Jan 222011

This is how not to tie a wooly bugger

This post is about my first real “big boy” fly tying experience, tying the wooly bugger.  While you may have already seen what I call my “Angry Chicken Popper/fly” what you may not know is that I am a complete fly tying newbie.  I created the Angry Chicken as a test to see if I could make fly size popper heads similar to the full size wooden popper plugs I had already created.  For the Angry Chicken I used some inexpensive feathers from an AC Moore craft store and some of my wife’s synthetic sewing thread.  In other words the Angry Chicken is angry and also quite uncivilized in most fly tying circles.

My fly tying started out with a nice newbie fly tying tool kit from Cabela’s and I began tying using whatever I could find.  Stolen sewing materials from my wife, craft store feathers, not even the family dog was safe from my quest for cheap fly tying materials.  With a few dressed treble hooks and poppers under my belt I decided cheap “ghetto” materials would no longer cut it.  I longed to tie myself some of what I like to call “big boy” flies.

I decided to pick up Cabela’s starter fly tying materials kit.  The kit includes all you need to begin tying a few popular fly patterns.  I’ll try to do a full review of the kit once I’ve tried tying more of the patterns it contains but for now you can see a sample of the materials below.  These materials are what I used to tie this Wooly Bugger pattern.

Wooly bugger materials

The materials I used are as follows:

  • Black Marabou
  • Black Saddle Hackle
  • Black Chenille
  • #10 hook
  • Lead wire
  • Black Denier Ultra Thread

It all starts with a bare hook

Started out with a bare hook in the vice.  I believe this is a 3x hook which leaves lots of room on the hook shank to add all of the bugger’s wooliness.  It doesn’t get any easier than this!

Lead wire on hook

Next I tied in a little lead wire for weight.  Watch out!  California says lead wire will kill you!!!  In all fairness to California, you should probably wash your hands after touching this wire.  A little lead contact isn’t bad but most heavy metals can build up in your blood over time and with all of the mercury from the fish you’re eating…  Well, better safe than sorry!

Tying in the tail

At this point I added in a little black marabou for the Wooly Bugger’s tail.  After this step I also tied in the chenille and hackle however since this was my first time I didn’t have enough hands to snap pictures of these steps.  Not sure if this tip is kosher with “big boy” fly tiers out there but I found that if you moisten the marabou a little it is a LOT easier to manage on the hook.  The first two Wooly Buggers I tied I did without moistening and the feathers tried to get into every wrap I made.  Moistening the feathers helped keep the marabou at bay while I tied in the chenille and hackle.  I think this one tip was what made my third fly the best.

1 out of 3

Here is my very first Wooly Bugger.  My wife says she likes this one the best because it has a big butt.  I think the hackle is a little crazy and the tail is off center.  I’ve never asked a fish if they mind flies that aren’t perfect but I’d like to think that imperfections make the flies look more vulnerable and tasty…

2 out of 3

My second Wooly Bugger started out perfect.  Everything was in the right place but I decided to pick at some of the hackle that was trapped in some of the wraps I made.  Needless to say I broke the hackle feather (see picture at top of post) and made a mess out of my “perfect” fly.  Since I am a newbie I quickly dismissed my error and decided to use it as a lesson on how to recover a botched fly.  As you can see from the picture I re-wrapped the hackle a little further back and made a bigger head to secure the carnage from the broken piece of hackle.  I also trimmed the tail a bit since it was pretty long.

3 out of 3

This is the third and last Wooly Bugger I made.  By this point I stopped looking at the Cabela’s pattern book and did everything by memory, adding in a few ideas of my own to help in the tying process.  As I explained before I gave the marabou on the tail a little moisture to hold it down while I tied in the chenille and hackle.  This helped me keep the fuzzies away from the other components and also helped me to keep it off of the bend in the hook.  I also decided that after I tied the hackle I would secure it with a pass of the thread.  The previous two flies I let the hackle secure itself and I just feel like this is a bad idea.  A few carefully placed wraps and the hackle was much more secure than before.

All 3

Here are all three Wooly Buggers side by side.  I feel that the third fly was the most successful but I’d love to hear what you think.  If you have an opinion, advice, or even a first time fly tying story PLEASE leave me a comment below.  I’d love to hear all about it!


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  • Jeff

    Good Job. Next go around try adding some flash in the marabou tail – a
    little on both sides. Makes a huge difference in catching fish. Also you can use
    copper wire ribbing and use that to help palmer back your hackle. Keep up the
    great work. Tight Lines, Jeff Layton

  • Derek

    All 3 should catch fish. Always remember that good looking flies rarely catch fish. And just have fun, tying flies and fishing them. Nothing beats catching a fish on a fly that you made. Except, catching fish on a homemade fly with a homemade rod.

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