In my opinion, the ubiquitous Woolly Bugger is probably one of the most productive flies ever developed. It is a simple fly, often the first fly a novice fly tier learns to tie, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. They can be deadly. Most sources credit Pennsylvania fly tier Russel Blessing as the creator of the fly back in the late 1960’s. The pattern was created to imitate a hellgrammite. I think the roots of the fly go back much further as an evolution of the Woolly Worm which is a much older pattern.
As mentioned previously the fly was originally developed as an imitation of the large aquatic nymph of the Dobson Fly. Despite this beginning, the pattern is considered a streamer and is typically fished as one. I have caught scores of panfish on larger Woolly Buggers when using the fly to target larger fish like bass and pickerel. Even though I have caught plenty of panfish on these larger flies, I have had ten missed hits for every bluegill that managed to get the large fly in its small mouth. This problem prompted me to scale down the fly to panfish proportions.
When tying these minuscule versions, I alter my tying technique a bit. I tend to tie these micro buggers in the style of the famous fly fishing author John Gierach. Check out his book Good Flies for all the details on how and why he ties them this way. To tie the fly as John does, I swap out the straight streamer hook for a hook with a natural bend in it, and I substitute the thick chenille body for one that is dubbed and much slimmer. If additional weight is needed I will use the smallest bead chain eyes I can find or maybe a glass or brass bead. I am not a huge fan of this style of tying with standard sized buggers, but on the micro versions they look and perform great.
I fish these micro buggers much the same as their larger brothers. They imitate the same aquatic invertebrates and fish but in a much smaller package that is easily taken by all sizes of panfish. If you are looking for trophies, stick with larger Woolly Buggers. If you are looking for numbers of fish both large and small, scale down the size of the fly and be prepared to put a permanent set in your rod!
As far as size goes, I typically will tie panfish sized Woolly Buggers in sizes 12-16. In regards to colors, the sky is the limit. Though I generally will tie these flies in muted natural colors like black, brown and olive, I have also had success with brightly colored flies in red, white, yellow, orange, pink even blue.
Are you looking for a pattern recipe? You can find it here.