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> > Wooly buggers and what they're taken for

TroutnutDecember 6th, 2006, 12:21 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2592
I wrote a reply to something Gonzo posted about wooly buggers in the hellgrammite topic, but I didn't want to steer that discussion off course from the bugs so I'm starting a new one.

Gonzo wrote:
I also doubt that the Woolly Bugger is taken for a hellgrammite even though that was the idea behind Russ Blessing's original.

I agree completely. The wooly bugger just plain lifelike. I think too many people are quick to assign some suggestive purpose to an attractor fly when the trout takes it. I think the principle at work with the wooly bugger and similar flies is that a trout cannot survive only by eating things it has recently been eating. It has to try new things. Certain characteristics can make a new thing seem more like food than debris, and the wooly bugger has several of those, so it's very successful.

Speaking of wooly buggers, let me insert a shameless plug for my recently improved store design, which you can buy here:

Now that that's out of my system, here's a question for those of you who enjoy etymology almost as much as entomology: Is it wooly or woolly? lists both as valid variants.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
GONZODecember 6th, 2006, 12:53 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Good question. I used "Wooly" in my book. As I recall, I went back to the Barry Beck article that popularized Blessing's fly and found that spelling. However, a recent discussion prompted by the naming of a TU mailing address (Woolly Bugger, West Virginia) seems to have concluded that "Woolly" is correct. As you can see from my hellgrammite post, I'm bowing to convention (again). :)
MartinlfDecember 6th, 2006, 5:01 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3056
If one is just talking about the English language in general, and not the use of the word "wooly" along with "bugger," by members the Salmoian Religion, I believe either spelling is correct, sort of like "grey" and "gray." Furthermore, even if a specific sect of Salmoians, such as the First Reformed Three Forks Church of the Holy Graylings spell the word "woolly," I believe that other Salmoians may spell it "wooly" without fear of skunkings or other divine retribution. I would like to see the treatise on the spelling "woolly" though, before I attempt an ex cathedra pronouncement.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
GONZODecember 6th, 2006, 8:20 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Louis, I'll try to locate the "Woolly/Wooly" discussion I mentioned. It was probably in an issue of Trout magazine. I suppose that Russ Blessing would be the final arbiter of the "correct" spelling. Personally, I have no problem with either version. I do, however, prefer "sulphur" to "sulfur" and "grey" to "gray." But then I'm a bit of an Anglophile (and I know you are). Curiously, the Stackpole style sheet favored "gray" but allowed "sulphur" to pass. This was not nearly as perplexing as the treatment of the common names of insects and fly patterns--but that's "inside baseball."

Returning to the imitative associations of the Bugger, I frequently see it referred to as a leech imitation. Both the appearance and the movement seem distinctly "unleechlike" to me. When a large white Bugger is rapidly stripped through a school of alewives, frenzied trout probably do take it for that prey, but that is the only instance of crude imitation that comes easily to mind.
MartinlfDecember 7th, 2006, 6:40 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3056
Gonzo, I'll have to differ slightly with you on this matter, I fear. Though Russ as the originator may be paid some homage, as far as the idea of correctness goes, usage seems to vary enough (witness Jason's shirts, for example, or countless references and posts on the net) to make either spelling pass muster. One thing, I forgot to clarify, though, in the Latin pronunciation thread. Frequent usage may not always be sufficient to determine acceptable alternatives, and here's where I get a little prescriptive. I often see the spelling wolly. Now that's plainly wrong, an excommunicatable offense, and as for "booger"--that's just offensive.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
MartinlfDecember 7th, 2006, 10:13 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3056
Good one, David :).
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
GONZODecember 7th, 2006, 11:13 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
David--I believe that woolly boogers are fairly common in lint-filled environs, and should not be the cause of great concern. It's the rubber-legged or cone-headed varieties that are most alarming. Prompt medical attention is recommended, although such an advanced stage of "woollyboogeritis" (also spelled "woolyboogeritis") may be incurable. :)
JADDecember 8th, 2006, 12:48 pm
Alexandria Pa

Posts: 362

I want you guys to know, I'm writing all this down for future reference. With all this information and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee. Maybe:)


They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cockís wattles, and which in colour are like wax.
Radcliffe's Fishing from the Earliest Times,
GONZODecember 8th, 2006, 7:10 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Hi John,

