the result of convergent evolution, a homoplasious characteristic. Convergent traits - like the flippers of penguins (a bird), dolphins (a mammal), sharks (a fish), and seals (another mammal not that closely related to dolphins) - have evolved independently several time because they are an effective way to move through water. Of course, that is not quite how that flies "evolve". But we, as fly tyers, have used palmered hackles on flies because they serve one of several purposes very well. Palmered hackles provide movement as in buggers, Spey flies, some nymphs, and other wet flies, flotation for a number of dry flies, and in the case of a Bomber, they probably provide both functions. They provide bulk to a fly without making a bulky fly.

Lessons Learned from the Humble Woolly Bugger

I know many seasoned anglers that eschew the bugger now, but they got their start with the humble Woolly Bugger. It is the fly that taught us proportions, how to add weight to a fly - and not make it look too obvious that we added weight, how not to crowd the head - a lesson many of us learn time and time again, and if we tied enough of them, it is the fly that taught us how to tie the same fly over and over again. The mark of a really good fly tyer is that they can tie the same fly and make them indistinguishable. Unless, of course, they want them to be distinguishable. Buggers also teach us that fly tying is more like cooking than baking. We can add a bit of this, minimize or eliminate that, replace "this" with "that", and create flies that fit what we want them to do. Buggers are the ultimate platform from which to "tinker".

Long live the simple Woolly Bugger!


bottom of page