Fishing With Wooly Buggers: An Angler’s Guide

Everything you need to know about fly fishing with wooly buggers. If you're fishing wooly buggers patterns for salmon, bass or other species, read this.

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In fly fishing, versatility is held in high regard. Whether it’s a rod that can perform in a variety of situations or an expendable fishing pack, anglers take advantage of these pieces of equipment.

As far as flies are concerned, there are few flies that are considered to be versatile. Each region in the country has its own unique hatches and require a specific design of fly. The Wooly Bugger, however, is a fly that has led to success in every area of the world.

I caught my first ever fish on a fly rod with a Wooly Bugger. From then on, I have fallen in love with them and do my best to use them every time I get the chance.

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What is a Wooly Bugger?

A Wooly Bugger is considered to be a streamer in the fly fishing world. Streamers are representations of baitfish, crayfish, leeches and other larger food for fish. A Wooly Bugger can imitate a minnow, crayfish or larger fly.

a close-up photo of a wooly bugger

Since the Wooly Bugger is no specific imitation of any type of insect or fish, it works in almost every situation you would like.

When To Use Wooly Bugger Flies

Wooly Bugger flies work whenever you’re targeting larger fish that are looking to eat some more intrusive prey. If you know the fish are lower in the water column and feeding near the bottom, it’s a perfect time to use a bugger.

Also, if you know there are big fish in the water you’re fishing and aren’t sure what to use, go ahead and throw a wooly bugger. These act as wonderful search flies.

Since they’re meant to be retrieved with quite a bit of action, you’ll likely receive some impressive hits. If you feel a bump on your fly, you’ll know it’s a great option. These fish are willing to eat so keep throwing!

How To Cast a Wooly Bugger

Wooly Buggers are going to be one of the heavier flies in your box. If you have a bugger with a beadhead, you’ll notice the weight in your casts. When you’re casting a heavier fly, patience is key. If you rush the cast, you’ll find yourself tangled.

Cast and wait for the loop to completely unfurl before you continue false casting. Let the fly do the work. The extra weight of the fly is going to pull all your slack. It takes some time to learn, but the more patience you have with these flies, the more success you’ll have in casting.

Species For Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers

You can fish for almost any type of fish with a wooly bugger. This is the beauty of the fly! You can’t go wrong targeting any species of fish with one of these. Any sort of game fish will eat the bugger as long as it is presented properly.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers For Trout

When you’re targeting trout with buggers, you’re either fishing in a river with deeper sections or a lake. Large trout hungry for buggers are going to sit in slower moving and deep water.

an angler caught a huge trout

If you know of a river with deep pools or sections, be sure that you bring a few buggers that match the color of the water. If you’re fishing in a lake with buggers, spend the majority of your time near structure. This is where the trout are going to spend their time.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers For Bass

Wooly Buggers work exceptionally well for bass. They’re going to act as a jerk bait, swim bait or any sort of soft plastic that you would use on a spin or bait casting rod. It’s going to have to take the place of these baits!

The beauty of fishing wooly buggers for bass is that they rarely see these baits. They’re use to hard baits or soft plastics. Wooly Buggers are new for these fish. Go ahead and spend your time fishing for bass in the usual spots that you would and you’ll have plenty of success when using buggers.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers For Salmon

Wooly Buggers and salmon are a match made in heaven. These fish are suckers for these flies. Salmon strike flies out of aggression so a loud and boisterous wooly bugger is going to frustrate them just enough for them to strike.

Dead drifting is the way to go when fishing wooly buggers for salmon. Don’t make your life too complicated and let the flies do the work when it comes to fishing for salmon.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers For Pike

Pike are also fans of wooly buggers. These are some of the smaller flies you would use for these fish, but they’re still going to be successful. When fishing wooly buggers for pike, be sure that you are using bright colored patterns!

a huge catch of a pike fish

Pike want some obnoxious looking flies. They are going to strike if it matches the water color too closely. Flash and size are the name of the game when it comes to landing some of these impressive fish.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers For Steelhead

Steelhead are also possible to catch on wooly buggers. Make sure you’re using a bugger with a beahead because this can imitate an egg. Steelhead are always looking to eat eggs so a beadhead wooly bugger would do the trick.

The Best Wooly Buggers

Since the bugger is a fairly consistent pattern, there aren’t too many variations that you can find of it. However, there are some different options you have when choosing what type of bugger you want to tie on during your next fishing excursion.

Beadhead Buggers

a wooly bugger with a beadheadWhen you’re fishing with wooly buggers, it’s important to know how deep you’ll need to get with your fly. If you know that the fish are going to be sitting in the bottom of the water column in fast moving water, you’ll need weight.

