[Editor’s Note: Here’s one from the archives. A friend asked me last weekend to show him how to tie a tandem rig, and he was amazed by how simple it was. There’s not a lot to it, and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t try this technique the next time you’re struggling to catch fish.]
The first time I ever saw a tandem rig in action was almost 20 years ago on Depuy’s Spring Creek in Paradise Valley, Montana. It was my first week working out there, and fellow guide Matt Greemore allowed me to tag along as he took a client to the famed stream, which empties into theYellowstone just south of Livingston. We had spotted a nice rainbow nymphing in the tailout of a pool, but several drifts with a Flashback Hare’s Ear Nymph had not drawn a strike. So Matt had the client bring in his line, and I watched in amazement as he tied two feet of tippet to the bend of the nymph and then added a tiny Pheasant Tail. Two casts later, the client’s rod was bent as we chased the trout downstream.
Since that summer, I’ve fished two flies probably as often as I’ve fished just one (where multiple flies are legal, of course). It’s funny, though, that I should “discover” in the early 1990s a technique that had been around for hundreds of years. As historian Paul Schullery has pointed out, multiple-fly rigs have probably existed for as long as anglers have been tying feathers to hooks and are described in detail in a circa-1500 German manuscript called Tegernsee Fishing Advice. The Benedictine monks whose fishing techniques are described in the Advice used lines with as many as fifteen hooks dangling from them.
Throughout the 19th century, British anglers fiddled with various multi-wet-fly rigs, which they called “casts,” and every writer had his own methods of arranging and fishing these setups. Some writers advocated fishing eight or ten flies in setups called “ladders” or “straps.” Eventually, the rise of dry-fly fishing may have spelled the demise of these unwieldy and surely tangle-prone rigs. Multiple-fly rigs never went away entirely—especially among European lake anglers—but the popularity of single-fly angling surged, especially in this country, until it was the norm. Thus, guys like me were able to be astonished by the new (but ancient) technique all over again.
The off season is a good time to work on constructing and casting two-fly rigs. A simple clinch knot tied to the bend of the top hook seems simple enough, but it can be more trouble than you think, especially when you’re using flies with long tails and barbless hooks. Casting two flies requires more-open loops or a mastery of the Belgian cast. But if you take the time to learn to tie, cast, and fish these rigs, you’ll be surprised by how effective they are.
For a full discussion of all the various ways to tie and fish tandem rigs, check out my long article on Midcurrent, “Seeing Double.”
Photo by Stu Hastie.