Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hat, A Fishermen's Best Friend

I consider a hat as a distinguishing attribute to the human attire. Clothes? Well, you just throw clothes on and change them the next day. Wash them later and sometime in the near or farther future you wear them again to maybe make an impression for the occasion. A hat is different, especially worn by a fishermen or hunter during there escapades of fishing or hunting. I’m not talking about the everyday common baseball style cap sportsmen wear while sighting their guns in or at some sports show or club meeting. These caps have logos, funny sayings and advertise the local sport shops. You can find these just about everywhere.
I’m talking about the unique, unusual but well fitted hat on a sportsmen head that just fits him. Makes him that unique character that distinguishes him from all others while a field or on the water. Some sportsmen wear such hats as lucky charms. Some as to show off while others don’t even think about it, they just wear the same old hat cause it’s been around for such a long hunting or fishing career and it fits just right. You know that one you just can’t get rid of, there’s a history about it. It’s almost like your best friend when you are going a field or hitting the streams. We all know some wear them to keep the sun off their eyes, straw hats for warmer weather and the insulated ones for warmth on a blizzard like condition during hunting season.

Let’s take some examples.
When I was a teen my grandfather, on my mother’s side, wore those expensive, Italian made, gangster looking hats. My grandfather was pitching out some that didn’t fit just right anymore and my cousin and I decided they would be a big hit, or at least get us noticed, at the teen clubs we used to go to. I think my cousin lost his over the years but I sort of got attached to mine. It was warm, repelled water very well and fit my small 6 7/8 size head just right. It made me look distinguished! This in turn became my fishing hat. I actually hated wearing hats any other time.
With a little modification like pushing out the crease in the top to make it a round domed hat. This would keep rain from accumulating on the top if it, than if it had a crease. Straightening the brim flat to again keep rain run-off from dripping down my back while fishing. The fancy silk hatband had to go. I had a black bandana I haven’t worn for years. It is just about 2” wide tapered at each end to tie around your head. It has the Harley logo on it with wings spread on each side. I tied this around where the silk hatband was. On very windy days the hat still wanted to blow off my head as I remember. So I just cut the thread and removed the inside leather sweatband. Walla, my fishing hat. Water repellant to a certain extent, warm in cool weather, a small brim to keep some sun off my eyes but still keeping my vision at large. It fits just right and stays on my head tight enough I don’t have to worry chasing it down stream on a windy day. I just push it down further onto my skull. It’s also nice having the tall enough dome, so when I’m weaving my way through streamside brush and low hanging branches, the dome takes the brunt of the hits which warns me of overhead danger.

When I went bear hunting with a few guys back some years ago, one guy in particular named Harlan, had on an interesting hat. It was made of soft leather with a floppy brim. He kept the right side pinned up. He said that kept his bowstring from keeping in contact with his hat during archery season. The leather was a little darker brown on the inside than the outside. Maybe from fading from the sun like my favorite hat as it sits on my dashboard all year round. When we went out the first morning for bear he had tied 3 or 4 strands of orange ribbon to the leather hatband. The same orange ribbon you might find tied to trees for land markers. In Pennsylvania we must wear blaze orange on top of our head visible 360 degrees. The orange ribbons just hung there, Blowing in the wind but it was legal and that’s Harlan and his favorite hunting hat. You just have to make modifications. It fit him well and he commented to me when he hunts he doesn’t want to be bothered by other hunters. They see his pitch-black beard, beady eyes under that unusual floppy hat! Well, would you go and talk to some person you seen in the woods like that with a rifle in his hands?

Rusty, whom I actual taught the finer skills of trout fishing to, and I got into the cowboy hat thing when we were in our twenties. He wore a black cowboy hat. One of those you swore he was wearing the wrong way. You know the tallest part of the dome was in front. I think I’ve seen Garth Brooks wear one. I liked the old civil war style officer’s hat, complete with tassels. The tassels were too long when I got the hat but I just put another knot in between to shorten them so they wouldn’t hang over the brim. These hats were really great on sunny cool days. Maybe not so good on windy days and definitely not comfortable on hot days of fishing. It was great when we wanted to find out where the other might be on any certain creek. I’d ask anyone on the creek if they seen a blonde haired guy with a cowboy hat on. They usually knew whom I was talking about. Here in P.A. there aren’t too many fishermen that wear cowboy hats. Now a-days Rusty just wears a small, brown felt hat. Sort of in the style of what an Irishmen might wear. He even keeps a small feather sticking out of his hatband. I don’t know how the hat stays on his head though, but it just sort of sits there and doesn’t fall off. Now when I look for him on the creek I just ask someone if they’d seen a guy that looks like a young Kenny Rogers with a small brown hat on. They know whom I’m talking about.

