The wooly worm is a predecessor to one of the most popular and effective flies ever invented, the wooly bugger. Coming from the same bloodline, it is just as effective as it is more famous relative. Anyone familiar with a wooly bugger will recognize a wooly worm immediately. Just imagine your holding wooly bugger with out a tail, or at most a small tag of yarn in place of the tail.
The wooly worm is a style of fly that may date back hundreds of years. Flies with a palmered hackle down the entire hook shank have been documented as far back as the 1500’s. The quintessential wooly bugger was a spin off of the wooly worm. The wooly bugger imitates many aquatic life forms, but most folks fish it as a baitfish imitation. The wooly worm was designed to imitate large aquatic insects like stoneflies, hellgrammites, etc. In the warm water arena, those large aquatic insects would be damsel and dragon fly nymphs, but it could just as easily be taken for a small baitfish or crayfish.
The wooly worm is the perfect fly for the beginning fly tier to try. It is super easy to tie and uses only a few materials. The wooly worm is one of the first flies tied by our students in our fly tying classes. It is easily mastered, and it catches fish. What more could you ask for?
Wooly worms can be tied in just about any color or combinations of colors that your heart desires.
I primarily fish two versions of this fly; one is dark and drab and imitates the natural insects living in the bluegill’s world.
The second version is a brightly colored attractor. It is a well-known fact that bluegills and other panfish respond to color. This one is one of my go to patterns when they want something bright and gaudy.
I almost always include a wool yarn tag or a short tuft of marabou on my wooly worms. I like that little contrast of color even on the more natural, darker versions. They can be tied with or without weight. Add a few wraps of lead wire before adding the body material if you need a heavier fly for probing deeper water.
I prefer a soft webby hackle, but I will tie them with stiffer dry fly hackle if that is all I have available. I like the feather fibers swept back towards the bend of the hook, but some folks prefer the hackle leaning towards the eye. It is just a matter of personal preference; the fly will be just as effective either way. As for the body, chenille is a traditional material but feel free to use a dubbed body instead. Dubbed bodies will let you experiment with color if that is your thing. If you want to make the fly bomb (or bluegill) proof, just add a fine wire rib after winding the hackle.
Fishing the fly is as easy as tying it. Cast it near fishing holding structure and retrieve it with short strips, long pulls or a steady hand twist retrieve. That’s all there is to it! Strikes will come, trust me.
Hook: 3x long nymph or streamer hook (for panfish I like a size 10 or 12)
Thread: 70 denier in color of choice
Tail: (optional) small tag of yarn or marabou in color of choice
Weight: (optional) 6-10 wraps of .015 lead wire
Ribbing: (optional) fine copper, gold or silver wire
Body: Small chenille or dubbing in color of choice
Hackle: Rooster or hen hackle palmered along entire length of body.
Side Note: The brown grizzy hackle in the flies above came from a young rooster named Francis. Since his feathers are not fully developed I get the best of both worlds. A long rooster hackle that has some great webbing like a hen feather.