One Hook Or Two?

37 comments / Posted on / by

Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

Two hooks, or Three? You Decide!

Time for a little discussion. Instead of telling a story, or sharing a tip, I want you guys and gals to tell me what you think about my personal preference on this topic. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Share with me why you think I’m being reasonable, or a pompous jackass!

Since my beginnings as a fly fisherman I have always preferred to suspend my nymphs with a dry fly. I cut my teeth on a creek in north Georgia and I always read that if you are tossing a dry fly, then it had better have a nymph dropped underneath it. So that’s what I did. It was the only trick I had in the book, with the only variation being the different patterns that would be tied on each day.

Since those earlier days of learning, I’ve still never fished with indicators. The whole idea behind dropping a nymph behind a dry fly is what?… So that if the trout are more focused on the nymphs or emergers than the dries, then you have a better chance of hooking up, right? Exactly. Besides, trout do majority of their feeding below the surface, munching on nymphs, emergers and pupa that float down the fast food freeway. Two hooks are better than one, and ultimately lead to a greater likelihood of hooking up. Makes sense.

So now comes the question posed in the title, “Two hooks, or three?”

Many anglers use indicators simply because they’re fishing multiple nymphs. That’s fine. This isn’t a bad practice by any means, and I’m not trying to say that it is. It just ain’t for me. Whether it’s winter or summer, rain or shine, I’m going to be suspending my nymphs with a dry fly. I mean, why not use a dry fly? Yes, you will likely have to up-size your dry fly when tying on another nymph or two, but it isn’t impossible by any means. I’ve fished a large hopper with two (and even three at times) tungsten-beaded flies underneath it in order to cover the water column effectively. So, instead of throwing my rig with what I consider to be a useless thingamabobber, I’ve now increased my chances of hooking up even more because I am throwing 3-4 flies instead of just two nymphs under an indicator.

Think of what an indicator does. Its purpose is to keep your flies on your drift, keep them at a certain depth, and it helps detect when a trout has taken a nymph. Guess what a dry fly in a dry/dropper rig does? The same damn thing! And even on those days when it seems like zero trout are looking up, you never know when that one trout might just take interest in that dry fly floating all those nymphs.

So tell me what you think. I know I can’t be completely wrong in my thinking, but every once in a while I still catch a funny look when I say that I don’t fish with indicators, and that I would rather tie on a dry fly and use it to float my nymphs.

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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37 thoughts on “One Hook Or Two?

  1. If a fly fisher can only get out a few times a year he or she should use whatever is legal and works. Having frequent access to the river and rod is essential to developing the skill to fish with a dry-dropper rig. Trying to stay true with your request and avoid a long explanation.

  2. For a little bit I had to wonder where this was going…
    Aside from the tuft of yarn, the indicator is, well, dare I say it?… A bobber.
    That’s North Georgia talk (or my own South Carolina), for a float if you prefer to be a little more snooty about it.

    Now I don’t know which clever wayg hit on the idea of using a fly as a float, but it’s just one of those lightbulb moments. It just makes perfect sense. I suppose the purists will scoff, but then they always scoff. The revel in scoffing.
    For me, my thoughts are that it is a smart thing to do. I’m usually just lazy enough that I don’t bother with multiple flies, mostly because, as Thoreau noted, it’s not simply fish I’m after.
    But if it makes you feel good, go ahead.

  3. Justin,

    Very good points and I like the request to here from the g&g community. I see no issue with your preference of rigging here. However, there are times when the dry fly won’t function as well as a tandem rig with an indicator. For instance, when above average water flow (turbulent) conditions. I’ve been on the water many times when even an outrageously large dry fly fails to stay afloat during the drift. If you can’t see your dry fly its inevitable that you’re going to miss potential takes on your subsurface patterns, and furthermore, fail at times to maintain the specific water depth column you are targeting. This situation is of course rare but in my opinion, a legitimate reason to always carry a few indicators if they are called for. Lastly, i also think novice anglers fishing your rig will often struggle with more tangles since you have that third or four hook in the rig.

    Great article though an these are just my own opinions on the subject.

    Keep it Reel,

    Kent Klewein

    • Dude you’re totally right about the drowning dry fly. I should’ve thought about that!!!!! Well, I can’t get it right every time! But that’s why I wanted everyone’s opinions and input. This has just always been my way of thinking, but I know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I want to hear what other anglers do. You’ll never become a better angler if you stop learning.

  4. Up until lately I’ve been a strict dry fly fisherman. Then I was introduced to nymphing by a good friend and guide. I was taught to use a double rig under a new Zealand indicator because I was a dry fly guy. The weighted nymphs we were using in high fast water would just drag under any dry fly I tried. With all that said when I’m on my local blue line stream its dry fly dropper all the way because its a small set up anyways. However there is a distinct advantage to using an indicator rig on big water at least for me.

  5. I’ve been know to run a hopper/copper/dropper in the Driftless during the winter season. I have gotten hopper hits in the middle of a snow storm….

  6. Many of our better trout streams open for the season this Saturday. Looking at the weather I will be throwing something subsurface most of the day with the help of an indicator. It will most likely be a leader with poorly trimmed blood knots, green Amnesia built in, or a couple dabs of bio-strike, or it could be a dryfly or some combination of the four. I do carry floats but rarely use them. In my opinion dry flies are as much an indicator as the others. However it works out I expect to enjoy myself and hopefully exercise a few fish.

  7. I use a dry-dropper all the time but i also use an indicator at times too. The main advantage i like about fishing with an indicator is the ease of adjust your depth on it. Just slide it up or down your leader and done. Unless you can tell me a way to easily change the depth of your dry-dropper rig without having to cut and retie all the time, indicators will always have that edge.

  8. What Eric just said, the bobber lets me continue to adjust my depth, which I feel is the most important thing when nymph fishing.

    But if there are bugs on the surface, I love the dry/dropper.

  9. Depends on the time of year in the dead of winter when im throwing heavy flies with split shot I use an indicator. Also changing depths with an indicator is much easier pressured water or when there are bugs in the air ill throw a dry dropper.

  10. It’s funny. I just got done reading an article on the fly fishing the smokies website that basically said any anglers who fish multiple flies or nymphs with an indicator aren’t as skilled as they should be and are using multiple flies to cover their shortcomings. The author said using multiple flies is usually the sign of an inexperienced angler and that mature anglers don’t need these rigs.

    I’ve only been fly fishing for trout for a few years but I’ve come to almost never fish without a dry dropper(s) tied on. It got me questioning my techniques and whether or not I should change my methods. Your article makes me feel a lot better about things bc I’ve been absolutely slaying them every time I’ve gone out since using these rigs and didn’t want to be looked down on.

    • Dude, whoever wrote that is selling a load of bull. Sure, you can catch trout all day long on a single fly some days, but not always. Fishing multiple flies doesn’t make you any less skilled than the next guy. There are tons of other factors involved when you start talking about skill, and I’ve never heard anyone argue that they’re better than everyone else because they only fish one fly.

  11. Being closer to 60 years old than 50 these days, I “cut my teeth” simply throwing one fly, a dry. Whether it was a spider for bluegills, or a BWO, beetle, ant, etc. for trout. Just the way it was way back then, (well, for the most part)! In short, I do fish nymphs and under an indicator, (and swing soft hackles, too). But, if I am going to fish a dry, I simply fish a dry. And, just one dry at a time at that because I guess am that old school guy you see on the stream! But, I hear ya Justin! Nothing wrong with your approach!!

  12. I prefer to fish with a dry and dropper. After an outing in late December a few years ago with a nymph under a little piece of green wool (New Zealand indicator) and having 3 different fish hit said indicator, I realized that using a dry as an indicator made more sense for me. I could have caught a few more fish that day. Two hooks for me.

  13. Last time I was out I had numerous stockers hitting my indicator. If it had a hook, I would have had at least 7-10 more trout.
    In fact at one point I was hung up and was trying to pull it free and the indicator was about 20 inches above the water when a trout went airborne trying to reach it.

    However, the constant depth adjustment is the major reason I don’t use this method more frequently.

  14. the way you fish it, a dry fly is an indicator. i don’t buy the “multiple flies leads to increased chances of hooking up” theory in the slightest. when i nymph i prefer one fly, a “tight” line, no split shot, no indicator. why? the more hinges in the system, the harder it is to detect strikes. split shot, indicators, more than one fly are all hinges in the system that lead to decreased hookups. i think if one could accurately present two flies and give both flies a drag free drift, double hook-ups would be more common. also, without a dry or indicator suspending your nymph, you can easily adjust for depth differences throughout a run. bobber nymphing is suspension nymphing, because your nymphs are suspended at a certain level and only effectively fish that specific level in the water column.

  15. Lots of good points, but I think a true fly fisher limits his arsenal if he’s never thrown a thingamabobber before. As opposed to a piece of yarn, the thingamabobber possesses a much more important attribute of helping the angler to maintain nymph location/depth simultaneously without drag, and especially so in more turbulent water where any dry fly of any buoyancy is useless – even harmful.

  16. Different occasions. Hopper dropper is good when fish might be high in the column. If I want to bounce nymphs off the bottom, the hopper wouldn’t be adequate, and I don’t want to waste 6 ft of tippet. Also the bobber makes changing depth within the column easy.

  17. Let me start that I don’t fish nearly as much as I want to, and my time on the water is limited. When I do get on the water I generally start with a dry dropper rig of some sort. But I have been known to use an indicator too. Last summer while on I trip I started as usual with my dry dropper and things were going well… and I was landing fish on both my dry and my nymph. However, about mid-morning I was informed by another angler that on this particular lake my rig wasn’t legal. He wasn’t rude and waited to approach me until I had paused to adjust something. Even let me know that if i waded a little farther I could hit the drop off (his favorite spot on this lake). So what do you do when you can only use one fly? Do you put the indicator on even though you don’t like them? I sure did.

  18. Good point justin. Why aren’t we replacing “bobbers” with flies like the Thingamhopper all the time. As I’m sure most of u know. Because your fly fishermen, we know everything. Yes there r fly patterns out there that combine the best of both worlds. A tasty hopper or stimulator with a “bobber” as part of the pattern.

  19. As many above have said, you can easily adjust depth with a bobber.

    “I’ve now increased my chances of hooking up even more because I am throwing 3-4 flies”

    Also, here in CA anyway, if you want to suspend 3 nymphs under something, you are pretty much limited to using some kind of bobber as it’s illegal to fish with 4 flies on your line.

    (a) Except as otherwise authorized, all fish may be
    taken only by angling with one closely attended rod
    and line or one hand line with not more than three
    hooks nor more than three artificial lures (each lure
    may have three hooks attached) attached thereto. “

  20. Dry-droppers are a staple for me in North Georgia, but so are indicators depending on the circumstances.

    Up to about five years ago, I fished almost exclusively dry-droppers in any season, a technique I learned out west. But that changed to using indicators for most nymph and some streamer fishing. Flexibility in moving the indicator (New Zealand Strike Indicator being my current preference), relatively greater buoyancy and visibility than dries I would prefer to use for a given river, longer distance from indicator to fly available, and indicator can be better at moderating the drift of the nymphs or streamers below. I fish indicators almost exclusively in winter and off color water. In winter, I switch to dries when only when fish are rising. It does give me pause when a big fish comes up to examine my indicator or even strikes it. However, for some reason I have never gotten a take from such fish with a change to a dry-dropper rig, so I do not bother any more.

    For me, dry fly-droppers are preferred when potential need to quickly switch to dry-dry rig or dry-emerger rig is present or when water I am fishing is uniformly shallow enough for a dry to dropper(s) length of 18-30 inches to be effective. Since most of my fishing is on the move wading or from a personal watercraft, I do not have the luxury of uniform depth very much.

  21. If I am fishing nymphs it usually means there is no surface activity and the fish are not taking anything off the surface. Adding a dry fly as an indicator seems less effective than adding a 3rd nymph under an indicator…

  22. There is a time and place for all methods right?

    There isn’t a right or wrong way- indicator nymping, euro nymping, dry dropper rigs etc etc are all deadly, all suited to fishing slightly different situations. Each rig has a time and place where it will outperform the others- so I don’t really buy the idea that there is “one” right way to do things. In part, the season and waters you are fishing dictate the “best” rig (along with personal preference and confidence in your rig). II fish dry dropper rigs a lot of the time, its my go to rig on a number of my local waters for a large chunk of the season. However there are some waters I fish where you need to change depth regularly to nymph effectively. On those waters (when there is little or no surface action), I generally euro nymph or fish NZ indicators because both styles make it super easy to adjust depth, which means I catch more fish.

    In short, horses for course.

  23. That’s great and all bu what do you do when the flows are at 1000 and there is only turbulent water and you need a lot of weight to get your flies down? I also use 3 nymphs under an indicator and use a dry/dropper when the conditions are right

  24. Sounds perfectly logical to me. If the haters wanna bash you for that…$@×# them. You fish to have fun! Just be aware of regs, if you are only permitted a certain number of hooks on the line, be sure to abide by the law.
    Cheers !
    Great read!

  25. To each his own. A few years ago I had the pleasure of fishing with one of my co-workers for steelhead in the tributaries of Lake Erie. John took me to the fly/tackle shop and started loading up on all sorts of tackle – up to and including live minnows. I was at the height of snobiness and no nose was too long to look down. John rigged up a fly rod and spinning rod and proceeded to go to town. Watching him use both rods was watching a master fisherman. He took steelers on both rigs and used them interchangeably – often times melding the two styles on one rod. I was skunked, John caught double digits. Since then, I have grown a true appreciation of watching great anglers excell at whatever they do to catch fish. I fish bamboo rods I build and tie most of my own flies, but a purist I am not. There are too many rhings to learn in this sport not to look for hints and skills from any inspiration.

  26. Up in the driftless area some of the streams are extremely clear. There’s no surface activity but throwing nymphs with a dry as a strike indicator tends to not spook the fish. It seems that I can get a much better presentation fishing with a dry as an indicator. I’ve been very successful with the set up. There are times also that while fishing with nymphs fish will start to take on the surface and my black Never Sink Caddis ends up being eaten alive.

  27. Tricks in the bag folks. The more of them you have, the more successful you are likely to be. The best trick though…. Fish the way that makes you happy!!

  28. I’ve questioned this a lot in the last couple of weeks. I feel like either way, indicator or dry dropper, you are using one or the other to detect strikes. You either add more tippet to your droppers or your adjust your bobber up and down. Doesn’t matter, you are using something to detect a strike.

  29. This kind of seems like arguing about religion. No one will ever be proven right. I usually try new techniques every time I go out. I’m just here to fish. Enjoy your surroundings. Enjoy the beauty of the fish. Enjoy the tech and engineering in our equipment and clothing. Enjoy yourself. They say variety is the spice of life. Switch things up and find out what works for YOU.

  30. I Prefer using a dry instead of and indicator i usually use a large foam hopper or cicada because i would rather use a fly than an indicator because it makes me feel like i am drowning a worm. also i fell that i am able to notice more soft eats on a fly than on a indicator.

  31. Two months ago sure. Not now, most of the big nymphs have already hatched. It’s the season of rubber legs in Michigan. Splat and twitch, trout fishings equivalent to jump shooting. Every fish in the stream is looking up, way too good to miss.

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