Woolly Wisdom

Posted by Nick Amato on


I've been asked to write many Forewords to fly-fishing books. So when Gary Soucie e-mailed me to write one for his new book on Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers, I agreed. I expected a small book. Instead, what arrived was a two-inch-thick manuscript. I wondered, "How could anyone write more than 400 pages on two somewhat similar flies?" Gary did and I am grateful he did.

I started fly fishing in 1947. The first few fish I caught were smallmouths on a popping bug. Joe Brooks, my mentor, said, "You should try fishing under water," and handed me some Woolly Worms. They resembled caterpillars and had a buggy appearance. Arriving at Big Hunting Creek, near Thurmont, Maryland, I crawled to a deep pool and, while lying on my stomach, noticed two nice brook trout holding at the tail of the pool. I carefully cast the Woolly Worm upstream and let it drift down toward the trout. The Woolly Worm, hackles undulating, approached the brookies and one of the trout rose, sucking it in. It was at that moment I became hooked on Woolly Worms.



Later, I found out about Woolly Buggers, and these two flies have allowed me to catch fish all over the world, both in fresh and salt water. From tiny brook trout to giant tarpon, these two fly patterns have helped fly-rodders everywhere to put a bend in their rods.

I can recall many times when the Woolly Worm or Woolly Bugger saved the day. The Montana outdoor writer Charley Brooks and I were fishing the· Bow River in Alberta, Canada, many years ago. We were doing okay, but not getting the big trout. Our guide tied onto our tippets heavily weighted pur­ple Woolly Buggers dressed on 4XL, size-2 hooks and the big trout came to dine. Once, while fishing in the Bahamas, the bonefish were being finicky. I tied on a sand-colored Woolly Bugger dressed on a 2XL, size-4 hook. I cast it out and allowed it to fall to the bottom. The bonefish approached. I barely twitched the fly and the finicky bones no longer hesitat­ed. If I am having trouble coaxing my favorite freshwater fish-smallmouth bass-to bite, switching to a black or char­treuse Woolly Bugger will usually turn the trick.

No one has given a good explanation of what the Woolly Worm and Woolly Bugger are meant to imitate. Certainly; either can imitate a leech, hellgrammite, stonefly, caterpillar, grub or worm, nymph, or baitfish, or just act as an attractor pattern. Even the Griffith's Gnat is a miniature Woolly Worm.


Three of Erling Olsen's Seal Buggers ready to rock and roll, along with the colorful vintage tackle he sometimes likes to use—a restored Montague rod and an old South Bend automatic reel.


So, how could Gary Soucie write an entire book about these two flies? You really have to read it to understand that he has done a magnificent job. After a brief history of the flies, Gary explains what materials are used in these patterns-and there are many. There is a superb treatment of the various hooks used in building these woollies and how and why you tie them differently for a variety of species-and fishing condi­tions.

There are detailed instructions on how to fish the Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers-for different species and fishing conditions. A comprehensive index allows you to locate almost anything quickly.

Jim Schollmeyer is a complete master at photographing the flies so you can see the vast range of fish attraction in the huge number of patterns that Gary has written about. And Peter Frailey has done an excellent job of photographing the tying steps necessary to build good, sturdy Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers.

All fly fishermen should read this book ( for even a novice can tie most Woolly Buggers and Woolly Worms). Fly fisher­men everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Gary Soucie for writing this most useful book.

 —Lefty Kreh



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