The story behind the olive mini leech follows the same script as the black version. It represents a new fly in my repertoire, and last year I made only black leeches. Landon Mayer is a proponent of mainly black and olive, so I took the plunge and produced a batch of olive with no bead. The color of these could allow a reasonable imitation of damsel flies, so I will keep that in mind during prime damsel fly emergence season on Colorado lakes and streams.
I follow Landon Mayer on Instagram, and he is the creator of the mini leech fly. He actually suggests that anglers deploy both a non-bead version and a balanced mini leech. The balanced mini leech is tied on a jig hook with a bead, and this provides a jigging action; whereas, the non-weighted leech is designed to be fished near the surface. I made some of each; however, lacking jig hooks, I tied the balanced mini leeches on a scud hook. At the very end of my tying season in 2022 I produced some black mini leeches, but my supply was fairly minimal. Fortunately I never incorporated leech fishing into my normal sequence of approaches, and I did not lose any, as far as I know. I reviewed my posts and discovered that I experimented with a black mini leech on three separate occasions on the South Platte River and once on Clear Creek, but I never connected with a fish.
Given the Instagram hype around this fly, I decided to plunge deeper into the mini leech culture, I tied five with no bead and five with a gold brass bead. At the Fly Fishing Show I attended a presentation on stillwater fly fishing, and I concluded that I should resort to the mini leech as a first or second choice during my brief foray into lake fishing during snow melt. I am now prepared for leech fishing success.
The next interesting fly to appear on my radar from scanned patterns was the Craven Haymaker. Charlie Craven is an accomplished fly tier and designer and the owner of Charlie’s Fly Box in nearby Arvada, CO. I visit his shop frequently, and I scanned and saved his step by step instructions in Fly Fisherman Magazine for crafting the haymaker.
|Hook||Tiemco 5262, 6-12|
|Bead||Gold to Fit Hook|
|Weight||.020 non-lead wire|
|Body||Black/Gold Speckled Chenille (I subbed Black/Medium Olive)|
|Collar||Black Hen Saddle Hackle (I subbed Hungarian Partridge)|
I reviewed the materials list and noted that I did not possess the Black/gold speckled chenille or the black hen saddle hackle, so I made some substitutions from my vast array of materials that never seem to get used. I replaced the black/gold chenille with black/medium olive, and I improvised for the wet fly hackle with hungarian partridge. The partridge was very dark with white dots, and I was rather pleased with the final look of this feather.
The finished haymaker reminded me quite a bit of a woolly bugger, although it displays rubber legs and long wet fly style hackle fibers that probably wave in the current more than the typical dry fly hackles palmered on a woolly bugger. I made three, and the combination of the large bead and weighting probably make it a good choice to tumble on a dead drift through deep runs and at the head of riffles. Another new fly awaits my advancement into area trout streams in 2020.
I completed my normal production tying for 2020, and my bins contained adequate quantities of my favorite patterns for the upcoming season. The corona virus continues to require self quarantining and compliance with the stay at home orders, and this in turn curtailed my usual progression of outdoor activities, so what should an avid fly fisherman do?
I subscribe to six fly fishing magazines, and I accumulated a twelve inch stack of back issues in my office closet. I saved them, because I planned to flip through them and scan articles to retain electronically, before I relegated them to the recycling bin. I adopted the practice of scanning articles that pertain to fly patterns of interest and new fly fishing destinations, that I might visit. Storing electronically conserves shelf space, and I find it easier to find articles with the search capability of an electronic device. During the covid19 pandemic I reviewed roughly half of my stack of back issues and scanned quite a few new fly patterns, and I decided to begin the project of tying small batches of intriguing designs.
The spin doctor was the first example of my new project, and I was quite pleased with the foam topped mayfly spinners. The next pattern that appeared in my scanned backlog of flies was called a better woolly bugger. The step by step instructions as presented by Tim Flagler appeared in Fly Tyer Magazine, and I was curious to learn why it was defined as a “better” woolly bugger. I knew from following Tim Flagler on my Trout Unlimited weekly newsletter, that he created a large inventory of fly tying videos, and after a brief search I found the YouTube content that corresponded to the article in Fly Tyer. I personally view Tim Flagler as one of the better tying instructors in the fly fishing world, as he seems to have a knack for simplifying the steps, and he speaks with great clarity. In short his tying videos are succinct, well thought out, and very clear.
|Hook||Mustad 3665A Size 8 Limerick|
|Flash||Silver Crystal Flash|
|Hackle||Large Grizzly Hackle|
|Body||Small medium olive chenille|
With this background I assembled the necessary materials and manufactured five better woolly buggers. I tied numerous woolly buggers in the past, and they are typically a fairly easy tie. In fact most beginner classes start with a woolly bugger. All my buggers were constructed with medium olive tails and bodies along with olive grizzly hackle. I utilized a conehead bead, as it was the only type available in my drawers that would slide around my old Mustad size 8 streamer hooks. In the end I actually deviated from Tim’s method, and hopefully that does not disqualify my fly as “better”. He demonstrated tying a woolly bugger by tying the hackle in at the head of the fly and then palmered it over the chenille body to a point just in front of the tail, where he left the thread and bobbin dangling. He then counter wrapped the thread back through the hackle wraps to the head of the fly. I was not comfortable with the counter wrap, so I tied the grizzly hackle in by the tip in front of the tail and then advanced the thread forward to the conehead, where I then tied off the base end of the feather, after I palmered it forward. Otherwise, I liked his method of sizing and pinching off the tips of the marabou clump, and I appreciated his technique for tying in the crystal flash strands along the sides of the tail. I also wrapped non-lead wire around the forward portion of the hook shank to add weight, just as he demonstrated on his sample fly.
I was pleased with the results, and you can view the output in the embedded photos in this post. Now, I need to train myself to adopt streamer fishing on a more frequent basis to take advantage of these expert ties.
Last year around this time I was on a mission to increase the quantity of streamers in my fly boxes. Historically fishing with streamers has been a choice of last resort, but after viewing numerous photos of massive trout on Instagram that chowed down on streamers, I vowed to change my ways. Unfortunately during 2015 I only landed 8-10 fish using streamers, and none of the meat eaters succumbed to my newly produced peanut envy. I really cannot fault my flies, as I continue to have a mental block against using streamers.
I purchased additional materials to manufacture streamers named the cheech leech and barely legal; however, nice weather arrived last year at this time, and I tossed aside the fly tying vice in favor of my fly rod. As much as I enjoy tying flies, I always prefer days on the stream tossing flies and fooling real fish.
Since I purchased the necessary materials to produce cheech leeches, and my inventory of proven flies was complete, I decided to experiment. I found an excellent YouTube video that taught me the steps to tie a cheech leech and meticulously followed along. Meticulous is a relative term when referring to any tying venture that involves maribou. Marabou plumes are very difficult to tame, but I am fairly pleased with the appearance of my new creations. The cheech leech features articulation, heavy dumbbell eyes, and three colors of maribou wound as a collar behind the eyes. This fly will wiggle, dive, jump and undulate; and these are the type of actions that drive fish crazy.
I’m anxious to give a cheech leech a spin, but as I look out my window huge snowflakes are fluttering down on Denver, CO. Patience is an important trait for fly fishing.
Once again I visited the North Platte River below Grey Reef in 2015, but as a result of other commitments, my friend Steve Supple and I were forced to make the journey in mid-April rather than the end of March. We had excellent fishing, but it was not as spectacular as our previous visits during the end of March. The end of March trips coincided with the annual flush period, when the water managers released large slugs of water from the dam to simulate run off. This action washed aquatic worms from the banks and stirred the sediments on the stream bottom making eggs and leeches available to the hungry trout.
The flows in mid-April were stable but high, and we enjoyed most of our success on egg imitations and blue winged olive nymph replicas. Unlike our visit in 2014 we did not employ pine squirrel leeches to any extent. After the success of 2014, I tied ten natural pine squirrel leeches, and I was prepared to experiment with them. Although the leeches were not utilized on the North Platte River, they did produce positive results on two other early season outings.
The first pine squirrel leech success story unfolded on March 28 when I fished the Eagle River between Wolcott and the town of Eagle. I was quite pleased to land two trout in cold early season conditions on my conehead natural pine squirrel leech.
