A Slidable Dry Dropper System

by | Jun 21, 2017 | 32 comments

A friend of mine once described a truly slidable, easily movable, dry dropper as the Holy Grail of fly fishing. I suppose it depends on where your goals and interests lie, but if you like fishing nymphs under a dry, then you’ve surely wished the dry fly was easily re-positioned without tying more knots. There is a way.

The best suspenders (indicators that support weight) slide easily up and down the leader to change the maximum depth that the nymph can reach below. Just slide the suspender toward the nymph to fish shallower and slide it away from the nymph to fish deeper. Easy, right?

READ: Troutbitten | Depth, Angle, Drop — Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig

Good anglers understand that consistently meeting the fish with a nymph on the bottom of the river (or elsewhere in the water column), requires frequent adjustments for depth.

Dry flies make great suspenders because they float, trout eat them, and they have a hook. Fish on!

Through the years I’ve run into a couple clever ways of creating a slidable dry dropper rig, but they all required either a specially tied fly or extensive re-rigging or pre-rigging. And that doesn’t work for me. Like most anglers:, if change isn’t easy, I avoid it. Because, dammit, I just want to fish.

Through the pages of Troutbitten I’ve alluded to a slidable dry dropper system, but I’ve never written about it directly, for one reason — it’s not perfect. My slidable dry dropper system works really well, and I use it all the time. But it does have one flaw. That’s my disclaimer, I suppose. I’ll show you the rig and point out the imperfection. And maybe you’ll like it too.

Photo by Josh Stewart

Photo by Pat Burke

The Slidable Dry Dropper Rig

Two key elements make up the system: a Backing Barrel and a tag dropper loop.

Here is the Backing Barrel. It’s 20# Dacron backing tied in a uni-knot around the line. It’s a quick addition to the line, adds no significant weight and serves as a stopper for the tag dropper.

That’s the Backing Barrel. Now for the tag …

For most of my add-on tags with nymphs, I like a simple Uni-Knot tied around the standing line. However, for the dry fly tag, I prefer a tag dropper loop because it slides up and down with less friction.

Create a small perfection loop in a short piece of 4X. Attach the tag dropper loop around the line and above the Backing Barrel as shown, then attach the dry. For dry flies, I like the tag short, at two to four inches.

It’s really that simple. You can now re-position the dry fly by sliding the Backing Barrel and the tag dropper loop up or down.


The Backing Barrel and dry fly tag are mounted and slid on one length of tippet (with no knots to interrupt the sliding). I find that two to three feet is a wide enough range for me to make the necessary adjustments for depth.

If you’re using a standard fly line and tapered leader setup, try this:

To the fly line, attach a 7.5’ tapered leader ending in about a three feet of 3X fluorocarbon. That’s where the Backing Barrel and tag dropper mount. To the end of the 3X fluoro, tie a long enough piece of 4X or 5X to get to the bottom of the river with the nymph. Two to three feet is a good starting point.

Alternatively, building your own suspension leader is an even better method . . .

READ: Troutbitten |Three Part of an Ideal Indicator Leader

Lastly, if you’re adding a dry fly to a tight line nymphing leader, use 3X for the first two feet below the sighter. That’s where the Backing Barrel and dry fly tag are attached. To the end of the 3X, run a length of 4X or 5X for the nymph(s).

The latter is my favorite way to fish dry dropper. It’s part of the Mono Rig system. I already have the Backing Barrel mounted on the first two feet below my sighter because I use it as a visual extension of my sighter to track the drift. So adding a tag dropper loop and a dry fly takes very little time. When I later choose to remove the dry, I often leave the tag on the line so I can add the dry again for the next pocket or seam.


Photo by Bill Dell

Photo by Chris Kehres

The Imperfection

So if you fish a lot, then you probably already see this coming.

Sometimes the tag and barrel slide down while fighting a fish. Often, that doesn’t matter one bit. After releasing the trout, I simply slide the barrel and tag back to where I want them. However, the unplanned slide (combined with a little line wrap and a spunky trout) can cause line burn, and the 3X section curls or pigtails a bit. If the damage is significant, I replace the 3X section. I told you this wasn’t perfect.

