The ubiquitous Woolly Bugger,
never quite spelled correctly to my eyes, appeals to the eyes of every
game fish imaginable. If I had one pattern to fish the rest of my life,
no matter what the fish, no matter what the conditions, this would be
Trout, Salmon, Bass, Shad, Pike, you name it, they will hit this
pattern. And the best thing? Usually the fish will be bigger than
average, the strikes harder than average, and the action better than
The origins of the Woolly Bugger can be traced back to the Old English pattern the Woolly Worm,
which is also a very effective pattern. Most credit Russell Blessing
with the actual invention of the Woolly Bugger in the early 1970’s in
Pennsylvania. Although, Jack Dennis claims it is a variation of the
Black Martinez popularized in the West. And still others claim it was
originally a Bass imitation developed in the late 1800’s in Missouri.
Whatever the origins the popularity of this pattern cannot be denied.
Besides being used for all game fish, the Bugger’s popularity can
also be attributed to its versatility. It can be tied in almost every
color imaginable. The most popular color’s are black, brown and olive,
with purple and white right behind. But almost every color has been
tied, and different color combinations are often used on the same fly.
Another characteristic that makes the bugger so popular, is that you
can’t fish it wrong. Okay if fish are slurping delicately on #24 Trico
spinners, you don’t want to plunk a #6 Bugger right in the center of
them. But if you are searching sub-surface for any kind of fish, in any
kind of water, you could do a lot worse than selecting the woolly
What fish think they are hitting when they hit a Bugger is somewhat a
mystery. To human’s eyes it could be a bait fish, a leech, a grub, a
cricket, a stonefly, a dragonfly nymph, a damselfly nymph, the list is
endless. And perhaps that is what makes it such a great all-purpose
pattern. It is a nymph, a streamer, and an attractor all in one. We’ll let the fish classify it.
New twists on this pattern have even added to its effectiveness. Now
usually tied with krystal flash or flashabou in its tail, for added
attraction. A wire rib counter-wrapped through the hackle can also add
flash and more importantly durability. And of course as with every
sub-surface pattern the addition of the beadhead.
It seems the history of the Bugger is still being written and while we
all try ways to ‘improve’ this most popular pattern. Fish, that put in a
whole lot less thought about this pattern will curse the day Mr.
Blessing or whoever first tied one on a hook.