Fly Fishing Strategies — The Add-On Line

by | Feb 16, 2018 | 12 comments

Adding a second fly to the tippet section usually improves your chances of fooling a trout. Sure, there are times when the precision of just one fly is an advantage, but more often than not, I fish with multiple fly rigs. I like two nymphs, two streamers, and two wets. And I like to run a dropper from a dry fly about half the time I’m fishing the surface. Unfortunately, adding a second fly means tying more knots and adjusting the rig, but there’s a simple trick I learned from a wise friend some years back. We call it the add-on line.

First, there are two main ways to rig a second fly: as a tag or a trailer. I wrote an article considering both types in depth, detailing how and why to employ each method. I encourage you to give it a read first. Then all of what follows here will make more sense.

READ: Tags and Trailers | Troutbitten

Briefly, a tag fly is attached to a short length of line protruding from a knot in the tippet (usually 12-24” above the point fly). But a trailer fly is attached to a second line at the first fly (most often directly to the bend of the hook).

There are good reasons to use both styles of droppers, and there are multiple ways to attach each. While the standard ways to attach tags and trailers are good primary options, the add-on line trick provides a quick alternative. Let’s take a look.


The most common way to add a dropper tag is to leave one of the tag ends long while joining two pieces of tippet. I prefer the Orvis Tippet Knot, but the Double Surgeon’s Knot or Blood Knot works well too.

But here’s the trouble . . .

The tag gets too short after a couple fly changes. Right? If you start out with a five inch tag, you are left with a two inch nub in no time. So what can you do?

You can cut the lines and rejoin them to form a new tag, although that requires clipping off the point fly. And when you reattach it, the distance between your two flies is five inches shorter. You can, instead, scrap that piece of tippet and add a whole new section. But that gets expensive, and you’re still tying more knots than necessary. So I prefer the simple add-on line trick. I add a new piece of tippet around the mainline where I want my tag.

Here’s the add-on line.


Slide this added piece down to the knot, and a new tag is created. You can use whatever knot you’re comfortable with here. I prefer the Davy Knot because it’s super quick, but the Clinch Knot or a Uni-Knot works well too.

Traditionally, sliding dropper loops are a popular option for an add-on line. But in thin diameter tippets of 4x or smaller, I prefer one of the knots mentioned above. They are simpler and less bulky than a dropper loop.


Arguably, tying a new piece of tippet to the hook bend of a fly is the most common way to add a trailer. That’ll get the job done. Trailer lines can also be tied to the eye of the first fly (both the mainline and the trailer line are tied to the eye).

But here’s the trouble . . .

What if I want to swap out the main fly? I have to cut the trailer line and reattach it to the new fly, right? Inconveniences like these seem minor at first. But as I’ve argued so many times through the pages of Troutbitten, if a rig-change isn’t easy, anglers avoid it. Inherent in every fisherman is a fear of wasting time on the water. So we skip doing the small things that cost time. And the more efficient we can make fly or tippet changes, the more likely we are to do them. Using the add-on line saves time.

To add a trailer, instead of attaching the extra tippet to the bend or the eye of a fly, I attach it around the mainline. This gives me the freedom to slide the trailer line up and out of the way so that I can swap out the original fly — a significantly quicker change with one clip and one knot instead of two and two.

Be careful

I have one major caution when attaching tags and trailers this way — slide slowly. When tying the knot around the mainline, pull the knot closed, but don’t tighten until you slide it down into position. This avoids line burn and damage. Once the knot is seated (tight around the mainline and snugged up into position) it won’t slide up the line unless you move it. When you do move it, slide slowly.

And one last trick

Since I play with fly positioning a lot and enjoy adjusting rigs to the conditions, I really like simple solutions that allow me to make changes quickly without wasting material. I sometimes use the add-on method to swap out long sections of tippet with pre-rigged flies. Similar to the way I would employ a tippet ring, I use a stopper knot, then add the tippet around the mainline above.


Do it

The add-on line is just another quick solution that solves problems, and once you realize that it’s an available option, it comes in handy pretty often.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Good tips Domenick, thanks. I’ve learned something new.

  2. Thanks Domenick! Seems so simple yet not something I’ve thought of. I usually use a Double Surgeons knot with a long tag for my dropper setup and end up cutting the whole thing off when the tag gets too short. This will save a lot tippet material. I’ll share this tip with my readers.

