Leech Fishing Basics for Lakes
Lake fishing with flies offers anglers endless adventure. With 640 million acres of public land in the US, there is NO limit to the resources a fly fisher has when it comes to lakes. If you are an ambitious DIY angler that doesn't have access to a drift boat, big western rivers, and a bank account that can afford guides or long road trips - lake fishing is a GREAT option and seems like an underutilized resource. You can find a great variety of fish and they are often much larger than their river-run counterparts.
While we think of trout as our #1 most of the time, keep in mind that these techniques are directly applicable to other species as well. Any and all gamefish will target leeches when present, and like it or not... they are always present. Smallmouth, largemouth, panfish, carp, there are LOTS of species on the table when it comes to fishing stillwaters with leeches.
About 15 years ago I was taking my boat out after guiding till dark on the Yakima River. Another guide and I took out a party of (4) anglers and he offered to drive them all back to the shop while I finished up taking my boat out. It was a hot summer night, after dark. My boat was dirty so I mucked around cleaning up and took my time. I was wading in soft sand near the boat launch for about 10 minutes or so while I cleaned out my boat and organized tackle by headlamp. I jumped in my truck and headed home, only about 10 minutes away. As I walked up into the porch light I looked down at my leg which had a serious streak of blood running down it! I didn't remember banging my shin, but assumed I whacked it on the trailer tongue like I do about every 3 days. I slipped by sandals off and went inside and in better light I realized that I had several leeches attached to my legs! Good sized ones!
It was at this time I realized that even the soft water on a clear flowing, cold water trout river like the Yakima has lots of leeches. Whether you are in lakes, rivers, or ponds - leeches are a major food source.
Leeches Swimming in Action
Now this is an extreme video, but it's great footage on seeing leeches work in the water! You'll notice they undulate a great amount and therefore your strips should be short, consistent, and not too fast. There are some tips in the video about being "steady". Make sure to keep your rod tip very consistent and steady throughout the entire process.
Boat or No Boat?
You don't need a fancy boat, or ANY boat for that matter to go wet your line in a local lake or pond. Just get out there. Period. Many people feel like they can't or shouldn't take on a new adventure or challenge because they don't have the full gear set. That's BS. Start small, grow from there. If you are newer to fly fishing, just get yourself a handful of leech patterns and find a local lake or pond and get started. I personally started fly fishing on small waters, smaller the better. Less wind and no powerboats. Find an area with a little backcast room and get started. Expand from there but you have to get out there! My overwhelming preference when applicable is to have my feet firmly on the ground. My presentation is much steadier, cleaner, and I'm more effective.
The Boat as an Advantage
This is one of my best friends, Matt, he is among the best lake fisherman I've ever known and one of my fly fishing mentors. He loves the control he gets in a float tube with fins for precise rates of retrieve and presentation while fishing leeches for Brown Trout like this.
If used properly, boats can be an advantage. I like a personal watercraft or a float tube best myself. I am in control, and with a set of fins I can stay in control with my hands free. However, I often see boats for many as a big disadvantage. They drift around in the wind making a steadfast presentation difficult. Things are messy in a boat too. Lots of time and energy can be wasted. Anchors are essential on any boat, including a float tube IMO, and in a 10' plus boat - (2) anchors are really nice to have. You'll want to keep that boat pinned into one consistent and fixed position.
Leaders and Tippet for Fishing Leeches
RIO Fluorocarbon Tapered Leader - 9' 2X preferred.
The leader and tippet system can vary immensely. Variables like water color, potential size of fish, sinking vs. floating line, weight of fly pattern, depth of water, all have an impact on how you choose your leader and tippet. I want to keep this simple, so here is a rough guide.
- Sinking Line System - Leader is 5' of 2X Fluorocarbon Tippet Material. I use a Triple Surgeon's Loop in the tippet, and "loop to loop" it onto my fly line. A moderately weighted or unweighted fly is best for this.
- Floating Line - You'll need a longer leader as the fly will be the sinking element, and it needs plenty of leader to sink. A common leader is 9' of 2X Fluorocarbon Material. I loop to loop it onto my fly line, super easy. A moderately weighted fly is best, or a heavily weighted fly for deeper ledges.
Leech Patterns for Fly Fishing Lakes
Fly matters but far less than presentation. Pick up some nice leeches, get a variety and use some trial and error on your home water to see what your local fish prefer. Focus on black, olive, and a few wine or dark purple patterns. I really love a "balanced" style leech that doesn't sink head first due to the placement of the hook eye.
The #1 thing to remember is that you can't catch fish if you don't go. Don't overthink fly selection. Once there, just get a decent pattern on your line and focus on nice clean strips, a steadfast presentation, and even if you can't cast very far... that is all the more reason to have a perfect presentation.
Fly Line Selection for Lakes
In the video I make a statement that can be taken out of context. I don't expect anyone to just buy several lines, try them, and then decide what they like and shelf the rest. My point is that if you are new to lake fishing with leeches, it's impossible to know what line will be perfect for you.
I can fish the same lakes as my friends, have equal success, and we use very different lines. Preferably you will start with some type of "Intermediate" sinking line. This means it's a slow sink, usually clear, and is very versatile. To fish deep, let it sink longer, to fish shallow, just cast and strip with no delay. I often use a line with a 10' clear tip, because I also fish rivers a lot this works for me. If I was only on lakes, I would probably have a full sinking intermediate. Point is, just get a line, wear it out, and make adjustments after you gain experience.
Knot for Leech Fishing
Leeches move, wiggle, undulate, and really roll their hips. In order for you fly to have as much action as possible, use the Non Slip Mono Loop Knot.