There is absolutely no doubt that modern fly fishing is ever evolving and overall our angling skills and creative fly patterns have pushed the artful past time into a hyper-sense. Likewise the popular watersheds and their fish of North America are countering in an arms race of sophistication-simply put many trout out there have PhD’s in basic human fly presentation and without new school ideas, flies & tactics many folks don’t stand a chance against the wily creatures.
One particular tactic that is often incorporated into the daily realm of guiding clients is the use of droppers, a tandem fly rig that is usually comprised of a dry fly indicator and a wet fly or nymph. I am not sure when this idea began and it is most likely nothing new as I am sure early fly anglers used soft hackle wet flies below a bushy dry like a sofa pillow. However, the vast varieties on how we use droppers today is quite impressive and when presented well are extremely effective at putting trout into the net.
You may have noted that I said “presented well”, a key point in any fly fishing situation if the goal is catching fish. As a guide I almost always start folks with a single fly to see how well they manage the rod, line & cast and honestly many days a single fly is perfectly adequate. But then there are days where the fish are moody and your not getting the interest you would like to see, this is when I start thinking about a shallow dropper. Here is quick run down on how to get the best rig for the situation and how it should be used.
First thing to access is the water type you are fishing, speed and average depth. Try and imagine every prime lie has a trout(likely does) and you want to deliver a nymph to that lie. If the water is swift you need well weighted droppers like copper johns or tungsten beaded nymphs, these get to the strike zone quickly. If this is the case you need a buoyant dry fly for the indicator and keep in mind it should serve as an attractor, hence the popular hopper dropper rig. With this basic rig attach the dropper to 18″-24″ of tippet one strength lighter. For example, on the Snake River, a swift freestone river I would generally attach the indicator fly(I like the PMX for indicators, size 8-12) to a 7′-8′ 3x leader then the dropper would be tied with 4x directly to the bend in the indicator fly. If you build in properly it should turn over nicely and in the chance you snag the dropper you shouldn’t loose both flies… of course, all in theory.
In other more technical situations you may need more finesse, say on streams like the Henry’s Fork or Flat Creek. The general construction still applies but the flies get both smaller and lighter as do the tippets and leader lengths increase. Turn over is less of an issue because the rig is more delicate however tangles can be a nightmare. A great rig for late summer and picky trout would consist of a small ant or beetle as the indicator(size 16) with an emerger, trico spinner or lightly weighted PT nymph on 5 or 6x as the dropper.
When reading the water and fishing droppers not much changes, however do focus more on shallow flats, riffles and my favorite, seams. If you think the trout are deeper than 3′ and they appear to not be looking up, then moving to a deep nymph rig and using a strike indicator makes sense.
Casting dropper rigs is the last real consideration to access, if you are tangling too often then simply go back to a single fly… it happens to the best of us, especially on windy days and if you are wasting time re-rigging then it is not paying off. Fly fishing is a numbers game, you are simply trying to put a fly in the strike zone the most efficient way possible. Hopefully these tips will increase your personal numbers and be sure to always fish barbless to unsure the trout go back quickly.
Tight loops and Wild trout!