Fly Fishers' Republic

Woolly Bugger

June 20, 2006

by Raif Killips

Woolly Bugger



This is one of the most popular streamers in use today. Originally tied to imitate the Dobsonfly larva, the Woolly Bugger in many variations, is used to imitate amongst other things; leeches, baitfish, tadpoles, damselfly larvae, dragonfly larvae, crayfish, and even the dobsonfly larva itself. This is a versatile fly that can be used to give the impression of a large number of food sources and as such is considered a generalist pattern that’s always worth a try and a must have for any fly box, dry fly purists excepted!

In this ‘original’ dressing the pattern can be used for trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish, chub, and carp, to name a few. In suitable sizes and appropriate colours you can expect to get into steelhead, salmon, stripers and more.

How to fish:

You can fish this pattern on a floating, intermediate, sink tip, or full sinking line. The Woolly Bugger works well fished ‘pull and pause’, and in fact, using just about any type of retrieve. You can also fish the Woolly Bugger using a wetfly swing, casting downstream and across and letting the fly swing across the current. Fished from a drift boat, Woolly Buggers are often stripped back from bank side lies to draw strikes from lunker brown trout and other predatory species. If you find the fish taking short, try trimming the tail by pinching the ends of the marabou with your thumb and index finger – this can convert pulls and plucks into hookups.


The origins of the Woolly Bugger can be traced, like many patterns, to those of anglers like Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, who presented palmered flies to fish in the rivers of 17th century Britain. Izaak Walton specifically mentions the Soldier Palmer in his most well known book. From there, other flies developed, including the Woolly Worm, from which the Woolly Bugger is considered of direct descent.

The Woolly Bugger is attributed to Russell Blessing of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who’s dressing of the fly was evolved from various smallmouth bass patterns, with the intention of representing the Dobsonfly larva. The date of origin is popularly recorded as ‘early 1970s‘, though Ed Dentry of the Rocky Mountain News suggests 1967 as the date.


The original was tied with a dark olive chenille body, a tail of black marabou, and a palmered black saddle hackle. Russel Blessing intended to trim the hackle, but left it untrimmed because it was so effective that way. Subsequent variations include adding a gold bead at the head, or using bead chain; using flash products in the tail and body; adding rubber legs; and colour variations that run off the scale!


Woolly Wisdom, 1992, Gary Soucie, Fank Amato Publications.

Favorite Flies And Their Histories, 1988 (First Published 1892), Mary Orvis Marbury, The Wellfleet Press, ISBN:1-55521-241-7