The Woolly Bugger
I can't believe it. Almost 40 years have passed since Russ Blessing introduced his Woolly Bugger. It's the go-to fly for me. I'll use it first when fishing streamers and I turn to it when nothing else is producing. I've fished it in about every color combination you can think of but black remains my favorite. I'll tie them from 1/0 to size 16. I always carry a dozen in assorted sizes (black, olive, and brown) in a small streamer wallet that is always in my vest. The range of materials that you can use to tie a Woolly Bugger is limited only by your imagination. The only ingredient that stays the same is the marabou tail.

Wooly Buggers are effective with any tackle that will properly cast a streamer. For trout fishing on small streams, I prefer a 7' 6" to 8' rod that carries a 4 or 5-weight line. On larger rivers and lakes, I like an 8' to 9' rod for a 6 weight line. I'll fish the Bugger on a sink tip (12' to 24') with a short 2X to 3X leader, a sinking leader, or a floating line with a 10' 4x or better leader. I use both beadhead and non-weighted versions with split-shot in size B and BB. If you're not familiar with sinking leaders you ought to give them a try. I like the Rio Powerflex. They come in 7' and 12' with sink rates from 1.5 ips to 7 ips . It's a smart idea to carry a couple of these in your vest - they can drop your fly to the bottom like a stone.

The most important tactic in fishing Woolly Buggers is the retrieve. You can strip them slow, fast or in a jerking motion. I like bouncing them up and down using the rod tip. It brings on strikes because the tail creates a pulsating motion. This action is accentuated when the split shot is placed relatively close (an inch or two) from the fly.

Make an up-and-across cast, mend the line, and allow the Bugger to sink to a desired level. Then start the retrieve accompanied by any up-and-down rod-tip motion. The hand retrieve should draw the Bugger forward three or four inches. In rhythm with this, lift the rod tip four or five inches and drop it back to the starting position.

Last year I tried fishing the Bugger dead drift as I would a nymph while floating on the North Platte. The technique was suggested by guide friend of mine and it proved to be very deadly.

I remember a trip many years ago on the Bighorn. There were four of us in the Silver Dollar Hole and the fish were taking some non-descript midge that none of us could match. After about an hour one of the fishermen yelled "I've had it I'm going to put on a large black woolly bugger." He did and in four consecutive casts caught four fish. We all changed to Buggers and started catching fish.

The only question I have about Wooly Buggers is: DO THEY EVER NOT WORK?