Fly Tying: April, 2018

The Balanced Leech


As many fly fishermen have discovered, it is not so much which fly you choose to use, but the presentation of that fly that determines your success. Last October we featured a weighted jig fly called Dave’s Devil that certainly can be effective. I observed the rising and diving action of that fly to be just the ticket to success for Dave Kilhefner one day at Rocky Ridge Ranch. In researching material for the Dave’s Devil article I came across a lot of information that indicated on some days, in some places, a different presentation may be the key to success.


And that brings us to this month’s featured fly, The Balanced Leech, a pattern similar to Dave’s Devil in that it is also weighted and tied on a jig hook, but with one innovative difference. Instead of a rising and diving action, the Balanced Leech is designed to sit and move horizontally in the water.


Extra time on the hands of some fly tyers simply gives them more time to tinker around with new ideas. The Balanced Leech came from the efforts of Jerry McBride of Spokane, Washington about 2005. Jerry was trying to improve his success with his usual stillwater patterns by fishing them under an indicator. After varying degrees of success, it was pointed out to him that most stillwater life forms, with the exceptions of chironomids, sit and move horizontally in the water, not vertically. Jerry used his background as a mechanical engineer to apply the principles of physics to get his patterns to remain horizontal when fished under an indicator. Basically, McBride used an ordinary straight pin to hold a weighted bead slightly out in front of the fly that is tied on a jig hook.


A Balanced Leech under construction; a straight pin with a tungsten bead for weight,  along with a glass bead             as a spacer.

The result is kind of a teeter-totter effect with the eye of the jig hook being the pivot point and the cantilevered bead out in front balancing the weight of the materials behind the eye. Jig hooks are preferred because the leader is allowed to hang vertically in the water under an indicator, while the fly, tied on with a non-slip loop knot, sits horizontally in the water column. An added bonus of using a jig hook is that the flies will ride with the hook point up, thus reducing the chance of snags.


The exact positioning of the bead head can be a bit of trial and error experimentation. Too large of a bead, or the bead being positioned too far forward results in the fly sitting with its nose down. Too small of a bead, or the bead being not far enough forward, results in the fly sitting with its tail down. There are a number of other factors that come into play when determining the optimal positioning of the bead, including the length of the hook shank, the size of the bead, the type of bead (tungsten or brass), as well as the type and amount of other fly tying body and tail materials. With a little practice a fly tyer will be able to figure out the proper balance of materials before starting the tying process. While some physics is involved you have to keep in mind this is not rocket science. You can test the balance of a finished fly by hanging it from a loop of leader material. If the finished fly is close to being balanced that is good enough. Any slight tilting up or down will be evened out by the support provided by the water when the fly is being fished.


Hanging a completed Balanced Leech from mono leader to check its balance

You can fish the Balanced Leech slowly with an intermediate sinking line. But you will get the most out of its design by fishing it with a floating line under a strike indicator. Why fish with a strike indicator, you ask? Well, here are some reasons:
1. You can suspend the fly at any depth that you choose. If you are finding fish consistently at, say a depth of six feet, you can set the depth for your fly at six feet with your strike indicator and keep it there in the zone.
2. You can choose to move the fly slowly or not at all.
3. Slow and short strips of the line will provide motion to the indicator, which will transfer that same degree of motion to the fly, which still remains at the desired depth zone.
4. Wave action can provide some interesting motion through the strike indicator. Some flyfishers report that the balanced leech under a strike indicator has proven to be most effective when wind drifting across a lake in a float tube or pontoon boat. At such times the fish can find the tantalizing random jigging motion created by the wave action to be irresistible.


So there you have it… another option to add to the arsenal in your quest for those elusive fish. Once you have figured out how to tie a balanced leech you can extend the same principles to other stillwater patterns like damselflies, dragonflies, and minnows, etc. The list goes on. You should continue to use your favorite patterns that you have had success with in the past. Just try tying up a few of those same favorites as balanced patterns. It certainly is worth a try on your next stillwater adventure.


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Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, April 25th to tie up some Balanced Leeches. As always we will be starting at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there.





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