We know trout spend the majority of their time feeding subsurface, which is why nymphing is so effective. We also know insect hatches drive trout to the surface to feed on winged adult insects. While it’s true nymphs can be fished during a hatch with positive results, mixing a little dry fly action into your nymphing game to capitalize on both subsurface and surface feeding could elevate your catch-factor significantly.
So how do you do this?
Enter the dry/dropper rig.
Basically, you take a standard nymph indicator rig and replace the floating strike indicator with a big, buoyant dry fly. A nymph fly of your choosing hangs below on a length of tippet tied to the bend of the dry fly’s hook.
Adult insect imitation up top; larval, pupal, or emerger imitation down below. It’s simple, elegant, and extremely effective.
When to Fish a Dry/Dropper
Perhaps the golden opportunity to fish a dry/dropper setup is during a hatch when insects are actively emerging. If you want, you can use a dry/dropper rig to match all stages of the hatch at once — a dry fly on the surface followed by an emerger pattern and a nymph imitation below that. Yes, if you can manage the cast, three flies can be fished in a dry/dropper rig.
Using a dry fly in place of a floating strike indicator is also a great idea anytime you’re worried about spooking fish. As long as you choose a very buoyant dry fly — Parachute Adams, Chernobyl Ant, or foam hopper — and dress it with floatant as needed, you’ll be able to suspend two reasonably heavy nymphs without the splash and clash of a big Thingamabobber.
How to Rig a Dry/Dropper
Tying up a dry/dropper rig is very straightforward but there are a few tricks that can help its casting and fishing performance.
- Select the right leader — For most dry/dropper rigs for trout, you’ll want to use a 7.5-foot 3X knotless tapered leader. 9-foot leaders can be used, but a shorter, heavier leader provides more backbone to help turn over the flies.
- Tie your dry fly to end of the leader — Use an improved clinch knot or your favorite tippet-to-fly knot.
- Tie the dropper tippet to bend of dry fly hook — To further aid in turning over your flies, continue the taper of the leader by using tippet one size smaller for the dropper tippet. If you’re using 3X leader, use a 4X dropper. While you can fish any length dropper, it’s a good idea to keep it under 3 feet with 18 to 24-inches being a sweet-spot.
- Tie dropper nymph to tippet — For a basic dry/dropper rig, tie on a nymph — ideally the larval or pupal version of the winged dry fly — to the dropper tippet.
At this point, you’re ready to fish. Present just like you would a dry fly. The fish can hit either fly, so keep a close eye on your dry fly — if it twitches, pauses, stops, or disappears completely, set the hook!
3 Bombproof Dry/Dropper Fly Combinations to Try
As you experiment with dry/dropper rigs, you’ll soon realize how effective and versatile this tactic really is. Eventually, you’ll have a whole host of go-to fly combinations for your local streams, but to help get you started, here are three tried-and-true dry/dropper combos to try out.
- Elk Hair Caddis / Deep Sparkle Pupa — If you turn over a few rocks and see caddis husks stuck to the rocks or adult caddis on stream-side vegetation, tie on this potent combo and cash in on any surface or subsurface action.
- Parachute Adams / Pheasant Tail Nymph — If mayflies are present, select a big, bushy Parachute Adams dry fly to roughly match the hatched insects and suspend the ever-buggy Pheasant Tail Nymph for any trout seeking easy meals.
- BC Hopper / Copper John — This is a great combination to pull out during the summer months when crickets and grasshoppers are found in abundance. BC Hoppers specifically are perfect for this application as they’re incredibly buoyant, and depending on their color, can imitate stoneflies as well as hoppers. Any nymph can be fished below the BC Hopper, but the Copper John is a solid choice as it sinks quickly and imitates a wide range of subsurface trout food.