I have been in this game for a long time, and through the years I’ve come to know only a few people who truly have a gift for catching larger-than-usual fish. Matt Winkler is one of those people. Winkler works with me and is not only a hardcore stillwater angler, but a multi-species expert, and a tight-lipped S.O.B. as well. He is rarely one to toot his own horn, but if you follow his social media accounts, you’ll see a steady parade of big-fish pics. I jokingly refer to him as “Nothing but Two Footers” Winkler, and the nickname is consistently accurate. When I perused the new Umpqua offerings and got my first glimpse of Winkler’s new patterns for 2021, his balanced leech tied with an Ultrasuede tail immediately caught my eye. When I learned that it came from the mind of the guy who works with me three days a week, I wasn’t so much surprised as I was mad that I hadn’t seen this fly sooner.
Winkler has designed a fly that rides hook point up and horizontally in the water column, using the traditional “balanced” fly technique developed by Jerry McBride. This construction uses a jig hook with an extended tungsten bead tied to a dressmaker’s pin extending off the front of the hook shank, which allows the vertical hook eye to protrude from close to the center of the fly. Where Winkler has varied from the original is his addition of a thin strip of Ultrasuede to form an undulating tail that ripples and shimmies on both the sink and the retrieve.
Ultrasuede is the trade name for a synthetic microfiber fabric created in 1970 by Toray Industries. It is often described as an artificial substitute for suede leather. You can buy Ultrasuede by the yard at some craft stores, but Winkler dyes his in colors suited for trout—black, olive, blood, peacock, and purple—and sells them as a product called Leech Leather. This “leather” tail is cut to a taper and matches the form of a swimming leech unlike anything else. Winkler’s fly is finished off with a slim body of Arizona Simi Seal dubbing, which provides just the right amount of flash and movement to complement the tail.
When I pressed Winkler to expound on his thinking on the inspiration for this pattern, he grudgingly told me that it all came from his observations on the water. Trout love leeches, and they eat them day after day, and all season long. He wanted a pattern that had a more realistic silhouette and swimming action, so he started with a few key characteristics in mind. When a leech swims, it stretches its body out very thin, and swims with an up-and-down, serpentine movement.
Winkler’s pattern nails that effect. He also wanted a fly that stays in the strike zone longer, at any depth, and even in windy conditions. He credits the balanced fly approach as the key to achieving this.
Once I got Winkler talking, he proceeded to drop some of his vast knowledge on fishing this pattern for a variety of species and using variable techniques. For mudding carp with their heads down and tails up, Winkler presents the fly close, 6 to 12 inches out in front of feeding fish. As the fly sinks horizontally, it looks just like a real leech making its way to the bottom with the tail undulating up and down. If the fish see it on the initial sink, they’ll usually eat it, but if they don’t see it, pop the fly up and let it sink again a bit closer to them to get their attention. For cruising fish, Winkler leads them by a bit more and counts on the swimmy tail to close the deal when the fish encounter the fly.
With stillwater trout, Winkler depends on a static indicator rig to suspend the fly in the feeding zone. Any chop on the surface provides subtle jigging action, and the fly stays horizontal while the tail rolls seductively along for the ride. Windy conditions make it very hard to keep other flies in the correct zone and acting realistic, but the Balanced Leather Leech excels in these situations.
In moving water, Winkler uses it as part of a traditional nymph rig under an indicator or under a bushy dry in a dry/dropper rig. The tungsten bead gets the fly deep, and the up-riding hook point stays out of the rocks and sticks along the bottom.
This guy knows his stuff but doesn’t talk much. That’s the kind of guy you want to listen closely to.
1. Cut a dressmaker’s pin in half, and discard the tip. Thread the bead onto the pinhead with the countersunk side of the bead toward the head of the pin. Tie the pin and bead onto the shank of the hook with the bead extending past the jig bend by about two times the width of the bead.
2. Anchor the pin to the shank with tight thread wraps, then hop the thread onto the pin and continue wrapping up to the back of the bead. Create a thread dam behind the bead to lock it in place.
3. Using a roller cutter or sharp scissors, cut a strip of Leech Leather into a long taper, round the tip, and tie the tapered end onto the shank at the bend of the hook. The tail should be just longer than the hook and pin/bead assembly.
4. Create a 6-inch-long dubbing loop at the bend of the hook. Pull, stack, and align a small clump of Simi Seal dubbing between the strands of the loop, as close to the hook as you can get. Thin the dubbing evenly, then spin the dubbing whirl to create a tightly twisted dubbing loop about 5 inches long. Rake out the dubbing loop using a wire brush to free any trapped fibers.
5. Palmer the dubbing loop tightly up the hook shank, sweeping the fibers back as you go.
6. Continue wrapping the loop right up to the back of the bead. Tie off the excess and clip it flush. Build a smooth thread head behind the bead, and whip-finish. Add a dab of head cement to lock everything in place. Rake out the dubbing again, this time sweeping all the material toward the tail. Trim off any extra-long dubbing fibers.