For different weather on the streams we all wear different hats. I’ve tried the straw-hat thing but it just doesn’t work for me. My son Giddeon on the other hand looks distinguished in his. He had moved to Ashville North Carolina some years back. The weather is a lot hotter down there during the summer time. He then moved over to Wilmington, near the coast, just a year ago. He works outside most of the time on his job climbing telephone poles and such. He came up in June this year to fish Kettle Creek with me. He wore this straw hat I just called The Carolina Hat. The hat has that wide brim, I mean wide and the top was a little higher than most. It kind of reminded me of the hats the southern ladies would wear while they were planting flowers or working in their gardens under the hot southern sun. The brim had bowed downward with time all the way around, so when you look at him fishing there’s always a shadow on his face. The top is creased and peaked towards the front. With his dark complexion, from living down south, and his black goatee I can always find out where he is on the creek. “Hey, have any of you guys seen a young man with a goatee and a Carolina straw hat?”
My grandfather, on my dad’s side, which who got me interested in hunting and fishing, wore a rare looking cap. I wouldn’t say it distinguished him from anyone else; it just was rare in this day and age. The cap was yellow leather. Yes, that’s right. Completely covered in leather. Over the front bill and all. It was a baseball style cap only it had a flat top. It was lined with some kind of warm cloth and even had earflaps you could let down in colder weather. I have never seen another like it since. The yellow wasn’t a bright yellow, it was sort of soft tanning leather yellow. It was old I can guarantee you that. My grandfather always wore a hat or a beanie to keep his head warm anyhow. Except of course in church. When he went hunting or fishing though, he’d have that yellow cap on. Even if it was remotely involved with hunting or fishing, he wore that cap. Back a many of years when my grandpa was still alive The Pennsylvania Game Commission changed the law from not only wearing blaze orange on chest and back combined but on your head as well, being seen 360 degrees. Most hunters that didn’t have orange on their hats just bought new hats. Some modified them, as Harlan did. The Amish around here covered their hats with an elastic orange bag or something to that nature. Now my grandfather would come up to camp every year and at least hunt for a day, if it wasn’t too cold and he felt ok. He was in his late 70’s back then. He didn’t have too many hunting seasons left, because of his age and couldn’t get around all that well.
Grandpa now was colored blind. I found that out one day at his house when he asked me to get his orange hat off the dresser before we went hunting one morn. The only hat on his dresser was yellow.
“I don’t see it” I called back to him
“It’s right there on the dresser, the only hat there!”
I picked up the yellow hat and went to the kitchen door and handed it to him. He put it on without saying anything else.
At camp, the first year we all had to wear orange headgear, grandpa of course had worn his yellow cap on the way up. He kept it on until the camp warmed up enough that he felt he’d be more comfortable with out the warm cap. He hung his yellow cap on one of the elk tines that was mounted above the TV. Along with the other hunter’s hats in camp and put on his knitted beanie. Grandpa’s hat, of course, was the only yellow one. We’ve been deer hunting with the same group of guys for years. Monday morning came and with that the usual strategies began to take up most of the conversation. Before leaving camp we all made sure we had on our licenses, guns and ammo. We all put on our orange hats and headed to the vehicles for the drive to the hunting area. Except grandpa, he put on his yellow leather cap. Now, no one said anything about it. No one even showed any indication grandpa wasn’t wearing an orange cap. I really don’t think anyone, except me noticed. I wasn’t saying anything. Grandpa’s been hunting 3 times as many years as I have. He hasn’t once ever told a story that bullets whizzed by him within ear shot range, with blaze orange on or not. He thought his cap was orange anyhow and I wasn’t going to try to convince him otherwise after all these years.
I ended up getting my 5 point about 8:00 am. on that same morning. On the drag out I was about 50yrds from the van when I spotted grandpa headed toward the van himself. He didn’t see me or hear me. Gramps was about as tall as I, short was, he stooped a little in his stature when he walked. During hunting season he didn’t shave and I remember back he used to rub his unshaven face against us kids. It was worse than sand paper. He always seamed to be wearing a shirt underneath a button down shirt and a sweater over top of that so it was hard to ever tell how much he weighed. In his old Woolrich pants, hooded Woolrich coat he short stepped it back to the van. Gramps never ventured into the woods very far those days. He usually hunted within 50 to 100yrds of our vehicles, on a lane. He got cold quick and would be back at the van now and then to warm up. My van “has a good heater” as he might say.
“You got one?” “That’s a nice one”
“Yep, gramps, did you see anything?”
“No but the game warden stopped by”
Uh oh, I thought to myself, than I noticed grandpa still had his yellow leather cap on.
“What did he have to say?”
“Oh, he checked my 30-30 and we bullshitted a bit”
I thought this was strange. I conjured up in my mind later what may have occurred.
The game warden happened to be driving by and just so happened to see this hunter with a non-blaze-orange hat on. He most likely made a quick u-turn, kicking up roadside gravel. As he got out of his vehicle, he already had the fine book in one hand and had the ballpoint pen, already with the point projecting out of the bottom of the spring loaded body. He walked over to grandpa and from that point his obvious intensions were diverted. I’m sure seeing and talking to my grandfather and his way with words and conversation, the warden just couldn’t press the issue of ‘the orange hat law’. The warden most likely kept quiet and just listened to this old timer tell about some of his hunting experiences. Grandpa probably told the warden that he himself was a constable once. The warden now knowing a little bit more about this timeless hunter, he most likely started to feel respect for him. Seeing the old, scopeless, model 94 Winchester in my grandfather’s hands, still complete with the saddle horn ring, the warden couldn’t resist but to ask to see the rifle. The warden probably wished my grandfather good luck turned and walked away. By then, the warden’s fine book was in his back pocket and his thumb was still subconsciously pressing his pen.
I’m not sure where that hat is now. The last time I remember wearing it was back in ‘83, around bear camp. The guys I was hunting with would make fun of it, except for Harlan. There were actually three scratch marks on the top of that old hat. Almost like claw prints. I’m sure gramps would have known what they were from. I’m not even sure why I wore it that year. I only got one bear in my lifetime so far. That was back than in ’83.
I just wonder if that old yellow leather hat had something to do with it?

I remember my second year out steelhead fishing. I was still learning how to catch them. I was by myself and didn’t feel confident yet. It was a cool cloudy morning. Looked like possible showers at any time. After gearing up I looked at the hat rack in my van. I always keep a T.U. hat inside at all times, Rain and ball caps don’t go well together. My new short brimmed felt Harley hat, with its leather hatband, sat on the Coleman stove.

I figured it was too new to take out on a day like today. I was by myself, and being the day was miserable looking, I opened the passenger door, reached on the dash and flopped my favorite, sun faded, fishing hat on my head. I felt I was just in that grubby mode, not wanting to talk to anyone and get serious about catching some steelhead. I ended up having a fun day with at least 12 hook ups. Landed four on my fly rod. The last being a 28 ½”male. What a beauty. A friend built a smoker that fall and wanted to try some recipes for smoked steelhead. The big male came with me. I took some pictures of the steely hanging over my 25” cooler for verification purposes.

I broke down my rod and put it away. I jumped in the side of the van to change my cloths when my favorite hat came into contact with the van ceiling. I sat back on the bench seat. Took off the hat and Frisbee threw it between the front bucket seats. It bumped against the windshield and came to rest in the middle on top of the dashboard, the Harley emblem and wings facing directly towards me. I finished changing cloth, grabbed my Flyshop cap and put it on. Jumped into the front seat and headed towards home. I looked at the hat and said out loud “we did it!!” I swear if the hat had eyes it would of winked at me. Than I realized I was the only human in the van and I was actually talking towards my hat.
After turning onto bear creak road, I lit an imported cigar that Jeff had given me. I turned my favorite hat around on the dash so the wings were facing out the front window as usual. Thought of all the steelhead I caught earlier. Luck my butt I thought, got be skill from here on out. I patted the old hat …

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Birthday Brook 2006

I sit here washing down the last remaining taste of the deer tenderloins I fried for dinner. There was enough room off the side of this dirt road to open up my side van doors and make an area for my Coleman stove and camp chair. The moon is bright enough to throw shadows from the branches above onto the dirt floor around me. Another sip of beer and I recollect the day’s adventure.

