Gledswood Shrimp, Black & Yellow

by Scott Sadil

First off, I leave it to you to decide for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s legal and what’s not.

I take no responsibility for your actions.  I’ve got enough blood on my hands, so to speak, as it is.

My point?  No matter how many times I read the regulations, I can never quite claim with certainty that it’s okay to fish with flies tied on doubles, perhaps the most iconic of all traditional flies tied for sea-run fish.

Furthermore, what’s going on when regional rulemakers decide we’re supposed to ignore a long-standing, historically significant practice, developed over centuries in the grip of the strictest imaginable customs and protocols?

You mean to tell me you think the Scots – and the rest of the UK fly-fishing community – have it wrong?

Yet here it is, straight from from the regulations in Washington, a state where I do much of my steelheading.  In “Fly Fishing Only” waters, “anglers may use . . . .up to two flies, each with a barbless single-point hook.”  A single-point hook, the rules go on to explain, has only one point.  Furthermore, where Selective Gear Rules apply, gear is “limited to artificial flies with barbless single hooks.”   

Doubles, St. Boswells fly shop

The thing is, I love my doubles.  Nothing else swims quite like a double at the end of downstream, tight-line swing, the most traditional, and satisfying, of all presentations for steelhead – or any other anadromous fish.  Tied on a hook with a single shank but a pair of both hook bends and hook points, a double has, in essence, two keels instead of one.  Under tension, in a current, these keel-like appendages keep the fly upright, helping it to track in a steady arc, while at the same time allowing it to move, as well, in ways you’ve never seen a single move before — a teasing life-like shimmy or sway that hunts for fish as if a scurrying, miniature, aquatic bird dog.      

This is so basic to traditional presentations, especially presentations executed with a two-hand or double-handed rod, that to deny anglers the use of doubles is akin to asking golfers to play without a putter, or join a pick-up game of basketball with one hand tied behind your back.  Sure, it can be done.  But what’s the point?

Design Spiral Double

The obvious assumption might be that a single hook doesn’t harm a fish as much as a double – an important consideration if you intend to release your fish.  Anglers who fish doubles, however, will argue, based on firsthand experience, that by sharing the forces involved while fighting a fish between two points, rather than one, you’ve actually decreased the severity of wounding.  Many times, they say, it’s easier to remove a double from a fish’s mouth than it is a single, because the hook penetration isn’t nearly as deep.

Other arguments?  I don’t know what they’d be. I hate to say it, in fact, but I think it may just be a matter if ignorance on the part of the rulemakers.  Flies, in their experience, are tied on single hooks.  Perhaps they haven’t done their homework.  Maybe they’ve failed to read the literature.

Over on the River Tweed, let me tell you, you ask a salmon angler to keep his doubles at home and you had better be prepared for a serious argument.  

Or fisticuffs.      

Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil says he would no more fish without a fishing license than drive without a driver’s license. He admits, however, he once made a left turn across a solid double yellow line.