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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I am homesick for my Clarion river. It has been a year since I last fished it and every June I start to get the itch for floating and fishing everything around Elk County. Hard to believe I miss Elk County being that I live in Florida, but home is home. I am glad to here that I can do some fun buggering in the last summer. I used streamers last year but because of all the rain and high water I had no luck. This year I hope to be back for most of July and the first 2 weeks of August. I cannot wait to try out my new stabilizer set up for standing in the canoe. I never thought about the white bugger but ti'l become part of the fly box now. Thanks again for the ideas.
    Joe Regulski