Fishing Multiple Flies

Take this to the bank — the riverbank. 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 under the surface anywhere up to 90 percent of the time, according to conventional wisdom. This may or may not be the true-to-life percentage, but the bottom line is this: trout live in water, and that's where they find most of their food — in the water.

Subsurface flies meet the feeding expectations and the behavior patterns of trout and their food. When trout feed on the insects floating on the surface of rivers or lakes, they rarely do so to the exclusion of underwater 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, more trout.

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 ore 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 appeal 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, anathema to dry fly purists. But I can't tell you how many times I 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.

Rigging Up

To set up a multiple fly rig, tie on a fly, your choice of wet, nymph or dry. 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 top fly to the leader, tie the tippet to either the shank of the fly or the eye. Don't worry. Even on a barbless hook, the tippet will not slide off. Promise.

You should have a top fly attached to your leader with a piece of tippet a foot to a foota and a half dangling off it. The second fly 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, try a buoyant dry fly and use a generic nymph like a Hare's Ear, Prince Nymph or Pheasant Tail under it. I use beadhead nymphs most of the time but you can use BB shot to weight the nymph by attaching it to the tippet between the dry and the nymph. Because BB shot tends to fray or wear the tippet, I choose beadheads.

Whether you use combinations of wets, nymphs or dries, fishing multiple flies will put you on to more fish, more consistently. And if they are hitting the dry fly, take off the dropper and fish like the purist you are.

Article © Mark D. Willliams, 2000.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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