The Woolly Bugger and I. Can you dig it?

Guest Blogger: Justin Aldrich, avid fly tyer and J. Stockard customer

(We started as rivals, now we are friends….very close and always together friends.)

The good all started with my “Matuka Bugger.”

The classic pattern “Woolly Bugger”, and a few of my Bugger Variants, (Matuka Bugger, Deer Head Bugger, Articulated Bugger, Soft Hackle Bugger, just Bugger style flies.), has turned this Fly Fisherman into a statistic. I am now just one of the MILLIONS of Fly Anglers for whom the Woolly Bugger has accounted for many many fish and fun filled trips. (I’m a firm believer that the beauty that lies in this pattern comes from its simplicity to tie and use on the water.)

The Bugger, my “Matuka Bugger” to be more exact, landed me my FOUR biggest Trout. All earlier on in 2015, and they were back to back to back. ….to back. (On my trusty 3wt and Click & Pawl reel I might add.Lol. What a ride.)Those four Trout on that trip that year still stand as my personal bests.

The story starts in Febuary 2015, while the “Streamer craze” that year was still going strong. So many Trout all through Winter were being taken on Streamers all throughout the United States.

I was riding with a buddy to the Stream, going through a drive thru, amped up as usual, and going over our plan of attack. Coincidentally I was telling my friend how I had tied a few Woolly Buggers to use this trip. I said coincidentally because I also included in telling him that I had no idea why I had tied them. Why I was going to try and produce with them yet again since I had used them several times before, especially in the start of my Fly Fishing journey, and have failed miserably each time.

“Why oh why do these things (Woolly Buggers) have such an impeccable reputation” I thought out loud? I thought the Buggers were a funny conspiracy theory that the old timers came up with to laugh at us youngins…….

The fact is I DID know why the Bugger has such a following so to speak. I believe it’s on account of how they’re designed. As in the materials used and how they’re applied. The Woolly Bugger screams MOVEMENT and simplicity……end of story. Also, it’s got the added bonus of imitating more than one food source when tied in different sizes and colors. Yeah, so there’s that little awesome tid-bit……..now, end of story. Ha ha.

But for the life of me I couldn’t seem to ever produce one Fish from the ever so mighty Bugger…….to make such matters worse, I couldn’t even produce a single strike on one, and I’ve used them on several different trips prior to February 2015. I’ve stripped them, jigged them, twitched them, swung them, ect. NOTHING. Until finally I gave up on them. No matter their reputation, they lost one key element that is almost the most important tool in my fishing, and that’s CONFIDENCE.

I no longer had a shred, an ounce, or a single drop of confidence in them. After that, I might as well be throwing rocks.

Okay, back to the story. Fast forward. Again, it’s early February, very cool out still, and I’m excited with so much unexplained confidence that it’s not even funny…….despite of how much the Woolly Buggers have failed me in the past mind you. (Or maybe it’s I who failed them.)

Okay, we get to the stream, a couple people are there already, which by the way if there are only 10 people on the very small stretch of stream it’s a quieter day. So off to a good start just by sheer low traffic on the water.

Fast forward a little more. The Woolly Bugger pattern I chose to tie, the Matuka Bugger,  purposely tied for that day had MASSIVE AMOUNTS of weight on it. It sported a conehead 1-2 sizes too big for the hook, and a full shank length of .030 lead wraps, which I doubled up behind the Conehead. Yeah, HEAVY. (We knew the water would be very high and turbulent. So I wanted some serious weight to get it down, and down in a hurry.)
**This day by the way, was one of the days I chose to swim test the Matuka Bugger so I could keep tweaking it if need be…. glad I did. Haven’t tweaked it since.

I’ve been throwing the Bugger for about 10 minutes. Tweaking presentations here and there, trying to get a feel of how the fish were reacting that day. I’m wading/walking DOWN STREAM, but casting UP STREAM (water loading), so the Fly would be at the proper depth I wanted it to be at by the time it got into the danger zone. I’m mainly Dead Drifting, with very minor twitches throughout the drift, and letting it come to full swing. Then keeping it swung for several seconds before water loading it back up stream.

