Casting Multi Fly Rigs

Article by Skip Morris (


After decades of getting tangles while trying to avoid them with such ill-behaved rigs, I’ve come up with some strategies. But it’s the dead of an especially cold winter here right now with river fishing a distant dream, and I know that memories (especially my memories, and especially at my age) soften and reshape themselves as their details slip away over time. So I set up a rig like the one you describe—what many call a “hopper-dropper” rig (heavy little nymph trailing off a big grasshopper-size dry fly)—and took it out on a lawn. A lawn is fine, though, since we’re talking not about fishing but about casting. Point is, I just went out and proved to myself that everything I’m about to tell you is valid.

There are several elements in play when you’re trying to get two (or more) ill-behaved flies out smoothly. The first element is vigilance—you just have to stay alert every moment as you cast a troublesome rig.

I learned this with the old (and still deadly), dropper nymph rig, with its soaring weighted nymphs and indicator just waiting for a chance to bounce into a hair-pulling snarl, a chance I dared not allow them. The components all seemed drawn together like magnets. I used to sit and curse and cut up and retie those rigs all the time. Gradually, though, I figured out that if I concentrated fully on my casting, never letting my attention drift, and did everything just right, I rarely got tangled. Sometimes (though not often) I’d go a whole day with but one rig and not a single problem.

It’s the same with your hopper-dropper rig with that long tippet for the dropper: you must give it your full and constant attention every moment it’s airborne.

The second element is patience. Impatience—rushing a casting stroke, not waiting for the flies to come around at the end of a stroke before starting the next one, these sorts of things—will catch up to you. And, typically, you won’t have to wait long until it does. So take your time, all the time you need. It can help to talk to yourself, repeating “I am not going to rush” or “Slow and easy” or, if you prefer the classics, “Haste makes waste.”

Let’s pause to take look at the casting stroke. Making the right stroke for a multiple-fly rig is element number three. The stroke must be smooth—a slow start building gradually to a quick rod-tip and, consequently, a quick line speed. Any inconsistencies, jerks or stalls, and the line starts bouncing and so does your rig and, well, good luck. Strive for control in your strokes, for grace.

Still looking at the cast in general, I believe that keeping the line away from the flies as they pass on opposite sides of the casting loop is a boon with a rig of two or more flies. So the fourth element is casting with a relatively open loop in the line. That’s easy: just keep the rod’s tip travelling a little extra at the end of the back and the forward casts—that widens the loop in the line to separate its sides, the side that’s the line from the side that’s leader, tippet, and flies.

Make the back and forward casting strokes on different planes—element number five—and you’ve got another way to help you avoid a multiple-fly tangle. (Actually, I generally combine two-plane casting with open line loops when I cast a problem-loving rig, and of course, as I mentioned, I also try to cast smoothly and with patience.) By two-plane casting I mean that after making a forward cast with the rod vertical, or close to it, you smoothly lower the rod tip to the side a little for the back cast. You raise the rod tip again as you begin the next forward cast and so on. This makes the line follow a sort of elongated oval course—and not only does the rig stay away from the line, but instead of jerking around at the end of the stroke it swings around, following a mild curve. Smooth, smooth…

Element number six, the final element of casting an unruly rig without problems, covers the surprise events, the kind that can come when you tug the hook home but nothing’s there or when a fish just comes off on a deeply bent rod and the rig comes flying at you. That sort of pandemonium. You instinctively try to get everything under control, but there’s too much chaos for you to tame and…ta da: tangle! The best solution I’ve found when the rig suddenly goes haywire is to just drop the rod-tip and let everything fall; then draw in the line, leader, and rig. You’ll have to fuss a little to work it all back out into a cast, but the time you’ll lose is only a fraction of the time it takes to chop apart a whole nasty tippet-riot and build a new one.

As far as the second part of your question goes, Stan, about whether there’s a better rig than the hopper-dropper for what you’re trying to do, I’ll just say this: the hopper-dropper rig, with the big dry tied to the tippet and the heavy little nymph on its own tippet knotted to the bend of the big dry’s hook, is by now well established and widely trusted. There are other similar rigs, but I haven’t found them any easier to manage than the hopper dropper, so I can’t see any reason you shouldn’t stick with it. Simply put: I don’t think a different rig is the solution to your two-fly casting challenges; I do think my six elements of taming troublesome rigs are.

5 Ways to Get More Hook-Ups When You’re Using Tiny Flies

In winter, most anglers fish some of the smallest patterns of the year: midges, tiny olives, and downsized nymphs. A small fly must be tied on a small hook, which often means you lose more fish right off the bar because you don’t get a good hook set. You’ll also have a lower hook-up rate than you would with a size 12 fly, but here are a few things you can do to swing the odds a bit more in your favor.

1. Use a hook with a wide gap. The small gap on some hooks means that the body materials can get in the way. If the hook point never gets to the fish’s mouth, your chances of success are near zero. When you’re choosing hooks for patterns smaller than size 16, and especially for those 22s and 24s, consider the gap size.

2. Use a slightly longer hook shank. If you’re using tiny Soft Hackles or wet flies, try a hook with a longer shank to ensure that the hook point is unimpeded.

3. Tie sparse flies. Given numbers 1 and 2 above, it makes sense to tie patterns that have slim bodies and not a lot of hackle or other winging material interfering with the hook point.

4. Fish upstream as much as possible. When you’re using such a small hook, it’s very easy to yank it out of a fish’s mouth if the fish is downstream of you. For dries and nymphs, fish upstream. For wet flies, try to drift and swing the fly at as sharp an angle as possible, so you’re not pulling the fly directly away from the fish.

5. Set the hook to the side or downstream. To help with the problem described in #4, think about the direction of your hook set. Instead of throwing your rod tip to the sky when you get a hit, keep it low and sweep the tip to your downstream side, if possible. They, of course, is to do this as gently as possible, since you’re probably using 6X or smaller and you don’t want to pull the fly out of the fish.

Sparse Vs. Heavily-dressed Flies

                                                                 Heavily-dressed Sakasa Kebar


                                                              Heavily-dressed Sakasa Kebar

Sparse Flies

In the view of the soft-hackle devotees a fly should have a very slim body (usually of floss or minimal dubbing) and just one or two turns of hackle.These flies are wispy and impressionistic, leaving the fish to use their imagination and fill in the gaps between materials. Sparse flies work well in the following conditions:

  • In clear, slow moving water such as meandering meadow streams or spring creeks
  • Where the fish face a lot of pressure and see a lot of bulky store-bought flies
  • When the fish are spooky and highly selective
  • Shallow water


Heavily-dressed Flies

Many insects that trout eat are either round and plump, or have a wide, flat profile offering more protein. But heftier flies can also spook fish in the conditions mentioned above. Heavily-dressed flies are better suited to the following conditions:

  • On big water as a searching pattern
  • In stained or muddy water where visibility is low
  • When fishing large, deep pools
  • In high water
  • When targeting larger fish
  • In streams that harbor larger caddis or stoneflies

Use of a streambed

Ever wonder if you can fish a body of water.


Under Texas Law, a stream is considered public if it is navigable in fact or navigable by statute, the latter referring to any stream that retains an average width of 30 feet from the mouth up. As the entire stream-bed is considered in calculating width, there is no distinction made as to whether the stream is dry. During the original survey of Texas in the 1840s, John Borden, the first commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, instructed surveyors to not extend survey lines across navigable waterways. As a result, in many rivers in the state, such as the Llano, the stream-beds are owned by the state, in trust for the public. However, on many smaller waterways, including the James, survey lines were extended across the stream-bed. [ii]

In 1929, in an attempt to remedy some of the confusion resulting from survey lines crossing navigable waterways, the State passed the Small Bill that validated these surveys. [iii] However, the Small Bill noted that such validation did not impair the rights of the general public and the state in the waters of the streams. Such rights include navigation. So even if a landowner’s deed includes the bed of a navigable stream, the public retains its right to use it as a navigable stream. [iv]

In addition, the state lays claim to any water within a defined watercourse. The Texas Administrative Code defines a watercourse as “a definite channel of a stream in which water flows within a defined bed and banks…” [v] Waters of the state require requires a water rights permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. [vi] Under the Small Bill, the state also retains possession of the sand and gravel found in the stream-beds. Consequently, the removal or disturbance of this material may require a permit issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. [vii]

Landowners in the western Hill Country have been alarmed by recent reports that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is re-classifying certain non-navigable streams as navigable, thereby converting private property to state land and opening it to the public. These issues are confusing, because navigable streams and private property involve two separate and long-established sets of legal rights that sometimes conflict with each other.