However, when fighting most fish hooked on the dry fly, the Backing Barrel never moves. When it does slide, often from the weight of a heavy fish, it rarely causes line damage on 3X fluorocarbon. It slides a foot or so down to the 4X or 5X junction and stays there during the fight.

What about hook sets? That’s not a problem. There’s always enough hold from the Backing Barrel for a good snappy hook set. It doesn’t move when setting the hook.

I should also mention, after a lot of sliding throughout the day, the Backing Barrel may need to be replaced.

Photo by Pat Burke

Why 3X Fluorocarbon?

I’ve tested this setup with a variety of nylon and fluorocarbon materials, and I encourage you to do the same. I’ve found that fluorocarbon accepts the sliding better. Nylon tippet material is more delicate.

I usually use 3X for the same reason — it stands up to more abuse than 4X.

Orange or Black?

Does the orange Backing Barrel spook trout? I don’t know.

Try it, then you decide and tell me. I thought it might spook them. In fact I expected refusals of the dry because of the Backing Barrel, but I can’t honestly say that the trout seem to mind.

Sure, I get plenty of refusals to the dry on this rig, but a lot of trout give me the middle fin when I’m fishing one dry and a standard leader to risers too, so I can’t tell you it’s the Backing Barrel.

I used black backing for a while. I also carried a Sharpie to color the orange backing black, but I don’t know that it ever mattered. In some cases, I think trout may be attracted to the orange barrel. Trout love orange things.

Photo by Bill Dell

Photo by Chris Kehres

Tie it Tight

When tightening the tag ends of the Backing Barrel, pull hard. Don’t be a sissy. Ideally, you want a barrel that holds tightly to the line but moves when you purposefully slide it. There’s a fine line between tight enough and too tight. You’ll find it. Experiment.

Be sure the tippet is wet before sliding the Backing Barrel.

Some tippet material comes with a slick coating that feels greasy. Wipe that off with a little river mud before attaching a Backing Barrel.

And there ya go …

As I said above, there are a few things to dial in to get this system just right. If you have trouble, don’t give up until considering all the variables. It works, and it’s worth learning. Having a slidable dry dropper is the Holy Grail, remember?

Photo by Pat Burke


Fish hard, friends


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Dom, You surprised me with the “imperfection” . IMO The obvious shortcoming is that the nymph (for me usually a small bead head) on the dropper will pull your dry fly nose down. Thus destroying the dry fly presentation. I do like your idea of a “backing barrel” to prevent split shot slippage without deliberately tying a knot. Have you tried it for this purpose? I intend to try it. Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      About the split shot and Backing Barrel. Yes, I do that sometimes. I wrote about it here.

      The Backing Barrel is really versatile.

      To your first point though, I run my dry fly droppers from a tag like this a lot, whether I’m using a sliding system or not. Sure, it puts weight up front, but that works really well with parachutes and klinkhammers. It works fine with some caddis imitations too. But yes, I do acknowledge that the front end of some flies can go nose down, changing the look. However, if you tie off the bend, like most do, then the weight is on the back end and the fly can go rear end down, also not a good thing.

      Ultimately, I’ve found that it comes down to the type of fly. A lot of guys use stimulator or hopper styles as dry dropper fly. Those do float well with the payload off the bend. With such a buoyant fly, it can also float with the payload on the front, though granted, not as well. Like I mentioned, many of my favorite dry dropper flies are parachute styles. With a parachute, the best buoyancy is at the front of the fly, so having the weight suspended from the front works really well, much better than tying from the bend because all that’s back there for flotation are some tailing fibers.

      I do Dry Dropper in a few different ways, and I like to use different flies for each. Nothing works form me all the time.

      What do you think?

