Tying The World's Largest Wooly Bugger
By Mike Hogue
In the fall of 2003 I was asked to participate in the name change of the Fall Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Our chapter agreed to change the name to the Leon Chanlder Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The story that follows is one of my most popular items in the newsletter section. While preparing a presentation this winter for a club, I found some photos and decided to update this popular newsletter archive with some photos. The updated archive is a great story.
Last summer ( 2003) I was in the Little Store in Roscoe, NY. The Little Store for those that have never been there before this is an old time hardware store, variety store and tackle shop. They sell camping supplies, lures, flies, rods, spinning tackle and in my book it defines the words, hometown and locally owned. About every time I go to Roscoe, I stop in the Little Store, I am never quite sure what I will find but usually it is something I never realized I needed.
On one of my latest ventures to the store, I looked up and saw the hand grenade fly. This is kind of a bizarre looking fly which has a real hook, a genuine hand granada and it is tied as a fly which about a foot long. I'll bet I must have starred at that fly for some time trying to figure out how it was made.
Okay hand grenade, fly , you know can't catch anything so you pull the pin and drop it in. Bad joke. Just the same, it somehow struck me as funny. I asked the owners about the fly and its maker and I was told, " Well, we've had that thing for ages, must be more than 20 years old and it was made by Ralph Graves." Ralph Graves! I knew it!
For those not acquainted with Ralph, you are missing a treat. Ralph is a one of a kind, genuine, original. I doubt if I have ever meet anyone quite like Ralph, he is a wonderful , warm person with a unique personality. He is also a very talented fly tier, that is very creative. Ralph owns a small fly shop called the " Old Glory Fly Shop that is named after a streamer fly Ralph made which looked like the American Flag. The Old Glory Shop is in a small apartment building near the Rockland House, outside of Roscoe.
Ralph's shop is well a lot like Ralph. He has no phone because someone like his wife might call and disturb him while he is tying. He also describes the place as quiet so he can think, watch a ball game or make some flies. He actually is trying to go out business and really doesn't want any customers, so it is not exactly the Mall or any of the Marts.
I stopped in to see Ralph and his store was full of visitors, of course no one was actually buying anything and while I did find some stuff I wanted, he wouldn't sell it to me because it was something he actually needed. I asked Ralph about the hand grenade fly. I got a somewhat long answer which ended with, " If you get me a real hand grenade, I will see about making one for you."
A bit frustrated, I kept that in the back of my head and remembered that I needed to get Ralph a dummy hand grenade for the fly. Some time passed and I began looking for Ralph's Grenade. I called my brother and my Mom thinking since my brother was a military school graduate, I thought we had one of these things as a lighter. No luck there, so I did some internet shopping and found one.
A bit later it dawned on me that Ralph's hook was just what I needed to make a special gift for an angler we were going to do a program for, Leon Chandler. Leon is a local member of our Trout Unlimited chapter and our club decided to rename our chapter the Leon Chandler Chapter to honor Leon and his accomplishments.
I will back up some more here........ Back in January ( 2003) , I had the chance to have dinner with Leon during a fly fishing show in Danbury, CT. Leon was a speaker at show and as luck would have it, both of us were more or less stranded due to a blizzard. Leon and I had a very enjoyable time and he told me that one of his favorite flies was the black woolly bugger. He loved this fly and although he caught lots of nice fish on it , he always wished that just maybe he could have just a little bit bigger.
Well that was like a light going off in my head..... Bingo. The perfect gift for one of our greatest fly fishers, the World's Largest Wooly Bugger. Getting the hook made was no easy task. I called Ralph and started talking about the grenade fly and the hook. I spent several nights on the phone with Ralph, trying to get him to help me by making the hook. I told him about the Leon party and my plans and finally he agreed. Ralph called me back and said , "I am shipping your hook, it's done, this is the last hook like this I can do. "
A few days later, the hook arrived. The hook is what, Ralph described as, " A size 30/ 0 3XL hook, model perfect with a down eye." Ralph even attached a large Christmas ball, painted gold for the gold head. I was on the floor laughing when I opened the box. "Perfect, YES! This is going to be cool! " , I said to myself.
I started the process of making the wooly. First I had to locate the materials. I used a black arctic fox tail for the tail, ostrich for the hackle, Aunt Lydia's Sparkle Yarn for the body. For a rib I used Danville medium gold crystal chenille .
I began by getting out a bench vise. This is not your typical fly tying vise. It is quite literally a bench vise from my workshop/garage. It has these giant jaws which would hold only about a size 11/0 hook and up. There is no rotating head or cam lock, about the only thing adjustable here is the tension. Snug or loose. Not exactly the raw hook bending power of a Dyna King but you can beat on this vise and not feel the least bit guilty about scratching the paint off.
I began by inserting the hook in some bubble wrap and cinched it down. Next I cut the fox tail in half and stripped off about 2" of fur off to expose the leather. I took some old nymo thread I had and stuck it in an S+ M ( since this was the biggest bobbin I had) bobbin and started wrapping. I got the tail tied off and discovered I had a giant gap in the body to fill in, so I cut some computer wrapping foam into a triangle and rolled a Big Bob Marley around the shank and I tied it off. I felt like I was at a Clinton College Reunion party wrapping this. Next the yarn was tied in, followed by the tinsel. I made about 4 wraps for a tag end and then tied in the ostrich which was split down the stem.
I started wrapping the yarn and wrapped about a 1/ 3 of the shank, followed by the tinsel and then the ostrich. I was able to get about 3 turns out of the ostrich before I had to stop and tie in some more. Finally I got done wrapping and I tied it off. Next I thought long and hard about the mount and display. It had to be something which was about interesting as the fly itself.
I selected about 3 foot of left over barn wood that came off my barn. This has stuff sat outside for about 1 1/2 years so it has well a lot of character. I made a raised , notched bed screwed together with some deck screws. I took some cable ties and attached to the fly to the rest. I attached some gold Jack chain to some screw eye to hang it with. To complete the effect, I took a "marks a lot " giant fat marker and signed my name on the back and attached a card. The caption said," To Leon Chandler" from Mike Hogue. It was just about the nastiest looking bugger around. I was laughing so hard I had to sit down and catch my breath.
I was a bit nervous at the presentation. I started thinking this might be one of the dumber things I had done and well it might not go so good. Our MC for the evening was Jim Krul. Jim did a wonderful job MCing and running the program. Jim arranged to have a series of folks come forward and talk about how Leon had changed the world of fly fishing and what Leon meant to them. Finally it was my turn. Okay. At last a chance to have all those butterflies doing a suicide bombing in my stomach to settle down.
I went through a quick story of the history, of Leon, Ralph and then I got to the end. I more or less concluded with," I wasn't quite sure what to give to one of the world's greatest fly fishermen, so I made the world's largest wooly bugger. " I held it up and the reaction was immediate, everyone laughed and Leon beamed from ear to ear. I also gave Leon about 6-8 dozen flies which I collected as a cover charge since he doesn't tie. All in all it was a memorable night and an unforgettable experience. Thanks to Ralph Graves for a nice job on the hook, Jim Krul (plus all of Leon's Pals that stopped by. ) Special thanks to all the members of the new Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited for the great program.
It wasn't but a few months after this name change, Leon became sick and passed away the next fall. This was a very special moment and a great time I spendt doing something for one of the really "good" guys in fly fishing. All of us will miss you Leon...... happy casting.