The woolly bugger is probably the most important fly to have in your fly box. If you always have one in your box, you will never be without a fly that can catch fish. I used woolly buggers quite a bit when I first started flyfishing, but I moved away from them as I learned to tie “cooler” patterns. As time has passed I have come back to the woolly bugger. The importance of simplicity or economy in all aspects of life can not be overstated and the woolly bugger should be the model fly to represent that.
If you begin to hike in to do a lot of fishing, you will find yourself prioritizing both space and weight in your pack. If you carry only one fly box, the woolly bugger should be in that box. You can vary the color combinations all you want, but an olive woolly bugger with brown hackle has become my favorite. Straight black would have to be my second favorite and any colors you tie up and carry after that is just a luxury.
The woolly bugger is fished effectively dead drifted in the current, swung through likely looking riffles, or stripped through large pools. There is really no wrong way to fish it. That is part of the fun of such a versatile pattern. I don’t like limiting myself to a single technique. If I feel like fish aren’t reacting like they should to a dead drifted pattern, I will start swinging my patterns through, and if that doesn’t work I will try stripping my flies through a spot.
With the woolly bugger tied on I know I have a proven pattern on the end of my line at all times. I have caught rainbows, cutthroat, bull trout, white fish, steelhead, salmon, smallmouth bass, suckers, squawfish, and chiselmouth on the woolly bugger. So I have pretty much caught every type of fish in the rivers I fish with a woolly bugger.
The other great thing about the woolly bugger is that you can tie one up in just a couple of minutes. It is hard to beat a fly that is so effective in so many different situations, with so many different species, and is so easy to tie. Every body should have a few woolly buggers in their box at all times.