I fished Mill Creek, near Fisher, this morning until noon. With my Wonderod I caught brookies on latex caddis, r.a.m. caddis and a few on white silky buggers all morning. In the afternoon it was tougher up on the middle part of Millstone that empties into the Clarion River. The water was running a little fast and clear. I only caught 1 brook in about 2 hours, but than again the bottom of the creek bed is stony throughout and it’s hard to bounce the bottom with a good drift without hanging up constantly. I guess that’s why they call it Millstone!
This evening I fished the East Branch of Millstone up from Loleta Park. The little stream pockets brook trout throughout but because of its clear water and brushy banks it’s hard to locate trout without them seeing you first. I haven’t fished the stream in about 10 years but I felt this was a good spot to spend the night off of the main road before fishing it tomorrow

I took my ultra light Eagle Claw spinning rod and bait and headed down to the creek. This was more of a scouting excursion before it got dark so I wanted to cover as much of the stream as possible to get a good lay out for tomorrow’s fishing. After fishless on my way downstream I came across a lone pine overhanging the creek from the far bank. The big fir branches shadowed the water. Scanning the depth I spotted an oblong object suspended behind a submerged millstone 3/4th of the way across the creek. That oblong shape was a big trout for this small creek. I tossed every different bait I had without even a glance. I’m sure the trout seen me, being I was directly beside him about 20’ away. It didn’t spook though so I continued down stream figuring on returning later to catch my “birthday trout”.
About 50 feet downstream I came across 12 brookies hugging the near bank. I crossed the creek and started hooking up with them. It was kind of easy but I hadn’t caught anything for a while and was having fun. Down below the riffles I spotted a gray mass. To the average Joe, he might have thought the mass was a slab of slate. To the fishermen that have fished stocked brook trout waters, knows this was a school of brookies grouped together. There must have been about 2 buckets in the gray mass and surrounding area. It was like fishing in a bathtub for hungry piranhas. I thought about walking up to get my fly rod but it was going to get dark soon. They haven’t stocked this in-season yet so they had to be pre-season trout that swam up from the slower water above the dammed swimming pool area in the park. Just before nightfall I went back upstream and tried for the birthday trout, still no results.

Looks like the water is boiling in the iron skillet. Time to wash dishes and finish another beer before heading to bed.

Sometime during the early morning I remember hearing raindrops on the van roof, than an all out downpour. Being tired I don’t remember much else and fell back asleep.

I wake when the alarm goes off, I reach out, from under the sleeping bag, and push the snooze button. No cars have gone by so I'm not too anxious to ‘rise and shine.’ I crawl up to the front and start the van to take the chill off. I put the heating rod in my water-filled tin cup and plug the other end in the cigar lighter. I crawl back under the sleeping bag.
18 minutes later the alarm buzzes again. I shut it up and get up from under the sleeping bag. Putting a tea bag and a couple of packs of sugar in the warm water I then hang the heating rod over my rearview mirror. I rub the moisture from the inside of a window and I could see it is trying to lighten up outside. I turn on the inside mood lights. Knowing it would be cold out, on this early spring morn, I put on my polypropylenes and warm cloths while munching on yesterdays doughnuts and warm tea. The thought of my birthday trout comes to mind and I start to get antsy.

I open the side van doors and the musty wet moss smell engulfs my senses. There is a thin fog outside sprinkled with light trying to penetrate from above. As I sit on the van step putting my hip boots on the fine mist touches my skin as the mist from Niagara Falls did the times I was up to visit.

I look at my four fly rods lying under the side window. My 8 ½', and 9' were definitely out. I used my Wonderod yesterday so it looks like it will be my 4 pce. 8' grf-1000, Cortland. There’s nothing special or glamorous about it. It was my first multi-piece rod when I got my first Harley and I sort of just take it along.
I piece the rod together and nail-knot a 4x, 7 ½' tapered leader. I tie on a white silky bugger knowing brook trout love minnows.

I turn and shut the van door and that’s when I realize the stillness outside. Instead of the door echoing through the open forest it shut with a thud. The outside world is a dead calm. No wind, no sound of early birds. The low lying fog and sprinkles of misty rain silences everything around me. The only sound is drops of water that gather from moisture and run down tree limbs then fall upon the van’s metal roof.

The lone pine that was so distinctly noticeable yesterday now stands 100 yards away as a dark structure through the fog. I walk half way to the creek and catch movement to my left. A sloppy wet opossum tiptoes towards the road. I reach in my pocket and take out a quid of Red Man and stuff it in my left cheek before continuing on. As I get nearer the stream the water is higher and faster. The down pour, earlier, has taken its toll on the stream. Unlike agricultural farm areas, mountain streams rarely get muddy instead they turn a grayish color.

I position myself upstream from, the just visible, millstone rock where the big trout was the day before. I roll cast towards the far bank, mend the line upstream, and watch the silky bugger drift behind the millstone. I cast two more times and then put on a white woolly. The early morn starts to open up and light starts to penetrate the grayish water. I step closer and gaze through the water, my birthday trout is gone. Gone, but where?

