Bob Boese, Louisiana

November 17th, 2008

The Woolly Flies
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

(Generic flies are simple-to-tie patterns that a novice tyer can make, which require less than four dressing components …and which catch fish. None are easier than the woollies.)

The fashion industry is brilliant and diabolically clever. Stick-figured models parade runways in sizes 0 and 2 while women in the real world are looking for size 12. Smooth skinned beauties model makeup that, for them, is redundant and which promises to hide the flaws of the rest of the population. Then there are accessories. The perfect dress requires a matching scarf or jacket, shoes (and maybe hose), and a purse, and jewelry, and…ouch! Yes, billions are spent to make everyday someones into someone special. Of course, perfect clothes and perfect skin cannot promise a happy marriage. Sometimes ugly is better.

The first thing to go as a fly fishermen ages is skepticism. Pretty much anything is believable if it helps catch fish. The mature fly angler has seen fish caught on the ugliest damnedest-looking flies in creation, and eventually stops asking why. In contrast, the first question a new tyer asks when shown a woolly bugger is "what is it supposed to be?" to which the answer is "Uh…dunno." A correct answer, just not very helpful. If the new tyer is a typical I'm-going-to-ask-until-you-answer-me kid, you then have to explain that even if dressed perfectly it might be taken for a leech, a caterpillar or worm, a stonefly or dragonfly nymph, a minnow or a wet terrestrial insect such as a hellgrammite. Sounds sort of generic, and, in fact, woollies are generic on many different levels: they can be tied in a rainbow of colors or color combinations, they can be tied in many sizes, they attract many species of fish, they can have a list of accessories (e.g. beads, flash, wire ribbing), and the ugliest deformed product of a beginning tyer's mistake can still catch fish.

Why does it work? Well…the plain girl in the slouchy clothes with an MBA who knows her way around a kitchen is likely to have a happy husband. As for the woolly, I hear that it's because fish believe that nothing so ugly would be made by man to catch them, so it must be something from nature. It almost looks like food, so why not eat it?

By the way, if you are looking for an argument, make some claim like you know exactly who invented the woolly bugger. Most say it came out of Pennsylvania (by Russell Blessing modifying the blossom fly), some claim Missouri (from an old bass fly) or the Rockies (as the Black Martinez). Clearly the first fly's creator was an American with spelling issues, although the preferred spelling form of "woolly" just looks strange. (Bugger is a profoundly unpleasant term in England, where they use a woolly worm instead.) Thanks to whoever for the best of the generic flies.


    Hook: size 8-12 streamer hook (2-3X long).

    Head: (optional) metal bead or cone.

    Thread: flat waxed nylon or 6/0.

    Body: chenille or ultra chenille.

    Hackle: neck hackle.

    Wire: copper or brass .32 gauge.

    Tail: Woolly Bugger — maribou.

    Woolly Worm — wool yarn or hackle fibers

    1a. (optional) put bead or cone on the hook and thread it to the hook eye.

    1b. (with or without bead) Wrap hook shank with thread to form base for other materials.

    2a. (optional) Put 8-10 wraps of lead wire around shank and cover with thread. If using a bead or cone, wrap the lead up to the back of the bead.

    2b. Take a small clump of maribou or soft down from the base of a feather (or a small clump of wool yarn for the woolly worm) about the length of the hook and tie in over the hook bend extending backward. For the woolly bugger tie in 3 strands of krystal flash. Trim the woolly worm yarn until it is only 1/4 inch long. Red is the most popular color for woolly worm tails.

    3a (optional) Tie in wire with excess hanging down past hook bend.

    3b. Tie in a neck hackle by the butt of the feather extending over the hook bend.

    4. Tie in chenille and move thread to 1/4" behind the hook eye (or up to the bead).

    5. Wrap chenille clockwise to the thread and tie down. Cut off excess chenille.

    6. Wrap the hackle clockwise toward the eye of the hook, dull (concave) side toward the hook bend, spacing the wraps. The hackle may snug down between the wraps of chenille, and this is okay. Tie off where the chenille stopped.

    7a (optional) Wrap the wire counter-clockwise, wiggling to get between the barbs of the hackle, spacing wraps until the thread (or bead) is reached.

    7b. Whip finish a small round head or whip finish smoothly behind the bead.

    8. Put a drop of Hard As Nails on the thread. ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

Previous Bob Boese Columns

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice