Pro Tips: How to Tie and Fish the Versatile DDH Leech

Written by: Stu Thompson, Dark Water Dubbing

The DDH Leech is an incredibly versatile pattern that can work in almost any angling situation.
Photo by Stu Thompson

[Editor’s note: I recently restocked my own personal supply of DDH Leeches (see the photo below), in preparation for the upcoming trout season in Vermont, so it seems like a good time to repost this classic story. The DDH Leech remains one of my favorite patterns for trout and bass.]

Fly tiers have come already come up with some truly amazing patterns that catch fish Consistently, such as the Mickey Finn, Muddler Minnow, Humpy, Adams, Dahlberg’s Diver, Lefty’s Deceiver, Clouser Minnow, and Woolly Bugger. One of the things that all these flies have in common is that they work not only for one species of fish, but for a variety of fish, as well.

I have tied every one of these flies and a lot of other well known patterns and have used them with success. Being a multi species fly fisherman, I always try to find that one pattern that will effectively catch anything and everything. There are times I sit at my tying desk trying to come up with a fly that will do this, and most of the time what I come up with works for some species but not others.

Then one winter night, at the beginning of 1995, I sat down to tie a new leech pattern for walleyes. I knew I wanted a bit of weight up front to make the fly swim in an up-and-down motion but not sink like a rock, so I decided some gold bead chain would be perfect and tied it on top of the hook near the front. Then, I took my favourite tying material, marabou, and tied it in for a tail. I had two materials for my new fly but couldn’t figure out what to use for the rest of it. My eyes wandered around my tying room looking for something that I could use, and I stopped at the dubbing. I thought if I put that material in a dubbing loop and wrapped it around the shank and over the eyes that it should look pretty good. I proceeded with the dubbing and examined the finished fly, but there was just something about it that didn’t look right.

I left the fly in the vise and got up to get a cup of coffee. On my way back, I figured out what was wrong with it; the hair of the dubbing wasn’t long enough. I went through every packet of dubbing only to find the same result: all the hair was too short. I went to every store in the city looking for the correct dubbing and couldn’t find what I was looking for. Not one supplier of dubbing had the correct length.

Stu ties the DDH Leech in a variety of colors
Photo by Phil Monahan

Like any obsessed fly tier, I improvised. I went to the local tackle store’s fly tying department to see if they had some rabbit skins, hoping to find some longer hair. Perfect! I took the skins home and started cutting the hair from the skin, with a pair of scissors—time consuming to say the least but well worth it. I put all the hair into a large plastic bag to ready it for blending. I got my coffee grinder out, along with some Static Guard, and mixed a small amount of dubbing for the next couple of flies.

The length of hair improved the look of the fly by 200 %, but there was still a nagging feeling that something was missing. Then I thought of one of my fishing analogies that I use to talk about fly selection: “When a person is in a room of brunettes, you really don’t notice anyone until a blonde person walks in the room. Your eye is naturally attracted to that person because of the brighter color of hair.” So it is with fish; if they see a bit of flash on a fly, it will get the fish’s attention. Fish are generally attracted to and curious about a little flash. As a result, the fish will usually swim over to it and see if it is good to eat, greatly increasing your chances for a strike.

With so many flash materials on the market, I had to figure out what type of flash material would blend easily with the dubbing and be able to move in the water. There was only one type of flash enhancer I could think of, and that was Diamond Dub Holographic. It was the right length out of the package and subtle enough to have movement in the water. Diamond Dub Holographic (hence the name DDH Leech), is a fine fiber that can be dubbed by itself or used as an enhancer in different dubbing blends.To make my brown dubbing I start by using equal amounts of red, yellow, and bright orange dubbing. I then blend the three colors in a coffee grinder. Before putting the hair in the grinder, I spray a small amount of Static Guard in it to alleviate static buildup during the blending process. The color that is produced is a remarkable orange that can be used by itself, or you can start to add a bit of black to it to darken it to a brown color; the more black you put in the darker brown you make. If you want an outstanding claret, you would blend black, red, and fuschia. DDH dubbing is available in the U.S. as Ultra Holographic Dubbing here.

I blended some dark brown Diamond Dub Holographic with the black rabbit and was really excited by the outcome. I tied up the first fly and I was pumped, so much so that I tied another 11, for an even dozen.

Putting It to the Test
You may think I was crazy to tie a dozen flies that had never been tested but I had a good feeling about this one and believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. When the opening of the 1995 season rolled around, I called five of my friends and told them that I had a new fly that I wanted them to try out. Each angler got two of the flies and the results of that June weekend blew my mind.

One of the guys went to a stocked rainbow trout lake and landed 67 trout over two days of fishing, with the largest trout taping at 30 inches. Another friend went for smallmouths, and he was ecstatic, landing huge numbersof bass in three days of fishing. The third person went to the west side of Manitoba, where the rainbows and browns average 22-25 inches and caught a ton of fish, all on the DDH. The other two guys went out for pike and lost three of the flies on fish and brought the last one back with only the bead chain eyes and about four strands of marabou left on the fly. I couldn’t believe this fly caught so many fish!

Stu Thompson with one of the many species caught on his DDH Leech.
Photo courtesy Stu Thompson

I had to wait until the following Tuesday to try the new leech pattern. I decided to fish the Bird River, on the east side of my home province of Manitoba, and left early enough to be on the water by 6:00 A.M. The water looked terrific as I raced to get into my waders and rig my rod. The cool thing about this spot is that, if you cast to the left shoreline, you will catch pike and if you cast to the right you catch walleyes. I hammered both species. What a debut from this fly!

Later in the week, while sitting on my patio, I got to thinking about this fly and the results from the previous weekend of fishing and wondered if this was some kind of fluke. There was only one way to find out: get some more DDH Leeches into other fly fisher’s hands. So, I tied another dozen and gave them to six more fly fishing friends to try them out. They all caught fish and not just bass, pike, and walleyes. They caught those but a few more species were added as well: channel cats, carp, freshwater drum, sauger, and goldeye. I was speechless! Never in a million years did I think one of my flies would catch that many and such a variety of fish this consistently.

I needed to tie it in different colors to continue the experiment. I tied them in, purple, pink, olive, and the original black and I sent them to friends across Canada, from B.C. to Prince Edward Island. The feedback was beautiful: steelhead and Pacific salmon, as well as cutthroat, golden, lake, and brook Trout. In less than 10 years, virtually every species of fish that swims in Canada was caught on this fly.

In Fort Lauderdale, during a cruise with my wife, I showed this pattern to a couple of fly fishermen who work in the fly fishing department of the Bass Pro Shop. They gushed over the flies like a kid over chocolate. The first fly they picked up was the brown DDH, then the tan, and finally the olive. They both said they could nail saltwater species on these flies. I left the store about two dozen flies lighter, and I’m really glad I did. Seems like the saltwater fish like them too.

I have sent this fly to Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, all across Canada and the U.S., and it has taken fish in each of these countries. To date, there have been 80 different species of fish in both fresh and salt water that have fallen prey to the seductive powers of the DDH Leech.

In salt water, this fly has taken bonefish, permit, snook, tarpon, redfish, greenling, and two types of flounder. In freshwater, the list is quite extensive and includes, to name a few, crappie, all types of panfish, all species of trout and char, pike, palleye, all species of bass, carp, channel cats, freshwater drum, bigmouth buffalo, red tail catfish, pacu, and barramundi. The DDH Leech just flat out catches fish.

The DDH Leech has caught some 80 species of fish.
All photos by Stu Thompson

          DDH Leech
          Hook (freshwater): 2X-long nymph hook (here a Talon SA-163C),
                    sizes 4 through 8.
          Hook (saltwater): Mustad 34007, sizes 4 through 8.
          Thread #1: Size A rod-wrapping thread.
          Eyes: Bead chain, sized to fly and for desired sink rate.
          Thread #2: 3/0, color to match body.
          Tail: Marabou.
          Body: DDH dubbing or blend.

This is a very simple fly to tie but there are a few details spelled out below that will ensure the fly is as tantalizing and durable as possible. Let’s start with the hook. I used to tie this fly on a Mustad 3399 hook but have switched to a Talon SA-163C horizontal-loop-eye hook. The Talon hook has a flat area toward the back taper of the loop, which seats the bead-chain eyes and makes them more secure. Plus, this hook is 2X-stout and has never straightened out on me while fighting a big fish.

Put the hook in the vise, and start the rod-wrapping thread at the hook eye and wrap back about two hook-eye lengths or, on the Talon, to the flat spot. Attach the bead chain eyes with three or four figure 8 wraps and then make 3 circular wraps between the bead chain eyes and the hook shank. These pinch the figure 8 wraps, making them tighter so the eyes do not move at all. Tie off the rod wrapping thread, and tie on 3/0 monocord for the rest of the fly.

The next step is selecting the marabou for the tail. The feather has to be long enough to be tied in right behind the bead chain eyes and extend past the bend of the hook: 1 to 1 ½ times the hook shank length. Tying the stem and fibers of the feather down the length of the shank behind the eyes keeps the body diameter consistent and provides a secure foundation for wrapping the dubbing-loop body. Tying in a clump of marabou at the bend of the hook will form a short hump which will be susceptible to turning when you wrap the dubbing body and/or after a few fish eat it.

The length of the tail is paramount, as well. If it’s too short, there is no action, but too long and you will get short strikes from the smaller species of fish. After measuring the marabou to the proper length, tie it in right behind the eyes and wrap the thread back toward the tail over the feather and hook shank until you are above the point of the barb; then wrap back toward the eyes, securing all the loose marabou fibers. After this point wrap the thread ¼ of the way to the point of the hook. You are now ready for the next step, making a dubbing loop.

To form the dubbing loop, extend the thread so it is approximately 12 inches long, and then fold the thread in half, place the dubbing twister on the midpoint of the thread, and hold while bringing the bobbin back up to the hook shank. Wrap the thread three turns around the hook shank to secure it. Continue wrapping the thread back toward the tail at the same time, capturing and tying down both legs of the loop until the thread is at the rear of the body above the point of the barb. Do a half hitch at this point to anchor the dubbing loop, and then take the thread back
up to the hook eye and place a half hitch.

Get the dubbing blend and place small bunches at a time up against one another crosswise in between the two threads that form the loop until there is a line of dubbing filling the length of the loop. Take the dubbing twister and spin the loop tight.

After the dubbing loop is twisted tight, you have what is called a dubbing noodle or dubbing brush. With the twister still in place, hold the noodle taut and use a dubbing teaser such as Velcro glued to a clothes pin or a small battery brush and brush/tease out the loose fibers from the newly formed dubbing noodle. Twist the noodle 3 to 4 more times to ensure the tightness of the loop.

When you make thefirst wrap of the noodle around the shank above the barb, remember to comb the fibres back with your fingers as you continue to wrap to the eyes. Once you reach the eyes, do a figure 8 wrap around the eyes and you should have approximately 2 inches of the noodle left over.

This next step is just as critical as the length of the tail. Make 2 or 3 wraps of the noodle right behind the eyes in the same place. Then bring the remaining loop forward underneath and tie it off at the hook eye. Comb all fibers out of the way while making the head, and then whip finish. Once the fly is finished, get the brush and brush out any trapped fibers. Then brush the hair toward the tail. The fly is now ready for head cement.

The reason for the extra wraps of the noodle right behind the eyes is to create a bigger diameter at the front or head of the body. The water is pushed over the head, creating a turbulent flow over the fly which, in turn, creates a flow over the marabou tail and giving this fly amazing action in the water.

The last item to discuss is the dubbing itself. Most tiers will only use what is available from suppliers, which I find too short. Therefore I am cutting hair off rabbit skins until my fingers are raw. It is the only way I know of to get the length of hair required. I have used other materials, angora and llama are two, but in tying this fly nothing compares to long rabbit. There are some colors—black, white, red, yellow, and blue—I use that come right off the hide. These are primary colors, and no other colors in the world can be used to blend these. I will also use fluorescent colors right off the skins, but the rest of the colors I use are blended. My brown dubbing, for
instance, has no actual brown hair in the dubbing. It is a mixture of colors that when combined make brown. I can mix virtually any shade of brown from a light tan to the darkest brown just by blending the colors in different quantities. I can lighten, darken, and even make a pastel type of color to exactly imitate any type of fish food.

The reason I do this came to me back in 1974 when I really started to notice the different colors that make up individual aquatic insects. As an example a Hex nymph is not one solid color, it has grey, tan, and brown. In fact, every living thing in and out of water is a mixture of colors. So, the best way to come close to duplicating nature with your dubbing is to blend multiple colors to give an appearance of a solid.

How many variations can this fly be tied in? Well, that just depends on your imagination? I tie these flies in one solid color (blended to give the impression of a solid, of course) as well as what I call DDH Heads which are two tone flies or what people call egg sucking leeches. For the DDH Head patterns, what some tiers call egg sucking leeches, I usually use contrasting colors such as chartreuse and black, yellow and red, white and pink, etc.

Stu Thompson lives in Manitoba, Canada, where he is a freelance writer, fly casting instructor, and avid angler. You can buy DDH Leeches and dubbing packs directly from Stu’s website, Dark Water Dubbing, which is also full of lots more information.

12 thoughts on “Pro Tips: How to Tie and Fish the Versatile DDH Leech”

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  3. Any dubbing will work as long as it is long enough. It is the length that makes this fly work and if the fibers are to short there is really no movement. The rabbit fur I use is anywhere from 1 – 1 1/2 inches long.

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