Dennis Collier Fly Illustration - Copyright Dennis Collier 2015Articles

Love Affair with Leeches

Click here for the DC Leech recipe and tying sequences.
By Dennis P. Collier

The fish catching prowess of leech fly patterns is nothing new to many anglers and numerous imitations already exist; so why then yet another leech, you might ask. The answer lies in my never-ending desire to create, tinker, explore, and otherwise see if I can develop flies that are more effective than their predecessors. The DC Leech is one such fly to spring to life from my vise, and to date it has been endorsed by numerous large trout; frequently caught by those who have discovered the deadly effect this annelid look-alike has on fish.

The DC Leech is a pattern with few components and is a "quick-tie" once you've gotten the hang of doing so. The first key to success in tying the DC Leech is taking a fifty-cent-sized wad of the Fiery Brown Angora goat hair dubbing and twisting it into a tight rope-of equal proportions-between the thumb and forefingers of both hands. Maintaining a good grip on the twisted hair with one hand, attach it to the hook shank right behind the lead wire with several tight wraps of thread. This anchors the otherwise loose material into a manageable state. I Use UTC G.S.P. 50, gel-spun thread for this pattern, since it is possible to exert a tremendous amount of pressure on the wraps without having it break.

Next, life will become a lot easier if you use a generous application of hi-tack dubbing wax on your thread when applying the goat hair dubbing. Angora goat hair is very slick and it takes some effort to get it to stick to the thread. Another key step in completing this fly is to tease out the final application of goat hair on the front portion of the hook, prior to melding the entire body together with a dubbing brush. It's the little things that make a big difference when tying this fly.

Leeches come in a variety of colors, as does commercially available Angora goat dubbing. For variegated effects, simply hand-mix a couple of different hair colors without pre-blending. Monochromatic color schemes can be achieved by blending the hair in a mini-coffee grinder. For example: a mixture of roughly eighty-percent reddish-brown and twenty-percent black, will produce a nice looking "Fiery Brown" dubbing. I tie the DC Leech in solid black as well, just in case the fish want to see a different flavor on the menu.

Taking it to the Bank

A few seasons ago I was asked to do some fill-in guide work at a private ranch near Kremmling, Colorado. This ranch property includes two beautiful miles of the Middle Park section of the Colorado River as part of the parcel. In addition, a two-acre stock pond interrupts the flow of a tiny feeder stream and offers refuge to some huge brown trout, cuttbows (a rainbow-cutthroat hybrid) and oversized brook trout.

Fishing the DC Leech on the pond was a given and several large trout had found the fly much to their liking during previous visits. On one of my subsequent guiding days, a client who had taken a college course in entomology suggested we take a break from fishing the Colorado River and do a little in-stream sample research. Lifting a vegetation mat from the water, large brown leeches started dropping out in surprising numbers. Further investigation of submerged rocks and debris revealed countless gelatinous larval cocoons-each containing a minute, writhing, worm-like infant leech-the progeny of hermaphroditic annelid parents. It's safe to say the DC Leech has since become a standard "go-to" pattern for guides and anglers on this property.

Over the past couple of years, I've presented the DC Leech at local fly tying demonstrations, as well as the 2008 AFFTA show in Denver. I often wonder how many of the patterns I tie at such events, if any, find favor with members of the audience and end up in their respective fly boxes. I'm happy to say the DC Leech has been well received by many clinic participants, with numerous angling success stories attributed to the fly. Interestingly, some of the experiences have involved the DC Leech being fished dead-drift below a strike-indicator, and catching some "mongo" trout on such rivers as Colorado's White and Yampa, and the Bighorn River in Montana.

My own enlightenment on the fish catching potential of river-inhabiting leeches occurred many years ago on the Grey Reef section of Wyoming's North Platte River. We were drifting thru one of the public water segments when I hooked and netted a sizeable rainbow. Our guide at the time decided to do a stomach sampling from this fish before releasing it back to the water. To our surprise, that fish had several undigested brown leeches in its stomach; along with the anticipated smattering of chironomid pupae, blood worms (chironomid larvae), mayfly nymphs and scuds. A DC Leech was promptly tied to the tippet and on the next cast another "turbocharged" North Platte rainbow was ripping line from the reel; hell-bent on busting up my terminal tackle. When this ancient annelid medical instrument goes to work, look out fish and fishermen!

I use 4X long hooks in tying the DC Leech because they allow me to position the hook point well back in the pattern profile. I've found that on ponds and lakes, in particular, fish will sometimes short-strike the fly. This frustrating occurrence is discouraged by tying the fly in this fashion. Of note: when this happens resist the urge to lift the fly from the water for another cast.

Instead, after the missed strike allow the fly to slowly sink for several seconds, as if injured, and then give it another short strip or two. The fish will often return to the fly and hit it again. Using a short "strip-strike"-instead of my usual "double-haul, rod-arcing, fly-launching, hey it's a fish! strike"-keeps the fly in close proximity to the first hit; thereby increasing the odds of ultimately connecting with the object of pursuit.

Experience has demonstrated that on stillwater venues, a very slow strip and pause retrieve-allowing the weight at the head of the fly to impart a tantalizing, undulating action-usually entices the most takes. Using an open-loop "Non-slip Mono-knot" to tie the fly to your tippet, will further enhance the animated leech-like appearance.

The low light levels of early morning, late evening, and heavily overcast days, find leeches most active-and coincidently, also find the fish out busily grocery shopping along the edges of shallow "Littoral zones" of lakes and ponds. To maximize your fish catching potential with this nasty little critter, go into the stealth mode and work the DC Leech just over the tops of weed beds with one of the slow-sinking "Stillwater" fly lines currently on the market. Keep in mind that fish are more easily spooked when exposing themselves to natural prey while foraging in thin water, so be on your best angling behavior.

When the Angora goat hair on a DC Leech becomes wet and coated with a little fish slobber, the profile comes just about as close to the "real-deal" as I have found. I believe this to be one of the key ingredients in the success of the pattern. I would also recommend using no less than 2X fluorocarbon tippet material and maintaining a good grip on your fly-rod when fishing leech patterns. The strikes often resemble something akin to snagging the bumper of a fast-moving pickup truck!

Many times, we fly-fishermen become stuck in deep ruts; resorting to what's been done before; time and time again pulling the same flies out of our fly boxes; trip after trip ... sound familiar? I'd encourage you to think outside the box now and then and explore the rod bending opportunity a "butt-ugly" leech can offer-even if you find yourself standing knee-deep in a favorite trout stream.

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