Fly Patterns - String Leech

String Leech



Front hook: any inexpensive black salmon style hook (#6-1/0); rear hook: any “octopus” style hook-up eye, short shank, wide gape (1/0-2/0)


Black 210 denier flat nylon 


Black or purple cactus chenille

Interior Flash:

Pearl fine flashabou or crystal flash


Spirit River “Eyebalz” or extra large bead chain


Black or purple regular cut rabbit strip


Black or purple cross-cut rabbit strip


30# backing


Black or purple schlappen


Black thread


Resting my casting (and catching) arm, I watched as Keith stung a hefty Alaskan Silver Salmon near the mouth of the Tsiu River in southeast Alaska. The fresh brute raced downstream as Keith’s reel screamed. I walked over to watch him land the exhausted bright female. “Seventeen pounds if it’s an ounce” remarked our guide as he hauled the fish off, destined for the cooler back at the quad-runners we’d used to get to the beach.


I’d been catching my share that rainy, windy day on various typical Silver Salmon patterns, but I was curious about the odd-looking fly that Keith was now trying to revive after it’s bout with the silver lady. “What’s that?” I asked. “String Leech,” he replied with a sly grin as he reached into his vest for a big box loaded with the black and purple beasts. “Take a couple,” he offered. I thanked him and relieved him of several 2/0 versions.


I’ve used leeches extensively, but never an articulated version. The String Leech is so named because it is tied with two hooks—the front one being cut off at the bend and the rear one attached to it with a “string.” One particularly interesting version is the “Fergus’ Mother of All Leeches,” which you can check out via this link:, or see the fly article in Northwest Fly Fishing magazine, Winter 2005 issue. Often called an “articulated leech,” in the water the fly moves irresistibly. In the case of Silver Salmon, I suspect it just plain makes them mad and they try to kill it. The materials are simple and the tying technique, with the exception of the string, is not unusual. For some interesting history on this fly, see:


NOTE: I will add “tying tips” at the end of the article text each month. The tips will usually relate to the fly featured in the column for that month. However, if the steps are self-explanatory, the tip(s) might relate to a different technique or type of pattern.  Secondly, be sure to check the web site for additional pictures of the fly and/or the tying steps. It is not possible to include more that one picture in the Leader, but the website affords us more space.

Tying Instructions

1.  Bend the barb on the rear hook and place it into the vise. Cover it with thread.

2.  Tie in a strip of regular-cut rabbit strip at the bend as a tail; the tail should extend about 1” to the rear of the bend.

3.  Tie in a length of cross-cut rabbit and some cactus chenille. Wrap the cactus chenille forward and tie off about 1/8” behind the eye.


4.  Wrap the rabbit forward, leaving a bit of space between wraps to allow the cactus chenille to show through. Tie it off at the same spot.


5.  Tie in several pieces of flash at the same spot (see tip below) and trim to the length of the tail.

6.  Tie in a long webby schlappen hackle and take 2 or 3 wraps at the head. Form a head while sweeping the hackle to the rear and whip finish. Set this fly aside for a moment.


7.  Place the front hook in the vise and cover the shank with thread. Return the thread to the front of the hook and tie on the eyes on the top of the hook (see tip below). Apply super glue.


8.  Cut a 6” piece of 30# backing and color it black using a Sharpie. Place an overhand knot at one end and tie the material in at the front of the hook, behind the knot. This will keep it from pulling through. Tie it down firmly along the far side of the shank, back to the bend.


9.  Run the other end of the backing through the eye of the rear hook and create a loop by tying the backing in along the near side of the front hook. The loop should be about ½” to 1” in length, creating a short separation between the two hooks. Some tiers like the length to be longer. I prefer the shorter connection to limit fouling of the two hooks.


10.  Now tie the front fly in the same way that the rear fly was tied. Alternatively, you can make the front fly (or the rear one) a different color to provide contrast. The nice thing about this pattern is that you can tie it using virtually any color of bunny strips.


11.  After you’ve finished the front fly and completed the whip finish, cement the head area well as the fish will beat this fly about its head and shoulders. Finally, cut the front hook off at the bend.

Tying Tips

1. It is faster and easier to tie in materials such as flashabou or crystal flash by wrapping the strands around the tying thread once and evening up the two ends. This allows you to control exactly where the material will be tied in, and to easily wrap it down.


2. When tying on eyes (whether on the top or bottom of the hook) just wrap diagonally between the eyes and around the hook. Once you’ve done this 5 or 6 times, wrap horizontally around the eyes. This tightens up the diagonal wraps. Don’t bother with the “figure 8” method as it ends up not nearly as tight. Always add superglue before proceeding with the rest of the fly.


Tie a boxful of these brutes, bend one on your line, and have at it!


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