One Nymph or Two? — Here’s a Particular Look That Can Only Happen With Two

by | May 21, 2024 | 11 comments

While guiding on a favorite stretch of water last week, Chris and I hit another good bite, where trout in perfect pocket water were eating reliably. Every fish came from the merger seams or the inside pockets — slower stuff beside the fast water. With tight targets, we found trout when we nailed the tuck cast, getting deep in just a second or two — important, because the lanes were short, and there wasn’t much room to drift from the downstream side of one rock to the upstream side of the next. I love this kind of water, and Chris learned to manage it easily, after just a few adjustments to his approach.

The bite produced a wild trout in every other pocket. But each fish over a two hour period came on the top fly. At this time of year that’s not a surprise. And Chris and I talked through it.

“They’re eating your top fly, Chris. But they’re not eating it on the drop,” I told him. “They’re only eating your tag nymph when it slows down into strike zone speed.”

Chris nodded. That morning, we’d already talked about the strike zone concept. It’s the cushion of water, near the bottom of every river, that’s going slower than what we can see at the surface. The rocks and debris at the riverbed create friction, slowing down the bottom current. And as I told Chris, most of the good things in a river happen in that strike zone.

READ: Troutbitten | Forget the Bottom — Glide Nymphs Through the Strike Zone

“We see this a lot,” I told Chris, “especially at this time of year, as all the hatches come off and so many bugs emerge. But it can happen at any time of year.”

Chris nodded again.

“So they think it’s an emerging insect then — maybe a Sulfur?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Who knows what they think it is, really. But they’re used to watching emerging insects every day, for the last couple of months. Those bugs are pretty vulnerable and available as they start to rise and hatch, so trout pick them off.”

Chris and I saw another flashing trout underneath, and I pointed to it.

“I think that area above the strike zone, somewhere in the lower middle of the column, has become their area of focus,” I said. “That’s where they’re looking to feed the most — just like they’ll start looking all the way to the surface once in a while and feeding on dry flies.”

“It is interesting that they aren’t eating the upper fly until it slows down though,” Chris said.

“I know!” I told him. “ But it’s a cool thing that I see out here quite a bit. It’s almost predictable right now. So we’ve kind of put all the elements in place — all of the puzzle pieces in the right order, and we have a good thing working. The fly, the drift, the level and even the speed is all dialed in. They’re eating your tag fly, but not until it slows down. And of course that happens when the lower nymph — your point fly — reaches that strike zone. Even though both nymphs are going slow, they like the position or the level of the upper one.”

Chris looked pleased, and he went back to casting. He next chose a sunny patch of pocket water, and in just a handful of casts, he fooled another trout that spit the hook a couple seconds after the hook set. We both chuckled. The same thing had happened again, and we’d both seen it. The trout took the upper fly just a second or two after the rig slowed down.

“So that upper fly is riding above the strike zone, but it’s riding strike zone speed.” Chris made the statement as half a question.

“Yup,” I replied.

Then Chris stopped casting and turned to me.

“You know,” Chris said thoughtfully. “You couldn’t get that look without two flies.” Chris paused. Then he began casting again. “Lots of people are saying to use just one nymph these days. But if that bottom fly wasn’t there, the single fly couldn’t go strike zone speed without being in the strike zone.”

This is why I love guiding. Chris had said something that I’d processed in many ways, but I’d never brought it over into the argument for a two fly rig. But of course he was right.

“Damn, that’s a good point,” I said. “I like that. Yeah, you have to have the point fly to slow that upper one down.”


Wrap Up

Our day was done just a half hour later. As Chris and I broke down the rig, readying to walk out, we talked about things a bit more.

We can get the same thing to happen with drop shot, of course. With the weight at the bottom, we can position our flies above, however high we want them — in the strike zone just a few inches up, mid column, or even higher. Then again, I only choose drop shot when I really want to tick the riverbed a few times per drift. But Chris and I had been trying for a cleaner approach that would simply glide the point nymph through that strike zone without touching rocks.

Chris is right. And I run into the one-fly opinion all the time. I like it, and one nymph is a great option sometimes. But two nymphs in a rig have caught more trout for me and many others for decades. That effectiveness doesn’t just go away. So I still choose two more often than one. Then I often clip the tag fly and go with one nymph when conditions ask for it.

By fishing well, by being disciplined about my distance, my angles and my approach, I land both flies in the same lane, with the tippet in the same lane too. Everything tracks toward my indy or my rod tip, which is also in or over the same lane. And I can (usually) get a great drift with two nymphs.

Using two also allows me to use smaller flies, because the combined weight can add up to get deeper sooner, to ride lower for longer.

In the most complex currents, I often shorten my tippet length between two flies, riding them as close as twelve inches apart. This gives me a better chance of landing two nymphs in the same lane and keeping them there, even among washing, twisting currents.

And then, in those good moments when trout want to eat the top fly, above the strike zone, but they’re looking for it at the slower speed of the strike zone, two flies gives me that chance. Thanks, Chris.

The only question that remains is why trout want to eat the upper fly on the slow down. Well, I think an emerging insect ends up going a little slower than the current it’s in as it swims to the surface. I sincerely believe that’s the answer. And when you put all of this together, it’s one of those rare times in fishing where (almost) everything can be explained.

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. Dom,

    This article is great! I love how having a system allows for moments of discovery and insight like Chris provided.


  2. It could be that emerging insects move a little slower than the current as they move towards the surface.

    Could also be that no matter how thin your tippet is, the faster surface currents act on it and cause your flies to speed up slightly, and that slight slow down from your point fly being in the strike zone actually makes that upper fly ride at a more true dead drift in relation to that column. So it’s not actually moving slower than the column, but actually closer to the actual natural speed of that column if the surface wasn’t actually acting on your upper tippet.

    Who knows, thank you for the article!

  3. It seems I’ve heard about this approach somewhere recently. Makes a lot of sense and I know it works!

  4. Good stuff,.. can I ask how deep (on average) were you guys fishing?

    The other day I took my tag fly off because I did not think the water was deep enough. It was shin deep riffles with knee deep runs.

    • Doesn’t matter, honestly. You can ride two nymphs in ankle deep water by just keeping the sighter flat. People miss this one a lot. You can be touching the bottom with a very vertical sighter a 45 or a flat sighter. Give that a try next time you hang up. Change the sighter angle on purpose just to demonstrate to yourself how the angle is your choice.


  5. I always fish with a two-fly setup. Both flies work together as one, but each fly has the opportunity to catch a fish. The weight of each fly helps the other get into the strike zone. Case in point: I had a husband and wife fishing the other day, and both were catching fish drifting from a boat. Suddenly, he stopped catching fish while his wife continued to do so. He was becoming frustrated when I noticed his top fly was missing.

    I asked, “Tom, what happened to your top fly? It’s gone.”

    He replied, “The fly was getting in the way of my bottom fly, so I cut it off and started fishing with one.”

    I explained, “Tom, you need both flies because they work together in unison. One is no good without the other because of the weight factor. What did you do with the other fly?”

    “I put it here in the boat tray,” he said.

    I tied the other fly back on Tom’s tag, and we began another drift. Tom was back to catching fish again. I normally fish a drop-shot rig with flies about ten inches apart. A drop-shot rig allows you to put both flies in the strike zone without sacrificing the bottom fly, which can often be out of the strike zone on many of your drifts. A drop-shot rig is deadly effective.

  6. I loved reading this article dom. I had a similar situation this week. I was using a stonefly as the bottom nymph along with a bread n butter (which is a new confidence fly for me) and alternated between lightly weighted (no bead 3-4 lead wraps, or small brass beaded) nymphs that could be mistaken for emergers. during the entire 4–5-hour trip I caught plenty of fish on the stonefly or BnB, but the number of fish that came up even just the few inches difference between the two for a more lightly weighted nymph was a much greater ratio than I had experienced before. could they have been looking for emergers? maybe. could they have liked the drift of that lighter fly? perhaps. I didn’t mind as long as a few were eating. I was fishing runs and pools anywhere from 1-4 ft and never changed my tippet, just the “angle of the dangle” to accommodate the shallower water. Great article dom!


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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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