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 simply because it increases my chance of catching more trout, steelhead, or even salmon in the rivers. 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 area’s you are even allowed to use 3 flies at a time.

There are also some area’s 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 your 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 have 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 to see what flies they will eat that day, or under the conditions that I am faced.

A bunch of trout in a river may have gone crazy for 1 fly pattern yesterday, but they might ignore that same fly today 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, and I just need to figure out what that something is?

A 2 fly rig is a great way to test flies to find out what the trout want to eat. 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 normally works well for me.

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

The test fly could be bigger, smaller, bushier, shaped different, or just be a different color from my confidence fly. I already know that my confident fly which will be in the strike zone near the bottom is a great fly and usually works well so I will often test out new patterns or different sizes, shapes, and colors on the top to see if the fish will eat it.

If I’m in the process of testing out flies with the top fly, I will often keep the 2 flies closer together (which for me means they are around 12 inches apart) so that both flies are in the same strike zone. If 1 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 one.

If you put your test fly 30 inches up the line, it could actually be a better fly than the confidence fly but since it’s high and out of the strike zone it may not get eaten 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 keep it close to 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 determines which flies are working, placing one fly near the bottom and moving the second fly 30 to 36 inches up the line is a great way to determine if they are feeding low or high 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, and many of my clients will then assume that it gets eaten the most because that is the fly that the trout like.

This could be true, but I also tell them that maybe it’s not that one fly is actually better than the other, it could simply be that the one fly that is getting 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 the fly on the top 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 but is now on the bottom then I know that it’s the fly they wanted, but if they start eating the new top fly (the one that wasn’t getting eaten 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 now I can put 2 flies in the upper water column and keep fishing high and maybe double my chances.

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 differently.

New anglers often tangle their leaders a lot more than more experienced anglers do. I will fish a 2 fly rig for days and days and not get a tangle and how I do this is by keeping my leader straight when it lands and but using a drag and flip cast. It’s not a fly cast at all.

To do this well, start by flipping the fly down the river using a roll cast. With about 15 feet of fly line out of the end of the rod and once the line straightens, slowly and smoothly lift the rod up and slightly behind you, and once the rod is almost straight up you flip all the line leader and 2 fly setup out.

If you have done this well your flies will have come up to the surface at the start of your cats 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.

If you are tangling up a lot you have slack in the line at some point. 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 you can’t tie a know in a straight line unless you make it unstraight. 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 set up 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

Other great Article include:

Advanced Nymphing

I recently added a page call Fly Fishing Nymphs that used to be just for students of my advanced nymphing classes. Most students claim that they start catching a lot more trout and steelhead after taking this class, however, I often provide more information than they can absorb so I add it to this page as a reference for them and now for you.

This is most of the stuff that I include in the class and I update it every now and then. It also includes other 2 fly rigs.

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 let me and others know in the comment section below.

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