Anything Fly Fishing

About the Wog…

5 Mins read

Somewhere in Alaska about 30-35 years ago some bright fishing guide got the idea that he could catch silver salmon on surface flies. At the time this wasn’t done. He experimented with some fly designs, then went out and caught silvers on top repeatedly. A new approach was born!

A Silver follows a wog. Will he eat it, or not??

Several years ago I read about the entire episode online somewhere, but in spite of hours of searching I was not able to find it again. That guy’s genius deserves some recognition.

Our mystery guide called those first silver salmon surface flies “wogs”, short for polliwogs. He constructed the ugly and ungainly lures from deer body hair dyed bright pink. He used pink feathers as the tail. They looked like psychedelic bass bugs. Hard to make and hard to cast, the fly soaked up water and wouldn’t float any more after catching a fish or two. Our hero left lots of room for improvement. This having been said, you still find deer-hair wogs in fly catalogs, and silvers still crush them.

Fly tyers love room for improvement! Who among us can’t make a great fly even better? And this particular fly lacked greatness anyway. It was more along the lines of a prototype.

Innovators next made wogs with cork bodies that they painted pink. Cork floats well, but its resistance to sharp teeth and chomping jaws remains suspect. Jim Vynalik, an angler I fished with on the Goodnews River, tied all his wogs with wine corks. He was 90 years old, but he’d sling that big cork all day, catching plenty of silvers in the process. Some possible benefits to tying flies with wine corks are, it builds up the muscles in your casting arm, and it gives you a good reason to drink wine.

Jim Vynalik, fighting a silver that hit a wine-cork wog.

My preferences for all my flies are, they’re easy to make, easy to cast, durable, and fish eat them well. Neither cork nor deer hair fit all those criteria.

Foam popper bodies were the next development. A friend of mine used to turn his own foam popper bodies using cylinders cut from flip flop shoes. He’d taper these cylinders down using a Dremel tool for a lathe and a fingernail file for the abrasive surface. Most of us will prefer to buy pre-made bodies from places like Hareline or Umpqua.

At Goodnews River Lodge we’d get Spirit River popper kits. The bodies were white plastic foam, so we strung all of them on a piece of monofilament, hung it up, and spray painted them pink. Tie some cerise marabou and a touch of flash on a hook, super glue the pink body on, and BAM- instant wog. These floated well, the fish ate them, and they were acceptably durable.

Another wrinkle in the popper story were tube-fly poppers, developed by Bob Peters. Bob drilled a narrow hole through the center of a foam popper body, then threaded the tippet through and tied it to a marabou “tail fly.” When the fish got hooked the popper body slid up the leader where the fish couldn’t chew on it. Bob claimed this arrangement gill-hooked far fewer fish.

Some folks now tie articulated poppers for silvers. This reporter feels that articulated flies are used way more often than is necessary. They are harder and more time-consuming to make. They tend to be large so are harder to cast. But if you think they are better you should use them.

Somewhere along this timeline the late Jack Gartside developed gurglers for his Boston Harbor stripers. You build these flies using a narrow strip cut from a sheet of closed-cell craft foam. Someone brought the gurgler idea to Alaska- possibly Jack himself. Gurglers in different sizes can be used to catch silvers, pinks, and (sometimes) chums, Dolly Varden, and when modified to a mouse-like configuration, rainbow trout. Gurglers are inexpensive, easy to tie, and easy to cast. Fish eat them like crazy. They lack durability, but I think their other positives outweigh this. Just make a few more!

Happy angler battles a wog-hooked silver.

Regardless of what wog style you like best, the wog must be used in the right place and time or not much will happen. By time I mean relative to when the fish are found. My fishermen often tell me, “I want to try the wog after I catch a few.” Bad timing, this.

In any group of salmon, you find a range of aggressiveness. Some fish are hyper-aggressive. Others are plain timid. Only the most aggressive fish will strike the wog. If you use a streamer first you will catch the most aggressive salmon. When you then try the wog, it will not work as well, if at all. Throw the wog first!

The only exception to this happens when there are thousands of fish present. I watched a guest we called Mr. Wonderful catch silver after silver for an entire tide one day on the Goodnews, at least 40 or 50 fish, all on a popper. It can happen. I just don’t think you can expect it. Use the wog first.

Another wog-hooked silver.

The place to use a wog has fish fresh from the sea. The brighter they are, the more aggressive they are. Although once in the river they stop eating, when they first come in they still have a strong strike instinct. Every flip of their tail going upstream is one less for you. Get them in tidewater if you can.

The place to use a wog has little to no current. Sloughs, eddies, and backwaters work better than places with strong current. It’s an observation I can’t explain. Ask the fish.

The place to use the wog is shallow, no more than three or four feet deep. The fish won’t come up farther than that. Fortunately silvers like the shallower water anyway.

One season on the Alagnak I fished a gentleman who wanted to wog. While I manned the oars, controlling the boat as we floated with the current, he cast to the bank, working a gurgler back out towards the boat. Similar to fishing for bass or snook, it was fun, exciting, and quite productive.

Happy result of a wog-hooked silver!

Silvers strike wogs in one of two ways. In the first they just come up and blast it. If this type of strike comes from the side, the hook sticks in the corner of the mouth. You’re on!

The other way is that the fish comes up behind the wog and dogs it, not for the weak of heart. They follow a long way sometimes. They may take, they may turn off. I find fish that take this way hard to stick. I don’t know if they push the fly out of the way, or you just pull it right back out of their mouth because of the angles involved, but the hook-up rate is low. The excitement factor certainly mitigates it.

And now you know about the wog!

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