Using Craft Fur for Hackle
There is no question about it. Small flies catch fish, and sometimes they work when nothing else will. Granted, large flies, as a rule, catch large fish. Bass and stripers love a nice mouthful of #4 Woolley Bugger with thick hackle, and a huge tuft of marabou. But what if the place you’re fishing has mostly sunfish and crappie, and you still want to use a Woolley Bugger (arguably one of the most successful fly patterns ever designed, for all species…at least in fresh water)?
Good hackle is expensive. I’m not saying that it isn’t worth every penny, if you’ve got the money. But what if you’re a little strapped? Since not fishing is never an option, how do you tie a #14 Woolley Bugger on a nymph, or small streamer hook, without feathers?
I grew up in the boonies of N. Texas. I did not come from a particularly affluent family, so oftentimes, I and my friends had to find work-around for things we wanted to do, but couldn’t afford. Those habits have served me well over the years. I came up with a solution for the feather dilemma.
Craft fur is one of the cheapest and most widely available materials you could use for flies. You can even get it at Wal-Mart. It comes in every color imaginable. And for custom colors, you can even just buy white fur, and dye it with Kool-Aid to any color you want.
I got to thinking, (dangerous, for me sometimes) that a dubbing loop makes a good spikey body, so what if you put longer pieces of fur in the loop? Would it give you a hackly-looking finish? I had a chance to try it out on a Fly Swap on FAOL where the theme was “No feathers allowed”. I tied up some Woolley Buggers using only craft fur, from Wal-Mart, and thus, the Wal-Mart Woolley Bugger was born. It even made Fly Of The Week (4th Quarter 2008, Fly Archives). I have caught more fish on these than I have on regular Woolley Buggers. And they can be tied as small as you want, because unlike feathers, craft fur is consistent throughout its whole length, so you can trim it without losing anything from the appearance, or action.
This technique is very easy, and super cheap. Also, the craft fur is way more durable than any feather, so ribbing is not necessary, unless you just want to. For demonstration purposes, I am tying a #14 Olive Green Woolley Bugger, unweighted.
Craft Fur Bugger
- Hook: Cabelas Model 40 sz. 14
- Thread: Black Kevlar 6/0
- Tail: OD Green Renegade Craft Fur
- Body: OD Green med. Chenille (or, you can chop the craft fur and dub the body with it)
- Hackle: OD Green Craft Fur, in a dubbing loop
- Options: Wire weighted body, bead-head, and wire ribbing.
Coat the hook shank with head cement to give the thread something to grab onto, so that it won’t twist or slip. If you want to add a bead-head, do it before putting the hook in the vise.
Wind your thread to the rear of the hook, stopping just before the bend. Be sure to trim the tag. If you want to weight the fly, now is where you would put wire wraps in the forward 2/3rds of the shank.
Snip about a ¼ piece of Craft Fur from the ‘hide’.
Remove the soft under-fur, and discard it. This can de done by stroking the fur lengthwise while holding the ends. The loose fur will pull out. Do this until you can’t get any more to come out.
Measure the tail to the length of the hook shank, and tie on.
Strip the fibers for the first 1/8” of a length of chenille. This is done to avoid making a ‘bulge’ on the body, so we will have a nice, correctly tapered fly.
Wind your thread to the front of the hook shank, leaving enough room to make a finished ‘head’, and tie on the chenille at the front. This is done to make sure we will have a correctly tapered body. Most things in nature taper to the rear.
Wind the thread back to the rear of the hook shank.
Wind the chenille to the rear and tie off right in front of the tail. Trim the excess. If you want to add a rib, tie it in now.
You’ll need a Dubbing Twister. There are many nice ones made by Dr. Slick, Waspi and other companies. But I made this one, out of a paper clip and a 5” piece of ¼” wooden dowel. It took me 10 minutes, cost me less than .25 cents to make, and I have been using it for over 10 years.
Here is how we start the loop. Run the thread through the two arms and and wrap the working end (closest to the bobbin) of the thread around the hook shank several times, forming the loop…….
Wind the working thread back to the front, through the chenille (don’t worry; it’s not going to show).
Here is where Bobbin Cradles come in real handy. It keeps the bobbin and thread out of your way. If you don’t have one on your vice, then just let the thread hang, and carefully work around it.
Clip another clump of craft fur, this time, about ½”. You can come back for more if you need it. Remember to remove the under-fur like we did in Step 4.
Begin twisting the loop while adding sparse amounts of fur sideways into the loop. You want the twists to catch the fur about mid-point. Slide the fur up towards the hook as you go, but don’t get it too thick. Make it about like a feather would be.
Just to add some flash, I am alternating with a few strands of Krystal Flash every so often. You can’t do that with a feather……
Continue adding fur, flash and twisting the loop tightly, until you have enough to palmer forward. Then, simply palmer the loop forward, just as you would a feather, tie it off behind the hook-eye, and trim. That’s all there is to it.
I like to comb the hackle out a bit at this stage, to see where I need to trim. You can do this before, or after you whip-finish. I am using a moustache comb, but you can use a bodkin, pick, or whatever tool you prefer for this.
Whip-Finish, and cut the thread.
Trim the hackle to shape and size, if desired. I like mine a bit on the shaggy side.
Coat the finishing threads with head cement. I use Sally Hansen’s Hard-As-Nails.
Do the final trimming, and sprucing up, and…….
Viola! She’s ready for the dance.
Fish it just like any other Woolley Bugger. This is deadly on crappie and sunfish.
About the author:
Rev. Dr. Joel C. Brothers (aka: Gigmaster) is a licensed Doctor of Naturopathy (Holistic Health Care), Ordained Minister, and Musician. He has a very full life. A former US Marine, former US Navy Submariner and Diver, and full-time musician, he has traveled all over the world. His passion is for the outdoors, especially fly fishing. He never misses an opportunity to introduce someone to the art of fly fishing, and fly tying. He also ghost writes for several publications. He has been a member of FAOL since March of 2005.