Either you're drinking that lousy fast-food coffee, or you're placing way too high a value on this "information." :)
TroutnutDecember 8th, 2006, 11:07 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2592
I don't know, I'd trade good cup of coffee for a booger joke any day... then again, I don't like coffee.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
GONZODecember 9th, 2006, 12:46 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
OK. How do you make a handkerchief dance? ....Jason, you owe me a cup of Starbucks when you visit the Letort next season. :)

PS--You didn't say it had to be a good booger joke--or boogie joke, in this case.
BrettDecember 26th, 2006, 7:49 am
Martinsburg, WV

Posts: 15
More thoughts on wooly (woolly) buggers:

I think there are often multiple elements in a fly that can be generally suggestive of food to trout, be that the undulating motion of a long marabou tail, the light-refracting impressionism of hackle or the general silhouette. It is when several of those elements come together in a way that may be perceived as more or less coherent to a variety of foods that we come up with those "winner flies."

Here is one of my favorite dressings for the wooly bugger and what I feel are the attractive qualities:

Size: #8 Mustad 79580 or Tiemco 5263 (I feel this size for nymphs or streamers puts a fly in the range of foodstuffs like hellgrammites, large damselfly nymphs, aquatic leeches, larger stoneflies, madtoms, darters and even small salamanders)
Tail: Black marabou tied a bit longer than shank length, sparse (I think the undulating and flowing properties of marabou may be reminiscent of the body movements of nymphs moving through water or small baitfish when in current or stripped.)
Body: Black hackle over peacock herl (I find the metallic sheen of peacock herl to be very suggestive of the sheen I see on many insects -think beetles - as well as the sheen of fish scales - think darters. The sparse hackle can suggest leg movement, fin movement or merely serve to break-up the outline of the fly.)

When these qualities are combined, it's obvious that fish can see a number of these qualities at once and may further be triggered to strike as their food "search image" is met by the addition of appropriate action ie: stripping for a darter/madtom presentation or dead-drifted for a nymph presentation. Thus, I may try several different presentations in one cast to see if I can match the movement the fish may be looking for.

Thus, I think of such flies as double-duty or multiple-duty imitations. Another good double duty fly is as follows:

Kicker Prince: This is a bead-head Prince nymph in size 8 with a yellow or green collar and a set of black rubber legs on each side. When dead-drifted this can be a good imitation of a dislodged stonefly nymph or a dislodged "cased caddis" peeking out of it's tubular case. (This fly was developed on the Cumberland River in Kentucky by guide, Gerald McDaniel.)

I'm sure GONZO will now pronounce me guilty of over-analysis, which I surely am. But, this mode of thinking allows me to come up with other combinations that may be good matches for the trout's "search images."

Novice entomologist, fly-tyer and photographer
MartinlfDecember 26th, 2006, 9:50 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3056
Brett, thanks for the musings on buggers and for the patterns. I'll let Gonzo speak for himself when he gets back from Christmas vacation, but I will say that if he finds you guilty of "over-analysis" it will be a little like the pot calling the kettle black. :) And he'll know I'm kidding on this, because if what you and he do is "over-analysis," I'm doubly guilty.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
GONZODecember 26th, 2006, 3:54 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Brett, Louis is certainly right that I would be the last person to accuse you of "over-analysis." Actually, I think we are often guilty of "under-analysis" when we casually accept notions about the things that popular flies are said to imitate.

Personally, I find it useful to think of a trout's prey as typically fitting into three broad and somewhat indefinite categories--unfamiliar potential prey, familiar abundant prey, and temporarily superabundant prey.

The first category covers things that a trout in a general feeding mode is usually willing to sample. Most of the time, flies that we label as "generic," "attractive," or "suggestive" fall into this category. This group includes some of the most famous, versatile, and broadly successful flies ever devised. I would certainly include flies like the Wooly Bugger and Royal Wulff in this category. (Most of the time.)

The second category includes prey items that the trout encounters on a regular basis. Flies in this category provoke specific recognition by the trout, even though this may not be an exclusive focus. Fairly accurate imitations of prey items like scuds, cressbugs, midge and caddisfly larvae, minnows, aquatic earthworms, etc. fit into this group. These are specifically imitative "searching" flies, and their value when compared to the more broadly suggestive flies in the first category depends upon the relative abundance of a prey form. This can be specific to a particular stream or (especially) to concentrations around a particular trout's lie. On food-poor streams, the significance of this category is often diminished, and "attractive" or "drawing" qualities of first category flies may provide an edge.

The "superabundant" category includes specific imitations of heavy hatches or of any other prey that temporarily overwhelms other food forms in abundance. This can be due to emergence or egg-laying activity, or due to such things as concentrated behavioral drift or seasonal migrations. Most of our "hatch-matching" efforts are (or should be) focused on these prey items. Not every hatch provides sufficient quantities to warrant this specific attention from the angler or the trout. But, to me, these opportunities are among the most fascinating (and often, the most productive) times to be fly fishing for trout.

To be sure, some flies can move freely among the different categories at times, and what fools one trout (even within a particular category) won't necessarily fool another. I do think, however, that keeping these broad categories in mind can help to make sense of situations astream and can be an aid to more effective fly selection.
BetsieBJuly 19th, 2010, 8:06 am
Ranson, WV

Posts: 1
Hi, Jason and everyone. Is there, in fact, a town or area truly called Woolly Bugger, WV? I live in Ranson, WV 25438, and that's the only zip code for Ranson, and the only town 25438 covers is Ranson. So just where is Woolly Bugger, WV? Is it only in the PO box for Trout Unlimited? Thanks, Betsie
Jmd123July 19th, 2010, 12:07 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2480
During my latest Woolly Bugger outings, I believe they were taken to be either crayfish or dragonfly nymphs. The former is due to the fact that I was in a stream that was chock full of crawdaddies, and upon seeing this I picked out a fly that was the closest imitation in my box: a brown Woolly Bugger with natural grizzly hackle and brown-dyed grizzly marabou for the tail. These flies were tossed straight upstream, alowed to sink, and skipped back to me in short hops (like a retreating crayfish would do). Two of these flies were summarily ripped off the end of my line by large unseen fish, hopefully brown trout in the 2-foot-plus range as I have beewn told there are some in there. One of these fish was sitting at the bottom of a belly-button-deep hole with a log at the upstream end and a good foot or more dropoff right behind it. My assumption is that I managed to pull that WB right over the precepice into the "monster's lair", whereupon Mr. hypothetical 24"+ brownie thought he had a dumb crawdad for his next meal...he wasn't very happy when he found it it WASN'T!

Upon my return trip with some freshly-tied WBs in the same color pattern I caught a rock bass in the 7=8" range and a golden redhorse sucker in the 15" range. Both could have easily assumed said fly was a crayfish...but, they weren't talking!

What fish think my CHARTREUSE Woolly Buggers are, who the heck knows????

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
MotroutJuly 26th, 2010, 6:48 am
Posts: 319
Woolly Buggers are simply the best fly invented. What do they imitate...
Black-leach or stonefly
olive/tan-baby sculpin
chartreuse, yellow-Hell, I have no idea but the fish still eat them, so I really don't care.
"I don't know what fly fishing teaches us, but I think it's something we need to know."-John Gierach
DitchJuly 26th, 2010, 8:22 am
Fuquay-Varina NC

Posts: 36
also ever hear of a Madtom not sure about the other parts of the country but according to Harry Murray here in the Shenandoah they are big on the river i have seen 1 out during the day and it had to be 5 inches long kinda scared me climbing up the bank and see this swim out from under a big rock looks kinda like a salamander crossed with a catfish may have other names in other parts of country. but a large bugger will sure get the job done win they are feeding on them.

There are no bad fishing days.
Jmd123July 26th, 2010, 12:27 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2480
I have never seen a madtom myself but I hear they are abundant in certain waters and are suppoosedly a favorite food of smallmouth bass.

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
SayfuNovember 21st, 2011, 3:43 pm
Posts: 560
Several things come to mind when woolly buggers come up. I watched a fellow tie a beautiful streamer one time at our local flyshop, and the guy took great pains to chose every word he used while tying. I won't further describe the kind of person I thought him to be, but when he finished describing how he fished this beautiful fly, I asked him, "Would you ever fish a woolly bugger?"...and he said, "Not if I thought I was a gentleman, I wouldn't." The other thought regards my choice of fishing rivers over lakes. I had a fellow guide tell me one time that if I wanted to experience success in lakes to tie my woolly buggers quite small..longer shanked #16's, like a Mustad 9672 and #14's as they were more the size of the lake bugs fish feed on such as damsels, and dragons. Since that tip, I fished almost exclusively to my partners disgust these small woolly buggers, and had excellent success. At last years big fly tying Expo, I chatted with Denny Ricards,(sp?) the lake fishing guru from Oregon. I told him about my success with these small woolly buggers, and the fact they more closely matched the bugs found in lakes like the damsels, and dragons, and Ricards said, "Do you know why you caught fish on them?" Not because of their size primarily. You caught them because of the action marabou creates...movement was the big key according to Ricards.

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