If you’re new to fly tying, one of the first patterns you should learn how to tie is a Wooly Bugger. Not only does it teach you basic tying proportions and techniques, but it catches many fish even if not tied perfectly.
When I started fly tying, more than 20 years ago, you had to learn from a fellow tier or a book – this was pre-YouTube and IGTV era. A family member, and fly fisherman, gave me a copy of “The World’s Best Trout Flies” by John Roberts.
This book featured patters from across the world, but I was looking for something simple and effective to tie. Two North American tiers, Paul Marriner from Canada and Jennifer Smith from the USA, described the Wooly Bugger, its simplicity, and effectiveness.
I’ve been tying and fishing it ever since, in one form or another.
The Wooly Bugger is an excellent trout fly. I even use a simplified version on Cape Town’s small streams tied on a size 16 jig hook for wild rainbows. For more versatility, you can add various forms of weight. This creates different sink rates and actions.
- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Tying Time: 7 minutes
- Materials Needed:Hook, marabou, flash (optional), dubbing or chenille, hackle, and thread
- Hook Size: 2 – 14
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What is a Wooly Bugger Fly?
Originally, the Wooly Bugger was designed as a leech imitation. However, if you start varying the colors of the material you can imitate numerous different insects or bait. For instance, if tied in brown and a bead is added, it’s a good stonefly imitation. If tied in olive it replicates a damsel.
The Wooly Bugger can also be tied as an attractor fly. Deliberately include striking color combinations or hotspots to act as a trigger.
Materials You’ll Need to Tie a Wooly Bugger
These days, the Wooly Bugger is more a style of tying than a specific pattern. Below, I’ve made some notes on the general materials you’ll need to tie the fly.
- Hook: Traditionally, the Wooly Bugger is tied on a 2X or 3X long shank hook. This means that the shank is very long. If you’re trying to imitate a nymph or can’t get hold of a long-shanked hook, that’s fine. Just make sure that the hook is strong.
- Marabou: One or two feathers will be sufficient. You can also use two different colors.
- Flash: This is completely optional. In Wooly Buggers I use on my local streams I use no flash.
- Hackle: In the video I used a good quality grizzly hackle. You can use various colors or qualities of hackle. On smaller flies I don’t hackle the entire body, I prefer a small hackle just behind the head of the fly.
- Body: The body of the fly can be constructed with various materials. The easiest and quickest is chenille. But you can use dubbing, or even some left-over marabou if you want to match the exact same color as the tail.
- Weight: Although the traditional pattern is unweighted, you can add weight to influence the fly’s sink rate and action. Options are a lead underbody and brass or tungsten beads.
- Head Cement: To finish off the fly, apply a thin layer of head cement. This adds durability to the fly.
Let's Get Started!
How to Tie a Wooly Bugger
Here are the steps to follow to tie a good version of a black Wooly Bugger. Also, have a look at our video that covers the same recipe.
Black Wooly Bugger Recipe
- Hook: Grip 13812, Size 4 – 1
- Thread: Danville Flat waxed 70 Denier, match color to fly
- Hackle: Cock saddle or neck hackle
- Tail: Black Marabou
- Flash: Black Flashabou
- Body: Black and purple Cactus chenille
- Head Cement: Solarez UV Glue
Step 1: Secure The Hook In The Vice
Pick the hook up and, while holding it between your thumb and forefinger, place the bend of the hook between the vice’s jaws. While holding it in place, lock the jaws by flipping the cam lever or releasing the spring-loaded jaws (depending on what type of vice you’re using).
Test if the hook is seated securely to ensure that it doesn’t move about when you’re busy tying.
Step 2: Lay The Thread Foundation
Wrap the thread a couple of times around the hook shank with your bobbin holder, while holding the tag-end of the thread with your other hand. Once locked in place, cut off the tag end. Create a thread base along the entire hook shank. This will prevent material from spinning.
Stop with your thread hanging where the bend of the hook starts.
Step 3: Tie In The Marabou Tail
Select a suitable marabou feather. As a reference, the tail of a Wooly Bugger must be as long as the hook shank. Measure the selected portion of marabou against the length of the hook shank.
Now transfer the marabou to the back of the fly where you left your thread hanging. While holding the marabou securely with one hand, tie in the marabou by taking multiple pinch wraps with the thread. This will ensure that the material doesn’t spin.
Step 4: Add Some Flash To The Tail
I would like to urge you to make use of flash very sparingly. In a fly, this size, one or two flash fibers on each side of the fly are more than sufficient.
Remove one flash fiber from the packet and double it over. Slip the loop you created over the hook of the eye and secure the flash with thread. Once secure, splay the fibers out, one on each side of the tail. Secure with thread.
Repeat this step if you want to add more flash.
Step 5: Add More Marabou To The Tail
If you want to add some more marabou to thicken the tail, repeat step 3. I only do this on large flies and like doing it after I have added flash.
The flash merges better with the tail this way.
Step 6: Tie In The Hackle
Select a suitable hackle for your fly and pull back the fibers so they are 90-degrees to the stalk of the feather.
Tie the feather in at the base of the tail with a couple of securing wraps. Cut off the excess.
Step 7: Create The Body
Cut a suitable length of chenille and tie the tip in where you tied in the hackle (this should still be at the base of the tail). Once tied in, run your thread to the front of the fly stopping about 1/10th of an inch behind the eye.
Wrap the chenille forward with touching turns. Once you reach the point where you left the thread, secure it with 3 or 4 turns while keeping tension on the chenille with your other hand. Cut off the excess material.
Step 8: Wrap The Hackle
If you prefer using a hackle plier, attach it to the free end of the feather. Now, depending on the desired density of hackle, wrap the hackle forward around the body. If you see trapped fibers, free them with a bodkin or by turning the feather.
Once you reach the end of the body, secure the hackle with 3 or 4 wraps while maintaining tension on the feather. Cut off the excess hackle.
Step 9: Tidy Up & Whip Finish
Step 10: Seal The Head
Apply a thin layer of your preferred head cement to the top and bottom of the head. While turning the fly, spread the cement to the sides of the head as well.
If you’re using a UV resin, cure it with a UV torch.
The Wooly Bugger
Now You Know
How To Tie a Wooly Bugger
I am happy to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts on the versatile Wooly Bugger pattern. We also had a brief look at why it’s such an effective fly and what basic materials you need to tie one yourself.
I hope that you enjoyed this post on tying a Wooly Bugger. There’s nothing that beats catching a fish on your self-tied flies. If you are thinking of taking up fly tying, I would encourage you to do so! It adds another exciting dimension to fly fishing.