I don’t think there’s a fish species alive that won’t take a woolly bugger, and steelhead are no exception. This fly is really nothing more than a beefed-up standard bugger but I do tie them somewhat differently than most people.
nFor a hook, I like a Dai-Riki #899 in a size 6. Start by getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise. There’s no reason not to use heavier thread on this pattern so I’ve loaded a bobbin with a spool of black UTC 140 Denier. Start your thread on the hook shank about halfway down the return from the eye and take wraps rearward past the end of the return, and then back up to the original starting point. You can then snip the excess tag end of thread off close.
nFor the tail, a single black marabou blood quill is used. Prep the feather by stripping off any of the lower malformed or discolored fibers. As is almost always the case, moistening the marabou really helps to keep it manageable during tie-in. Measure to form a tail a full hook in length, and then transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the bend directly above the hook point. Begin taking wraps rearward with your tying thread to bind the marabou to the top of the hook shank. Keep taking wraps all the way back to the start of the bend. You can then make open spiral wraps forward to relocate your thread to the initial tie-in point. Once there, fold the butt end of the marabou plume back and start taking wraps to bind it to the top of the hook shank. At about the midpoint of the shank, snip the marabou off at a shallow angle and continue taking thread wraps, again, back to the start of the bend. The idea here is to build up a slightly bulky underbody on the fly. If it looks something like this, mission accomplished.
nThe actual body of the fly is created using peacock herl. If you can find fairly long herls, so much the better. Pull out 4 or 5 herls by their tips and then align the butts. You can then snip about an inch of the brittle tips off square. Lay the tips against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure them. Then, return your thread to the start of the bend. Get hold of the herl and start taking wraps with them behind your tying thread. Tension from the thread will help the herls stay together and create a nice even body on the fly. Keep taking wrapswith the herl until you reach the folded over marabou. Secure the herl on top of the marabou rather than on the bare hook shank. Make sure that everything is locked down really well. You can then reach in with the tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess herl off close.
nFor hackle, I’m going to use a single sculpin olive saddle hackle. Try to find one with fibers that aren’t too long and with some fluffy stuff down by the base. Locate the place on the stem where it dramatically drops in size and strip the fuzzy fibers off, below that point. You should be left with just a little bit of fluff before you get into straight hackle fibers. Leaving the fluffy stuff on is optional but I think it adds to the pattern. Advance your tying thread forward all the way up to the hook eye. Lay the hackle stem against the near side of the hook and take a good number of nice tight thread wraps to secure it there. Use the index finger of your left hand to completely block the camera view as you carefully snip the butt end of the stem off close. Start taking wraps of tying thread rearward and when you reach the body of the fly, pull the hackle feather forward and begin making open spiral wraps over top of the peacock herl all the way back to the base of the tail.
nGet hold of the tip of the hackle feather with hackle pliers and take 1 or 2 wraps immediately in front of the body of the fly. Coming from the underside of the hook, angle the feather rearward so it jumps up onto the body of the fly and begin making open spiral wraps with the feather, all the way back until you reach your tying thread. Use your thread to secure the hackle tip then advance your thread forward, zig-zagging as you go so as not to trap hackle fibers. Keep working your way all the way up to just behind the hook eye. Use your thread to build a small head on the fly and then secure it with a 4 or 5 turn whip finish. Once you’ve pulled the knot tight, snip or cut your tying thread free. Use your bodkin to tease out the fibers behind the head as invariably, some will get matted down and loosely trapped. Lightly moisten your fingertips and preen the fibers rearward to completely expose the thread wraps.
nI like to use UV cure resin to secure the thread wraps and build up a nice glossy head on the fly. It will also help to keep the hackle fibers angled rearward. Putting a small drop on a sticky pad will allow you to pick up the material with the tip of your bodkin and accurately apply it all the way around over top of the thread wraps. UV cure is great for this as you can work the material around until you’ve got it just the way you like it, before giving it a shot with the UV torch to cure it. Finally, carefully reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess hackle tip at the base of the tail off close.
nYou certainly don’t have to leave the fluffy stuff on the hackle feather but I do think it adds something to this, or any woolly bugger pattern, for that matter. Many people get sidetracked by fancier patterns and forget just how effective woolly buggers can be for steelhead.