  3. Very helpful and thought-provoking, thanks. Would this setup work for a dry dropper rig too?

    • Don, sure it does. If I’m using a dry where a lot of the bouyancy is near the front, such as a parachute, then I often use this add-on kind setup. But if I’m using something like a Madam X or stonefly style dry, I like to add the trailer off the bend.

  4. Tag droppers love to twist around the leader. Any simple knot reveals this and more complex knotting systems retain identical issues. The single action that complicates this is false casting. I see it everywhere.
    One very slight benefit comes from using heavier & stiffer material to attach a tag (not trailer). Fluorocarbon does not become more detectable with diameter, but may adversely influence drift. Still, using tag material of fluorocarbon that is rated at least two, preferably three or more, “X” sizes larger than leader might become more critical in very windy conditions.
    Gary Eaton aka doubledok

    • Gary, I’ve heard others complain about tangles with tags, but I just don’t experience it much. I nymph with 4x fluoro, sometimes 5x. I do have fewer problems with fluoro over mono, but running either one on a 4-5″ tag just doesn’t cause many problems for me no matter what knot I use.

      I will say that the tag is often wrapped around the mainline when out of the water, but that’s of no consequence because it seems easily unravel itself once in the water.

      I also have weight in most of my tag flies. Maybe that makes a difference as well?

  5. Hi Domenick and fellow Readers,

    I read “Tags and Trailers” two months ago and started tying a davy knot to my leader for a trailer fly exclusively. It greatly improved my winter fishing hookups so thanks for another great idea! The davy knot looks great too but I’ve been tying the double davy for extra insurance without any real justification. Have you found this to be worth the extra wrap on lighter tippet?

    Here are a couple of nice features to the “add-on line” that I like in addition.

    This method allows me to use a barbless jig hook as a lead fly without tying a trailer directly to that barbless hook. I’ve lost flies and fish because that connection of “tippet to barbless hook” somehow just slipped off the jig. I haven’t gotten into tags for some of the reasons mentioned so this has been the best solution for me to fish two barbless flies underneath.

    I’m also catching a lot more fish on my first fly than I was with the traditional method. Maybe it’s just a coincidence for me but a happy one for sure.

    Lastly, the ability to switch the front fly is a beautiful thing when hands are cold and you don’t want to change the entire rig. Last winter, I felt like there were situations where I’d leave my front fly on until it fell off. The fly wasn’t working but I’d still just change the back fly because I was lazy and cold. Now, I can change one fly at time without wasting tippet and this helps produce more fish and fun for me.

    This is a tremendous problem solver. Thanks again fellow Dom. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t catch on.

    • Really good points, Dom, especially important about the tippet slipping off the bend of a barbless hook. You can tie from the eye of those hooks, or of course use tags to, or . . . yeah the add-on line.

      About the Double Davy. I don’t have a need for the extra step. I use the Davy with 100% confidence.

    • The (Single) Davy knot is all you need for an “add-on tag” . I use it to connect tippet to the micro-loop on my furled leader. Rock solid knot with just the one turn. However, the Double Davy knot is necessary when the hook diameter is larger than the tippet diameter. If you want to compare the two try this test:

      Knot v. Knot
      Materials/Equipment: 2 identical hooks; use the type you most commonly fish.
      A spool of the tippet material you use with those hooks (flies)
      2 needle nose Vise Grips (or needle nose pliers if you dare)
      Eye protection just to play it safe

      Testing Procedure:
      1) Cut a 3′ length of tippet material
      2) Tie one knot (e.g. the Davy) to one end and tie the other hook to the opposite end of the tippet using a second knot (e.g. Double Davy)
      3) Clamp each hook in one of the Vise Grips securely
      4) Now start pulling in ways that best simulate a break off (surges, yanks, etc.) Do not use a steady pull.
      5) Record which knot wins and repeat 9 more times. The better knot will be best for you under actual fishing and fish fighting conditions.

  6. If I just want to attach the dropper to the tippet without having a stopper knot, will the davy knot still work, or will it slide down? If not, what knot would you suggest?

    • Hi Abe.

      No the Davy knot will slide. So will the clinch or just about anything else, really. The best way to tie in a dropper is to use two pieces of material, use an Orvis Tippet Knot and tie the pieces together. Use a long tag unclipped for the dropper. That, of course, won’t slide. Everything else you add on will slide, so you need a stopper knot.

      The knot that will slide least is the same one I use for the Backing Barrel:

      You can tie that knot with tippet material (it’s basically a uni knot), and if pulled tight, it won’t slide easily. But once it does slide, it will keep sliding.

      Make sense?


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