I slowly walk down the bank searching for a dark oblong shape to no avail. I cautiously cross the creek and fish above the riffles where I caught a dozen trout yesterday. I only hook up with one on the woolly bugger. I take a few steps downstream and drift a latex caddis where the school of brookies should be. I catch a straggler but looking into the water, through my polarized glasses, the gray haze of the school of trout is gone also.

I’m disappointed but still have enough hope in thinking I may find him upstream. I walk back up to the lone pine. After stepping into the water I’m able to see a little deeper through the milky water. Nothing is behind the millstone that’s for sure! I slowly fish a latex caddis upstream and let it drift along the far bank. I fish about 20 feet upstream. I stand in the water deciding where to go next. The gray sky is giving way to the lazy sun. The air is still a bit nippy and the smell of wet moss still encompasses me. I look into the water and I consciously search for the big trout. I just can’t believe it would have gone too far.
Upstream, there, in the middle of the creek, I see the tail of the big fish moving side to side in the current. The oblong figure of the fish is apparent now. The water is still grayish but the fish is dark enough and big enough to distinguish.

From here I don’t feel I have a good chance of drifting anything in front of it without it feeling the line. I back-step out of the water and sneak my way upstream from the fish. Stooped down along side the bank I tie on the silky bugger and twist on a matchstick lead weight about 6” above the bugger. I cast it softly across the creek and mend the slack line upstream. I drift the bugger and take in line so the fly will pass right before the fish. I watch as the fish watches it drift by, nothing. I try a bead-head bugger and a latex caddis without success. I am determined to catch the fish but don’t want to spook it by showing it my complete wet fly, nymph and streamer assortment. I feel i have to come up with something else before giving up.

I think back of some of the big brook trout I had caught in the Millstone and what I had used. I remember I caught a 15” breeder up at the West Branch of Millstone on corn back in my bait days with a spinning rod. I also remember watching a guy and his son catching fish on corn. Than I recalled when I camped out at Loleta an elderly couple said they catch quite a few trout out of this creek with yellow and orange power bait.
I pull out my streamer fly box. I see 3 steelhead egg patterns that I must have put in there while steelhead fishing the Erie tribs. A red one with a green dot, a white one made with sparkle and, low and behold, a yellow one.
I tie the yellow egg pattern on the tippet and tug on it to be sure my knot is tight. I add another piece of weight a little closer to the un-weighted fly to make sure it gets deep enough and stays there through the drift. I cast the fly across to the far bank and mend my line upstream. The fly sinks and I tighten the line enough to send the fly down first and than slowly move my rod to follow the drift of the fly.
Before the yellow egg pattern even gets near the fish, the fish swims up and takes it. I set the hook but the big trout doesn’t budge. I look on in disbelief. After I yank a little harder the big fish finally realizes something is wrong. With a quick flip of its tail and arc of its body the fish powers downstream. My fly rod flexes to the middle. Now standing I feed the fish more taught line. It swirls from the far bank, downstream, to the nearer bank below me. The fish holds tight. I stiffen up the rod and the fish gives in. That's it, the big fight is over in a matter of seconds though I'm sure my heart will continue to pound for another minute or two. I lower my net into the water and sluggishly the big brookie follows my line to the net.

I lay the net on the bank and my birthday trout straightens out upon the ground. The beautiful brook trout is a color I’ve never seen before in a fish. The fish’s sides are a silver bluish cast. The yellow speckles are well pronounced along the entire body and tail. The fins aren’t that distinct bright orange, as on male brook trout, but an aqua blue.
I unhook the fly from the fish and walk back to the van to get pictures before the colors fade. I still have the rest of the day and tomorrow to fish and I need the photo’s to give to the taxidermist. I have a goal to get one of each species of trout, from Pennsylvania, mounted on my wall. Pictures are fine but you just don’t get the full features of the fish like you do with a mount. I want to be able to show my grandchildren the real thing. It’s more of something they can see and feel, get an image in their mind of the differences of trout.

I measure the female brook trout to be 19” and take pictures. I wrap the fish and lay it in the cooler. After putting my fly rod in the back I take off the rain jacket and climb in the driver’s seat.

