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Rediscovering the Wooly Bugger

Posted by on July 28, 2015
#14 olive

#14 olive

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my approach to tenkara is syncretic, blending Western flies with Eastern (tenkara) tackle.  Usually that means attaching some kind of dry fly to my 12′ Iwana with 12′ of level line and five feet of tippet.  For me this strategy has been productive, and I just can’t get enough of that take by a trout to a floating fly.  But…

A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing my homewater and having reasonably good success fishing a cream parachute fly and a black deerhair beetle. Here at its headwaters the stream is already about thirty feet across with many deep holes, riffles, and runs.  Downstream, bolstered by the contributions of numerous creeks and springs, the river becomes much larger, with a sprightly current, beloved by the region’s paddling community.

As is often the case, the angling began to slow, and the trout seemed to be taking a siesta.  Continuing to wade upstream,  I met a gentleman fishing one of TenkaraUSA’s larger rods, and we almost exclaimed in unison “Hey, you’re fishing tenkara!”  You see, on this trout stream, tenkara anglers are as scarce as Obama bumperstickers at a gun show.  The difference was he was catching fish, a lot of fish.  My pride vanished, and I asked that age-old angling question:  “What fly are you using?”, trying to sound nonchalant. Unexpectedly,  “A wooly bugger,” he replied.  Mostly he was casting across stream, allowing the bugger to dead drift with an occasional twitch.  Now, I have fished a wooly bugger with my tenkara rod a time or two in a bass pond but never on a trout stream.  Why, I don’t know.  The wooly bugger is one of those venerable trout flies that have proven their mettle over decades of use.  This gentleman angler  advised fishing a size 14 wooly bugger without a beadhead.

Hiking back to my car, I hoped somewhere in my big box of flies I keep in the trunk would yield a bugger or two.  These would be some of my oldest ties, probably dating to the Eisenhower era, ones tied when I was just learning.

Eureka, there, buried under streamers, hoppers, and other assorted large flies were a couple of olive and a black wooly bugger, probably size 12, the only weight being lead-free wire tied under the chenille body.

Back at the stream, I snipped off the 5x tippet and beefed up the rig with 3x, so that I could turn over the heavier fly.  As you can imagine, throwing the wooly bugger was not elegant; I needed to slow the casting stroke considerably, but it was doable.

The first bit of water I selected was a fast narrow run where generally trout will materialize spectre-like to snatch a racing fat dry fly.  With the bugger, I fished sort of Czech nymphing style, casting far upstream, keeping the rod tip up until the fly was directly across from me, then lowering the rod as the fly continued downstream.  The entire time I tried to just keep slack out of the line.  Second cast, I was attached to a trout.  Some takes were agressive, some just a quick tug, many coming at the end of the drift.  Hey, this was fun!

On slower water, I would tend to cast across or a bit downstream, as close to the opposite bank as possible.  I’m not sure I caught more trout that I would have with my dry, but I have the impression that the ones I caught were larger than my average catch.  I do think that often the larger trout tend to stay deeper in the stream, perhaps more aggressively pursuing small fish that insects on the surface.

All said, this new-to-me wrinkle in tenkara angling is going to be a lot of fun.  No, I’m not abandoning my dry flies, but my flybox does now contain several brand spanking new olive and black wooly buggers.

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