Woolly Bugger
  |  First Published: November 2005

The Woolly Bugger is a relatively old pattern that is said to have first made its appearance in Australia in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It is highly likely though that it has been catching fish in our waterways for much longer than this.

It is primarily used as a fly for tempting trout, especially rainbows, but has caught many species in both fresh and saltwater over the years. The Woolly Bugger is simple to tie, has many variations and is one of those indispensable fly patterns that you should always have in your box.

This particular Woolly Bugger is my favourite for targeting saratoga, which are relatively active during the warmer months in the impoundments.


When fishing the Woolly Bugger, it is important to note why the materials used in this fly are so important to its success. Firstly, the hook is of light gauge so the fly sinks slowly. It has a very sharp point and a small barb so that it can easily penetrate the bony mouths of saratoga.

The marabou tail gives the fly a lot of action in the water and even the slightest twitch with your stripping hand will cause an enticing flick of the tail. This makes it look as if the tail is the Woolly Buggers’ source of movement. The hackle palmered around the body slows the rate of sink, pushes a little water and also gives the fly some more action.

Because there is so much action in the fly, it is best to fish it with short strips (as little as a few centimetres), with several seconds of pause between as the fly slowly sinks. The figure-of-eight trout-style retrieve also works well, and any combination of short strips and pauses will make this fly enticing in the water.

Another way of fishing the Woolly Bugger, as taught to me by the late Les James, was called the ‘Borumba Drift’. This method of fishing a Woolly Bugger, and other flies such as Les’s Looney Leech, originated at Borumba Dam, as the name suggests. It has also proved successful for saratoga and other species in several impoundments and Territory billabongs.

The Borumba Drift involves casting the fly to a shaded area such as adjacent to a tree trunk, branch or overhanging cover during the heat of the day and just allowing the fly to sink. This is usually done while using a long leader and a floating fly line. When the fly is tied well, it will only sink slowly.

Saratoga and other species of fish take cover in these shaded areas during the heat of the day and when they see a likely looking food item falling past they will casually swim over and mouth it. When you see the leader increase in speed, or the fly line moving to one side as a saratoga eats it, you only need to strike to set the hook.


Step 1. At the end of the hook shank (opposite the barb), tie in your thread with a jam knot or similar. Cut four to five strands of krystal flash and tie in at this point. Cut some long, wispy, strands of marabou that are at least as long as the hook shank. The section along the sides of larger marabou blood feathers will usually be exactly what you need. Tie these long soft bits of marabou in at this point also.

Step 2. Get your chenille and tie in one end at this point also. There are many types of chenille that will work well for this fly including crystal, estaz, rayon, super salt and variegated. For this particular variation, which is my favoured pattern for Borumba saratoga, I use the variegated chenille, which gives a mottled look to the fly.

Step 3. Choose a long soft saddle hackle or grizzly cape hackle and also tie in the butt of it at the point opposite the barb of the hook. Only use the first 4-5cm from the tip of the feather, which will have a soft quill. Lightly run your fingers along the sides of the feather from top to bottom. Once you have tied it in, whip finish by hand at this point and advance the thread forward along the shank until it is just behind the eye of the hook. Put a small amount of vinyl cement over the thread where you have tied in all the materials to help secure them.

Step 4. Palmer (wind) the chenille forward, with each wrap just next to the last. When you get up to the eye of the hook, wrap the thread around the chenille a few times and whip finish just behind the eye of the hook. Do not cut off the remaining thread.

Step 5. Palmer the hackle forward, with each wrap about 3-5mm in front of the last. The closer the wraps the slower the fly will sink. Whip finish just behind the eye of the hook and cut away the remaining thread and hackle. Dab on a small amount of vinyl cement or head set to secure this tie off point. Your Woolly Bugger is now ready to be put into action.


Hook - Mustad Pro-Select 3261NPBLN No.1

Thread - Flat-waxed black nylon

Body - Black/olive variegated chenille

Tail - Olive Marabou

Flash - Olive Krystal Flash

Ribbing - Large olive saddle hackle (top half only)

Finish - Vinyl Cement

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