When it comes to fishing with any artificial lure, confidence is key. Every fly or lure is made to either as closely imitate a prey item as possible or to be so bright and attractive that no fish in the vicinity could miss it. Either way, a fly is still not the real thing, so it’s no wonder when anglers tie on a particular pattern their first thought is, “will this work?” And it’s also no wonder that the first thing many anglers do when they don’t get strikes is look in the box for a new pattern.
Last year, Orvis featured a great blog post on their site about fly-fishing psychology and the common “Shoulds” of fly fishing, including “I should be using a different fly.” And while that article points out that extended fishing periods without a bite are probably the result of many factors, not just fly selection, I want to talk about another way to handle Triple-F (Fly Fishing Frustration) syndrome, and that’s with a “confidence fly.”
We all have one, and their value can’t be understated. For me, the confidence fly is none other than the Woolly Bugger. While this is probably no huge surprise given the popularity of the pattern, it still is undeniably my go to fly when the fishing is slow. Why? It’s simple, I’ve caught more kinds of fish in more kinds of water with a Woolly Bugger than any other pattern in my box. Confidence comes from past success, and success in angling is landing fish. Every time I tie on a Woolly Bugger I can evaluate the conditions and I can replicate a technique I used to catch fish in similar scenarios with the confidence that “It worked before, so it can work again.” But let’s examine further how the Woolly Bugger got in this position…
The Woolly Bugger’s past is somewhat hazy, with many believing it was first tied by Russell Blessing in the late 60′s in Pennsylvania. It was likely made as a variation of the English Woolly Worm, but some believe it was made as a bass imitation in the 1800′s. This muddy history alludes to what makes the Woolly Bugger great… it can imitate so many different things. No other fly can really match the diversity of a Woolly Bugger. It can be used effectively to mimic a bait fish, a leech, a grub, a cricket, a stonefly, a hellgrammite, a dragonfly nymph, a damselfly nymph, a drowning terrestrial, a clamworm, a crayfish, a shrimp, or a crab. It comes in any color. It can be swung, crawled, bounced, dead-drifted, or fast-stripped in streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, and tidal flats. The damn thing even works in saltwater. This incredible versatility is why you can catch trout, bass, panfish, steelhead, salmon, shad, carp, pike, etc with the same pattern. It’s also why, no matter the situation, I have confidence that a Bugger can get the job done if nothing else will.
Just recently I’ve really begun learning the fisheries in my local Washington, DC area with the help of our friend Remick Smothers, founder of FlyTimesDC, and with some inspiration from a video called Urban Lines about fly fishing in the tidal zone of the Potomac River (it was also selected for the Fly Fishing Film Tour this year). Being from Kentucky I knew next to nothing about fishing a tidal river. Naturally, I struggled the first few times I went out there because I coincidentally hit the water right when the tides were against my favor, and honestly it’s a weird place to fish. But with some guidance from Remick, I learned some of the spots and times when fishing is best and set out to really establish my home court advantage on my local waters. I was frustrated again for a while, but I’d seen fish and believed that the conditions were right to catch them. Eventually I knew…. it was time for the confidence fly, the Woolly Bugger that has caught fish in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Utah but never the Potomac. Sure enough, within a few casts of slow stripping a Size 6 Olive version, I was hooked into a solid Crappie and the game was on. I ended up landing 20 or so Panfish of various species in a couple hours, and that satisfaction gave me the freedom to throw something bigger at the end of my day, eventually netting me two 4lb+ Channel Cats on a size 2 Clouser minnow. Once the big Largemouth come out of their pre-spawn cruising patterns, I’m sure they’ll be eating Buggers there as well. I’ve gained that confidence now, thanks to the Woolly Bugger.
In conclusion, what’s my Weapon of Choice when all else fails? A bead-head Olive or Black Woolly Bugger – Sizes 2-10.
Dig our strange.