The Two Fly Cast for Steelhead

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The Two Fly Cast for Steelhead

Fishing a cast of flies rather than one fly is a method of wet fly fishing that has been around for a very long time. Presenting two flies on each cast offers some advantages. You will cover twice as much water in the same amount of time, and be more apt to put one of the flies in the right place in relation to a fish. Also, if each fly is a different color and size you are more likely to have one that a fish will be able to see, and want to eat. 

After over thirty years of fishing one, two and three fly casts, I believe that two flies are a very good option for an angler who can handle them. There is no proof, but when times are tough, I normally add a second fly, and often it has turned a trip around.

Three flies will compounds all of the advantages stated above, but the third fly more that doubles the complexities of casting two flies. I rarely use a three fly cast because of the tangles that can result.

Casting and handling two flies is more difficult than fishing with one, and each angler will have to decide for themselves if the added strikes are worth the added nuisances. Two flies are twice as heavy as one fly, and the heavier a fly is, the more difficult it is to cast. Touch and go casts such as single Spey casts are especially more difficult with two flies. So, to avoid tangles, I normally use a double Spey or Snap-T cast when fishing two flies.

When playing a fish that is dragging around a second fly, there is always a chance that other fly will find a rock, log or weed bed to hang-up on. The second fly can also get stuck in the fish you are playing, which can result in some awkward predicaments, such as one hook stuck in the mouth and the other hook stuck in the tail, and the fish becomes sideways to the current. This can also becomes a hazard when landing a fish. If you want to find your pain threshold, consider having an eight pound steelhead stuck on your point fly with the dropper fly buried in the cuticle of your thumb and the weakest part of your leader is twelve-pound test. You will find why a sliver under your fingernail is a proven method of torture, and that an eight pound steelhead can take you anywhere it wants to go.

There is also a chance that another steelhead will find and strike the second fly, resulting in two large fish being hooked-up at once. In thirty plus years that has happened only twice. The first time, I landed both fish. The second time, I landed neither.

In my mind, the extra hook-ups from adding a second fly are worth the added risk, since I am going to turn all the fish loose anyway. If you want to experiment with multiple flies on a cast, here are some proven approaches. Each has advantages and disadvantages:

In-Line Attachments:

Add a length (30”-36”) of leader by tying it to the hook bend of a fly that is already attached to the end of your leader. An improved clinch knot works best. Nothing could be simpler, but sometimes the knot will slide toward the barb of the hook and then this first fly will ride upside down. Be sure the knot is cinched very tight to the bend of the hook. (This method is not recommended for barbless hooks).

Tail Gunner

I experimented with a series of flies called “Tail-Gunners”, which incorporated a loop of red dyed braided monofilament instead of a tail. About 30" of tippet was attached to this loop and then a second fly was added to the other end of it. This set-up worked well for me, but many anglers have had tangles with the system, so I quit promoting it. Also, other fly tiers who copied this method weren’t able to secure the loop well enough to the hook before tying a fly over it, resulting in the fly coming apart when a fish was hooked on the point fly.

In this method a fly is slid onto the leader, then a tippet is attached with a blood knot or surgeon’s knot and a second fly is attached to the end of it. The first fly slides down the leader and rests against the tippet attachment knot. When the first fly is slid onto the leader, be sure it is facing the rod. If you get it backwards it doesn’t work very well.

Blood Knot Dropper
Tie on a tippet and leave the stronger tag end of the knot about 6" long. This will become your dropper. Trim the other tag end off. I have had much success with this type of dropper. I only use Maxima leader when building this kind of dropper. Normally, I build this dropper while attaching 10 lb. to 12 lb. Maxima. The tag end of the 12 lb. becomes the dropper. Fluorocarbon leader material is also proven for this method. I don’t recommend using softer copolymer, as it often will fail.

Tippet Ring Dropper
If using a knotless tapered leader, trim off about 30" of the tip, then attach a tippet ring using an improved clinch knot. Attach two pieces of strong leader to the same ring using the same kind of knot. On piece should be six inches for the dropper and the other thirty six inches for the tippet. The advantage of using the ring over using a blood knot is that the dropper and the tippet can be replace individually and the whole leader doesn’t have to be taken apart to make repairs.

How to Handle Tippet Rings

Tippet rings are tiny. That is both good and bad. They are hard for fish to see, but theare also hard for anglers to see and to hang onto. They come strung on a snap swivel which is stuck to a piece of cardboard inside of a zip lock bag. Remove the cardboard from the bag, but leave the swivel attached to the cardboard. Slip the end of your leader through the last ring on the snap, then tie an improved clinch knot. You should be able to attach another piece of leader to the ring before you slip the ring off the end of the snap. Now you can stick The end of the tapered leader through the ring and tie another improved clinch knot. You should now hav a dropper and a tippet attached to your leader.

Fishing Two Wet Flies
When fishing two wet flies, I normally put the largest and/or brightest fly on the dropper and a smaller, duller colored fly on the point. Putting the larger fly on the dropper seems easier to cast than the other way around. Many combinations of flies have been tried, but the winning combo is a #5 Fly du Jour on the dropper with a #7 Bucktail Coachman on the point.

Fishing a Wet Fly behind a Large Waking Fly
Using a large buoyant waking fly on your dropper as an attractor for a smaller dark wet fly on your point can be a very productive way to fish. This method seems to work best if the wet fly is trailing downstream at least four feet from your waker. I have known anglers who successfully used waking flies over two inches long for this purpose. Because of the different densities of the two flies, this is not always an easy rig to cast. You might want to shorten the distance between your line tip and the waking fly.

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