-dropper rig is a fly fishing combination set-up utilizing a dry fly, that also functions as a strike indicator, and a nymph or beadhead that trails behind the dry fly. Traditional dry fly fishing is a visual endeavor and can often more exciting than nymph fishing. But if an angler wants to net more trout, fishing subsurface flies is an essential skill, since 90% of a trout’s diet is subsurface insects.
Dry flies target only fish feeding on the surface. Dry-dropper rigs target fish moving throughout all the various stages of molting, from pupa and larval stages to emergers and adult bugs. Having a dry fly imitating an adult insect and a nymph imitating larvae simultaneously covers more of the life cycle of insects, therefore, the angler has multiple opportunities to land fish with a single cast. Plus, when fish are finicky, fishing two flies will help fly fishers figure out what trout want.
Tying the Dry-Dropper Rig
There are times on the river when a dry fly just doesn’t seem to work. When trout won’t rise to dries, this typically means trout aren’t feeding, or they are feeding below. In either case, it’s time to tie on a nymph. But leave the dry on, as it will serve as an indicator when there is a strike on the nymph. The dry will also let the angler know when feeding patterns change to surface feeding. When this occurs, suddenly trout will strike at the dry, and once again, it’s time for top-water action!
To tie a dry-dropper rig, chose a large, bushy dry fly that floats high and will hold lots of floatant. Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, and Humpies are all great choices. Tie this fly onto the end of the leader or tippet, as usual. Next, determine how deep the dropper should trail the dry, and chose a nymph appropriate for that depth. Size 14-18 Red Copper Johns and Hare’s Ear nymphs are fine selections-not too heavy as to allow it to hang up on bottom, but also large and heavy enough to drift at an appropriate depth behind the dry.
Dropper flies should trail anywhere between 6″ and 24″ or more behind the dry fly, depending upon depth of water, current speed, and the size and weight of the nymph. Break off an appropriate amount of tippet (preferably of a lighter weight than the leader or tippet to which the dry is tied), and tie the nymph to one end, as normal, using a clinch knot. Now feed the tag end of the tippet through the eye of the dry fly, and tie a clinch knot there as well. This is a dropper rig.
Fishing a Dry-Dropper Rig
Tying and casting dry-dropper rigs both take practice. Anytime one chooses to cast weighted nymphs, take extra precaution. These flies weigh more, so they often track through the air at a lower trajectory than do dry flies. Waiting for the line to load on the back cast is critical when fishing nymphs, and shooting the tightest loop possible will help prevent hang-ups, bird’s nests, and tailing loops. Fish deep pools, seams, and cut banks especially when using this rig, but don’t forget that riffles and slicks can be full of subsurface feeding trout as well.
Many anglers decide to fish the dry-dropper rig almost exclusively because of its impressive effectiveness. Try this technique for a full day on the river and see if more trout don’t end up in the net.