The second situation where the pine squirrel leech produced excellent results was the morning that my son, Dan, and I spent on the Tuckasegee River in western North Carolina. In this instance we had no idea what to present to the trout in a tailwater that we never before fished. By some stroke of luck I tied a pine squirrel leech to my line and began to catch fish at a fairly frequent pace. I shared one of my flies with Dan, and he also discovered that the North Carolina fish favored a natural leech. Dan and I landed fourteen trout in 3.5 hours of fishing, and all succumbed to the pine squirrel leech except for two that favored a salvation nymph. Needless to say I was quite impressed with the performance of the heretofore seldom used leech on waters distant from Colorado.
Since I completed most of my production tying of nymphs and dry flies, I decided it was time to address my diminished quantity of pine squirrel leeches. Only two or three remained in my boat box, and they were the versions that did not contain a conehead. Prior to my trip to the southeastern United States I tied some streamers for my friend David Luther. David and Becky hosted me for several days in eastern Tennessee, and David guided me on some fine local streams, so I manufactured some streamers as gifts. I knew from prior fishing trips with David that he loves to fish streamers. One of the streamers that I researched and produced for him was called the Slumpbuster, a John Barr design.
When I tied these simple streamers, I realized that they are effectively dressed up pine squirrel leeches. The main ingredient is pine squirrel leech zonkers, but they also have a gold braided mylar body. The pine squirrel leech is simply a zonker strip lashed to the hook shank covered with thread. In a bit of a gamble, I decided to tie slumpbusters instead of pine squirrel leeches. I used up my natural pine squirrel zonkers to make one size 8 and two size 6 slumpbusters, and then I produced another seventeen versions using pine squirrel strips dyed dark olive. The quantity was split between size six and size eight. I am very excited to test out these new streamers that take advantage of the soft undulating characteristics of pine squirrel fur.
While searching for tying instructions on YouTube for Cathy’s Super Beetle, I encountered a video showing the tying steps for Cathy’s Super Bugger. As I was looking for ideas to augment my supply of streamers, this caught my attention. I possessed all the materials required to produce this variation on the ever popular woolly bugger, so I scheduled it for my next tie.
The woolly bugger is one of the simplest yet most effective flies ever created. It is typically the first fly that beginners attempt as only a few materials are attached to the hook, and it introduces the novice tier to wrapping chenille and hackle.
I made one modification to the YouTube video instructions by substituting a cone shaped bead for barbell eyes, but everything else followed the script. I added crystal flash to the tail, and wrapped a very webby hackle from my grizzly cape. The other enhancement over a traditional woolly bugger was the addition of long speckled silicone legs dangling just behind the cone head. I think that the reader will agree that these flies look like certain fish attractors. The combination of the marabou tail, oversized grizzly hackle and wiggling legs should create constant movement in the water and attract any fish in the vicinity. I made six with grizzly hackle and two with brown hackle. One never knows what color the fish will prefer.
Over my many years of fly fishing I have become fairly proficient at catching fish with dry flies and nymphs, but I never enjoyed much success using streamers. When I joined Instagram, I began to follow fishermen who posted numerous photos of trophy trout of all species that gobbled streamers. These are referred to as meat eaters in the Instagram vernacular. I pledged to commit to streamer fishing more often in 2014, and I managed to land a few fish in the fall, but I would be reluctant to say that I truly committed to the method.
Once again during this off season I reassessed my approach and viewed another avalanche of big fish on the Instagram feed and decided to spend more hours tossing streamer flies. In preparation for my trip to Argentina in December 2013, I bought 5-10 streamers from Royal Gorge Angler, and the predominant pattern among my purchase was a big ugly articulated fly that is called a sculpzilla. Unfortunately during my infrequent forays into the world of streamer chucking I snagged and broke off several of these flies.
Given my new found desire to fish streamers and my depleted supply of flies, I searched for new patterns to add to my fly box. The pine squirrel leech was an obvious starting point, but I hoped to create more variety. I flipped through my Scott Sanchez book and spotted a fly named the clump dubbing leech. The fly recipe called for a rabbit strip or marabou tail and clumps of dubbing for the main body. This did not strike me as overly challenging, so I decided to tie one. Since I had a remaining strip of pine squirrel, I elected to substitute that for a strip of rabbit fur. For the body I inherited five clumps of earth toned sculpin wool from my friend Jeff, so I concluded I could use that for the clump dubbing technique.
