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Brown Woolly Bugger
By Dave Hughes

The largest mayflies fall into the burrowing category. Some reach two inches long when they're mature, and make quite a mouthful for any trout. Many, such as the eastern green drake (Ephemera guttalata) and midwestern and western Hex (Hexagenia limbata) have two- or three-year life cycles, meaning the nymphs are out there all year long in one instar or another. Trout always feed on them when given a chance at them.

Brown Drake Nymph

Burrowers, as their name implies, either dig tunnels into mud, marl, and clay bottoms, or work their way into sand or gravel bottoms until they're out of sight. They come out to forage along the bottom only at night, which limits the time they're available to trout, and also the time that they're useful as the basis for imitations, to the hours of darkness.

A burrower nymph in its tunnel

When mature and ready to emerge, burrower nymphs leave their tunnels or free themselves from the sand and gravel, then swim boldly to the top, where the nymphal skin splits in the surface film and the dun escapes. This, like their feeding, usually happens after dark, though on a gloomy summer afternoon, say a day with thunderheads lowering and darkening the sky, they might begin emerging two to three hours before dark.

Though many more imitative dressings have been devised for these large nymphs, it's difficult to beat a Woolly Bugger in the appropriate size and color to resemble the natural. The marabou tail undulates in the water, and represents the swimming motion of the natural more realistically than the most exact but lifeless imitation might. With any insect that swims briskly and emerges in poor light, it's more important to copy the movement than it is the precise shape.

Materials for the Brown Woolly Bugger:

    Hook: 3X long, size 6 - 12.

    Weight: 15-20 turns lead wire.

    Thread: Brown 6/0.

    Tail: Brown marabou with a few strands of red Krystal Flash.

    Hackle: Brown hen, palmered over body.

    Body: Brown chenille.

Tying Instruction for the Brown Woolly Bugger:

Step 1

Step 1: Fix hook in vise, layer mid-shank with lead wire, and layer working thread to the bend. Measure a clump of marabou the full length of the hook, and tie it in at the bend of the hook. You can also tie the marabou long, then pinch it off at the right length. Tie in 4 to 8 strands of Krystal Flash, just short of the marabou length.

Step 2

Step 2: Tie in the body chenille at the bend of the hook. Select a hackle with fibers about two times the hook gap. Tie it in by the tip, with the concave side against the body. Leave room for one turn of chenille behind the hackle tie-in point. Take your thread forward to the hook eye.

Step 3

Step 3: Take a turn of chenille behind the hackle, then wind the body forward in front of the hackle to the hook eye. Tie it off and chip the excess.

Step 4

Step 4: Wind the hackle forward in evenly-spaced turns to the hook eye. The hackle fibers should tend to flare back, not forward. Tie off the hackle stem, clip the excess, form a neat thread head, and whip-finish the fly.

I've often set up aquariums with Hexagenia nymphs and attempted to take photos of them swimming. I always fail because they are able to move so swiftly. They propel themselves with an up-and-down undulating motion of the entire body, no doubt helped along by their fringed gills and tails.

Woolly Buggers, because of their marabou tails, do an excellent job of imitating the movement. Though other food forms are not the subject of this book, Woolly Buggers also move in the water like pollywogs, leeches, damselflies, and some baitfish, all of which trout enjoy eating when they get the chance, and all reasons that these flies should have a place in your fly boxes. I'd recommend you carry them in olive, black and the listed brown, weighted, on size 6 to 12 hooks. ~ Dave Huges

Credits: The Brown Woolly Bugger is from Matching Mayflies, by Dave Hughes, published by Frank Amato Publications, (2001). If you plan on attending the Michigan Fish-In, you should tie up some of these. ~ DLB

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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