Salomone: Tandem rigs double down your chances for success￼
Even fish like a little variety in their meals
The majority of the time, a single fly is the best presentation for success when fly fishing. An individual fly floats seemingly untethered, more at the mercy of the river currents. Even a single nymph sinks more quickly. But when the coldest months of the year have ruled the water, it is best to fish a tandem nymph rig to double down on your chances for success.
When fishing a tandem nymph rig, mixing and matching different flies presents two varieties of food. The rig could consist of two stages of the same insect. My personal preference is to fish something eye-catching with something natural and small. This has proven productive for decades of fly fishing on the local waters.
The theory is to draw the attention of a trout, which are naturally inquisitive and can be seen swimming along, regularly “inspecting” your flies for life. If the initial gaudy or large offering isn’t eaten, trailing behind comes a “too-good-to-pass-up” little morsel that is eaten more out of reaction compared to attraction.
Let me describe two tandem nymph rigs to elevate your opportunities as the rivers begin to open up. Each has a purpose and a reasoning behind its use. As well as years of practiced application for increased confidence.
The happy meal
Vail Valley Anglers guide Jeff Lyons has referred to this rig as the “happy meal” for years. The rig consists of a heavy woolly bugger followed by a small nymph, usually a midge. I fish this rig with an olive conehead woolly bugger leading the show. The large silhouette cast by the bugger attracts attention in slightly off-colored water.
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I’m not actively stripping the bugger but rather dead drifting the fly along the river bottom and around structure. The big bug gets enough eats in olive or black that I feel confident enough to not change colors. Trout will move a little to inspect the large fly only to turn off as the fly picks up speed, changes positions or looks hoaky. When the fish circles back to return to its original position, the little nymph floats past looking enticingly delicious. The bite could be a sincere interest or just a grab before the food passes, the little bug sells the deal more often than not.
Tie the bugger onto your leader with a section of 2X tippet. While not the heavy weight I would use in the autumn for streamer fishing, 2X slips, slides and flexes in the current more naturally for dead drifting. Attach the little nymph to the bend of the bugger with the same improved clinch knot as is used for connecting to the eye of the fly, only tie it “naked” and slip the open loop over the hook point and down to the bend of the hook on the bugger. Then, cinch tight. I use 5X (sometimes 6X) tippet for the trailing nymph. My go-to nymph for the happy meal is a red, bead-head zebra midge.
Spaghetti and meatballs.
No, we aren’t ordering Italian for our trout. What we are doing is rigging up a flashy, showboat rig that will surely garnish some down-the-nose looks from purists. The spaghetti is nothing more than your favorite worm pattern. It could be a San Juan worm tied with fine chenille. If you are going to commit, you might as well get as dirty as possible and go with the squirmy wormy. The consistency of a squirmy feels real to a trout’s mouth, floats with the same resistance as a real wiggler worm and sells the deal with enticing, sultry motion. Bounce along a brightly colored otter’s egg of a similar consistency and you have your meatballs.
As food sources with no locomotion and high-protein content, trout gobble eggs and worms whenever possible. Small, chartreuse yarn patterns work wonders imitating sucker eggs and a slightly larger egg imitation mimics the trout eggs that fill the riffles and tumble down into deep holes.
There’s two tandem offerings to double down on your chances for success as the local rivers begin to release from winter’s frigid grasp. Whether it’s a happy meal or basic spaghetti and meatballs tandem rigs, both present two different food sources at once.
And who doesn’t like a little variety when they sit down to eat.