  2. I remember reading an article by Winston Cundiff back in 2013 about the use of backing barrels to change the position of thingamabobbers. It was a very well written piece and since it was winter and I was desperate to maintain connection to fly fishing, I made of few of his leaders. I never used them, but it was fun making them up. Your article on the backing barrel to change position of a second fly is just as well written and informative. Nicely done.

    Not being a fan of thingamabobbers or multiple flies I probably won’t use your method either, but it’ll be fun tying them up! Although, …the method you describe is so simple and appealing I might actually try using multiple flies again. Great article, thank you.

    • Thanks for the compliments! I’m really glad you enjoy the blog.

      Mike, that’s funny, tying stuff up to never use it. I do that with flies sometimes. I tie something just because I saw it and it looks different, even though in the back of my mind I know I’ll probably never tie it on my line.

      Just for clarity, what Winston uses for the Thingamabobbers are stoppers made out of fly line.

      They aren’t really Backing Barrels. Backing is much lighter — it adds no significant weight. In my opinion the Backing Barrel is also much easier to attach than the fly line stoppers.

      I love the endless tinkering and innovation of fly fishers.

  3. Hey Dom,

    Love the blog, I will be taking the plunge and trying a mono rig on my new nymphing rod soon. When you first mentioned the slidable dry dropper rig in an earlier post, I envisioned what you just described with one small modification. Instead of a backing barrel, you could make a loop of around 4” of backing with a blood knot, and then prusik knot(~5 wraps) that loop onto the 3X section of leader. You could then tie a dry fly directly off of the backing material with your tippet of choice using an improved cinch knot. This way, when the dry fly is taken, the weight of the fish would load the prusik knot and cause the backing material to ‘bite’ into the 3X, reducing the sliding issue. The prusik knot could then be easily slid to reposition the dry fly at all other times.

    In a similar fashion, you could also throw several extra wraps of line when you attach the perfection loop onto the leader in your current setup. This would also form a prusik knot that would resist sliding when under load. The mono-mono connection would be a little slicker than the backing-mono, but I did a little testing with 4X on the butt end of a tapered leader and found 8-10 wraps gave a good amount of grip when under tension. If you pre-tie loops of leader onto your flies, you could easily attach them to any section of leader with a quick prusik knot on the water for fast fly changes.

    Hope this helps! I think tinkering with this idea could bring you closer to your Holy Grail.

    • Tony, I love your line of thinking, and I encourage you to give all of that a try.

      Regarding the 4″ of a backing loop, I feel that it would be too heavy, especially when waterlogged. But I may be wrong.

      Along the lines of the other ideas: you are trying to keep the rig from sliding down when a fish takes the dry. I am not so concerned about it sliding. It never slides during casting, just when fighting some fish. As I wrote above, I have my rig set up so that the maximum it can slide is a couple feet, usually much less. Often, it doesn’t slide. When it does, I don’t really care. After landing the fish, I just slide it back up. When I have tried to “improve” the rig and keep the backing Backing Barrel and dropper loop from sliding at all, I end up making it bad. It it can’t slide without much friction, then the line will be damaged.

      So what I’m saying is similar to what I wrote above. There’s a fine line. You want the barrel and dropper snug but slidable. If it can’t slide easily enough when playing larger fish, then line damage occurs.

      That’s just some stuff to think about. I hope you’ll try your ideas and keep in touch with me to let me know what works.

      What I wrote about in the article is something I’ve screwed around with for years. I adapted it to suit my own needs for simplicity and efficiency. But it won’t work for everyone, of that I’m sure.

      Keep in touch.

      • I understand completely, thank you for the thoughtful reply. If resetting the dry fly after landing a larger fish is the biggest issue with this rig, this is an enviable imperfection to have. Unfortunately I’ve already identified one major problem with my idea, which is that the prusik line needs to be a significantly finer diameter than the line it attaches to for proper grip. This effectively limits me to either a stout leader or a very fine tippet for the fly, no chance that backing would grip 3X. Just goes to show if it were that simple, someone else would have figured it out long ago. I’ll be trying my second idea this weekend if conditions allow and see if I can get it to work without having to use a backing barrel stopper. Whether that would actually be an improvement is questionable, but messing around with silly ideas is half the fun, right? I honestly think all those ‘wind knots’ my leader tends to accumulate will catch a sliding dry fly no matter what…

        Tight lines!

