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Fishing a Tandem Rig

Over the past month or so, I’ve been writing pieces about improving your fish catching rate by becoming a more versatile fisherman; one of those improvements involved learning new techniques and presentations. I mentioned that fishing a tandem fly rig was something I had been reading about, but had not yet tried — that is no longer the case. On a recent trout venture with a fishing friend, I finally decided it was time to see if I could make the tandem rig work for me.

Last Friday, Terry Wineberg and I hit one of our local trout streams where we saw a fair number of trout raising; it wasn’t long until we were working #18 blue-winged olives over the feeding trout. Even though there was no visible hatch, the blue-winged olive can still be a good bet. It wasn’t long until we both began to connect with a number of the rising trout — mostly rainbows. Eventually, the surface activity began to slow and so did the hits — it was time I decided to try the tandem fly rig.

Basically, it is fly-fishing with a high floating dry fly, and a dropper nymph hanging a foot or two below the dry fly. Understand that these two flies are generally fished separately from one another, and in totally different ways. Fly fishermen would often fish with dry flies over a hatch, or they might switch to a nymph and fish beneath the surface allowing the nymph to drift near the bottom in hopes of a strike. Now along comes a tandem rig where you are doing both at the same time. When fishing a dry fly, you watch the floating fly, when a fish takes the fly you set the hook, and the fight is on. When fishing a nymph, I use the high-sticking method — hold the rod high, keep the line tight and set the hook when you feel a bump — the two techniques are totally different. Could the two really be combined and would it actually work? It sure does, and I knew that from reading about others using the technique, but could I make it work?

As it turns out, the answer to the question is yes — even an old dog like me could learn new tricks. I tied on a high-floating patriot dry fly and attached a pheasant-tail nymph about a foot below. About four casts later, I was into my first trout on a tandem rig. Over the next half-hour or so I picked up three more trout with all of them taking the nymph — I’m hooked.

Almost any high floating dry fly will work, and any number of nymph patterns are good including pheasant-tails, gold-ribbed hairs ear, and even a green weenie. While there are a number of ways to attach the dropper, most fishermen opt to tie a length of leader to the bend of the dry fly hook with a clinch knot and then attach the nymph at the desired distance from the dry fly. I was working my nymph about a foot from the dry, but you may want to increase that distance in deeper water. Try to keep the nymph relatively near the bottom of the stream. Sometimes trout will take the dry fly pattern as well, but even if they don’t, the dry fly serves as an indicator — if it goes under or stops moving downstream set the hook. The dry fly also serves the purpose of floating the nymph at the desired depth. You simply watch the dry fly and react.

My interest in the technique was first piqued when a writer friend of mine, Charlie Meck, wrote a book titled, “Fishing Tandem Flies.” The book goes into far greater detail than I have been able to do here, and it’s the best material I’ve ever read on the subject of fishing tandem rigs. Believe me, if you are interested in pursuing the technique further you would be wise to get the book. It’s published by Headwater Books, 531 Harding Street, New Cumberland, PA 17070.

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