Choosing Flies for Tandem Nymph Rigs

5 comments / Posted on / by


Tandem Nymph Rig Suggestions. Photo Louis Cahill

Today’s post is intended for beginner and intermediate fly anglers that struggle with choosing what fly patterns to tie on when they’re fishing a tandem nymph rig.

Because most of our fly boxes are stocked with dozens of different fly patterns, it can be difficult at times to know where to start. I get the question all the time, “how do I know what flies to tie on?” The answer to that question is I don’t. Sometimes I have a good idea because of the time of year or from observing the present conditions on the water, but generally, I have to experiment with fishing different flies just like everyone else does until I figure out what the trout want. One of the keys to my consistent success with fishing a tandem nymph rig is treating the rig like it’s a buffet of food choices for the trout. I always fish flies that imitate different types of food sources when I begin my day of fly fishing. This increases the chances that the trout will like one of the food imitations in my rig. More importantly though, by fishing different types of flies in my tandem rig, I can quickly gather intel from the trout on what they’re liking and disliking about my flies.

To make things easier for me, I categorize my nymphs into four different categories:

Big flies, small flies, bright colored flies and natural colored flies. When I start out my day on the water, I begin rigging my two-fly rig with different combinations of these. This helps me dial-in to what the trout want much more quickly. For instance, if the trout aren’t liking big flies, I’ll downsize my flies in my two-fly rig. If the trout aren’t liking bright colored flies, I’ll swap them out for more natural colored nymphs. Whatever you do, don’t stick to fishing a tandem nymph rig that’s not catching trout. That’s a game plan that’s going to set you up for failure.

Take a close look at the header photo in this post. I’ve provided several examples of tandem nymph rigs I regularly use on the water to help me catch trout. The fly to the left is the top or lead fly, and the fly to the right, is the dropper or bottom fly in the rig. Keep in mind, these pairings are just examples and that you can experiment with your own fly patterns that fit into these categories. The most important part of the process, when selecting what flies to use in your tandem nymph rig, is pairing flies up that are complete opposites of each other. When you do that, the trout will generally favor one fly over the other and that’s the kind of information you want to use to help you dial-in further, so you can figure out what the hot flies will be for the day.

I’ll be writing a follow up post down the road discussing this subject in much greater detail. For now, I just wanted to introduce the basics on what I look at when I’m choosing what flies patterns to rig up for my tandem nymph set up.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

5 thoughts on “Choosing Flies for Tandem Nymph Rigs

  1. For hopper/ heavy/dropper rigs I like to run a large chartreuse or silver copper john followed by a smaller more subtle pattern like a Hares ear or a pheasant tail.

    For indy I like to use the heavy copper john, a pheasant tail or hares ear and a rs2, disco midge or zebra midge.

    When swinging caddis emergers I like to run 3 different sizes. Usually 14, 16, 18. Usually caddis green body. In my experience in the driftless, trout tend to key on the size more than color. Most strikes are on the 18, some on the 16, usually none on the 14.

  2. Hi Kent,

    First off, good article, you always give helpful info. Reading this article brought a question that I have often wondered. Say I’m fishing a spot that I think should hold fish but I haven’t caught anything with the particular fly that I have tied on. What should I do next, change my fly or move on to another spot to see if the trout will eat the fly I have tied on?


    • Can’t speak for Kent, but for me it depends on the situation.

      If I am fishing an uncrowded body of water where I know there are other good spots and I am using a pattern that is a known performer, I will move on and try other spots.

      If I am fishing a crowded location, with limited high percentage spots I will run through the fly box or possibly even rest the hole a bit before trying something else.

  3. Interesting. I didn’t consider the two flies should start out being opposing “styles” but that makes sense, especially at the beginning of your day. It looks like it is common to use a larger fly up top, which I normally do. Thanks for the post!

  4. First, another good article provided by G&G. Thank you!

    In reading Kent’s article I was surprised by his statement; “The most important part of the process, when selecting what flies to use in your tandem nymph rig, is pairing flies up that are complete opposites of each other.”
    I tend to try and follow my dry with an emerger or nymph of the same fly in hopes to offer an imitation in different parts of the water column. This is especially true if there is a noticeable hatch. The one exception to that is when there is very fast water and I am using a larger dry as an indicator or attractor. Not saying that Kent is wrong, because after all, anything that catches trout is good. I can see Kent’s point if there is no noticeable hatch going on and one wants to experiment until they find a fly that works. Always looking for good ideas so thanks to G&G for making us think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...