Hook: Daiichi 2220 #6-#10
Thread: MFC 8/0 or UTC 70 Black
Tail: Marabou, black, mixed with 2 strands of pearlescent Flashabou tied along the sides
Rib: Fine Wire
Body: Black chenille
Body Accent: Pearlescent or Mirage Opal Mylar, tied along each side of the body
Hackle: Black or grizzly saddle dyed dark olive
As I travel I always make a point of dropping into local fly shops and conversing with local fly fishers to get a measure of their fisheries, local tactics and favourite patterns. In Russell Manitoba it might be a Midnight Fire or Black Beaver and Tan. In B.C. the Minnie Lake Special or Little Fort Leech might be the order of the day. At first there appears to be nothing in common with these patterns. Once seen the similarities are obvious. They are all versions of Russell Blessing’s immortal Woolly Bugger. And why not, the Woolly Bugger and all of its “special” creations have proven their pedigree on both moving and stillwaters. One has to wonder if Pennsylvania fly fisher Russell Blessing knew what his merger between the chenille bodied marabou tailed Blossom fly and a Woolly Worm would become. All Russell was trying to do was create a reasonable impression of a Dobson Fly larva, better known to most as a hellgrammite. The Slough Special is a favoured Woolly Bugger variation I use during the late winter months on the sloughs, backwaters and braids of the Fraser River to unlock opportunistic Cutthroat and Dolly Varden.
The Woolly Bugger is a simple concoction consisting of a marabou tail, body and hackle. Despite this relative simplicity durability can be an issue. With a few tricks and techniques Woolly Bugger mileage can be significantly increased, resulting in less time at the vise and more productive time on the water.
Most tiers prefer long flowing shank length tails. The best tails are formed by stripping marabou strands from the stem of long or select marabou plumes. Tail density is up to the tier. Keep in mind, sparse tails move and flow best due to reduced competition for movement between the individual fibres. Secure the marabou butts along the entire shank ensuring firm attachment and a smooth even body foundation. Try adding 2-4 strands of Flashabou into to the tail to provide subtle highlights. The flat Flashabou profile flows and moves better than Crystal Flash.
Woolly Bugger bodies can be fashioned from a range of materials, from modern to traditional. Crystal Chenille has become a popular body substitute for the traditional Rayon chenille. Peacock herl is an attractive consideration as well. Wire based dubbing brush and traditional dubbed bodies are other worthwhile options.
From a construction perspective the Woolly Bugger’s palmered hackle is its Achilles’ heal. Palmering is simply ribbing the body using one or more hackles. Double hackles palmered over the body in opposite directions offer an interesting option providing contrast and when trolled the fly does not spin. Saddle hackles the preferred choice owing to their long average length, balanced hackle span and thin easy to control stems. Most tiers learn to palmer by stroking the body hackle feather from tip to butt standing the individual fibres and then bind the feather by the tip in at the rear of the hook. Although some contend this method makes the fly less prone to spinning unwinds, its stem severed and mauled by aggressive trout and char. Placing the initial wrap of body material behind the stem adds a degree of protection but there are better ways.
Incorporating a wire rib in conjunction with winding the hackle from front to back increases durability ten fold. After the wire rib is tied in form the body. Tie in the hackle at the hook eye with the shiny or most prominently marked side of the feather facing forward, wet fly style. Ensuring the fibres flow back toward the tail every time. No more battling hackle as it attempts to twist and spin, typical when palmering hackle from back to front. Spiral the hackle back over the body stopping just short of the tail. Minimal hackle wraps suggest segmentation. Dense hackles push more water creating an acoustic footprint, an ideal pattern trait during low light conditions. Attach a pair of hackle pliers to the tip of the tail as a weight and let them hang holding the hackle in place. Using a zigzag motion, wind and weave the wire rib over the body and through the hackle to the hook eye. Tie off and using a pulling and twisting motion break away the excess wire. The crisscross effect of hackle and rib reinforces the stem along the entire body. Now fish must chew and maw their way through each section of reinforced hackle before the fly falls apart. A fate most fly fishers seem willing to endure.
1) Cover the hook shank with tying thread. With the tying thread hanging at hook eye area tie in the marabou tail. Secure the marabou along the entire length of the shank to ensure a firm tie in and smooth body foundation. The finished tail should be about shank length. Tie in two strands of pearlescent Flashabou along each side of the tail.
2) Tie in the fine wire rib followed by the body material at the base of the tail. Advance the tying thread forward to the hook. Secure in the pearlescent Mylar sides just behind the hook eye and secure back along each side of the hook to the base of the tail. Move the tying thread forward to the hook eye.
3) Wind the body material forward in close touching turns to hook eye. Tie off and trim the excess. Pull the pearlescent Mylar forward along each side of the body and bind in place. Trim the excess Mylar.
4) Select and prepare a suitably sized saddle hackle. Tie in the prepared saddle hackle in front of the body so that the shiny side of the feather faces forward, wet fly style.
5) Using open turns palmer the hackle back over the body toward the tail. Attach a pair of hackle pliers to the hackle tip to act as a weight. Let the hackle pliers hang, holding the saddle hackle in place. Using a zigzag motion spiral the wire rib forward over the body and through the hackle using even open turns. Tie off and using a pulling and twisting motion break off the excess wire.
6) Trim the hackle tip hanging at the back of the fly flush with the body. Build up a neat head, whip finish and apply head cement.