Tying and fishing the DC Leech
A few seasons ago I signed on for fill-in guide work at a private ranch near Kremmling, Colorado. The ranch property includes 2 miles of the Middle Park section of the Colorado River, as well as a 2-acre stock pond that interrupts the flow of a tiny feeder stream and offers refuge to oversize browns, cuttbows, and brook trout.
During one of my guiding days, a client who had taken a college entomology course suggested we take a break to conduct a little in-stream research. When we lifted a vegetation mat from the water, large brown leeches dropped out in surprising numbers. Further investigation of submerged rocks and debris revealed countless gelatinous larval cocoons—each containing a minute, writhing, wormlike infant leech—the progeny of hermaphroditic annelid parents.
The trout in this pond devoured my simple, easy-to-tie Angora goat leech pattern, and the DC Leech has since become a standard fly for local guides here and elsewhere on Rocky Mountain lakes and rivers.
My own river leech-fishing enlightenment occurred on the Grey Reef section of Wyoming’s North Platte River. We were drifting through the public water just downstream from Lusby Landing when I hooked and netted a good-size rainbow. A stomach sample revealed several undigested brown leeches, along with the anticipated mix of midge pupae and larvae, Baetis nymphs, and scuds. The sample showed the importance of leeches in a trout diet, reaffirming the value of leech imitations as part of a well-rounded fly box.
Dead-drifting this fly below a strike indicator has also produced large trout on Colorado’s White and Yampa rivers, and Montana’s Bighorn.
Putting it to Work
The DC Leech’s 4XL hook allows you to position the hook point well back in the pattern profile. I’ve found that on ponds and lakes, in particular, fish sometimes short-strike this fly. The longer shank produces more hookups.
When short strikes occur, resist the urge to lift the fly from the water and cast again. Instead, allow the fly to sink slowly for several seconds, as if injured, and then give it another short strip or two. Fish often return to the fly and hit it again.
In the same vein, don’t strike by raising the rod tip, which can also move the fly out of the strike zone. A short strip-strike keeps the fly in close proximity to the first hit, increasing your odds of ultimately connecting.
On stillwaters, a slow strip-and-pause retrieve usually entices the most strikes. Fish the DC Leech on a floating line or with a clear sinking line. The small amount of weight behind the fly’s head helps it undulate in the water. Use a non-slip loop knot to attach the fly to your tippet, further enhancing its animated leechlike movements.
Leeches are most active at low light, during early morning and late evening. At these times, fish often grocery shop along the edges of shallow, weeded, littoral zones of lakes and ponds. To maximize your fish-catching opportunities, be stealthy and work these areas with a systematic, fan-shaped casting pattern.
The DC Leech is a quick tie once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Use a half-dollar-size wad of fiery brown or black Angora goat hair dubbing and twist it into a tight rope—of equal proportions—between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands.
Maintaining a good grip on the twisted hair rope with one hand, attach it to the hook shank behind the wire wraps with several tight thread wraps. This anchors any loose material into a manageable state.
I use UTC Ultra GSP 50-denier fly-tying thread for this pattern. The gel-spun thread makes it possible to exert a tremendous amount of pressure on the wraps without breaking the thread.
Once you’ve secured the dubbing rope with tight thread wraps, apply a small drop of Zap-A-Gap glue to the junction to prevent the body from rotating on the hook shank.
Angora goat hair is very slick, or “greasy,” and it takes some effort to get it to stick to the thread. I use generous amounts of dubbing wax.
After wrapping the body, use Velcro hook material to tease out fibers from the goat-hair dubbing, and then sweep and meld the entire body together with a dubbing brush.
Natural leeches come in a variety of colors. In fact, most of them are not one solid color but mottled natural olive, brown, tan, and black. For a variegated look, simply hand-mix two or three colors of Angora without pre-blending. Blend the hair in a small coffee grinder for more monochromatic color schemes.
Dennis Collier is contract fly designer for Umpqua Feather Merchants.