Serious saltwater fly tiers painstakingly craft offerings to dupe game fish such as striped bass, bluefish, bonito and redfish. Consideration is given to fly weight, hook size, material selection and color. This is well-justified, as these game fish are often very discriminating when chasing a counterfeit.
Most anglers routinely present one fly at a time to their quarry, bypassing a two-fly system that often is very effective when strategically planned and employed under the right conditions.
Why and When
Fishing two offerings will help determine what bait and flies the fish are feeding on. For example, during the spring season, when stripers invade rivers and backwaters, available food often comprises chubs and herrings. Casting a Mummichog pattern two feet in front of a herring fly presents a visual wallop to striped bass – this two-fly offering not only resembles the fare of the day but also appears as a larger fish chasing a smaller one.
False albacore prefer silversides to tinker mackerel, yet when both are sharing the same water, the tuna will also strike mackerel. If small menhaden are visible with anchovies, the albacore will whack the bunker, though they prefer anchovies.
One memorable September afternoon, I watched an innovative fly-rodder cast a mackerel-and-silverside combination to false albacore. Some anglers hollered across the breachway, asking what he was doing, while others openly snickered. This behavior stopped when a large albacore pounded the mackerel fly while the rest of us were failing to connect using only silverside flies.
The two-fly rig also can be used on the surface. Presenting a loud popper with a rattle in choppy or stained water, with a small teaser ahead of the popper, is a worthy tactic. Surf-casters consistently employ this measure with remarkable success, as the rattle rings the dinner bell. Fly-rodders can do the same.
A seldom-recognized advantage of a two-fly rig is that a large trailer fly will cause small bait to part. For example, if tiny bay anchovies are in great abundance, it’s tough for one anchovy fly to stand out. Even if an angler tries to work an individual fly under or around the thick bait, it’s difficult to draw attention to that small fly. It gets dwarfed in the mix.
If a big trailer fly is preceded by a small anchovy fly, however, the big fly will cause the thick anchovy school to temporarily disperse, while the second offering becomes an obvious target. This is another reason surf-casters toss a large popper ahead of a small bucktail in a small-bait scenario, knowing the teaser fly most likely will be whacked.
If fish seem to be feeding on only one food source, a two-fly rig can still be effective. Tossing two different-size and -color flies that represent the same baitfish can tell an angler which is more effective. Also, two flies simply increase the odds of hooking a fish.
Lines for Double Flies
Two excellent fly lines for a two-fly rig intended for shallow-water situations are the Cortland crystal-clear floating line and the Scientific Anglers Mastery striper line in a slow-sink design. A critical component is the stealth factor of both lines. The entire Cortland line is clear, and the front taper of the Striper line is equally transparent.
The unique taper of these lines is designed to accurately dump large, wind-resistant offerings short and long distances. This feature, in conjunction with a short leader of 4 to 6 feet off the clear line, permits fluid and precise casting of two flies without sacrificing the incognito element a long leader affords.
When you’re casting from rocks or jetties where greater fly depth in the water column may be desired, an olive or gray fast-sink line will perform well and blend with the tone of the rocks. Since the flies are being presented in deeper (and often fast-moving) water, a short leader remains effective. The Mastery striper line in a fast-sink design, with its gray tip, is ideal for these applications.
Constructing the Leader
I developed a simple tapered leader for two-fly casting that involves only two pieces of medium-stiff mono or fluorocarbon line. Depending on the size of the flies that will be tossed, I use 12- to 20-pound-test to build the leader. The braided-butt leader always has appealed to me because it is more flexible than the single-strand butt yet still provides stretch and a turnover element. The braided leaders I saw were tied using a Bimini twist, which is ideal for tarpon but too obtrusive for general saltwater angling, including for stripers, albacore, bonito and redfish.
I decided to use a nonslip mono knot as the focal point of the leader. This knot provides almost full line-breaking strength when tied correctly. It’s also very unobtrusive, streamlined and easy to tie. Begin by tying the nonslip mono knot in a length of line, leaving a large loop and 2 to 4 feet of straight line. Making the braided-line portion one-third of the total leader length works fine. For example, if you desire a leader of 6 feet, with 2 feet between each fly, the first portion of the leader should be 4 feet, and thus the loop on the first portion would be about 2 feet and the straight line section leading to the first fly 2 feet.
Once the large loop is made, cut it evenly, leaving two strands. You can gently clamp the nonslip knot in your vise jaws, leaving both hands free to braid the strands. Lock the finished braid with an overhand knot, then tie a half-inch loop at the braided end with a one-turn surgeon’s knot. Trim the tag ends of the knots, and clip the straight-line portion to the desired length.
This section is looped to the fly line, and the first fly tied with a clinch knot. Tying the same-pound-test mono to the hook bend of the first fly with a clinch knot and then affixing the second fly with the same knot is the way to go. The first fly rarely fouls, and the line won’t come off the bend. Plus, a straight line is maintained throughout the leader (for easy casting), the clinch knots leave no play, and both flies track straight. Flattening the barbs on the flies also promotes safe catch-and-release.
The two-fly system isn’t a panacea for every fly-fishing puzzle. Nor is it for wild blitzes or for producing two fish at the same time. Nevertheless, it has a solid niche in the fly-presentation arena, and when used wisely, it gives anglers a distinct advantage over tossing one fly.