Using multiple flies

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If you are only fishing with one fly, you are missing out on catching all the fish you can catch. You are catching only those fish who, like you, love dry flies.

Think about it. If one is good, two is better. Trout feed on food under the surface up to 90 percent of the time, so the adage has it. This may or may not be the true-to-life percentage, but the bottom line is that by the nature of living in water, most of the trout’s food is in the water.

And the creatures that live in the water, the food that trout eat, mayflies and caddis and stoneflies and baitfish and crayfish and mysis shrimp, live in the water.

Subsurface flies meet the feeding expectations and the behavior patterns of trout and their food. When trout feed on insects on top of the water, they rarely do so to the exclusion of subsurface goodies. Trout think subsurface first, surface second.

By adding a second fly, the angler gains greater coverage. Even if the trout are keying on insects on top of the water, two dry flies or a dry fly with a subsurface dropper covers more water, more lies.

Multiple flies. What the heck are multiple flies? If you fish with more than one fly, you are fishing multiple flies. These can be two or more nymphs, two or more wet flies, a large streamer and a tailing nymph, a dropper rig with a dry fly followed by a nymph or two dry flies.

When you fish a dry fly with a subsurface fly below it, you are appealing to the trout’s interest above and below the surface. You are imitating two different stages of insect life. Another benefit to using a dry fly on top of a nymph (or even a strike indicator with multiple flies) is that it aids the angler in detecting strikes.

Some critics call the dry fly, when used in this dropper rig, nothing more than a strike indicator, an anathema to dry fly purists. But we can’t tell you how many times we have caught trout on the dry. The trailing fly and tippet between don’t seem to turn off the fish. In the absence of a hatch, a dry fly and dropper nymph (or two nymphs with a strike indicator) is the ideal prospecting technique to locate trout.

To set up a dry fly-nymph dropper rig, tie on a dry fly, preferably a size 12 or 14, something that floats well such as a Royal Wulff or Trude, Elk Hair Caddis and Adams Parachute are good generic patterns.

Depending on the depth of the water, cut a piece of tippet from 12 to 18 inches long. Using a cinch knot (sometimes called a clinch knot), the same knot you used to attach the dry to the leader, tie the tippet to either the shank of the dry fly or the eye. Don’t worry. Even on a barbless hook, the tippet will not slide off. Promise.

You should have a dry fly attached to your leader with a piece of tippet a foot to a foot-and-a-half dangling off it. The nymph you select should reflect the types of insects this water holds (rocky water has stoneflies and caddis, still sandy pools hold mayfly or cranefly and so on).

If you are prospecting, use a generic nymph like a Hare’s Ear, Prince Nymph or Pheasant Tail. We use beadhead nymphs most of the time but you can use BB shot to weight the nymph by attaching them to the tippet between the dry and the nymph. Because BB shot tends to fray or wear the tippet, we choose beadheads.

You can cast this rig upstream as you would a single dry fly, remembering that the nymph has added weight.

A trick we use is to cast upstream, let the flies float drift-free until they pass me, then let them work downstream and across, sometimes submerging the dry. But don’t stop here. This is important to making this work. Although you will catch quite a few fish on the downstream curve, and we’ve watched this a thousand times, the trout will typically follow the flies, sometimes shooting several feet from its lie, and when you lift the rod tip and lay it back down, sometimes a couple of times, then the trout will hit.

The dry acts as a drowning insect trying to escape and the nymph fly acts as though it is a pupa or larva or immature adult rising to the surface.

In fact, there is a common belief, one I adhere to, that multiple flies draw attention to each other, even simulate insect behavior. In clear Colorado streams, we’ve fished two nymphs, running them through a deep pool. We’ve watched as trout turned initially to the dry passing over them, then slashed at the trailing nymph.

On the San Juan River, we use a streamer, like a bunny leech, followed by a smaller nymph on the dropper, swung across current. Trout often attack the streamer, swatting at it, then diving after the following fly, usually a small midge or egg pattern. We believe the trout see a smaller insect escaping from a larger predator. They are drawn to the action.

Think about fishing two dry flies as well. A larger fly closer to the rod tip, a smaller one underneath it. Be sure to check the attached tippet often. The monofilament is bound to get tangled around the flies every now and again. Check for frays, wear and knots.

Try fishing two soft-hackled wets during the next hatch and rise. The soft-hackled wet flies can be deadly with their undulating movement. While most anglers get frustrated tossing patterns that match the adult insects flying about, you should cast multiple wets, one in brown and one in gray, or two different sizes or stages of development, and you will catch more trout.

The wets (which are traditional winged wets, soft-hackled wets, and wingless wets, sometimes called flymphs) imitate those immature adults which are becoming those insects in the air. And the trout know that while in the water, they are easier to catch. Multiple wets are a dangerous and classic combination fished by our flyfishing forefathers.

Fish them downstream and across but you can play around with it. Some use a dead drift swing where you cast across and downstream, mend line, raise your rod tip at the end of the swing (aka the Leisenring Lift). We also fish the flies in an upstream dead drift and have success.

Nymphs, in combinations of different shapes and sizes, are extremely effective and should be used by any serious angler. We know, you, like us, are a dry fly angler. But nymphs are the flies of choice by serious anglers. And at times, if you want to catch fish instead of just tossing dry flies, you too should be a serious angler.

When you fish two nymphs, we suggest trying two strategies: nymphs of the same insect but different development stages like a caddis emerger and pupa; or two dissimilar nymphs like a mayfly and a caddis, or a large and small. You can combine beadheads with normal nymphs or place splitshot above and/or below the top fly to suit your needs.

Some things to think about:

Use as light a tippet as you feel comfortable using. We tend to use tippet a bit stronger than my leader. You will hear to keep your tippets as short as possible to avoid tangles, but we don’t buy into that. But we do keep my leader under 10-feet long so it turns over better.

Select a depth to which you want your fly to pass and make the tippet length correspond.

Some anglers use a third fly. We’ve tried it and it all gets tangled most of time, and when we do hook up, the flies get tangled, then we have to re-tie the triple fly rig.

Bring extra tippet and leaders. At first you are going to get tangled up and lose a lot of tippet. Check your connections for frays, knots, tangles, wrap-ups.

Gear and Tackle for fishing multiple rigs: heavy line is best, 5-6 weight; sinktip lines and sometimes sinking lines, but if you have a four-weight, you can still fish two nymphs or a dry dropper rig. BB-size split shot.

Amarillo, Texas

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Photo by Ziga – Own work, Public Domain,

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