Since 1837, Texas statutes have deemed a stream to be navigable so far as it retains an average width of 30 feet from the mouth up. A state agency such as TCEQ cannot arbitrarily re-designate a non-navigable stream as navigable. Rather, it can only determine whether a particular stream meets this statutory definition of “navigable.”

For landowners, this classification is critical because Texas law grants the public a right to use navigable streams up to the gradient boundary. This right of free use and movement, which dates back to the 1830s, encompasses more than just commercial navigation; a Texas court expressly approved recreation as a lawful use of navigable streams as early as 1917. In contrast, the public has no right to use non-navigable streams on private property.

Some of the older survey lines in Texas extended across the beds of smaller waterways rather than stopping at the bank, so that the landowners hold title to the streambeds as part of their property. Ordinarily, the bedrock of private property rights is the right to exclude. However, Texas cases and statutes have long established that the landowner’s property rights in the bed of a navigable stream do not trump the public’s conflicting navigation rights. One appellate court explained in 1981 that owners of streambeds “cannot unreasonably impair the public’s rights of navigation and access to and enjoyment of a navigable water course.”

At the same time, a state agency’s determination that a stream is navigable does not transform a privately-owned streambed into state land. The Texas legislature validated these trans-stream survey lines in 1929, so that landowners who hold title to a streambed retain many property rights in it. Nonetheless, that portion of their private property is burdened by the public’s longstanding right to use navigable streams.

Finally, members of the public cannot cross private property to access a navigable stream. They can only do so from public land (usually a road) adjacent to the stream.



Five Tips for Catching Bass on the Fly

1. Fish slowly with the top water bug: I’d say nine times out of 10, when I wasn’t paying attention to my popper, is when it was eaten. This tells me that I ought to slow it down and let it sit more than I think I should. 

2. Use a constant retrieve while nymphing for bass:  It’s almost impossible to discern a bass eat underwater with a nymph, even with an indicator. A constant retrieve of your bug, slow or fast, will help you feel the eat and catch more fish.

3. Find fish in big water: This one can take time, but is essential if you want to be consistent on a larger body of water. Learn one lake and fish it consistently. Fish with a local and ask a ton of questions. Find the structures like old creek channels, drop offs, old buildings, roads, etc. and you will eventually find the fish.

4. Time of day matters:  Of course you can catch fish throughout the day, but if I put in time at night or early in the morning with topwater bugs, I’ve found fish are far more receptive.

5. Don’t be afraid to toss soft plastics on the fly rod: This one is going to get me in trouble I’m sure, but it works. At night, when it’s tough to see vegetation, nothing works better than a light weedless rigged “lizzard” or a four inch worm.  Heck, half of all bass fishing “flies” are basically lures to begin with. Why not try what works when the going gets tough? You’re still doing it on a fly rod.

Popper- Dropper Rig

Excerpt from this weeks

Casting dry flies with a weighted nymph off the back for trout worked great, and that sparked the question in my head, “couldn’t I use a popper with a dropper fly off the back for bream and bass too?” So I did just that, the first chance I got. I still remember clearly, the first time I tied an olive woolly bugger off the back of a popper, and made a cast across a pod of bream beds. I was rewarded with two bream on the end of my line. Even on days when the fish wouldn’t voluntarily come to the surface to take my popper, they rarely passed up the trailing fly off the back. When I grew up and started hitting the lakes with my bass boat, I never forgot this trick. That popper-dropper rig accounted for many big bass landed over the years. One of my best days ever for smallmouth bass was on this rig. I still use it regularly when I’m fly fishing on warm-water, sometimes even in the salt. Give it a try next time you’re out fly fishing. It works for many species of fish.

Fly Fishing Tactics For Bluegill

This is an excerpt from “Season of the Sunfish,”by Dave and Emily Whitlock. For entire article go here.

Bluegill and their fraternity of sunfish cousins—coppernose, redear, yellowbelly, longear, crappie, green sunfish, common sunfish, warmouth, and rock bass—take well to trout flies and techniques. They are widely distributed, self-proliferating, hardy, strong, beautiful, and aggressive fly eaters. After a lifetime of fly fishing, I’m always eager to take on sunfish.

Seasons of Bluegill

Although most bluegill are caught in the spring and early summer, they eat flies during all four seasons. The entire family spawns in spring, moving into sheltered ponds, lake coves, and stream sloughs when water temperature exceeds 70 degrees F. Males create nests by digging small depressions in water ranging from 1 to 4 feet deep. Soon after, the females join them to spawn.

