Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #31 — Fish Two Flies — Why, When, How

by | Feb 25, 2018 | 3 comments

Two flies don’t tangle much. Yes, I know the skeptic immediately thinks about a maze of twisted tippet. And we all fear the site of multiple flies in an entwined mass of confusing knots and snarls. But I’ll say it again: Two flies really don’t tangle very much.

And since two flies on the line catches more trout than one (usually), I spend about ninety percent of my time on the river with a pair of flies tied to the line.

Why?

Fishing two flies gives the trout more options. They may not want the Pheasant tail, but they’ll take the trailing Zebra Midge. They may be attracted to the large Headbanger Sculpin and charge it, but maybe they’re more comfortable eating the paired #10 Wooly Bugger, two feet away.

Up top, we fish dry dropper styles to give the trout a second option. Wild trout are a respectable quarry, a fun foe, because they’re cautious — especially about rising to the surface. So providing a submerged pattern near the dry fly offering makes a lot of sense. And done correctly, it produces hookups from trout that won’t commit to a surface take.

Underneath, two weighted flies (be they nymphs or streamers) may carry a greater combined weight than a single fly, so if I choose to fish without split shot, adding the second fly opens up more possibilities. I can distribute the weight between two patterns and get my rig lower in the water column.

A two fly rig may also be used to improve visibility and tracking. Sometimes, we use a larger or more visible dry fly as a marker for a second no-see-um style of dry. This same concept applies under the surface. I like to use a small, visible white streamer as the top fly in a pair. I watch and manipulate the white streamer and therefore have a good idea of how my point fly is dancing below. The same principle can, of course, be used in a nymph rig.

But why not?

Tangles, right? And more knots.

Yeah, it’s true. Two tangles more than one. But if you’re ready with your knots, if your fingers are trained and your mind is sharp, if you’re committed to wrapping a few more turns of line and making use of the nippers, then the rewards are there. And done correctly (we’ll get to that) tangles are nearly eliminated.

Aside from the occasional rat’s nest and some extra knots, there’s one good reason to use just a single fly. Drag.

Sometimes it seems that everything in fly fishing comes down to drag, doesn’t it? Whether avoiding drag or making good use of it, a whole lot of what we do on the water is based around D-R-A-G.

When we pair two flies, they stand a good chance of ending up in different currents. There might be contrasting flows on the surface, or maybe two varied flows in the column underneath.

Perhaps the current is swirling around a midstream boulder; the first fly tucks in behind the rock, into a soft-water stall, but the second fly is swept into the fast flow beside it. And now the flies are at odds. They fight each other from their particular currents, and neither can avoid unnatural drag.

READ: One Great Nymphing Trick | Troutbitten

There’s one way to deal with this trouble and still use two flies, so let’s start with that.

How?

Keeping the distance between flies short limits the chances of them ending up in two competing currents. That can be a solution for those two flies traveling around the boulder, and sometimes I keep my flies as close as ten inches apart, but that’s not always what we want.

When fishing under the surface I often fish two flies to specifically cover two different levels: e.g., deep and deeper, shallow and mid-level. So my average distance between flies is perhaps eighteen to twenty-four inches.

I don’t regularly rig flies much closer than about fourteen inches, because two patterns right next to each other are often rejected by suspicious trout (especially in calm waters). It’s something to think about.

So how close should the flies be? It’s a give and take, a push and pull. But twenty inches is a good place to start. Limit the distance in faster flows, and lengthen it in slower waters. It’s all situational, really. But there are plenty of days when my landing net gets a workout without changing the distance between my two flies. I often keep them twenty inches apart.

So how should we rig a pair of flies? There are two options, really: tag ‘em or trail ‘em.

For this, I’ll refer you to a previous article that details both styles.

READ: Fly Fishing Strategies: Tags and Trailers | Troutbitten

I prefer tags, since I can truly be in touch with both flies. I like tying my tags with an Orvis Tippet Knot, but a Double Surgeon’s works fine too.

Although I prefer tags, there are plenty of times to use trailers. I often trail tiny nymphs behind larger ones. And I tend to use trailers when I want to keep the distance between flies short.

There’s a lot more advice, discussion and diagrams in the Tags and Trailers article.

All of this should keep you (mostly) tangle-free and fish-friendly. You’ll cover more water and give trout more options with two flies.

Oh, and if two’s good, how about three? Maybe. Sometimes.

Fish hard, friends.

Ahhh, winter. I’ll be happy for a few more days on the water like this one before Spring arrives. Photo by Pat Burke

 

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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3 Comments

  1. Excellent!!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing info, plan to understand the column of water per grid section area as part of reading water.
    Doug Dorman

    Reply

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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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