woolly bugger

Woolly Buggers are everywhere.

It would seem that the infamous Woolly Bugger figures prominently beyond the fly fishing world.

From time to time I’ll employ either Google or Bing to explore the depths the interweb using the search phrase “woolly bugger”, mainly to see where my fly fishing books show up in the search results.  It’s sort of like using an actual woolly bugger pattern to search the depths of a particularly fishy looking hole, prospecting for a hungry fish.  As one would expect, the search results produce nearly countless sites for the actual woolly bugger pattern: retailers selling flies, tiers offering recipes for creating the pattern, tips on how to fish the woolly bugger, etc.  Occasionally an interesting result turns up that has nothing directly to do with fly fishing.

Take, for example, the Woolly Bugger Roaster of Fine Coffee.  This site caught my attention because I do like a good cuppa joe, and obviously the name was intriguing. One has to assume that the owners are fly anglers because your average non-angling person wouldn’t know what a woolly bugger is, let alone name their company after the heralded streamer pattern. There is no direct declaration of the founders being fly fishing folks, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and wager that the assumption is a safe one.  A quote from their website says it all:

“More than half the enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings.”

-Charles Orvis


Another interesting find in the world of the woolly bugger is the Blackfoot River Brewing Company‘s Woolly Bugger Ale. Their offerings are “Real Good Beer, Made by Real Good People.”  I’ve not met the people, or sampled their beer, but anyone willing to name a product after the woolly bugger is top notch in my book. Since the brewery is located in Helena, Montana, it’s another safe bet that the founders have been known to angle with a fly. Montana is, afterall, mecca for trout fishing. The Missouri River, as it flows near Helena, is reported to have a few fish in it.

Boise, Idaho is home to the Sockeye Grill and Brewery, where one of their offerings is…(drumroll please)…Woolybugger Wheat Ale, which they have this to say about: “This American style wheat ale has a light grain flavor with a low hop profile. It’s light bodied and very thirst quenching!”  Sounds worthy of the name, Woolly Bugger, or rather, Woolybugger.  So many variations on the name it can get confusing!

It would seem that beer makers seem to appreciate fly fishing, or perhaps vice versa, because we have another brewery who produces a malt beverage named for the woolly bugger. The Grand Lake Brewing Company of Grand Lake, Colorado, offers their Wooley Booger Nut Brown Ale.  Again we see a disparity in how the name should be spelled, which was discussed in the previous entry here. No matter how you spell it, a wooly bugger is a wooley booger is a woolly bugger. Not sure about the “booger” spelling though.  In Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, our favorite streamer fly is taunted and teased by a group of snobby dry flies. One such fly, Randal the Royal Coachman, insults Olive by calling her a Woolly Booger.  Not nice, Randal, and that’ll come back to haunt you. At any rate, I’m sure the Wooley Booger Nut Brown Ale is excellent.  Unfortunately their website needs some help.  Perhaps the owners of Grand Lake Brewing Company should hook up with the next woolly buggerish company…

Wooly Booger’s Web Design. It would seem not all afficionados of the woolly bugger are coffee and beer makers.  Again we see the curious reference to “booger”, which always conjures up interesting images.

Woolly Bugger Studios is home to a couple of creative folks who also had the good sense to name their business after the ubiquitous woolly bugger. Photographer Lark Gilmer Smothermon and editor Charles Smothermon set up shop near Sheridan, Montana and they even got the spelling right ; )

Wooly Bugger Productions of Medford, Oregon, offers creative audio recording services for a wide variety of needs. If I ever land a deal to produce an animated TV show featuring Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, I’m going to contact these folks first! On their website they make it clear that they’re fly anglers:

“Depending on what part of the country you live in and your recreational hobbies, a Wooly Bugger could mean a few things. For us, it’s a “fly” that fly-fishermen use to fish for Steelhead and Trout. That’s where our logo comes from! Our second passion, after production, is fishing! We wanted to give the business a name that people would remember and that would reflect a bit of our lifestyle here in the great Pacific Northwest. We had a great time creating our cool mascot!”

Cool indeed- your business sounds great, folks!

I wasn’t able to find an actual website for Woolly Bugger Farm in Wartburg, Tennessee, but they do have a Facebook page. I decided to “like” the page so I can find out more about this curious farming operation, which apparently grows soap (or rather, they make soap and sell it under their Woolly Bugger Farm label). I doubt they grow woolly buggers, but perhaps they have a stream running through their property filled with hungry trout? Looks like a cool operation nestled in a beautiful setting.

Another interesting find is Wooly Bugger Media, a company offering media planning and buying services. If I ever have an advertising budget, I’ll have to inquire with them about a media blitz.

Thankfully another result that shows up (on the first page of results) when searching for “woolly bugger” is my own website, olivethewoollybugger.com. I hope you’ll check it out some time.

If you’re the proprietor of a business or organization that makes use of the Woolly Bugger (or some variation of the spelling) in your name, leave a comment here. I’ll shout you out in a future blog entry.  After all, we woolly buggers have to stick together- there’s a lot of water to cover out there.

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.