Which fly — and where — on a team of three?

“Can you recommend three flies for me to fish on a dropper rig right now?”

I get this question a lot. Of course the answer depends on many, many factors. Since I enjoy helping people figure out this whole fly fishing thing, I thought I’d give you some simple guidelines — the goal being that you’ll eventually be able figure it out on your own.

You can begin with my articles, “How To Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers,” and “Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success.” Those will give you a good working base to build upon. Here are three best practices for figuring out which flies to tie on.

If you know that tiny BWOs are likely to be out on a overcast, damp fall afternoon, you’re already ahead of the game.

  1. Know what’s hatching or swimming. You should familiarize yourself with local hatches and baits. Know that when the Hendricksons are out on the Farmington in late April, so are caddis. Know that in early fall in SoCo, baits may include silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and finger mullet. Get to the river or estuary or beach and do some good old-fashioned observing. What’s flying around? What’s on the water? Bring a net and find out what’s in the water. For years, I’ve been pre-tying teams of three (sometimes 24 hours or more in advance) for where I’m going to be fishing. I’ve simply gotten dialed in to what’s happening and when. It is not a special talent. You can do the same.
  2. Hedge your bets. Cover your bases. Blackjack players know there are certain hands on which to double down, essentially giving them a chance to multiply their winnings. Likewise, if you absolutely, positively know what’s on the menu, offer up seconds or even thirds. So, using the Hendrickson/caddis scenario, my team of three will have two of one and a single of the other, depending on what I’ve observed. If it’s July on Block Island, I may have three sand eel flies, or two sand eels and a squid. If I have multiple baits or bugs and no hard confirmation of what’s the featured entree, I’ll give the fish a choice: different sizes, species, colors — and let them make the call. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.
  3. Which fly goes where depends on what you want the rig to do. If you’re fishing a team of three in a traditional way — a swing or mended swing followed by a dangle — your top dropper should be an emerger (soft hackles excel in this position) or a bait that’s likely to be near the surface, like a cinder worm or a grass shrimp. If you’re trying to get some depth to start — then let the entire rig swing up toward the surface — then your point fly should be weighted. If you want to manage the team of three like a single unit, dead drifting at or very near the surface, then your point fly should float. I almost always place the largest or heaviest fly on point. It’s not rocket science, and once you get out on the water and see how all these flies interact with water and current, you’ll have a better appreciation for the awesome power you wield with a team of three.

One last thing. You’re using a floating line, right?

Pop quiz, true or false: If trout are feeding on little dark stones or midges near the surface, Stewart’s Black Spider would be a good choice because it matches size, color, and presented an emerging profile.

The Staccato Symphony, performed by an Acre of Feeding Bass

Another late (or early) bedtime Sunday morning — 3:15am if you’re keeping score — but well worth it. I arrived at the mark with the tide still motoring in, and amused myself by sitting on a rock in the dark, absorbing┬áthe sights and the sounds of an estuary at night, with a Gispert Churchill to keep me company. I wasn’t hearing the sounds of feeding bass, but I could see plenty of bait meandering along the shoreline. So I tossed my three fly rig (soft-hackled shrimp on top dropper, Orange Ruthless in the middle, foam-back floating shrimp pattern on point) into the flow and managed a scrappy schoolie.

Ten minutes after the turn of the tide, I began to think that maybe I had made a mistake. Or that that cold front had knocked the feed off. Or the fish were simply elsewhere. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Moments later, the salt pond was lit up like night sky on the Fourth of July. Pop! Pop! Pop! There were bass everywhere, and the sharp reports of their feeding made it sound like I was at a rifle range. This went on for the better part of an hour.

These fish weren’t easy to catch, but that’s what made it so enjoyable — kind of like when you finally figure out that hatch and you fool that brown who’s been refusing your best efforts. I got them on the swing, the dangle, and especially by sight casting to the rise rings of active feeders.

Trout fishing for stripers with small flies and a floating line? Yes, please.

It would be safe to say that this fly was a popular choice that night. A re-palmer and it will be good to ride again. Tied on a #8 Atlantic salmon hook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA