Eye of the Guide

ONE FLY OR TWO (part 1)

Tom Travis - Apr 3, 2017

During the past several years as a fishing guide in the heart of fly-fishing destination there have been so many things I have learned and observed; fisheries, trout behavior, hatches, and most importantly the fine art of guiding. There are times that I learn from my clients – by observing and listening. Their responses and reactions are important to guides – certainly fishing results and how the day goes are the main factors, but also when they see or learn new things. One such example is when I rig up two flies for them. "Oh do we use two flies?" is the typical first response. I would respond "so we can sell more flies", which is not totally a joke. It's not only among totally new or novice anglers. Even some experienced anglers seem to have never fished with two-fly combo rigs. I came to observe some anglers can cast just as usual and catch fish successfully, while others somehow get totally frustrated by being tangled up – even some experienced anglers. Then there are some personal preferences and choices, if not the matter of ethic or ego. I'm going to review pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, situations, along with useful tips and suggestions.

Let's start with a couple of general matters. To initiate our discussion, let's say whether the rig is two dry-flies, dry plus emerger/nymph, or two nymphs (or even two streamers!), the dropper tippet can be tied on the hook-eye or the bend of top fly, and its length is somewhere between 12 inches to 18 inches (30cm to 45cm). I will give more details as we discuss each fishing scenario.


I sincerely don't see any difference between casting one or two flies, and I'm not the best caster in the area or a casting instructor during guide trips. For those who get tangled, regardless of their fly-fishing experience, I sincerely suggest them re-check and re-form their casting. Just adding an extra piece of tippet and another fly should not interfere with our casting. I can almost foresee that those who get tangled can usually tangle or make "wind-knots" –  what I call "casting-knots" –  on their leader even with a single fly. I can clearly point out that those fly-anglers are not making enough "Pause" between back- and forward-casts, of which length needs adjusted depending on how much line and leader are out of the rod-tip. Or perhaps their "fishing personality" tends to be hasty. Please take a breath, as you pause between forward- and back-cast.


This subject seems to rile one-fly purists who believe that the one-fly rig makes a better drift (talking about dry-fly fishing) than the two-fly rig (two dry-flies, dry + emerger/nymph). My answer is Yes then No – it's totally depends on the situation, which I will discuss in more details. One thing I can testify is that my clients and I have successfully taken trout on both top and bottom flies, even during some of the most challenging match-the-hatch situations at Livingston's spring creeks. Our leaders were making ideal, if not perfect, dead-drift regardless of number of flies at the end. That tells us casting and figuring out the angle is more important to consider than to count number of flies at the end.


The trout takes the top fly, we successfully net it, and we proceed to unhook the top fly while the trout is still in the net; that's when the bottom fly can tangle up with the net. I admit this can be a pain every now and then. However, there's a simple solution: obtain and use the modern rubber net, not the old school mesh ones. This will make the entire releasing procedure much quicker.

Now let's look at each situation and tactics.

Nymph Fishing

I don't think there's any contest between one- and two-fly rigs when we discuss nymphing. Two-fly rigs are far more productive, period. It's just because there are so many food sources underneath. Some of them are available for trout all through the year. Two-fly rig simply makes the odd of meeting a trout eyes higher. Perhaps the most successful story would be the two-fly nymph setup on Bighorn River. On big tumbling rivers like Madison and Yellowstone, stonefly nymph imitations, size 2 – 10, are utilized in a very high frequency among fishermen and guides. It's just not because stonefly nymphs are available to trout all through the year. A heavily weighted nymph helps a small nymph (midge/caddis larva and mayfly nymph imitations) sink quicker and deeper in the tumbling water with velocity.

As for rigging, we do utilize an indicator and split-shots in miscellaneous sizes and numbers (depending on fishing and river conditions). Indeed these items serve as "hinges" on our leaders. Regardless of fishing skills and experiences, tangling does happen to anyone. To make it less, there are some useful tips. Make a solid pause, following a back-cast, let two of your nymphs straighten the leader in the air, and then come forward. The entire casting motion tends to be slower compared to casting dry-flies. Also make fewer false-casts. When you want to achieve some distance, there's a sequential technique. Cast to the target with some length of fly-line out of the reel – you know it's still short but hey you may get bites there! Let the current take your leader after the dead-drift, now flip your rod and aim the target again without back-cast. This is what's called Water Haul, in which currents provides the same line-straightening as in the back-cast. As you flip your arm and rod, let some length of slack-line shoot. You should be reaching your target one cast at a time.

With these simple practical tips, even clients who were new to fly-fishing and who hadn't done nymphing much quickly learn and adapt; then successfully cast and catch fish.

Streamer Fishing

One streamer itself (sculpin, minnow, baby trout, leech, etc.) is attractive and heavy enough. Certainly, as in nymphing, casting two streamers enables us to show two different colors and food-types at the same time. Another benefit would be that the second fly can serve as a stinger when fish attacks but doesn't quite bite the top fly, which is very common during streamer fishing. However, every so often, there are physical limitations on our sides. Casting streamers with a heavy sinking line and with a 6-weight or heavier rod is exhausting. I employ two-streamer rigs occasionally in certain seasons and under certain conditions (say, spring and fall, plus overcast weather!). Though I don't do often, it never hurts to know more techniques and theories and to keep my eyes and ears open.

So we have discussed underwater rigging and fishing. Next our discussion deals with dry-flies, which contain several different fishing scenarios.

Satoshi Yamamoto, www.leftyanglerandflies.com, is a Livingston based outfitter and a fly dresser.

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