Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

My first post for the J. Stockard blog back in July 2014 was about the Pine Squirrel Bugger, a non-traditional adaptation of the woolly bugger style. In the intervening six years I’ve tied 100s to fish with, donate and swap. Over the years, the Pine Squirrel Bugger has continued to produce on SW Montana trout. When I look back at what I wrote in 2014, it is evident that my buggers have subtly evolved somewhat since then.

Probably the biggest improvement has been the use of barbless hooks from Firehole Outdoors. When I went with the Firehole Sticks, I first used models 718 and 839 in size 6 and 4. But that changed when the models 811/860 were released. The straight eye streamer hooks are a perfect match for the Pine Squirrel bugger. The heavy wire hook has eliminated the need to use any lead-free wire in the fly. On a short, stout tippet and sink tip lines, these flies get down quick. The tying steps haven’t changed much in six years. I did abandon the use of super glue on the body as it tended to foul the Pine Squirrel hair during wrapping and I haven’t noticed any loss of durability on the water.

The most important adaptation has been using Finn Raccoon fur for the tail instead of Marabou. The Finn Raccoon is very supple and has a built-in contrast between the guard hairs and under fur. It is available in a wide variety of colors so is very adaptable to the bugger style. More importantly, I find it far more durable than the fragile marabou. These buggers catch fish and I found that after just a few fish, the marabou had lost much of its bulk. Not so with the Finn Raccoon.

In 2017, I wrote about the importance of color contrasts in fly design and how fish respond to contrasts in flies. As such, most of the Pine Squirrel buggers I tie today have contrasting colors of Finn Raccoon in the tail. Typically a dark color on top and a lighter color below. Big Hole River trout are noted for their preference for flies with bright yellow in them. As such I started tying a few Pine Squirrel buggers with fluorescent yellow or orange fur for the under tail. This creates quite a contrast in the water. Seems to do the trick no matter where I fish them. In addition to creating the bi-colored tails with Finn Raccoon, I begun adding grizzly, dyed grizzly or Cree hackles to each side of the tail flat-wing style. This creates a barred look and adds to the overall contrasts in the fly. Had to do something with all those bugger packs.

Although the wire wrapped, zonked Pine Squirrel bodies haven’t really changed, I did experiment with two modifications. One was the use of two colors of Pine Squirrel. I wrapped the rear 2/3rds of the body with one color and then used a different color for the forward 1/3. Usually the forward section was somewhat darker than the rear section. I thought this gave a good impression of sculpin coloration. The second modification adopted a technique from a very popular fly out here in SW Montana, the Sparkle Minnow. This sculpin imitation is essentially tied almost 100% with flash material making a bright, sparkly fly that gets recommended for clear sun shiny days on Montana streams. Instead of using Pine Squirrel for the forward 1/3 of the body, I’ve used several wraps of an EP Minnow Brush or palmer chenille to create a bright, sparkly front end for my Pine Squirrel bugger. The few times I’ve been able to fish these, they have produced.

For the angler that likes to fish unweighted streamers, it’s hard to not fish a woolly bugger style fly. The Pine Squirrel bugger is a proven fish taker. They’ve been a popular contribution to a number of streamer swaps as well. To that end there is no better investment a tier make than a few zonked Pine Squirrel skins and a few patches of Finn raccoon.

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