BOOM!!! Fish On! A small 14″ Rainbow takes the Bugger on the swing. But the “Niagara Falls like” water makes it feel a bit, okay a lot, heavier for its smaller size….. especially on my 3wt I always choose to fish with as my primary weapon.
Doesn’t matter the size, whatever, don’t care, I’m PUMPED. Not only had I caught my first Trout on the notorious Bugger, Lol, but I’m also a step closer to figuring out the Trouts routine.
A few minutes pass and I hook into another small guy. Same way, starting deep and swung high.

Unfortunately things die down for about 35 minutes after the second fish. I’m back to changing up presentations and starting to think of possible Fly changes. (I fish fast, think fast. Sonetimes a fault of mine I admit.) It got so bad that I’m barely paying attention to my presentation because I’m mearly thinking of which Flies to switch to before I start to re-rig.

When very abruptly, it finally happens…..I get caught sleeping behind the wheel, looking at my buddy up stream, while my Bugger is just a swinging free in the water somewhere, when a Momma Trout decides to take the Fly and basically sit.

The best way to describe it at first was I had thought my Fly had gotten snagged on a free floating tree trunk. Lol. The weight of something was there, I definitely knew that, but the Fish hadn’t come to life yet…..at least not until I applied a bit of resistance away from it. Then it violently thrashed the top of the water 2 or 3 times trying to shake the hook free, ticked off to no good end.

At this moment all I’m worried about is keeping the fish on, and not breaking the small 3wt rod. (Didn’t help things that I chose to use 6x tippet to increase sink rate.)
Seconds went by very quickly, but seemed like minutes, before the Trout decided it had a tail fin and used it to shoot down river.

Again, 3wt rod, Click & Pawl reel, 6x tippet, very fast water, tons of rocks and debris in the water. (I’m out of breath just telling this story. Lol) I’m not gonna lie, besides maneuvering a few good rod angles, I had gotten stage fright. Couldn’t move, for two or better seconds I had forgotten all logic and common sense. The Fish was a bully and I’m almost positive he knew it. I was out matched, out gunned, whatever. It was putting steady distance between us and quickly. The rod or tippet had to go, it was simply a matter of when. All of a sudden I remembered I had legs, not tent stakes. This is when the real fun started. I uprooted myself and for lack of some better terms, I moon walked, bounced, tumbled, floated, slipped and slided, and got wet going down stream following the bully. What a rush. So many yards.

Finally, with both of us tired out, my buddy and I managed to net the fish, very carefully, snap a couple pictures after keeping him wet a bit, and released him back into calmer water to watch him swim away.

The three other biggest Trout that followed were very similar in behavior, except this time I was a bit better prepared as far as experience goes with bigger fish on a smaller rod, so there were no more “A River runs through it” trips down stream, and the fights weren’t as lengthy. (I will admit that a few DID in fact beat me in breaking the tippet before I could get them under control. Lol.)

So, to say the least, since February 2015, I’ve been using Woolly Buggers and their Variants alike religiously. I don’t think I have gone out once since then and not tried, AND produced a couple Fish on them.

So, Woolly Buggers, can you dig ’em? If you can’t or haven’t yet, grab a shovel, because this classic pattern is still producing fun times on the water. I thoroughly enjoy tweaking them on the vise to fit my fishing style. I love trying different materials and reconfiguring their placement to make the Buggers act a certain way.

Hope you enjoyed a small memory of mine that will always be a win for rainy day moments.

8 thoughts on “The Woolly Bugger and I. Can you dig it?

  1. Mark Moser

    Mr. Aldrich… I am very glad you have gained confidence in the Bugger style flies! I have been tying and fishing them for 30+ years in many variations. My standby rod is a 6 wt with an 8+# tippet. I catch many fish on them, from trout and steelhead when I lived up north, to Blue Gills, Walleye, Bass (Large and Small Mouth), Perch, and now the invasive species, Myan Cichlids (delicious eating). One variation I tie is with dumb bell eyes so it puts heavy weight in the fly but also keeps the hook upright so as not to hook as much debris. I am very happy to read a story about the Wooly Bugger type flies and gaining confidence in using them!

    Reply
    1. Justin Aldrich

      Mark, that “Dumbbell” Variation sounds like a winner. Especially when presenting it as some style of baitfish/streamer.

      I carry a “Bugger box” on me always, and typically have three style of each color variation. I ALWAYS use a conehead, I think they are a streamlined slight triggering characteristic.
      (Even if I want the pattern basically weightless, which I hardly ever do, but I’ll still use a very mini conehead.)
      I carry the Tungsten patterns, brass, and then Coneheads with 3D eyes applied for when I’m using them soley as a finned creature with eyes they are known to have……I kid. Ha ha.

