I don’t gamble much, but we’ve all heard the term “Doubling Down”. Fly fishing with a dropper is a lot like doubling down, you get to cover two water columns with every cast.

So How Do You Setup a Fly Fishing Dropper?

  1. Observation, once at the water spend a moment or two observing the surroundings. Are fish actively feeding on the surface?
  2. Select a buoyant dry fly (i.e. grasshoppers) that matches something typical to the environment.
  3. From the tip of your floating fly line tie on a 9 foot – 4X tapered nylon leader.
  4. Using a clinch knot, attach a Dry Fly to the leader.
  5. From the bend of the dry fly hook, I attach 18 inches of 5X fluorocarbon tippet.
  6. Onto the end of the fluorocarbon tippet, I tie on a size 14 nymph. (i.e. pheasant tail)
  7. Cast into bubble lines and over woody debris. Mending your line is a must!

Let’s dig into the nitty gritty details of the above steps, plus talk about options for setting up a fly fishing dropper.

Why does the dry dropper fly fishing technique work so well?

The first thing that comes to mind that using this technique you’re covering both the surface feeding fish and where fish feed the most sub-surface. You’ve most likely heard it a million times, 80% of what a trout is eating is underwater.

Another thing, much like indicator fly fishing the dry fly acts as a bobber. This allows a nymph to float over those fishy places like submerged logs.

The floating dry fly also helps detect strikes. Without a dry fly those subtle strikes on a nymph are imperceptible, but by concentrating on the visible dry fly any pause, dip or motion lets you know to set the hook.

This technique is also super flexible, meaning hat it’s easy to customize the setup to what’s happening on (and under) the water.

Selecting the Fly Line, Leader and Tippet for a Dropper Setup

I’ve fallen in love with my Temple Fork Outfitter DRIFT fly rod. I’ve adopted the term used by fly fishing guide David Knapp at Trout Zone Anglers. He called the TFO Drift fly rod a fantastic TOOL. The drift is a 3wt fly rod that has the sections to extend from 9 feet to 12 feet 3 in.

If you’d like to read more about this rod check out my review article. Link to Page -> How to Make a Fly Fishing Leader (LINK to article). Just for ease (and because I buy leaders in bulk) I prefer 9-foot 4X tapered nylon leaders. Some folks like going with a 5X, but I’ve found the 4X provides the back bone to turn over those wind resistant dry flies.

I’ve fallen in love with fluorocarbon tippet. Since I do a lot of nymph fishing, fluorocarbon is a main stay in my gear bag. Fluorocarbon tippet is stronger than nylon, doesn’t stretch and is nearly invisible underwater.

I start with 18 inches of tippet, but if the water I’m fishing is deeper and really looks fishy I’ll increase the length to drift my nymph just above the structure. This could extend my tippet to over 3 feet in length.

How to Select your Flies for a Dry Fly – Dropper Setup

I have four mainstay DRY FLIES I use for this setup.

Skopper Fly
Skopper Fly
  • The Skopper, which is a combination Michigan Skunk and Hopper. It has excellent float qualities and the rubber legs are irresistible. Check out this article on using floatant and treating dry flies to float well.
  • A foam body Beetle, again it floats well and is a common water side bug.
  • One of the many Grasshopper Flies, I target the colors common to my area (something with a little green)
  • A bushy well treated Parachute Adams size 12.

Selecting a Dropper Fly? Nymphs

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph

If you your dry fly is super buoyant like the Skopper, I’d suggest using the beadhead version of the below nymph selection.

  • Pheasant tail nymph (aka PT) size 16, its dark an buggy. If you pick up a rock in any productive trout water and flip it over. Odds are you’ll see something that looks like a PT.
  • Green Caddis Nymph, super common and trout love them.
  • Hairs Ear Nymph, again I prefer the beadhead version. Size 16 is a favorite.
  • Smaller black stone, size 14. Black and buggy stone flies are juicy meals for trout.

When to Use A DRY FLY with Dropper?

The starting point to any fly fishing trip is to never go to a mystery river. With so many online resources available, get a recommendation. Fishy water is plentiful so increase your odds by doing some research.

During step #1 above I said BE OBSERVANT. If you’re not seeing any trout rising and the water your fishing has a history of holding trout. TIE ON A DRY WITH A DROPPER.

My favorite water is a smaller river that has a tremendous amount of wood in it. The forests in Michigan have been devastated by the Emerald Ash Borer (LINK to Wikipedia).

Unfortunately drifting nymphs through this wood is a sure way to snag and lose your fly. Suspending a pheasant tail nymph above these sunken logs is absolutely deadly.

I would also suggest that using a dry fly is less likely to spook a trout as compared to an indicator.

Is it Hard to Fly Fish With Two Flies?

It is a little more difficult to cast a multi-fly setup. It’s recommended to Open Up your cast, basically slow down your casting speed, plus at the end of your cast tip the fly rod tip down a little.

You can read more about casting multiple flies in this article. Tips for fishing Multiple Fly Rigs.

Most times tangles occur when you’re trying to overpower the cast to get a little more distance. With a multi-fly setup this is a recipe for tangles and knots.

You’ve got to MEND a Dry Fly Dropper Setup

To give the dropper nymph a chance to sink (which gets it in front of the trouts nose) a MEND CST needs to be tossed into the line.

Without a mend (slack in the line between the rod tip and fly) the dry fly will immediately be pulled by the current. This pulling action will lift the nymph up in the water column. If the dropper nymph isn’t drifting deep, you’ll be missing fish.

A Couple Tips to Spice Up a Dry Fly with Dropper

  • I mentioned this above, use a long tippet. If you can manage try using 3 feet or more of fluorocarbon tippet between the dry and nymph. Trout love hugging the bottom, whether it’s behind a large cobble stone or along a sunken log, you’ve got to be deep to get the fly in front of the fish.
  • When the season is right, tie on a small egg flies as a dropper. Attach a small split shot 6 to 8 inches above the egg to help it sink.
  • A longer fly rod will really help control the drift. This is something that really became obvious after using the TFO Drift. I was able to extend the rod to just under 11 feet and my catch rate improved.