When I Started Fishing a Dry Dropper the Right Way it Changed How I Fly Fish | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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I can recall learning the dry dropper rig and thinking it was ground breaking.  Years later I can tell you with absolute confidence that it is likely one of my favorite and most effective techniques.  However, it was a way longer curve than needed. Initially, I have found it to be my go-to for smaller or remote stream fishing and a great go-to when hatches are off-and-on in any water types. Something about being able to hit more than one column of water at a time and deliver flies that can be effective is gratifying and rewarding. I started fishing more and more with a dry dropper rig or a dry-dropper-dropper rig and with a few changes in my casting and delivery it revolutionized the effectiveness of my fishing.

What Is a Dry Dropper Rig?

A dry dropper system allows you to fish a combination of a dry fly (floating on the surface) and a subsurface nymph (suspended below the dry fly). This versatile setup covers both the surface and subsurface layers of the water column. Here’s what you need to know:

The Dry Fly

The dry fly plays a crucial role in the rig. It has three essential functions:

  1. Buoyancy: The dry fly must stay afloat even with the weight of the nymph suspended from it. Choose a highly buoyant fly like a Tabanas, CDC & Elk, or an Ultimate Parachute Adams.

  2. Strike Indicator: When a fish eats the nymph, the dry fly acts as a strike indicator. It should be highly visible at all times, allowing you to track its drift down the water.

  3. Realistic Appearance: While performing its other functions, the dry fly should also look realistic or at least entice a trout’s interest. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a trout rise to a dry fly!

The Subsurface Nymph

The subsurface nymph has a simpler job but still requires attention:

  • Sink Rate: Choose a nymph with a sink rate suited to the conditions. For deep water, opt for a heavy tungsten bead nymph. In shallower water, a jig nymph with a 2mm bead works well. If trout are feeding on emerging nymphs, unweighted flies like the Iris Caddis can be effective.
  • Combination Rate: When fishing a double dropper on a dry, I've found using a heavier fly on the point or lowest tie in point as the method. When like this you will avoid tangling significantly and you can use lighter flies on the more upward selection.
    George Daniel does an excellent job of describing the advantage of having a heavier point fly. 

Benefits of Using a Dry Dropper Rig

Why would we combine a nymph with a dry fly? Here are the key benefits:

  1. Coverage: The dry dropper rig allows you to cover a wide portion of the water column. Trout can be feeding at different depths, and this setup ensures you’re presenting your flies where they’re most likely to strike.

  2. Versatility: You’re essentially offering two different types of food to the fish simultaneously. If they’re focused on surface insects, they’ll take the dry fly. If they’re feeding subsurface, the nymph becomes irresistible.

  3. Visual Excitement: Watching a trout rise to a dry fly is exhilarating. With the dry dropper rig, you get the best of both worlds—visual feedback and productive fishing.

Setting Up Your Dry Dropper Rig

Here’s how to set up a dry dropper rig:

  1. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader (9 to 12 feet) with a tippet of 4X to 6X. Adjust the leader length based on water depth.

  2. Attach the Dry Fly: Tie on a large, buoyant dry fly (point fly) that imitates grasshoppers, stoneflies, or other large insects.

  3. Add the Nymph (Dropper): From the bend of the dry fly’s hook, tie on a heavy, sinking nymph. Adjust the nymph’s weight based on water depth and fish behavior. Otherwise, you can tie into the eye of the hook or tie a clinch knot onto the running line, using the knot of the dry as a stopper knot.  This is my favorite method because it allows me to change the dry and retain the same droppers.  Here is a video showing you my suggestion. 

  4. Floatant: Apply floatant to the dry fly to keep it riding high on the water.

Tips for Fishing the Dry Dropper Rig

  • Presentation: Cast upstream or across the current, allowing the rig to drift naturally. Watch for any movement of the dry fly or sudden stops, indicating a strike.  Casting upstream is best and watch your dropper flies splash. When you see the combination of dry and dropper(s) landing, look for them to be in the same current lines.  When they are crossing currents the dry and the droppers won't be flowing naturally in your presentation so aim for them to land in the same current on your next cast. I can't stress enough how important the casting is.  Getting your flies to align in the same current is what took my dry dropper fishing to the next level. 

  • Depth Adjustment: Vary the depth by adjusting the length of the tippet between the dry fly and nymph. Experiment to find the sweet spot. Don't be afraid to go extra long.  It's surprising how long you may need to go to achieve depth

  • Observation: Observe the water for signs of insect activity. Match your dry fly and nymph to what the fish are feeding on. However, often your dry is an attractor style fly that has excellent floating characteristics so it suspends even heavy flies. The dry fly eat can can often bonus vs a number one goal.

This video will show you a simple way of resetting your dry dropper so the presentation is still effective.  

Remember, the dry dropper rig is a game-changer. Whether you’re on a mountain stream or a meandering river, give it a try.  When sight fishing perhaps start out with a dry fly and then transition into a dropper to offer a new feeding method—you might just land your biggest catch yet!

Here is a great article for you to take a look at and learn perfect presentation philosophy and technique.

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Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast
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