Over 90% of my guided trips for Oregon Outdoor Excursions this year have been with fly casters. Thanks to my recent affiliation with The Orvis Company, a big portion of those clients are from outside the Pacific Northwest from places like Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, etc. They’ve come from far and wide, range in skill from beginner to expert, in search of Steelhead, Wild Rainbows and Wild Cutthroat trout.
What’s surprising to me is that many of them have never cast, or even heard of, double rigs (i.e. hopper/dropper, tandem nymphs, etc.) Fishing doubles is a highly effective method, albeit sometimes difficult to master. Fly casting a single fly can cause frustration at times, especially in windy conditions or into tight locations. That frustration can easily double (or triple) when casting two flies. Forget about those “tight loops” you learned in fly casting school, casting doubles requires big, wide loops to keep everything untangled. Roll casting double rigs is sometimes the only way to go. Fortunately, casting these rigs from a drift boat can make things easier.
The image above shows the “typical” hopper/dropper arrangement. To rig this up, you take a short piece (6-8″) of 6-8 lbs. mono line and tie it to your leader using a double surgeons knot (here’s a very nice video clip). Attach the “hopper” (any large dry fly will do) to the short piece of mono line. Then tie your nymph to the end of your leader.
This setup can be used for searching when you are not seeing many rises. You’ll quickly find out whether fish are in the mood for surface feeding or bottom feeding. This rig is also handy at times because your “hopper” fly acts as a strike indicator. If fish are keying in on one fly or the other, you can abandon the double rig and use only the fly that is working.
Here’s a setup I use quite often when I’m confident that most feeding activity is involving dries and emergers. To rig this configuation, tie your hopper fly to the end of your leader, then attach 16-20″ of tippet material to the hook bend of the lead fly with a improved clinch knot. Then tie the emerger fly to the end of the tippet.
Let this rig “dangle” at the end of the drift for a couple seconds. The lead fly will plane and create a small wake, but the trailing fly will begin elevating through the water column toward the surface and imitate a insect shooting for the top to emerge.
Here’s one to try when nothing is happening on the surface. Tie your weighted nymph to the leader, the tippet material (18-24″) to the hook bend of the nymph and finally a soft hackle or emerger to the tippet. A strike indicator on this rig can also be added.
Again, let this fly dangle at the end of the drift, which will lift the emerger to the suface. Fish this rig in shallow riffle s(cast right in to the last couple feet of white water) and allow to drift clear through the run.
In the winter or early spring, when fish are lethargic, drifting two weighted nymphs is a great method.
Finally, this rig is primarily used when there is an abundance of surface feeding. It’s extremely useful when multiple hatches are coming off simultaneously and you don’t know which hatch the fish are keying in on. Try a Mayfly Dun/Mayfly Spinner combo, or a Mayfly Dun and Cripple combo. Again, if fish are keying in on only one of the patterns, abandon the double rig and use that single fly.
There’s a popular river on the border of two PNW states that is typically fished one of two ways – with a giant hopper pattern (6-8), or a tiny (22-26) BWO. Sounds to me like a tandem setup would help you cover both bases there.
Enough technical stuff…. here’s some fish porn to prove I’m not completely full of it……….
The same rig – Yakcaddis (hopper) and Santiam Stone (dropper) took both fish recently. The wild cutthroat took the stonefly, the wild rainbow took the big caddis. If I was fishing a single fly (one or the other) on the wrong day, I may have missed them both!
I also use this method occasionally when fly casting for steelhead. A hairwing with a nymph dropper or a nymph and egg pattern combo are good options.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with a couple of your favorite “go to” flies. Just remember… WIDE, OPEN loops and you’ll be fine.