One Fly to Rule Them All
August 03, 2014
As you read this, I will be off in the wilds of the West, and while I’m there, I plan to do some fly-fishing for trout. Like many anglers, fly fishers love their gear: rods, reels, lines, leaders, vests, etc. But above all, they are obsessed with flies. There are thousands of different fly patterns, and some anglers try to have every possible fly for every possible situation. Well-equipped fly anglers will have multiple fly boxes stuffed full of flies squirreled away in various pockets of their fishing vests, chest packs, and waders. They may even have a few hooked on their hat for easy access!
I tie some of my own flies, buy others, and have a pretty extensive collection of nymphs, dry flies, wet flies, streamers, terrestrials for trout, and specialized flies for bass fishing. But more often than not, when it comes time to pick a fly out of one of my fly boxes, I end up picking one fly pattern more than any other: the humble Woolly Bugger. By varying sizes, colors, and weights, the basic Woolly Bugger pattern can be used for almost any kind of fish found in rivers, lakes, and even the ocean. It doesn’t strongly resemble any specific prey item, but it’s generic enough to simulate insects, leeches, worms, and small baitfish. What's more, the Woolly Bugger is one of the easiest patterns for a beginning fly tyer to make.
One of the great things about Woolly Buggers is that even the first ones you make (which will be less than perfect and often rather "ugly") are just as effective as a perfectly tied masterpiece. Once you've mastered the basic Woolly Bugger, you can start to hack and mod it into all sorts of variations, by changing colors, adding weights, using fur strips instead of marabou feathers, rubber legs, etc. There is just something about this basic pattern that looks very lifelike in the water, and fishing it is simplicity itself.
You don't even need a fly rod to fish a Woolly Bugger. Just use regular spinning or spincasting gear, and add a split shot sinker about 6-8" up the line from the fly. So, if you're interested in fly tying, I'd suggest you start with this pattern. Tie it on a jig head hook for crappie and bluegills as well. I suspect that despite dragging a huge pile of fly fishing gear on this trip, the very first fly I will tie on to the end of my leader will be a Woolly Bugger.
Image credit: "Brown Trout Taken On Woolly Bugger At Muleshoe Bend, Firehole River, October 2007" by Mike Cline via the Wikimedia Commons.Tags: Woolly Bugger, fly fishing, fishing, fish