Most fly fishing guides have a favorite go to fly when all else fails and I am no exception to that rule. My clients pay me and expect within reason to catch fish so when I find a trout river without hatches and rising fish I turn to my favorite search type pattern — a super bugger.
The super bugger is a hybrid wooly bugger designed by my wife, Cathy. Like the wooly bugger Cathy’s super bugger incorporates a marabou tail, but unlike the wooly bugger which has palmered saddle hackle over a chenille or peacock body the super bugger body is a series of tightly palmered grizzly dyed hen body feathers. The idea here was to build bulk that would push water as the fly was being retrieved. The retrieve creates vibrations and noise that a predator fish can hear. Next Cathy added a set of three lifelike silicone legs (marketed as sili-legs) tied in behind painted lead eyes at the front of the hook. A dubbed head around the lead eyes and a whip finish completes the fly.
Once the super bugger is wet everything about it looks alive. The marabou tail breathes and pulsates, the soft ends of the hen body feathers move while pushing water and the silicone legs offers life-like action. I have always been a believer in eyes on all of my streamer patterns feeling confident that fish key in on them, so the painted eyes on the super bugger add a final touch of realism. The weighted eyes also perform an important function when fishing the fly.
Super buggers can be fished in a variety of ways depending on water conditions and temperature. A good rule of thumb is to fish where the fish are — or at least where you think they should be. Look for structure where fish can hide, undercut banks and submerged boulders and trees provide cover and protection. And at the same time take nothing for granted, a fish will often show up in places we would never expect. The super bugger is a search pattern and search is the key word here. It’s important to cover as much good looking water as possible. When trout fishing, don’t get caught standing in the same spot for hours on end. Generally speaking if a fish is going to take a streamer it will happen on the first or second cast, after that it’s best to take a step, move on and continue to cover new water.
In slower moving currents or in still water situations I use a strip flip retrieve, it goes like this: I make my cast and if necessary I mend the fly line to allow the super bugger to sink to the depth that I need. With my rod tip close to the water I strip in 4 to 5 inches of fly line and at the same time I lift (or flip) up the fly rod tip 4 or 5 inches from the surface, then I quickly drop the rod tip back down and repeat the process. This achieves a jig-like action that most bass fishermen would understand. With this retrieve technique the fly lifts up and dives very much like a lead head jig thanks to the weighted eyes. The marabou tail kicks and pulsates with every move, the silicone legs want to float upward and with each retrieve they act and look alive, it’s amazing to watch and it can drive a trout crazy.
In faster currents I like to quarter a cast upstream, mend and allow the super bugger to sink. I start as always with the rod tip low to the surface. As I start my retrieve I keep my rod tip just ahead of the drift, try not to point it right at the fly. If a fish hits, the angled rod tip will cushion the take resulting in fewer break offs. I always strike and set the hook with my line hand. This is a saltwater technique that fits just as well in fresh water. If you set the hook by lifting the rod, as most dry fly fishermen do, you may or may not hook the trout but if you miss it you have moved the fly by several feet and you now have slack in the fly line and little hope of a second chance with the fish. On the other hand, if you strike with your line hand and miss the fish you have only moved the fly a short distance and you may still be in the game. The pursuing fish may still be interested and come again for your fly.
If you see a fish following the fly but hesitant to take it, increase your retrieve speed. This often is the key to getting a strike. In the real world live things like minnows or crayfish don’t slow down when being pursued. The survival instinct kicks in and it’s time to get out of Dodge. Predator fish expect their prey to flee not slow down or stop to be eaten. Accelerating your retrieve is the way to go. In heavy runs and currents, try dead drifting your super buggers. As I pointed out everything about this fly imitates life even when it’s drifting along with the current. High stick it and fish it as you would a nymph.
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to our retrieve speeds and techniques. In the trout world water temperature pays an important role in how the trout reacts to our presentation. Water temperatures in a freestone stream can vary greatly throughout the season and the body temperature of a trout is determined by his environment. If there has been a cold front water temperatures can drop quickly and trout will become lethargic and sit on the stream bottom. In this situation, we need to get our super bugger deeper and our retrieve speeds may have to be slowed down to entice a trout into taking.
On the other hand if the water temperature remains consistent for a period of time, trout will adjust and are quite likely to become aggressive in their feeding behavior. Limestone, spring creeks and tailwater fisheries offer a more comfortable range of temperatures and on these waters trout are less likely to be put off because of a temperature change
Cathy and I tie our super buggers in three sizes 4, 6, and 8 and always on a heavy shank hook. The last thing I want is for a trophy trout to open up the hook. Our favorite colors are black, tan and olive and in that order. Black is awesome in off-colored water, and low light situations. Tan or olive works well in any water that has a crayfish population.
It’s important, whenever we are casting weighted-eyed flies to open up our casting loop. Tight loops will tangle more easily and will often bring the fly dangerously close to our rod tip. One slight mistake in timing and the fly could hit and damage the rod tip. When growing up, all my fishing friends called this chuck and duck fly fishing. I am a big fan of 9-1/2 foot fly rods, they high stick better, mend line easier and help my casting when I’m in a kneeling position or when wading deep. For most of my trout fishing with super buggers I prefer a six weight, but on larger water I like a seven weight medium fast to fast rod. My rod of choice for the past season has been a Sage 9-1/2, 6 weight, 4 piece, TCX. It’s an awesome rod.