2 Fly SetUp For Nymphs: How to Set It Up And Fish It Better

2 fly setup fishing

I use a 2 fly setup whenever I can because it increases my chance of catching more trout, steelhead, or even salmon in the rivers. As long as you are legally allowed to use a 2 fly setup I would highly recommend it. Learning how to do it right will improve your chances and limit the problems that can occur with a 2 fly setup.

A 2 fly setup allows the angler to cover 2 parts of the water column at the same time. A 2 fly setup also allows the angler to use two different flies to help determine what flies the fish want. A 2 fly setup also helps the angler determine if the fish are feeding low or higher in the water column.

There are lots of advantages to fishing for trout, steelhead, or salmon with a properly rigged 2 fly setup, and there are 3 ways that I set up my 2 fly leader. There is also a process I go through to increase my success with a 2 fly setup.

This blog post is about a 2 fly setup for nymphs and not for dry flies.

The 3 Main Advantages To A 2 Fly Setup

Catch More Fish With A 2 Fly Setup
The primary benefit to fishing a 2 fly setup well is that you will catch more fish. The key is to fish it well.

2 flies are often better than 1 fly but you can make it even better by understanding how.

First let me just say that in some areas of North America, you are allowed to use 2 flies on a leader at the same time, and in some areas you are even allowed to use 3 flies at a time.

There are also some areas where you can’t use more than 1 fly so check the fishing regulations for the river you want to fish before you go.

I often tell my clients that 2 flies are good and that 3 flies can also be good, but 3 flies can also be a recipe for a major tangled up mess. I only recommend 3 flies for very skilled anglers.

A 2 fly setup which is also known as a 2 fly rig can be used by anyone regardless of their skill.

The 3 main advantages to the 2 fly setup are that 2 flies might double your chances of a fish biting.

A 2 fly rig is also a great way to test out flies to see what the fish want to eat, and s 2 fly rig also allows you to test out feeding zones easier and faster.

More Flies In the Water Usually Means More Fish

The first advantage to a 2 fly setup is the fact that you have twice as many flies in the water at the same time and therefore possibly twice the chance to catch fish. In fact, I have even had clients hook two fish at the same time, one on 1 fly and the other on the second fly.

This is something that you probably already guessed, however, there are ways to make two flies work better for you.

Testing Out Flies With 2 Fly SetUp

My nymph fly patterns
Nymph flies can come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. These are from my fly box.

I test out flies all the time.

Testing doesn’t always mean that I’m testing a new prototype pattern that I want to try and see if it works, testing for me more often means I am putting random flies in front of the fish throughout the day, or in different spots, or under the conditions that I am faced with, just to see what flies they will eat.

A bunch of trout in a river may have gone crazy for 1 fly pattern yesterday, or two hours ago, but they might ignore that same fly later in the day, or tomorrow. I’ve seen one fly go from a great pattern all year but then not work very well the next year.

I don’t know why this happens, all I know is that they WILL EAT SOMETHING TODAY, I just need to figure out what that something is, and I need to do it fast?

You might be thinking this could be because of the current bug hatches, which can increase the effectiveness of flies that match the hatch, but make other flies not work so well.

I’m not talking about match-the-hatch flies. I’m talking about general-purpose nymphs that seam to work when there is no hatch, or they work regardless of what’s hatching. As an example, the “Frenchie Nymph” is a proven fly that continues to produce most of the time. But what if even the Frenchie stops working?

A two-fly rig that is set up properly and presented well is a great way to test flies to find out what the trout want to eat. Often, two flies are better than one.

Setup of your two-fly rig is important and guys ask me what fly goes where?

My answer is that I always put my confidence fly on the bottom and my test-fly or secondary fly up the line. My confidence fly is the fly that will likely be in the strike zone which is often closest to the bottom and it’s a fly that I’ve has good success with in the past.

One of my 2 fly rig test flies
I will often crazy patterns like this one as a test pattern and on some days they work better than natural looking flies.

The secondary fly can be placed 12″ to 30 inches up the line and is almost always a different fly pattern, sometimes much different than my confidence fly is.

The test fly could be bigger, smaller, bushier, shaped different, or it could just be a different color from my confidence fly and almost always it’s a different fly pattern.

Often I will use a fly that matches a recent or upcoming hatch first to see how the fish react to it.

I already know that my confidence fly which will be in the strike zone near the bottom is a great fly so I will often test out new patterns on the top to see if the fish will eat it.

At times a client will open their box and ask me about their flies that they picked up at the local store. I will often pick two or three out and try them on my top fly just to see if they work. In fact, some of my most productive patterns have come from flies of my clients.

I’m never afraid to try new flies and I have more confidence when I have two flies on the line and one I already know works well.

If I’m in the process of testing out flies with the top fly, I will often keep the two flies closer together (which for me means they are around 12 inches apart) so that both flies are in the same strike zone.

If one fly keeps getting eaten, and the other one doesn’t I will swap out the fly that doesn’t get eaten with another pattern to test that new one.

If you put your test-fly 30 inches up the line, it could actually be a better fly than the confidence fly but you won’t know for sure since it could be too high and to far out of the strike zone so it may not get eaten. If this is the case and you won’t be able to determine if it’s a good fly or not.

This is why when I test out a new fly I often keep it within 16 inches of the confidence fly and in the strike zone.

Determining Feeding Zones With A 2 Fly Rig

Brown Trout On Bottom
River trout often hold near the bottom so you want to get your bait down to the trout.

If I tested out both patterns and both patterns get eaten equally well, I will then make another adjustment by increasing the distance between the two flies.

A 2 fly rig is a great way to help you determine if the fish are feeding close to the bottom or if they are looking up and feeding higher in the water column.

Once I have determined which flies are working, placing one fly near the bottom and moving the second fly 30 to even 40 inches up the line is a great way to determine if they are feeding low or high in the water column at the same time.

When using two different flies on a two fly setup, sometimes the fly on the top will get eaten the most. You need to understand why?

When one fly gets eaten more than the other, many of my clients will then automatically assume that it gets eaten the most because that is the fly that the trout like. This is not always the case!

It could be true that they prefer one fly over another, but I also tell my clients that maybe it’s not that one fly is actually better than the other, it could simply be that the one fly that is being eaten the most, in this case, the top fly is getting eaten more only because it’s in the right spot at the right time.

If the fish are looking up or they are suspended off the bottom then it only makes sense that a fly presented above them will be the one that gets eaten the most.

If I find that the top fly is getting eaten the most and I am using two different flies, I may experiment and switch the positions of the same two flies. I will put the bottom fly on the top and the top fly on the bottom, I do this as a test.

If the fish keep eating the same fly that was once on the top and the one they preferred, but is now on the bottom, then I know that it’s the fly they wanted and not the position of the fly in the water column.

But if the trout start eating the new top fly (the one that wasn’t getting eaten before because it was on the bottom) then I know it wasn’t the fly after all, but instead, it was just that they are feeding high in the water column.

As a guide and an angler, this is great to know because not only have I determined which flies are effective, I can fish both flies in the upper water column and keep fishing higher and maybe double my chances.

There have been days on the water when I have forced my client to nymph one fly 6 inches below the surface, and a second fly 20 to 30 inches below that and it was fantastic.

I said “forced my client” because it’s very common for most anglers to want to only nymph their flies along the bottom and this is often a HUGE mistake.

GUIDE TIP: A recent study I read claimed trout only feed downwards 13% of the time. To me this means that 87% of the time trout move upwards or side to side to feed. So if you drag your fly along the bottom, you will be missing potential fish!

I have proven this to my clients by having them fish a small section of the river for 5 minutes to see how many fish they can catch. I will then take their rod with the same fly and I will fish the exact same stretch they just fished for 5 minutes. Almost always, I will catch 3 to 5 times more fish out of the same spot after they have already fished it.

All I have done differently than they did was control my fly depth and fish 12 to 20 inches off the bottom at all times. Basically, they dragged the bottom, and I knew it, and I simply kept my fly above the trout’s head as much as possible.

Guys, fish look up, not down, so stop dragging the bottom and keep your flies at eye level or just above the trout and you will catch more fish.

The 2 Fly SetUp Cast.

Bottom Bouncing In shallow water
Bottom bouncing is extremely effective to fish flies with spinning gear, Centerpin rods, and even when fly fishing.

Casting a 2 fly setup is not the same as casting a single fly. You need to cast a bit differently.

New anglers often tangle their leaders a lot more than more experienced anglers do when fishing 2 flies, this is not the fault of the 2 fly rig, it’s the fault of the angler.

I will fish a 2 fly rig for days and days and not get a tangle. How I do this is by keeping my leader straight when it lands and by using a drag-and-flip type cast.

It’s not a fly cast at all. My leader comes out of the water straight, it stays straight in the air, and it lands straight. If you can do this you won’t get tangled.

To do this well, start by flipping the fly down the river using a wide roll cast. With about 10 to 15 feet of fly line out of the end of the rod and straight down from you and tight from the current, slowly and smoothly lift the rod up and slightly behind you, and once the rod is almost straight up you flip all the line, the leader, and the 2 fly setup up rive and out at about a 45 degree angle.

If you have done this well your flies will have come up to the surface at the start of your cast, and your leader right to the flies will be straight, and your flies and leader will have landed in a straight line out or up the river from you.