I began by threading a large gold bead to the front of my size 8 hook and then covered the shank with thread. I tied a strip of pine squirrel to the rear of the hook as a tail and clipped off the excess. Next I began adding clumps of sculpin wool to the hook shank. I alternated between gray and tan and worked my way forward. I believe I actually applied larger quantities of wool than required by the pattern, and I ended up with a thick body. After whip finishing the thread tight to the bead, I completed the final step. I grabbed my comb and began forcefully pulling it through the clump dubbing. This process removed a large amount of loose wool, blended the colors together, and created a nice body of fibers that flowed from front to back. Initially I was not pleased with the look of the fly, but with the passing of time it has grown on me. If I tie more clump dubbing leeches, I will try to use smaller clumps and attempt a narrower body profile.
Last March my friend Steve Supple and I enjoyed our second annual spring fishing trip to the North Platte River below Grey Reef just west of Casper, WY. Our guide, Greg, rigged us up with the standard rock worm and egg configuration, and we certainly landed a lot of fish on these flies. The North Platte at Grey Reef is an amazing fishery, and given its proximity to Denver, I need to schedule more trips to this excellent river.
Unlike my rig, Steve began with a pine squirrel leech, and as the morning progressed, he began to land a disproportionate number of hefty rainbow trout on the leech. This circumstance caused Greg to tie one to my 2X tippet, and with this strategic shift, I began to land hard fighting rainbows as well. Needless to say, the pine squirrel leech left a favorable impression on my fishing brain. I am always looking for new productive flies, and the leech certainly jumped to the top of my list.
On Memorial Day weekend Jane and I visited our friends the Gabourys in Eagle, CO, and my friend Dave G. insisted that we could catch fish in the muddy and bloated Brush Creek. Despite his confidence I was not experiencing much success until I tied a pine squirrel leech to my line on the second day. Wham! I landed several fish in very difficult conditions as the dark color and undulating movement proved to be irresistible to hungry trout trying to find refuge from the heavy run-off flows.
With these experiences in my mind, I purchased some pine squirrel strips and watched a video on YouTube last weekend. I sat down at my vise and churned out five size eight leeches with red thread heads. The tier on the video insisted that the red head was critical for success on the North Platte, although I do not recall using red head leeches during our March float trip. Once I completed five, I threaded a gold cone head bead on to the hooks and tied five more. For these I wrapped a section of lead around the hook shank behind the bead and then pushed it forward to fill in the vacant space at the back of the cone.
I’m pretty excited to have this new tool in my fly box as I anticipate my assault on the Rocky Mountain trout in 2015.
The woolly bugger is a classic old standby that I hadn’t tied in many years. I lived off a supply that I’d made perhaps 5-10 years ago and given my reluctance to toss streamers, this sufficed for quite awhile. My best experience with woolly buggers was during the float of the Gunnison River that Dan and I did in 2007, and I lost a few there.
This summer after returning from Alaska I occasionally tied on a woolly bugger with a black marabou tail and olive chenille body, and during these infrequent forays into the world of streamers and woolly bugger fishing, I pretty much depleted my remaining supply. It was time for woolly bugger tying. I went to my iPad YouTube application and watched several videos of tyers making woolly buggers to refresh my memory. It remains fairly simple especially if one skips wire ribbing between the hackle wraps and reflective synthetics in the tail.
I dug deep in my hook supplies and uncovered some size 8 streamer hooks with a limerick bend. I have quite a supply of these unfortunately as it is almost impossible to slide a bead around the bend so I’ll have to resort to crimping a split shot on the line just above the eye of the hook. Everything else was there; .02 lead wire for weighting, green chenille, black marabou and large grizzly hackles from one of the necks where the tiny dry fly hackles were depleted.
|Hook||Streamer hook size 8|
|Tail||Black or desired color marabou|
|Hackle||Grizzly neck feather|
I sat down and made five on one weeknight and completed the job with another five the next evening. Will this supply last me another five years? Hopefully not with greater dedication to streamer fishing.