October 31st, 2005

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Leech Patterns in Small Streams
By Jason Cotta

So what's the first thing you tie on when you get streamside? A nymph, a dry or maybe you tie on a streamer and run it through some of the deeper holes. But how many times have you tied on a size 14 marabou leach pattern and fished all of that productive water you would have otherwise skipped over between the bigger holes? I have found that a small leech pattern can be one of the most productive flies when fishing small streams. Why is this you ask? Well the answer is simple; trout living in moving water are looking for a meal that will satisfy the energy needed to get it. Sometimes your size 16 Pheasant Tail or 18 Adams just doesn't seem worth it. However if you drift a leech pattern by they will before than willing to come out of hiding for that big hearty meal.

The best way to fish a leach is at a dead drift under a strike indicator. While some more traditional fisherman will scoff at these glorified bobbers I find them useful in keeping the fly at the level I want and also help me see more strikes. The best way to use a strike indicator is to take the water depth your fishing, add one or two feet depending on current, and attach it to your leader there. There are a number of strike indicators on the market today but I wouljd recommend the type that is made of yarn and an o-ring. I also tie my own indicators in green because white and yellow have a tendency to spook wild fish. Occasionally there is also a need to add some split shot to your line if the water is very heavy but tying your flies with weight usually eliminates a need for this.

Well now that you know how to set up your rig I guess I should explain where you should cast. If you are already a competent stream angler then just fish the leech as you would any nymph pattern, but if you are still a novice I will share a few hints with you that will help you, catch more fish.

The majority of my time fishing streams is usually not at some of the larger pools but the space in between them. You would be surprised the places trout can live and I have seen many fishermen tromp right through them in search of more productive looking water. The key to finding holding lies is to find where fast and slow water come together and to find cover. Trout will hold in the slower water, dart out for a brief second to catch their prey, then go back to the slower water and wait for their next meal. Small stream trout also need cover like overhanging trees, rocks, and cut banks. These trout can rarely find cover in water depth and the ability to hide from predators is what keeps them alive.

The best place to find trout is behind rocks in faster water because it creates a water break behind the rock for the trout to rest and it can provide cover. The best way to fish these is to cast above the rock and let your fly drift down past and into the seam between the fast and slow water.

If the stream you are fishing has areas in it with a solid rock bottom finding large cracks in it will frequently mean finding trout. I still remember a recent trip I took to a stream that had many sections like this. As I was making my way up stream I saw a hole in the rock bottom that was probably no more than two feet long and eight inches wide. After I cast, the fly couldn't have been in the water more than four seconds when my strike indicator went under. I set the hook and landed a nice twelve inch stream-bred brown. It's fish like that that make the two hour drive worth it.

I think I'm reminiscing a little too much here and I will try get back to the matter at hand. You will commonly find trout near undercut banks. Trout love to stay there because it provides an excellent shield against predators and they never have to move very far for food. When I see undercut banks I cast as close as I can to them and let the fly just drift down. However casting so close to the bank will sometimes get you nothing more than a few lost flies but more often than not you will get a nice fish. Besides I am always more than happy to lose a couple flies if it means the chance at a great fish and losing a half dozen flies a day is generally just par for the course.

Well now that you know a little more about fishing leech patterns in small streams tie a couple up and go give it a try. But remember catching fish isn't what always makes for a good day fishing. Sometimes it's just the scenery or the time spent making new fishing buddies that will make a trip all worth while. Until we meet again good luck and tight lines.

Marabou Leech

The Marabou Leech is by far one of the most effective leech patterns I have ever used while fishing small streams. The marabou allows the fly to breath and looks incredibly realistic which makes it irresistible to trout. Because it's such a great pattern I've included the recipe and tying instructions for those of you not already familiar with it.

    Hook: 10-14 Streamer Hook

    Thread: Black 6/0

    Tail: Black Marabou

    Body: Black Dubbing

    Wings: Black Marabou

Tying Steps

1) Tie on and add weight as needed for the types of streams you fish. (Check your regional laws on weight/or lead.) If you fish slow meadow streams than only a little weight is necessary but if you fish tumbling mountains streams than more wraps will be required.

2) Strip a sizeable amount of marabou from a feather. Measure it the length of the hook shank and tie it in at the end of the hook.

3) Clip any excess butts and dub black fur up to mid-shank.

4) Take a strip of marabou equal to that of the tail and tie it in mid-shank.

5) Dub until you reach a little before the eye and tie in another clump of marabou the same size as before. Refer to the picture if you are unsure of proportions.

6) Dub the head of the fly, whip finish, and use head cement as desired.

Tying Notes

I typically fish this pattern in black but also carry several others colors with me. You should try a multitude of colors and see which works best in you area. ~ Jason

About the Author

Although Jason has been an angler all his life it was just four years ago he taught himself to fly fish. Ever since catching that first fish on a fly rod Jason has been hooked and spends much of his time in pursuit of Arizona's many angling opportunities. Jason just started college this fall and has landed himself a job working in the fishing department of a major outdoor store. Being a dedicated outdoorsman in the age of computer games and television, Jason is a prime example that there are still young people out there who love to fish. ~ Jason


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