• Chris O'Byrne

Changing the Bugger

Customizing the Universal Fly


It can float for days,

it can sink several ways,

it catches big fish and small,

The woolly bugger can do it all.


Maybe not. But tying variations of the basic woolly bugger will bring you success on salt water flats, largemouth lakes, trout rivers, salmon runs, and tiny bluegill ponds. Here are a few ways you can alter the woolly bugger for your favorite water.

For years, manufacturers have incorporated bead heads as a simple variation to their woolly buggers. Today, plastic beads, Sculpin Helmets, and Fish Masks, each create buggers with different profiles and actions. For lake fishing, my favorite addition is the Fish Skull, also by Flymen Fishing Company.

A Fish Skull bugger

When an outside force drives water into the chenille of a standard bugger it will sink like a struggling critter. If you need to sink yours quicker, try adding a wire rib through the hackle. Save time while tying by wrapping the body material up to the hook eye, then tying the hackle in at the head and reverse palmering it to the bend of the hook. There, use the wire to tie down hackle, then wind the wire forward through the hackle barbs. If this gentle, trout water variation is not enough weight, add some lead substitute under the body material. To place the weight at the appropriate spot on the hook shank, consider the way your bugger variant should sink.

Making a floating bugger with that edible silhouette is key to staying sane in locations where sinking flies catch vegetation. So, I adapted the standard bugger with a long shank dry fly hook, and synthetic material to create OB’s Pace Bugger. This fly floats perpetually to catch small fish in water that is filled with vegetation.

Marabou flows and hackle undulates, but fish may need more movement to strike. If so, a bugger made with rubber legs, or even rubber body material will move the fish. Adding a joint will put even more wiggle in the action. Connect a second hook by lashing a monofilament ligament to both hooks. Or, add a commercial shank to preserve your single hook fly.

Hunter T. with a bass fooled by an articulated bugger

With a few logical changes to the basic recipe, salt water fish go for the bugger too. First, consider using eyes to begin the bait fish look. Use a larger, saltwater hook and lengthen (but not necessarily thicken) the tail. To create the shaded coloring of bait fish, experiment with different colored materials, or additional materials, or just grab a sharpie. Flash material, or synthetic dubbing brushes can change the buggy silhouette of standard buggers to sleek and smooth fish scales.

Woolly bugger style flies have caught fish for generations. But, with the addition of your imagination, these useful flies have just begun to work.

OB's Pace Bugger

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