      In my short time Fly Fishing, I’ve learned the standard rod weights to use, especially for bulkier patterns, are your 5wt and 6wt’s. Most anglers I encounter are using them at least. They sure do make things a bit easier than a 3wt that’s for sure.

      I just can’t seem to let go of my 3wt and click and pawl… Even if I’m fishing in water that is known for bigger fish, I love my 3wt.
      (Only times I differ are on stressed periods for the Trout, but then I rarely fish those times anyhow.)

      Maybe it’s because I’m a little guy, lol, but I think it’s more because I don’t target bigger Trout, and I like the rod to bend a bit on the average 16″ trout or so I’m usually catching.

      Thanks for stopping by Mark, and I hope you have many more Bugger days ahead.

      – Justin Aldrich

      Reply
  2. Jim Murphy

    I’m off to the tying bench right now. I too have tried buggers, and I too have for the most part come up empty handed, or should I say netted. In any event yours is just one of the many stories that continue to drive me nuts so I’ll tie up a few and try it again. Maybe someday I’ll have one of those 2015 days. Nice blog.

    Reply
    1. Justin Aldrich

      Hi Jim,

      Well it’s hard to beat a comment stating you’ve been inspired to tie……

      Just keep chucking away with those Buggers…. I think it only takes one take, then the fish all get together and decide they’ve played games with you enough and then it’s just HANG ON. Lolol.

      My first, was just by sure chance, luck, whatever you’d like to call it. But I tried all different presentations that day, EXCEPT just letting it sit and swinging in the current. Ha ha.

      Strip, twitch, jig, swing, swim, etc, try all the presentations you can think of and eventually a fish will take on a Bugger….. Even if they really ar ent wanting them.

      The only downfall that I believe the Woolly Buggers have are they are TOO GOOD, and can possibly make an Angler lazy on the water. Ha ha ha. Yes Sir, they are that good. You’ll soon find out, that’s a promise.

      Thanks for swinging by Jim. I’d love to hear about your first fish on one……

      – Justin Aldrich

      Reply
  3. Charles Frank

    Mr Aldrich , this is an amazing story, so we’ll written and informative. I had fished “buggers” before and do enjoy them, s a fly and as a fish magnet. You just awakened my desire to start to fish them again. Thanks for an amazing story.

    Reply
    1. Justin Aldrich

      Mr. Frank,

      Thank you so much for the compliments and stopping by. I’d love to see a couple finished products once your done.

      Hope your morning goes well my friend.

      – Justin Aldrich

      Reply
      1. Mark Moser

        I will gladly try to get a good picture of both the Wooly Bugger and the Wolly Worm with the Dumb Bell Eyes. I know you have had to have tried them and I make mine with a 40# test weed guard. Remember here I must use larger hooks than used up north. Here, size 6 hooks are very small and the normal are size 2 and 4 and go up to 2/0. I hope your autumn fishing has been good for you. Irma put a serious damper on fishing here with catches of very small fish that’s mouth is smaller than the hook bend ;~). The fishing will pick up again as the time moves forward

        Reply
        1. Justin Aldrich

          Hi again Mr. Moser,

          Now you’ve got me curious about what region your fishing in. Lol. Im down in North Georgia and Irma effected us as well, but not so much in a bad way. She definitely put the streamer bite on.

          Also, yes Sir I’ve tied them with the dumbbell eyes, but for general reasons, mostly just personal experience, I just opt for the conehead or conehead w/eyes combo. (It’s just a confidence thing after hit and miss so many times with a particular pattern until you find one that does it.)

          2/0 hooks huh, WOW! I bet you have some really fun stories to tell as well. They sure enough trump my #10 – #6’s. Ha ha ha. I feel so small. The 40lb mono weed guard is a great idea by the way. Especially with all that weight those dumbbell eyes bring to the table.

          I hope fishing picks back up for you. I don’t think it should be that much longer till everything settles back down.

          One more thing, thank you for any upcoming pictures you have to offer. Great thing about tying and fishing is there is no “knowing it all, seen it all.” I look forward to them.

          Thanks for stopping back by.

          – Justin Aldrich

          Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *