The Last Chance Leech: The Evolution of a Project Fly

It began one morning at sunrise in 2016 on Utah’s Strawberry reservoir. I was fishing a woolly bugger around the inlets of Chicken Creek West and not one fish had even bumped my fly during the first hour or so on the water. Baffled by the lack of interest in this normally hot Strawberry fly, I decided to change to a new leech pattern I had been experimenting with to see if it would interest these seemingly dormant trout.

I cast toward shore and started stripping the black leech with slow, short strips and quickly hooked a nice Bonneville cutthroat. I thought, wow, maybe there is something to this fly, as I released the fish and threw out a second cast. My line immediately went tight again to another solid hookup with a 19-inch fish. I was pleased with my discovery and finished the morning with a few more nice trout and returned home with the knowledge of a new secret weapon!

First of all, let me say that the experimental leech pattern I used that morning was unconventional. There are tons of leech patterns out there that are tied on long-shank hooks with various mohair yarns, marabou, or are articulated, using other flowing materials. My experimental leech was built with rabbit fur tied on a Kevlar string and weighted at the head with a lead sinker. This crude fly wasn’t pretty but performed brilliantly that day when my leech-colored woolly buggers didn’t seem to interest fish. I still have that first experimental leech fly, (see photo below).

First Prototypes of the Last Chance Leech First prototypes of the Last Chance leech

After my experience on Strawberry that morning, I wondered if, because trout in that reservoir had seen so many woolly bugger-style flies pass by their nose that they had wised-up and were avoiding flies that all looked and swam alike. Maybe when they saw something different, with a more natural movement, it triggered the strike instinct. That was my thinking anyway, and I kept the memory of my success that morning in mind for a year before I finally tied up some more of those leech-fly prototypes.

An invite from my brother-in-law to fish a private lake rumored to hold monster rainbows was the catalyst to see if this project leech would really perform. I tied up a handful of improved versions, using beads instead of lead sinkers, tippet rings instead of hooks cut in half for line attachment, and a different kind of fur.

On the designated day, we arrived at the lake, climbed into our float tubes and were on the water at 6:30 AM. I tied a “new-improved version”- olive-brown leech to a loop knot on my 1X tippet and before long was tight into a solid rainbow. It is rare that I catch what I consider to be big fish and even more rare to have fish go into my backing, but this fish did. My backing had not been used for so long that it had been compressed tightly on my spool. With my six-weight in one hand, I had to strip backing off my reel with the other hand so it could spool freely, allowing the fish to run and not break off.

I finally netted the big rainbow, with the leech pattern anchored firmly in the corner of its jaw. I guessed its weight at about 5 pounds. We fished until 10:00AM and I caught four more rainbows, all in the 3-4lb size range and all on the same olive-brown leech. It was interesting that all five were hooked solidly in the corner of the jaw. I speculate that these rainbows took the leech and then quickly turned, all hooking themselves in the corner of the jaw, (see photo below).

Rainbow Trout caught with the Last Chance LeechOne of five rainbows caught the same morning with an olive-brown Last Chance leech – all hooked in the corner of the jaw.

A second trip to the same lake in June of this year, fishing the Last Chance leech exclusively, yielded similar results – five rainbows hooked, 3 netted, the largest, seven pounds, two found the weeds and broke my tippet. Needless to say, I was satisfied with the performance of this fly. I have since shared this fly with a few others, who along with myself have also fished it in different waters with similar results.

Pete Larkinn with a Rainbow Trout caught with a Last Chance LeechThe man who named the fly, Pete Larkin with another big rainbow that couldn’t resist the Last Chance leech.

Justin Robinson, Strawberry Reservoir Bonneville Cutthroat caught on the Last Chance LeechJustin Robinson with a Strawberry reservoir Bonneville Cutthroat caught on the Last Chance leech.


Unlike insects, leeches have only one life cycle and are present year-round in their water environments. Although insect hatches can draw them out during daylight hours, they are light-sensitive and generally hide during the bright daylight hours in deep water and become more active in the shallows as night approaches. They move along lake bottoms by inch-worming their way among decaying vegetation and debris, scavenging for insects and other aquatic organisms. Leeches have suckers at both ends of their body, the anterior, smaller sucker is also their head (and mouth). In open water, leeches stretch out in a flattened, ribbon-like shape, moving like a miniature water snake in a pitching motion, propelling themselves with a flattened, paddle-like tail at a speed of about one foot every 2-3 seconds.

The shape of a swimming leech (which is how the majority of leech patterns are fished) is where the Last Chance leech separates itself from other leech patterns. The head of a leech is always narrower than the tail.

Leech Anatomy and Behavior



Fifty-percent of the tying of this fly is done without even picking up a bobbin. Instead of being tied on long-shank hooks like many leech imitations, the Last Chance leech is built on a pliable “harness” allowing the fly to flow and breathe, emphasizing the small, anterior head of the leech and its wider tail, which hides the hook.

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions HarnessesTwo finished leech harnesses, ready for the vise.

Arctic Fox fur is tied into the harness, creating a super-durable, undulating fly that mimics the natural shape and movement of a living, swimming leech. Leeches are masters of camouflage and adapt to the coloration of lake and stream bottoms. The size and color of metal beads used can be adapted to the waters and depths fished.

Artic Fox Fur in a variety of colorsArctic Fox fur is available in most colors, although black, brown, olive, claret (maroon), dark grey and tan are the most common leech colors.


  • Moss green PowerPro 30 lb braided Spectra Fiber Microfilament Line
  • Gamakatsu C14S #10 Mosquito hook (for 2” or smaller leech)
  • Fulling Mill 2505 Bonio #10 Carp hook (for 2 ½”-3” leech)
  • 7/64” metal bead (for 2” leech)
  • 5/32" metal bead (for 2 ½”-3” leech)
  • 2mm tippet ring
  • Arctic Fox fur
  • Super Glue Gel or Krazy Glue Gel


LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 01

Take an 8-inch piece of PowerPro Kevlar line and loop it through the hook eye. Pull the equal-length tag ends tight. Tie an overhand knot 1/4" to 3/8" above the hook eye. Thread both tag ends through the back end of a bead, through the tippet ring, then back through the front end of the bead. Adjust the length you want the leech to be, then tie another overhand knot 1/4" to 3/8" above the first knot, locking 4 layers of line together. Trim the excess Kevlar line.


Cut a good-sized clump of fur with uniform-length tips, leaving the underfur in place. Spin the bobbin counter-clockwise and do a pinch-wrap, securing the tail, trim off the excess fur, add a small amount of Super Glue Gel to lock in the tie-off point. (Thin Super Glue will soak excessively into the materials leaving them too stiff).

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 02

Add a second clump of fur to the front of the hook, leaving the underfur in place, using a pinch-wrap. Tie off, trim and glue. This completes the tail which should be thicker and bushier than the rest of the fly.

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 03

With a second vise, clamp the tippet ring and with opposing vises, gently push them apart to tighten the harness. Using a pinch-wrap, tie-in a third clump of fur - this time with underfur removed, right above the hook. (For the rest of the fly, the fur should be more sparse than the tail, yet still cover the Kevlar line). Tie off, trim and glue.

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 04

Repeat the last step, tying in fur above the remaining two knots.

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 05


LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 06


LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 07

In the gap between the last tie-in and the bead, use some of the set-aside underfur and with a dubbing loop, fill in the gap. Tie off.

LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions 08


LakeStream Studio Last Chance Leech Fly Tying Instructions Completed FlyFinished fly ready to fish.

Paul Laemmlen is a fly fisherman and wildlife artist from Cedar Hills, Utah. His artwork can be found at