I drive down the dirt road back toward the hard paved road. There are a few people fishing in the swimming hole, hands in their heavy coat pockets and rods leaning over the wall resting against a bait bucket or tackle box. I pull up to the stop sign and look at my radio clock. It is only 9am. I look between the bucket seats, on the van floor, at the big birthday cigar. I turn onto the hardtop road and reach down between the seats, pull out a licorice stick and stick it in my mouth. Heck, it’s only 9:00am and there’s still a lot of fishing to do.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Woolly Bugger Memoirs

It’s that time of year again, February. The trout streams are either frozen over, running so cold the trout are in a lethargic state or it’s just too cold for me to go out fishing. It’s time to concentrate at the tying desk and start tying. I have to remember what flies worked for me last year. I have a lot of different patterns for the same fly. I see a new pattern for a fly in a magazine article and I feel I have to try it if it looks enticing (to me) and it is a fly that seams to match a hatch here in Pennsylvania. When I started tying flies I got a general fly tying manual with pictures and pattern ingredients. From those first flies I tied I would add or substitute different material and shades to match Pennsylvania hatches as time went on. Usually according to some article or another pattern I seen tied by another Pennsylvanian fly tier. This has been going on a few years now. Some of them worked better some didn’t work at all. I’m at the point now I’m not sure what the original pattern called for that worked the best. This is in my dry fly collections though and I’ll have to revert back to my fly boxes.

At my fly tying table, it usually gets disarrayed during the season. By winter I usually get things organized but being I did some steelhead fishing this winter and tying steelhead flies I see my table is in disarray again. Let me clean it up a bit.

There, now I’m ready to tie. I’m going to get into the streamers I know I use and the material I use to create them. I’ve tried some of the different bucktail streamers through out the past years and none of them produced for me, just not enough action. I have a hard time tying the muddler’s, with all the deer hair spinning and the mess of the trimming. It just seems to take to long time with all the steps. I know a lot of guys’ use them and they work and all, but I wanted something easier to tie and work. I settled on the wooly buggers.

Let me clamp on a #10 9672 hook. I had bought some olive marabou out of a discount box of a fly tying store back quite a few years ago before the olive woolly buggers seam to be famous. I whipped up a few, gave some to my son Giddeon while I kept some. I also gave a couple to an older fly-guy I worked with. I remember back then, he said he never seen woolly buggers tied in that olive color I tied mine in. Besides black, this was the only other color I tied woolly buggers in. I didn’t use them much because I wasn’t sure how to fish them. I would try the olive and black buggers but not for very long because I just didn’t have faith in them. My son Giddeon is who got me believing in them.

Giddeon was out camping with his friends in the Allegheny National Forest out off of Spring Creek. I was camping in a campground not too far away. One night he and his friends stopped by and he told me I had to tie him more of the olive woolly buggers. He said they were fishing in Spring Creek and when the other guys started catching a few trout on minnows, he switched to the olive woolly buggers and started hammering the trout. He ended up catching more trout on the olive buggers than the guys using minnows. From then on I’ve used the olive woolly bugger with confidence and have caught more trout in more different streams and waters than any other color bugger.

I used to palmer the olive woolly buggers with dark dun hackle but last spring I bought a barred olive saddle. This seems and I feel more confident with this shading.

Now let’s make sure I got all the material. Olive thread and .020 wire lead. Olive chenille and my barred olive saddle hackle for the ribbing, Olive marabou and four strands of #045 blending filament. The blending filament I get at a crafts store. I tried using crystal flash but it is too stiff where as the filament thread, I feel, moves with the marabou tail. It is a combination of olive and gold strands of filament. I unbraid the strands and tie in four of these strands mixed in with the marabou tail only. I don’t tie them across the chenille body like a crystal bugger and I don’t use any more than four strands on any of my woolly buggers. I don’t want to scare the fish or make my bugger look like a piece of jewelry floating down in the stream. The lead-wire I start winding just atop the hook point on the shaft and wind it just far enough behind the hook eye so I have room to tie a nice tapered thread head. I never tried a bead head on my olive woolly buggers. They work great without one so I don’t feel the need to use one. Now let me tie about a dozen of these.
The two best times I had on these buggers were both on Kettle Creek in Potter County. Actually two years apart in the fly-fishing only area. One year I went up there in early June the water was running high and fast. I was fishing towards a good hole I’ve fished many times. The slow riffles that run into the slow deep pool were now running with quite a bit of force. The riffles were choppy so I added more weight to get my bugger down. My first cast was where the choppy water let up some into the deep pool. Something grabbed that bugger so hard it broke my tippet before I could react. I tied on another. Casted out and this time I hooked on to another trout but the force of the fish and water again broke my 5x-tapered leader. 2nd time’s a lesson; third time’s a charm. I tied on a 4x tippet another olive bugger and loosened my drag. Cast after cast I landed some of the heaviest trout to that date.