The ladies depart after spawning but the guys hang around to guard the eggs, circulating water over the nest to aerate it and prevent silt from settling around the eggs. Some fish return to these same bedding areas in the fall to spawn before water temperatures drop below 70 degrees.

Just before, during, and a week after spawning, males are aggressive near their nests and strike almost any fly that comes into range. In most bluegill fisheries, larger males tend to spawn in deeper water. I’ve observed them on nests 10 to 25 feet deep. I’ve also found that each season some males spawn so often they waste away and die—what a way to go!

I generally avoid targeting spawning fish of any species in order to protect future stocks. I believe the best sport for bluegill and other panfish begins in the spring, before they spawn, and then again at postspawn, and in fall and winter. At these times, they still feed aggressively but are more widely distributed in low-gradient, cool- and warmwater streams, and in stillwaters. Bluegill generally hang around structure where they find food, shelter, and comfort, and it’s great fun to try to match their natural foods and search for them with accurate casts.

Picking up one or two bluegill per spot and then searching for the next holding cover is infinitely more interesting than casting over 20 or 100 nests and getting a strike every cast for hours. On days when the water is clear and the surface calm, sight-casting is an added pleasure, and large bluegill can be as spooky and selective as any trout, bonefish, or carp.

On mild, sunny, late summer and fall days, bluegill form loose schools and cruise just under the surface to locate topwater terrestrials and midges. Watch for their frequent rises just offshore. They are spooky in the open, but small, well-presented terrestrial imitations cast in front or to the side of a moving group can draw aggressive responses.

Bluegill Foods and Flies

This may surprise you—or you may disagree because you’ve caught them on bass flies, Woolly Buggers, and other big flies—but a lifetime of bluegill devotion leads me to believe that they prefer small foods and eat them more frequently. Most of the big bluegill I hook are caught on small flies. Even 8- or 10-inch fish have tiny mouths, so they find small foods easier to bite and swallow. Big, mature bluegill—when not “bedding”—are more selective feeders than young fish, and they take small flies readily.

Small, barbless flies typically catch bluegill in the lip and are easy to remove from small mouths. Large, barbed hooks tend to hook deeper and are more difficult to remove. Hemostats or hook removal tools are musts for sunfish.

After a lifetime of fly fishing for bluegill, I’ve also found that the slower you fish the fly, the more and larger fish you can expect. Bluegill and other sunfish often miss and quickly lose interest in fast-moving foods and flies. Dry flies, Sponge Spiders, Sneaky Petes, mini jigs, San Juan Worms, eggs, nymphs, and midge larvae are magic if simply suspended just above or at a lurking bluegill’s level.

Occasionally, a large hair or popping bug raises a moody bluegill when small flies won’t, but it’s hard to hook them on these big bites. When this occurs, attach 8 to 10 inches of 4X or 5X tippet at the bend of the big hook with a tight Duncan loop and tie on a #12-14 nymph dropper.

This attractor-imitator rig can be irresistible to stubborn or snoozing ’gills. When bass buggin’, this is a good way to enjoy a few bonus sunfish. Several springs ago, while fishing this two-fly combo with an 8-foot, 5-weight rod in an east Texas lake, I hooked and eventually landed a nearly 8-pound largemouth bass on a #12 damsel nymph dropper.

When suspending surface flies or subsurface flies under an a indicator or a floating bug, cast close to structure and let the flies sit where they land for a second or two before slowly twitching them along a foot or so. If you don’t get a rise after 30 to 60 seconds, try another spot. This method works because bluegill prefer the safety of cover and commonly don’t venture far to feed. Long retrieves are far less productive.

Open-Water Bluegill

Large bluegill prefer deep water in summer and winter and can be taken over open, aquatic vegetation or brushy water structures by using weighted flies such as #10-14 nymphs, shrimp, Woolly Buggers, Marabou Minnows, or leeches, and using long, slow, deep retrieves. The best line for this is a slow-sinking, colorless fly line such as the Scientific Anglers Stillwater. After letting the fly sink to the intended depth, begin your retrieve. The slow sink rate allows the fly to swim slowly at fish-holding depths.

I use a 6-foot leader with a 24-inch fluorocarbon tippet and a fly that is weighted to have the same, or a just slightly greater, sink rate than the fly line. This straight-line connection with the fly keeps it at the depth you want and allows you to detect subtle strikes. The transparent line does not disturb the fish as you retrieve it over or through them.