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Why the Woolly Bugger?

For those inclined toward fly fishing, the word(s) “Woolly Bugger” is as common as “rod” and “reel”. For those who are not in the fly fishing know, Woolly Bugger is certainly a curious term.

Rather than use up a bunch of bandwidth trying to offer an eloquent description of the Woolly Bugger here, let me point you to perhaps the single best explanation available, written by Cameron Larsen, titled the Ubiquitous Woolly Bugger. That pretty much sums it up.

The Woolly Bugger can be tied in many variations. It’s just as common to see them tied sparsely as it is to see them fat and real bushy. Some are tied using bead heads, some using tungsten cone heads, and some with dumbell eyes for additional weight and “realisim” in representing a baitfish.  Traditionally the Woolly Bugger is not overly ornate, tied in brown, black and of course olive marabou, chenille and hackle. Over time tiers have gotten liberal in using a wide variety of colors and additional material.  It’s not uncommon to see the Woolly Bugger tied using rubber legs and a bit of flash, as if the uber-effective patterns needed anything besides their big bushy tails to set gamefish into a tizzy.  They are effective, and perhaps the most versatile of all flies because they represent so much, yet nothing in particular, in the water.  Whatever the case may be, the Woolly Bugger spells “food” for fish. And not just trout.  Everything from bass to steelhead will hit a woolly bugger if you present the fly properly.

It’s been said:  “The Woolly Bugger is so effective, it should be banned from some watersheds. I suspect its effectiveness is due to its resemblance to so many edible creatures in the water–nymphs, leeches, salamanders, or even small sculpins. Its tail undulating behind a fiber, bubble-filled body is just too much for most fish to resist. It just looks like a meal!” – Bill Hunter, The Professionals’ Favorite Flies

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

As for how to fish the Woolly Bugger, Gary Soucie wrote a great article for Midcurrent that comprehensively covers just about everything you need to know. Read the article here.

Just as there are many variations of the fly pattern itself, the spelling of the name seems to be up for debate, or at least interpretation, as well.  One will find many different ways to communicate the same thing:

Wooly Bugger. Wooley Bugger. Woolley Bugger. Wolly Bugger. Wolley Bugger (the latter two I assume are innocent typographical errors). The list may go on.  I myself prefer Woolly Bugger – it  looks as if that’s how it should be spelled.

And “Woolly” has a certain playfulness to it which was an important consideration when deciding to name a series of fly fishing books for kids after the fly. The funny looking name certainly lends itself well to a children’s book, and admit it – “woolly bugger” is fun to say.   I read once where the decision to name a book is critical (this seemed obvious to me). The article cited J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter as an easy name to remember because it’s unusual. I believe Olive the Woolly Bugger is equally as unusual as Harry Potter – perhaps even moreso.  But Harry Potter’s success isn’t due just to the name, and I seriously doubt I’ll be the next J.K. Rowlings. That’s fine with me although I would like to sell even a fraction of the books she has.

To the unindoctrinated, a Woolly Bugger is a curious name of considerable whimsy, so it was a perfect title to hook readers.  Olive, as a color,  is one of the traditional and best known variations, and for obvious reasons became a logical choice when naming the central character.  Calling her “Black the Little Woolly Bugger” or “Brown the Little Woolly Bugger” just wouldn’t have had the same appeal, so the clear choice became “Olive the Little Woolly Bugger”.

Nothing in this world is without complications, however, and it would seem that something as innocent as a children’s book about fly fishing stands to encounter some challenges.  Shortly after having the books published I received a very nice email from a gentleman in England.  He pointed out to me that in the UK, the term “bugger” carries with it certain “negative” connotations, and that I might be up against a bit if a struggle marketing my books in the UK.  I thanked him for his nice note and acknowledged my familiarity with the unfortunate association.  However, I am confident that fly anglers in the United Kingdom are well aware of the Woolly Bugger (and hopefully by now Olive the Little Woolly Bugger), and can enjoy each without being offended.

I assure you that Olive the Little Woolly Bugger is nothing more than good, clean fun for kids and those who are kids at heart.


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