If you are tangling up a lot you have slack in the line at some point of your cast or landing. If your 2 flies and the leader land in a pile with lots of slack in the leader it can cause tangles, but if your leader lands straight you will not tangle.

I tell my clients that it’s impossible to tie a knot in a straight line or a line that does not cross itself. So if you learn how to keep your leader as straight as possible you will stop getting unwanted knots and tangles. In theory, it’s that simple.

Therefore, if you can pull the flies out on your cast with everything straight, and you can lob those flies overhead in as straight a line as possible, and you can then land everything straight on the water, then you will start to be able to fish for days without a tangle, just like I can.

This is hard to explain in words so I hope to have an update with a video of how to do this coming soon.

The 2 Fly Leader Set-up

There are 3 ways I do the 2 fly setup and all of them work well. Try them out and determine which one works best for you.

#1 – The 2 Fly Bottom Bouncing / Sighter Setup

This is a more advanced setup that uses a tight line method with a sighter to help you detect the bites and to gauge your depth and speed. All the weights in this 2 fly setup are on the line and on the bottom so you won’t need weighted flies for this method.

You can do this without the sighter but the sighter really improves this method.

If you can master this method it is the best method for using a 2 fly setup with unweighted flies.

2 fly setup for bottom bouncing

#2 – 2 Fly Setup With Weighted Flies – The Euro Nymph Rig

This is my preferred method when running a 2 fly setup in water that I don’t need to cast more than 20 feet. It is almost identical to the above method but it doesn’t use any added weights on the line.

2 Fly Setup Euro Nymphing Rig
This 2 fly rig should work well on most trout rivers. These flies are weighted so no extra weights are required.

This is known as euro nymphing and in most medium to fast rivers that are between 1 foot and 7 feet it is by far the most effective method. You can see more about Euro Nymphing on my page Euro Nymphing: An Expert Euro Guide Explains.

2 Fly Setup With An Indicator

This is the most common method for anglers to use the 2 fly setup. I use this a lot for steelhead on bigger slower rivers or on big pools.

2 Fly Setup Standard Indicator Rig

This 2 fly setup with the indicator is also the best method to fish a long way away from you like when you are standing in the river up to the top of your waders and you need to still get your fly another 20 feet or more out from the end of your rod.

Indicator rigs are also best under windy conditions.

How To Fish A 2 Fly Setup

Euro Nymphing A 2 Fly Rig
This is my client fishing a euro nymphing 2 fly rig which can often be the best method in smaller rivers.

When I fish a 2 fly rig I either use a tight line (euro style) method with no indicator and no weights or I might use a similar tight line rig with added weights on the line but I fish these two methods the same.

The other method that I will use with a 2 fly setup is to use an indicator.

Whether I use an indicator or not, I do not fish a 2 fly setup any different than a 1 fly rig.

The only thing I might do differently with a 2 fly setup is that I’ll be a little more careful with my casts so that I don’t tangle everything up, and my leader setup will be different. Otherwise, everything fishes the same as with a one fly rig.

The only other thing that I might do is I may go with a bigger indicator that can handle the extra weight of a 2 fly rig.

Presentation Is Key

Is fly fishing good for catching trout.
Fly fishing can be a lot of fun and a very effective way to catch trout in rivers.

Just because you have 2 flies on the line doesn’t mean you will catch more fish. What catches more fish is being able to present the fly or 2 flies exceptionally well.

There are many other factors that I teach my clients as well that will help you catch more. I highly suggest going to my page on Trout Fishing 101 – 3 Part Series

Advanced Nymphing

I recently added a special page called Fly Fishing Nymphs. This used to be a page that was private and it was just for my clients and my students from my advanced nymphing classes.

Most students claim that they start catching a lot more trout and steelhead after taking this advanced nymphing class, however, I often provide more information than they can absorb in one day, so I made this page as a summary of what I teach.

That page is most of the stuff that I include in my advanced nymphing classes and I update it every now and then. It also includes other 2 fly rigs for you to check out.

I have decided to let you in on all of it, I hope you check it out and enjoy it.

Got A Question About The 2 Fly Setup?

I hope this gives you some insight to start fishing the 2 fly rig. If you have a question, idea, or tip about the 2 fly setup for nymphs, let me and your fellow anglers know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines,

Graham

Author

  • Graham - River Guide / Instructor

    I am a full-time river fishing guide with over 20 years of guiding experience and I run one of the top river guide services with a team of great river guides. I have guided about 3000 anglers and this website is a compilation of the tips and methods that I teach my clients and other guides. Check the About Us page in the bottom menu for more about me and our river guide contributors.

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