Q&A: Why Do Multi-Nymph Rigs Tangle and How Can You Avoid It?

by | Jul 23, 2023 | 17 comments

I field questions from Troutbitten readers, listeners and watchers every day. And there are common themes within the questions. The same things give people trouble on all trout streams, all around the world. This Q&A series is a chance to answer some of those questions.

Here’s the latest . . .


This one comes from John K. And I’ve received it in many forms for many years.

Dom, I have a technical nymphing question for you.

When nymphing with split shot or drop shot, and even while using small flies with thin tippet, how do you prevent tangles on droppers?

I’ve heard you say that bad casting causes tangles. I fish mostly tungsten flies, and I get tangled with them too. My flies are usually 18” apart.


I get this question a lot, and you’re right, it’s bad casting that causes tangles and not the rigs themselves.

Some anglers try to do too much too soon. It’s best to start with just one fly and keep things simple. Once we achieve real accuracy, consistently landing both the fly and the tippet where we’d like, only then should we try to cast two flies.

Even then, graduating to two weighted flies is the next step. And wait until control over this rig is consistent before moving on to flies with the addition of split shot or drop shot.

This is just one way to do it, of course, because an angler can certainly move straight to split or drop shot if solid casting is already there.

Yes, it always comes down to casting. And full turnover is the key. The weight must get to the end of the line to have real control over the system. And this only happens with good, clean turnover.

Beginners are often taught to slow the cast and aim for wide, open loops when weight is involved. But I disagree. The open loops can help at first, but available presentations with such a cast are limited.

Slowing down the cast creates arcs instead of loops, which can be fine in open areas or where drifts can also be long. But under tree limbs or in complicated pocket water, clean casting with full turnover and a precise entry with the nymphs and the tippet is critical.

Learning the tuck cast and developing control is the key to casting with any weight and keeping things separated. The tuck cast happens with good speed and crisp stops — with great casting form. So on the forward stroke, the flies/weight get to the end of the line and tug on the rod tip. That tug is something all nymphing anglers should learn to love, because it’s the key point of contact with our nymphs. We feel the tug on the rod and understand the force and direction of entry. That’s how the tuck cast provides full control over our flies and keeps them tangle-free — one two or even three of them.

Surely there will be mistakes, but refining your casting skills is the way forward.

Last point on casting here: the rod tip must always travel in an oval. It need not be a large oval, but the backcast and forward cast cannot happen in the same plane. I often think of it as out-and-around and then over the top, or a vertical entry — perpendicular to the surface. That is my baseline. And remember, there are crisp stops at the points of that oval. My friend, Josh Darling, once said that it’s like a football — there are points at the ends of the oval.

READ: Troutbitten | Tangle Free Tandem Rigs


As for rigging, thinner tippets tangle more, and so do longer tags. I don’t care for split shot or drop shot on anything less than 5X. But I will occasionally create dropper tags from 6X (attached to a 4X or 5X mainline) for the smallest nymphs that I fish.

Longer casts also present more situations to tangle, so fish as close as possible. (That’s always a good rule of thumb.) And keep false casting to a minimum.

Fishing is most fun when we’re in a good rhythm, so I’ll do whatever it takes to get into that rhythm. And if my techniques are off for some reason, I’ll probably choose to fish one fly, keep it simple and keep fishing.

Fish hard, friends.


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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. Great info! I’ve just started using 2 bugs on my setup this year. What I found that helps me is to tie my dropper on a 2 to 4 inch top tag of a barrel knot on 0X or 2X. I put a stopper knot on my main tippet, but the barrel allows some sliding to allow for depth changes.

    But then again, I’m just starting on a 2 fly setup and really don’t know what I’m doing…. LOL

    But it works!

  2. Hey Dom, how often to you end up having to untangle your tag fly? I believe in a podcast you recommend keeping the tag shorter than 5” and tied to the upper piece of the orvis tippet knot.

    If I keep the tag shorter than 4” I can usually get about 20-30 casts before I have to untie the overhand knot that the tag fly creates. Is this normal or is it another casting error?

    • Oh my, no. You should get far more than 20-30 casts before any tangles happen. That would be frustrating. No that’s not normal. I can go hours without tangles if I’m casting well.


      • It’s not so much a tangle as the tag line makes an over hand knot around the leader. Happens most frequently with a very sharp tuck or heavy tag fly. Usually takes about 5-10 seconds to fix it.

        The point fly isn’t tangled with tag, and other than the tag line being knotted around the leader it doesn’t affect the setup.

        I don’t know if I am explaining this very well.


        • I understand it. I’ve seen it many times as well. But no, it should not happen every 20-30 casts. Something is wrong.

          • Yeah I figured I was probably doing something wrong. I still suck at all of this. I haven’t come across an article that talks about this specifically. If you could reference one I would be forever grateful.

            Lately I have been cutting the tag line down to 3 inches or less. it almost completely eliminates this issue, but it limits the number of fly changes even with a Davy. Right now it’s not an issue as the trout seem to have a very predictable diet. I often don’t find the need to change patterns during a 12 hr day on the water.

            If I perform a lazy tuck (not so much a tuck as just a fly first entry) it goes away as well, but more often than not I am fishing waist deep pocket water that requires me to get down quickly.

            What do you think is most likely to cause this?

            I almost always use 4x inviz X for both the tag and the point. Sometimes I go down to 5x on the tag. That only seems to make it worse.

            Generally speaking in the summer my tag fly is at-least a size 14 or larger.

            I tie almost all of my flies with tungsten beads or a lot of lead wraps.

            Maybe I should try lighter flies on my tag?

            Thanks for everything you do!

          • The article that I linked above, within this one, is a great one if you’re struggling with tangles.

            I think my answers would remain the same as my first reply. Just keep working with it. And if you have a fly first entry, then you have a tuck cast. It does not have to be extreme — straight down and firing in. There are many degrees of a tuck cast. That article is linked above as well.

            I think you’re getting close to solving your issue.


        • Hey Dom, I have hit the water 4 times since our original conversation. I set a timer on my phone and tracked the the frequency of of my tag line knotting itself around my main tippet. I am averaging 3.42 hrs between each episode. It is far less frequent than I originally posted about. I must have over estimated due to my irritation.

          Would you consider once every 3 1/2 hrs acceptable or is there a hitch in my giddyup?


  3. My number one source of tangles is little guys taking the top fly. The high-frequency oscillations when they go berserk. I take steps to minimize it (keeping the line taut, sliding my line hand down to them in the water without netting them), but they still manage to do it on occasion.

    • Right on. Gotta keep them in the water. That way, the line rarely tangles.


  4. Dom,

    You mentioned the oval backcast but suggest to anglers to go to youtube and watch the Belgian cast. The Belgian backcast is an oval backcast that will handle multiple weighted flies, shots, and indicators if you have one attached to your leader. It’s a great cast for saltwater fly fishing, fishing in a strong wind, or fishing with large streamers with sink tips or weighted lines. I don’t understand why the Belgian cast isn’t taught more in this country. It’s a great cast that every fly angler should have in their arsenal. For small stream trout fishing with eggs or nymph patterns, I suggest using a water haul on the forward cast. A water haul keeps leader, tippet, and flies straight on your forward cast. It will keep you from getting tangled and keep you from snagging tree limbs, bushes, and other objects behind you.

    • Thanks, Danny.
      The confusing thing about fly fishing is that everything works sometimes. In this case, the Belgian Cast is exactly what I’m recommending against. It results in a line first entry, or mostly a lob into the water. Having tension all the way through the cast, without crisp stops is the opposite of a good tuck cast. There is no pull or tug on the rod tip, so there is no distinct authority over where the nymphs AND the line will land.

      Pete Kutzer in this Orvis video, says it himself — that the Belgian Cast prevent the weight from going to the end and shocking the line. No thank you, honestly. That’s not what I’m after.

      When I speak of an oval, people always bring up the Belgian Cast. But this is not my point. All I’m saying is that EVERY fly cast needs an oval at the rod tip. But in this case it’s small. Slightly out and around, then over the top. The Belgian Cast creates a very wide loop, resulting in large arcs instead of tight loops. I simply do not want that. It’s an overcorrection and truly does not prevent more tangles. In my experience, good deliberate, sharp casts keep the nymphs and the line separated, as I’m in control of it.

      Again, I know it probably works for you. But I’m not a fan of the Belgian Cast in this case.


  5. I have found that adding an oval to my back cast creates right/left inaccuracy on the forward cast. I tuck cast all the time but that doesn’t improve where I place the fly. Is this because I use a micro leader?

    • Good question. But to be clear, there must ALWAYS be an oval in any fly fishing cast. In most cases, it should be kept very small. Same here. I don’t like wide oval, Belgian style casts for reasons I mentioned in the comments above.

      So, the oval must be there or you’ll be casting in the same plane, and the line will hit itself. However, if your oval is too large, then yes, it can throw off your accuracy until you get used to it. Overall, you probably just need more speed in the cast. 80 percent of casting issues start there. Is it you micro leader? Well, that doesn’t help, because you sacrifice a lot of power with a skinny leader. But I always say that accuracy is up to you and can’t really be blamed on the leader or the rod. Get used to the leader and you’ll get your accuracy.

      Hope that helps.


  6. Hi Dom , I see urg etting blessed with some rain.. I have a que.. I just acquired a 3 wt 10ft 6in euro rod. Im Looking for a new reel. Do you have a top 3 pick ? Would a Ross Animas fall into the category ? And would you obtain a 5/6 wt for it ? Thank you for your dedication
    and teaching all us.


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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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