Choosing Flies for Tandem Nymph Rigs

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Tandem Nymph Rig Suggestions. Photo Louis Cahill

Today’s article 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.

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
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8 thoughts on “Choosing Flies for Tandem Nymph Rigs

  1. Nice suggestions Kent. Those 2 rigs on bottom left can’t be ignored when it comes to high water conditions. One thing I’ve found is that when I commit and fish my tandem rig (or any fly for that matter) with confidence, I catch more fish. I’m making better casts, getting better drifts, and not second guessing what I’m doing. A buddy of mine has 1 fly that he is 100% positive will catch fish anywhere on the globe, and when he ties it on he catches fish. It ups your game when you believe you have “that fly” on, and you find yourself concentrating better on everything involved with your fishing because your not thinking about “do I have the right fly”. I could blabber on, but I won’t. I have a couple of rigs (dries and nymphs) that I have the same feeling towards and they’re always the first things that I tie on when I hit the water because I’m confident in those patterns.

      • I have a few rigs that I trust, and I break them down based on where I’ll be fishing, and the conditions I’ll be fishing them. Some of my “go to” flies are very specific to where I’ll be fishing, but these are the flies that I’ll tie on anywhere for the most common conditions we find when we get to the water. I tie my own variations of these flies, but the fly shop variations work as well.
        For high water – #6-8 Stonefly/#6-14 Vladi worm or squirmy worm.
        Low water – #10 Stonefly/#12-18 Czech nymph.
        Dry Dropper – #8-14 Stimi/#14-20 Flashback Hare’s Ear
        The thing for me is to keep is simple. There have been a lot of times where I’ve opened my fly box and gotten lost.
        This gives me a great place to start, and I always have the option of switching it up if these aren’t working.

  2. Good starter post… looking forward to more detail, including attaching some names to those flies in your box… some are obvious, but not to us semi beginners…

  3. What’s the fly with the rubber legs in the leftmost row just above the bugger? Is that flat woven?

    Looks like that style could make a great looking clinger nymph in a smaller size.

  4. Pingback: Pre-Tied Multi-Fly Rigs

  5. Great visual of a way to organize your fly box for the day, taking into account the type of water conditions noted by Justin. And as you noted in an earlier posting, you can tie the various tandem combinations in advance

  6. 2 dries:
    Sometimes when I want to use a 22 or 24 dry, I will tie a larger (16+) fly with a parachute as lead fly just to be able to see the smaller dry. However, this almost always causes drag with the smaller. Any suggestions?

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