In this case, be sure that you use a bugger with a beadhead. Not only is the beadhead going to provide some extra weight, but it will give you some extra flash. This flash is necessary in clear water and clear days.

Dumbbell Eye Buggers

If you’re searching for quite a bit of extra weight, don’t be afraid to use buggers with dumbbell eyes. These dumbbell eyes will make sure that you reach the bottom of the water column as quickly as possible.

These are especially helpful in the large rivers or deep lakes. As fly anglers, we don’t have time to waste reaching the necessary depths. We need to land these fish and get in the target zone quickly and the dumbbell eyes do the trick.

Unweighted Buggers

Unweighted BuggersThe traditional wooly bugger is unweighted. This lighter fly has the possibility to work, but it’s best fished in smaller streams and rivers. Also, if you know the fish are above the middle of the water column, don’t be afraid to use one of these.

They aren’t going to sink nearly as fast, but the pattern still imitates a variety of species so you shouldn’t have any trouble landing fish with an unweighted bugger.

Gear To Use When Fishing With Wooly Buggers

Depending on the size of bugger and the weight, you’ll need different equipment. The most traditional bugger is going to be anywhere between a size 4-8 hook with a beadhead. These aren’t too heavy, but they need a little bit of extra force to get to work.


When fishing with buggers, you’re likely targeting larger fish. As a result, you’re going to want to use a larger rod. Therefore, a 5 or 6-weight is going to be perfect for wooly bugger fishing.

a fly rod and reel on the river

They’re heavy enough to give you enough force to cast these flies as well as handle some of the larger fish that you catch. Anything less than a 5-weight is going to require quite a bit of skill and finesse to cast.

Casting buggers can easily get out of control and you’re better off with more weight when using them.


As long as your reel matches your rod, it doesn’t necessarily matter what reel you use. You need the reel to match your rod because it will not only throw off the balance, but it won’t be able to handle some of the larger fish.


Depending on what type of fishing you are doing, you’ll need different types of line. If you’re targeting trout in smaller rivers and streams, you don’t necessarily need sinking line.

Wooly buggers are heavy enough to reach the lower portions of the water column so you don’t have to worry as much about having sinking line. In these cases, you can use weight forward or even floating line. As long as your leader is long enough to reach the proper place in the water, you’re good to go.

If you’re fishing deep rivers and lakes, go ahead and use sinking line. Certain fish are going to require you to reach the bottom of the body of water and sinking line is a necessary feature.


Leader is extremely important when you’re using buggers. Be sure that you use 0 or 1x leader when throwing wooly buggers. You never know the size of fish that is going to hit the fly so you need to be prepared for something quite large.

0 or 1x leader can feel somewhat excessive, but it’s well worth it! You can have peace of mind that it’s going to cast well and you won’t find yourself with as many knots in the line. 3 or 4x leader is going to tangle and you’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble.

Best Time For Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers

When you’re fishing with wooly buggers, you want to be sure that the fish are feeding near the bottom of the water column. These are great to throw right before or after a hatch.

In the midst of a hatch, the majority of fish are going to be looking towards the surface. However, before or after these events, you’ll find that the fish are extremely willing to eat these buggers.

Spring and fall are great times to throw these flies. Since they’re bigger, the fish are going to have to be in a more aggressive mood to eat them. Winter and summer are the least active times for these fish so if you want the most success, use them in the middle of the spring and fall.

Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers Techniques, Tips & Tricks

You can fish buggers in several ways. You can let it dead drift down stream or you can swing and strip.

Dead Drift

By dead drifting, you’re letting the weight of the fly take over and guide itself down stream.

Drift these flies in the deep water. Drift them through a seam or into a pool. Be sure that you don’t have any excess slack in your line! These large fish will strike the bugger and you need to be ready to strip set. Cast upstream at a 45 degree angle and mend your line as it drifts down stream.

Once the fly completes its drift through a seam or a pool, strip towards yourself. Another great aspect of buggers is that fish can strike them all the way up until it reaches the shore. Keep stripping and you’ll be surprised at how many fish will hit your fly.

This is a great technique to use when you’re looking to fish for salmon. Again, salmon will strike out of aggression so if they see a flashy wooly bugger making its way down stream, it’ll hit it regardless of how much movement it has.

a huge catch of a salmon fish

Make sure there is enough flashy hackle attached to your bugger and you’ll land some nice fish in the midst of a dead drift. The best way to sense a bit on a dead drift is to watch your line. If it goes slack, immediately strip set. It’s possible that you’re hung up on some structure, but it’s also possible that you have a fish!


If you choose to swing your fly for trout, Cast up and across stream and let it drift. As soon as you start to see the fly start to drift across stream, begin stripping towards yourself. This fly is “swinging” across the water and fish will dart out from structure and hit it.

Timing your swing can be quite difficult. It takes time to read the water and learn the best way to swing your fly. This is an extremely popular opinion when you’re targeting Steelhead. Salmon are more partial to dead drifting, but Steelhead love when you swing your buggers.

The biggest mistake anglers make is starting to strip too early. You want your fly line to be tense and start drifting across the water before you start stripping. This will do a wonderful imitation of a baitfish looking to make its way further upstream.

Fishing Wooly Buggers in Pools

Fly fishing wooly buggers in a pool is some of the most fun fly fishing possible. It’s a game of cat and mouse between angler and fish. Pools are guaranteed to hold fish. Any place where the water slows and deepens, you’ll find fish.

Now, how do you fish these. You have a few options when fishing a wooly bugger in one of the pools. I like to break down the pool into three sections. The front, the middle and the back. First, I focus on the front of the pool with the wooly bugger.

I’ll stand near the front of the pool and cast into the rapids and riffles before the pool. I’ll high stick my way through these rapids because the fly has a tendency to get hung up on the trees and rocks that are sitting in these riffles. If this happens, you have the potential to kill your drift, so be sure you’re careful with where you cast.

As soon as the fly enters the front of the pool, wait. Fish often sit in the front of pools and attack any food that makes its way into it. If you don’t receive a hit right away, let it drift its way into the middle. This will give the fly a chance to drop in the column and entice the fish.

Now, you don’t necessarily want to drift the entire pool the first time. However, you’d be surprised at how long you can fish a pool and continue to pull out fish. As long as you present the fly correctly, the fish will continue to eat no matter how heavily you target a pool.

Once your fly reaches the middle of the pool, begin stripping towards yourself. You want the fly to be up as close to the bank as possible. This is where the fish will be hiding and as you strip towards yourself, you’ll likely get hit. Fish will dart away from the bank and attack your fly.

the angler is fishing on the stream

The back of pools is where I catch my most fish. I’ll cast towards the front of the pool and let it drift its way towards the back. The other most popular place for fish to sit is the back of the pool. It allows them to dart out into the main current quite easily as well as work their way up towards the front of the pool.

Stand at the front of the pool, let it drift towards the back and begin stripping hard towards yourself. You’ll be very likely to land a fish at this point.

Fishing a Pool with a Wooly Bugger From the Back

Another option for fishing a bugger in a pool is to stand at the back of it, cast towards the front and let it drift through the pool. As you strip towards yourself, the fish will do their best to strike your fly.

Fly fishing with Wooly Buggers in a Lake

When you’re using a bugger in a lake, you have a few different options. The first and most important thing to remember is that you should focus on anywhere with structure. Fish are always going to spend time near structure.

Cast near the structure, let your bugger fall in the water column and begin stripping towards yourself. Depending on what you’re trying to imitate with your bugger, you should vary your retrieve.

Fish are not always going to respond in the same way to your retrieve. Change the speed, length and type of retrieve that you do. If you’re looking to imitate a leech, slow and short strips are going to do the trick. If you’re looking to represent a minnow, go ahead and do longer and more erratic strips.

Fly Fishing in lakes

Another option you have when fishing a wooly bugger in a lake is to fish close to shore. Larger trout are going to hang out near shore during feeding times while they look for insects and smaller baitfish in the water. Cast parallel with the bank and see what you can find. You’ll be surprised at the size of fish you can catch.

The final spot to focus is near drop-offs. When you fish near drop-offs you’ll have the most potential to catch large fish. Large fish can gain access to the deep cool water and also move to shallow water to feed.

Are You Ready For Fly Fishing Wooly Buggers?

Wooly Buggers are a perfect fly to use if you’re new to the fly fishing world. Since it imitates a wide variety of bait, you never know what you’re going to catch.Go ahead and visit your local lake or pond and start throwing your wooly bugger.

Big fish are going to hit this fly. While you may not catch as many fish, you’ll have the best chance at catching an extremely large fish. Don’t give up when you’re using these flies. They’re great to use when experimenting in water and looking to learn the drifts.

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My name is Danny Mooers and I’ve been fly fishing for five years. As soon as I went to college, I dove headfirst into my obsession for fly angling. Every spare weekend or long break was dedicated to finding fish. I’ve fished all over North America in search of trout, salmon, steelhead and everything in between. I currently write articles for Guide Recommended and Reel Adventure Fishing. Fly angling is one of the most challenging yet rewarding hobbies any person can have. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.  It’s an addicting activity that tests everything from your fine motor skills to your patience, but it’s well worth your time.

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