Beginner’s Masterclass with Tim Flagler – Build A Better Bugger

Not all Woolly Buggers are created equal. Learn simple tricks for perfecting this basic fly.

[by Tim Flagler]

THE EFFECTIVENESS OF A WOOLLY BUGGER CAN’T BE OVERSTATED; for whatever reason, this pattern just works. But not all Woolly Buggers are created equal, and there’s significant room for creating fresh patterns using new materials and different proportions.

There are a number of ways to enhance the performance, consistency, and durability of your Woolly Buggers. For me, proportions are especially important; I’ve found that a 3X-long hook is key to getting them right. I generally carry both weighted and unweighted Buggers, but we’ll talk about only the weighted versions. If I’m using a bead or cone head, I almost always put wraps of lead-free wire behind the weight, and secure them to the hook shank with superglue. The wraps increase weight, help stabilize the bead, and add a gentle taper to the body of the fly.


I usually use a single marabou feather for the tail of the fly, but I’m pretty picky about how it looks. I prefer a fairly short and really fluffy tail. To achieve this, I tear off the stringy tips found on most marabou feathers with my fingernails. I carefully measure the tail to exactly equal the length of the hook shank.

I now incorporate just a little flash into the tails of almost all my Woolly Buggers; this is something new to me. I suggest keeping the amount of flash to an absolute minimum, using only two or three strands of Krystal Flash or Flashabou on both sides of a tail.

Use chenille, Estaz, dubbing, or even peacock herl for the body of the fly. No matter which material you choose, wrap forward from the base of the tail to the back of the bead head. If you’re careful, you can do this without creating a lump in the body at the base of the tail.


Hook: 3X-long streamer hook, sizes 14 to 4.
Bead head: Gold, size to match the hook.
Thread: Light olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Weight: .020-inch lead-free wire.
Tail: Olive marabou.
Flash: Three strands of Krystal Flash or Flashabou.
Body: Olive Ultra Chenille.
Hackle: Olive grizzly.
Adhesive: Superglue.


When choosing hackle for your Woolly Buggers, go for the good stuff. Most strung saddle hackles simply don’t cut it. You need feathers that are long and have supple fibers, and most important, are the correct length. For consistency, measure your hackles on a hackle gauge to match the hook sizes as closely as possible.

Tying in the hackle at the front of the fly yields the most durable Bugger. After tying on the hackle, spiral-wrap the thread to the base of the tail. Making two touching wraps of hackle right behind the bead head helps prevent the fly from corkscrewing in the water and twisting your tippet. As you will see in the accompanying instructional photos, we shall wrap the hackle down the hook, and then counterwrap the thread over the hackle stem. This method creates a very strong fly.

I hope these tips help you to build a better Woolly Bugger.

Tim Flagler is an online fly tying guru. Thousands of followers eagerly watch his great instructional videos. To learn more, go to his website, www.practicalpatterns.com. Tim and his wife, Joan, live in New Jersey.