Sunday Classic / Attractor Flies in Tandem Rigs

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Owyhee River Brown  Photo by Louis Cahill

Owyhee River Brown Photo by Louis Cahill

A large part of fly fishing is problem solving.

Problems are just part of the game and the better you are at solving them, the more effective an angler you will be. Often the solutions require tactics that are unusual or counter intuitive. When fish are being stubborn a creative solution may be just what is needed.

On our recent trip to the Owyhee River in Oregon, Kent and I encountered such a problem. The Owyhee (the part we were fishing) is a tailwater. It’s a highly pressured and very technical fishery full of picky brown trout. That’s a big enough problem but there were other factors we were dealing with as well.

The Owyhee has an amazingly abundant insect population and the insects are very small. This means that your #22 fly is competing for the fish’s attention with thousands of tasty naturals. The fish do not have to move for food so the only way to feed them is to put the fly right on their nose.

No problem, and anglers generally do this by targeting rising fish because the waters of the Owyhee are stained with dissolved lime and calcium carbonate, a very fine silt that does not settle and gives the water an opaque green tint. The color makes it nearly impossible to sight fish when there are no fish rising. When we were there strong winds had put off the hatches so we were fishing blind. We were catching fish fairly regularly by reading water and being persistent and observant, but I kept thinking there had to be a better approach.

One of the fundamentals Kent and I believe in is going with what we know. As southern fly fishers we are accustomed to perusing fish by any means necessary. Here in the south if you sit on the bank and wait for the hatch, as many of my western friends do, you’ll likely have quite a wait and a long beard to go with it. We believe strongly that many of the tactics we learned fishing in the south bear value anywhere there are trout and we’ve proven it many times.

One thing I know about trout for sure is that they like eggs.

You can feel any way you like about fishing egg patterns and beads, I know how the fish feel about it. And in the spring, brown trout can not resist a yellow egg. These fish however are too educated, on average, to eat an egg pattern and frankly I’m glad for it. It makes me respect them more. However, their instinct tells them that it’s food, so they have to have a look.

I tied on a bright yellow egg that the fish could see in that stained water and only eight inches below it I tied on a #20 nymph. My catch rate tripled. The fish’s instinct made them move the crucial couple of inches. They passed on the egg, but they ate the nymph. It works for all kinds of fish, even steelhead. There are always guys who will grumble, scowl or give you shit about it, but they usually S.T.F.U. when you catch more fish than they do.

The idea works with any attractor fly in a tandem rig. Large flies like Stoneflies or Wooly Buggers call attention to smaller patterns. Bright flies like a Woods Special get fish to look at more natural patterns and even big dries attract fish and double as indicators for midge patterns in the film. Tuck that egg pattern in your bag of tricks and try it next time the conditions are right.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Attractor Flies in Tandem Rigs

    • One way to rig it would be to put a nail knot on the leader above the dropper at what ever distance you wanted the bead, placing the bead above the nail knot,

  1. Thanks for the reply, but I’m afraid that I’m not seeing what you’re describing. Could you describe your idea in more detail?

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