The second best time, using the barred olive saddle hackle, came in May. The water was at normal height and I came to a down tree in the water with branches, up out or the water, overhanging a good size pool of slower running water. I casted across and down stream towards the overhang and let the olive woolly bugger sink and flow with the current. I watched as at least three rainbows came out and attacked the bugger. The lucky one that grabbed it, or should I say the unlucky one, ended up in my net. I continued casting out in that same area and continued to catch these fat aggressive trout for no less than about an hour. I was having a field day. When the action slowed down I let the bugger float down stream, towards the sunken trunk of the tree, and again began to catch aggressive trout. Now that was olive woolly bugger reality.

Since I got the olive thread out the next bugger I’ll tie is one I developed called the silky bugger. Let me clamp on 3906B #10. The marabou tail is not as long as the original and the body is wrapped with olive floss instead of chenille. I’ll wrap over the floss about three times. I use grizzly saddle hackle for this one to palmer. When wet the shiny floss deepens in color. Everything else is tied the same. I use this bugger in slower, medium to shallower water. Maybe I’ll tie about a half dozen of them.

The best memory is when I was using this bugger down on Spring Creek, in Forest County, in October. The water was a little lower than usual. I casted down in the riffles, letting line out and then letting the bugger sweep the bottom of the riffles. Surprisingly, I pulled out a 17-½ inch eager palomino trout.

I’ll clamp on a 9672 #10 hook and grab my black thread and material for a black woolly bugger. I tie this like the olive woolly bugger only using all black with a gold or brass bead head. I use #032 silver-white metallic filament in this marabou tail. I’ve read stories how the black buggers are great for big browns. I don’t catch nearly the trout I have on my other colors but it seams, when big stoneflies are about, this is when I do the best. Also at the end of riffles I’ll catch a few trout, maybe they think this is a hellgrammite. I’m not sure but if the fish like black that day this will work. I’ll tie a half dozen of these.

Now I’ll tie my second favorite color woolly bugger. Jeff turned me on to this one. I’ll go all the way to the opposite side of the color spectrum and gather my white material. Clamp on a 9672 #10 and thread the white thread through the bobbin. I use the same .020 lead and use a gold bead for the head. White marabou along with #032 silver-metallic filament and the softest white saddle hackle I can come up with. I found the white woolly bugger works best in the spring or I fish it when I see minnows jumping out of the water because trout are feeding on them.

Like I said, Jeff turned me on to using this bugger. He told me he has great success down on the Youghiogheny River and used this in other streams and does well. I began using this bugger in early spring more often with a better success rate than other buggers. I moved up here to Clarion County a couple of years ago and was looking for the closest fly-fishing only stream. I found a delayed harvest artificial lures only project just about 20 minutes from my home. Through the small village of Limestone, this spring fed creek flows. The project area is only 1.2 miles long. The creek is a narrow brook of a stream with some deep holes and sunken logs and treetops. A good canopy of evergreen trees and the lower part sports a good outcropping of rocks and boulders. I was fishing the lower part of the creek in the spring.
I was slowly working my way upstream when I spotted a huge rainbow sitting in the tail end of a deep pool. I circled way around the pool as to not let the rainbow see me. The main body of water met up with a feeder stream on the opposite side of the bank. This formed the deeper part of the pool on my side with a back eddy of a pool on the other side against the bank. I crouched down and got myself situated just where both creeks met. I casted into the far back eddy pool and held my rod up high. My fly line slacked in the faster water before me and the white woolly bugger skated across, in the water, too fast and ended on my side of the bank. A different tactic was needed. I stooped and walked backwards and entered the creek just above where the two bodies of water met nearer the far bank. I kept in a stooped position and roll casted the bugger again in the slow back eddy. Let my fly line touch enough of the current in front of me to swim the bugger near the huge rainbow. Before the bugger even got to the rainbow something grabbed the bugger. I missed him, mended line in and roll casted again near the same spot. A drift and a hard hit I knew I connected with another big trout as my 4-piece, 5wt almost bent in half. Fighting the fish I got out of the water and walked around the faster current. I could see the huge rainbow now still sitting in the tail end of the pool. I fought the fish on my line and ended up landing a heavy, stocked, brook trout that had to be at least 17”. I figured the rainbow seen me by now. I went back above the faster water and casted again into the back eddy like before. I took out three more trout before I continued on my journey discovering more of the creek. Sometimes a fish will only grab the marabou tail of these buggers. Another fishing buddy, Al, told me he ties on a small size trailer hook on a few of the buggers. I better tie a baker dozen of these and a few with trailer hooks.

