Pine Squirrel Woolly Bugger – Revisited

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.

Become One With Your Materials

Guest Blogger: Scott Hetzer, Eclipse Fly Co.

We all remember our early days of tying flies. Whether you started because of an inherited tying kit, read about it in a book, or these days, learned about it on YouTube, we all remember the sense of overwhelming possibility and creative potential. We start with world-famous pattern recipes, buying up all of the listed materials down to the brand, color, specific variation, etc.  This is fun, going to your fly shop or favorite online retailer to ‘unlock’ new patterns. I would even argue that this stage in one’s tying journey is among the most enjoyable and exciting, now nostalgic. As you progress… gaining proficiency, developing preference, creating your own style, materials begin to accumulate often in great quantity and variety.

In my own experience, going by the book and following recipes as instructed certainly serves its purpose, but also can result in a ton of unused products. There is an inflection point, when you realize that not only can you make substitutions with your favorite/available materials, but you can actually develop a strong enough relationship with the materials that they begin to tell you how they want to be used. I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well, if not in tying flies, but certainly angling, or likely in any other creative endeavor. Whether you are letting the trout tell you what they want to eat, or letting the materials tell you how to use them, many of us can relate to an “a-ha” moment of realizing that great success can often be found when we let the subject of our pursuit tell us how we should proceed.

Pheasant tails, a material we have all used at one point or another, are the perfect example of this phenomenon. As an aside, myself being a commercial tyer, this is of particular interest, as razor thin margins make using the full potential of a material imperative. Pheasant tails often have two distinct sides. One will be stiff, barbed and webby, feature more prominent color, and have much more overall volume (great for wrapping bodies and tying in tails). The other side of the feather has totally opposite characteristics – flimsy, drab color, and far less volume. As its profile is different, so too are its applications.

The exact pattern that taught me this lesson was Charles Jardine’s ‘Holy Grail Emerger’. (If you haven’t tried that pattern, you should) Solving for the problem of leaving enough room to properly anchor in the soft hackle collar under its whip-finished hot spot, I came to the realization that the refuse flimsy side of my pheasant tails not only provided fully adequate coverage for the pattern’s wing pad, but also saved critical space due to its less voluminous nature. Additionally, it’s muddled appearance has since become the preferred look, making this situation a win, three times over.

Since stumbling upon this component of fly tying, the lesson it has taught me has been applicable in countless situations, and I believe has served a great role in becoming more proficient at the vise. This approach to tying can create a connection between the tyer, material, and fly, of which offers an incredible sense of creative fulfillment. Despite saying all of this, fly tying is a highly personal pursuit. It is strictly whatever you make it, and it will always be of utmost importance to engage in it whichever way provides you with the most enjoyment.

Rotary vs. Stationary: Tips for Choosing a Fly-Tying Vise

As many fly-tyers know, when choosing your equipment, there are multiple viable options from which to choose. For instance, when buying a vise, considering the difference between rotary and stationary options is important. If you’re new to the subject, don’t worry; we’ll detail exactly how each of these options function. Our rotary vs. stationary tips for choosing a fly-tying vise will help you determine the best tool for meeting your personal preference.

As the name suggests, a rotary vise’s jaws rotate 360 degrees. In fact, certain rotary devices ensure your hook’s axis of rotation aligns with the vise. So, if you hear the term “true rotary,” then you’re dealing with a vise that can deliver that consistent axis alignment. Not only does the rotation offer you ample viewpoints of the hook, but it also provides more accuracy when preparing and applying materials such as hackle or ribbing. Because of the impressive rotation abilities of rotary vises, they are vise of choice for most advanced tyers and those who tie regularly.

Once again, the name isn’t deceptive; stationary vises earn that moniker because they don’t have the same vise head mobility of their rotary counterpart. Although that might sound like a small difference, it makes a big difference in your tying experience. For instance, because the device doesn’t rotate, more labor goes into physically wrapping the materials onto your fly. And, there is less accuracy in the placement of materials like hackle and chenille. Whether you’re willing to take on that labor is a key deciding factor for your purchase.

Making Your Choice
As you can see, when it comes to choosing rotary vs. stationary options, one of the top tips for choosing a fly-tying vise is seeking one that suits your personal preference. Of course, not every fly-fisher takes the same approach, but those who want impeccable accuracy, and are willing to pay the price, should look toward rotary options.
For this reason, rotary vises are typically the preferred choice among fly-tying enthusiasts and experts. However, if you prefer putting in a bit more extra work into fly-tying with a stationary model, that’s absolutely a viable route to take. That said, always be sure you’re buying from reputable brands and vendors. For instance, at JS Fly Fishing, we carry fly-fishing vise options from top brands such as Peak Fishing, Regal, and more.
Once you settle on a vise type and find a reliable brand that provides them, you can begin seeing its performance in action. Remember, at the end of the day, if one vise type doesn’t offer the performance you were looking for, trying another option can open your eyes to surprisingly different techniques. MANY of our customers own multiple vises for different fly types!