While I got the white thread out I’ll tie a few shallow water white woolly buggers. Clamp on a 3906 #10 hook. I tie this bugger with both white chenille and white floss. I eliminate winding lead on the hook but put a gold bead on for weight. The marabou tail is shortened with the #032 filament and soft white saddle palmered. This is a killer low water looking minnow when the fish are feeding.
I was on Salmon Creek last fall in Forest County, fishing in the evening slowly wading down stream as I went. On a long stretch of about ankle deep rocky water, I spotted a deep pool below. As I casted a latex caddis and let it drift through the shallows I started to near the end of the shallow water where it empties into the larger pool. Before I even got close I noticed activity from the middle of the creek to the far bank to my right. Trout were darting here and there. I figured they were either feeding on minnows or chasing each other. Which ever it was I tied on one of these shallow water white woolly buggers. Without adding any additional weight I casted across and down stream letting the bugger drift into sight of the fish. The bugger stayed above the creek bed without touching down and stayed just below the surface. Bingo, I watched fish after fish follow the bugger, nipping at it, until my line straightened down stream in which then they grabbed it whole. I was having a blast sight fishing with this small woolly bugger in shallow water. I’m not sure what even got me to tie such a fly but it worked in this situation and I’ve been carrying it since for these situations.

Last but not least this woolly bugger I tie is not fished as a minnow or streamer as it is drifted down to look like a drowned night crawler for trout. Clamping on a 9672 #10 hook and getting out my brown thread, weight, copper bead, brown marabou and brown barred saddle hackle for the palmered rib. I tie this as I do my other 9672 buggers only using a copper bead. This brown woolly bugger is also great for smallmouth bass during the warmer weather in which I fish this like a normal streamer.

Al and I met down on the fly-fishing area only project, on Buffalo Creek, quite a few years ago. Al knows this creek pretty well and fished it often. It had rained a couple of days before but when we met up the water was still on the murky muddy side. The creek flows through farmland and agricultural land therefore in many places the creek bottom is mud I’ll just put it that way. This is what takes the creek so long to clear off after a rainstorm. We met up at the stream and decided to fish anyway. I got a saying, “when you get to the place you plan on fishing, fish!!”
Al said the water wasn’t that higher than normal just cloudy. I noticed as I drove down to where we met, the shallower straight runs weren’t too cloudy. Al went up stream from where we decided to park and I entered the stream right there. With the clear sky above only about the top 6 inches of water was visible, below that it became opaque and deeper downright brown and cloudy. I was fishing some nice slow water that was about chest high, I figured, along the weedy far bank. I fished this stream before and know there are large rocks strewn along the bottom through out the stream. I was knee-deep casting nymphs and woolly buggers without any hook ups. The longer we fished the more the water seamed to be clearing but it still had a long way to go. I slowly worked my way down stream to the shallower water but still nothing. Al came up behind me and asked how I’ve been doing. He did the same as I was doing, nothing. While we were talking he mentioned about this would be a good day to float down night crawlers if we weren’t in the fly-fishing project. But we were and we were fishing fly rods. We would fish until noon and see if the water clears up enough to see if we get some strikes. He headed up stream again and I headed back up to where I started.
Standing in the water I thought of what he said, “Night crawlers”. The only thing I had that might be a look-a-like was these brown woolly buggers I was carrying. I tied one on and weighted it accordingly, casted across the stream and down from where I stood letting it drift like I would a streamer. I thought I had a bump but I may have touch bottom. After a few casts the same way, across and down I decided to cast upstream, leave a lot of slack in my line, and let it drift and tumble before me. My line stopped for a second and I set the hook. That was the trick. The brown bugger evidently had enough action with a slack line to look like a night crawler drifting down. After I caught another trout I walked upstream until I found Al. I gave him a brown woolly bugger and explained to him how I was fishing it. I returned to where I caught the first two rainbows and continued catching more trout. This brown woolly bugger saved the day for both of us. Sometimes it’s how you fish a bugger that catches the fish!

How can I forget coming in second place at a ‘one fly event’ in Erie during steelhead season. The brown bugger came through unexpectedly!!

I’ll tie a dozen of these and a few with a longer marabou tail than usual so there’s more wiggle in the marabou. I don’t tie the longer marabou tails on a longer hook, this tends the marabou to get caught up in the hook more often and doesn’t fish correctly.
Another time on the Clarion River I was float tubing during warmer weather. I had a good day with the brown and olive woolly buggers hooking up smallmouth along with some heavy hold over trout.

On all my woolly buggers, except the long brown ones or the shallow water buggers, my marabou tails are as long as the hook, from eye to hook bends. I use a lot of marabou for the tail. In the water the marabou straightens out so I want a good amount of marabou to keep the bugger in proportion of the rest of the body.
These work great in Pennsylvania streams but I have no doubt they’d work elsewhere.