  4. This setup bears a striking resemblance to the slip bobber system spin fishermen use up here when presenting live bait to Walleyes, in particular the backing barrel. The ” slip bobber knot” is sold commercially, however being a frugal person (OK, cheap) I have always made my own. I tie a bunch of knots onto the left over squirt tube from a WD-40 can. I can fit a lot of knots onto that tube. In practice, you would slide the leader through the tube and then slide a knot off the tube onto the leader. An yes, leave the tags ends of the knot long so you can pull hard on them. Instead of backing material I’ve used size A guide wrapping thread.

  5. One thing that works in limited circumstances is to utilize a larger dry with a piece of plastic tube from a new zealand-style strike indicator. Thread the line loop through the tube, then through the eye of the dry, push the dry through the loop, then snug down the line, then snug the tube over the eye to secure it in place; loosen tube and line to adjust depth. It’s basically the dry secured on the line with a loop connection and secured in place with the tube sheathed over the eye.

    Shortcomings are the limited size of dry flies that can be used, the nose-tilted down dry presentation, and the wear and tear on the line, especially if you over-tighten or get impatient when adjusting the depth.

    Positive aspects include how you can adjust depth and can change dry w/o cutting or tying anything, and how in-line set-up w/o flies on tags seem to tangle less often

    You’ll have to experiment to see what flies work with the size of the tubing, I’ve mostly done this with stonefly and large hopper dries in sizes 8-6.

    • Hi Billy, thanks for the input.

      I tried something like that with the small rubber bands I use for attaching the Dorsey Yarn Indicator. But I didn’t like it at all. The dry fly had no freedom of movement. And the few times a fish did take it, it slid on the line a bit, and it burned and damaged the line.

      Have you tried the system I detailed above? It takes care of the two problems that I just mentioned. It works quite well.

  6. Hey Domenick, thanks for writing this! I was trying to brainstorm a movable dry fly earlier today and found this article on google. It seems like it would work well. My only question is whether it would work well on lighter tippet; I almost never go above 5x when trout fishing. Any thoughts?

    • Good question, man. My short answer is no, I wouldn’t mount the tag dropper on 5X. It’s too thin and will take too much abuse — even fluorocarbon. As I mentioned above, I like to mount the dry fly on 3x fluoro, and I occasionally will go to 4X.

      Here’s the thing: the way I think of this system is as a nymphing rig. But they hit the dry fly often and well. If we are concerned enough with making the system slidable, then we’re probably going deeper than a foot under the water. The only time I try for a dry dropper rig with 5x to the dry is when I am just going to drop a very light or unweighted soft hackle wet or a nymph a short distance behind. In that case, I’m focusing on getting a perfect dead drift with the dry. But in MOST cases while fishing dry dropper, I’m using the dry fly as a suspender — it’s a tool for getting my nymph somewhere. In those cases, I’d like the dry to be slideable so I can adjust my rig for depth often. So, to me, there’s no need to be using 5X in those situations. Furthermore, I don’t find it necessary. The trout eat the dry in this rig a lot, especially when fishing tight line to the dry on the Mono Rig.

      Shoot me an email if you want to talk more about it. I guess I could write a whole article there. Ha!


  7. General question regarding using a dry fly on a dropper (slidable or not). Since the dry fly is being used as an indicator, if a fish takes the underwater nymph, I would think there would be some time lapse (short) before the dry fly would get pulled under since there is a 3 to 4 inch distance between it and the main piece of tippet. By that time, the fish may spit the nymph. Are you looking for the fly to get pulled under or more for its drift to hesitate? I know I need to experiment more with this but was curious as to your experience. Thanks!

    • Hi Jeff,

      In your view, there is some lag in the system (3-4 inches because of the tag). But in reality, the weight of the nymph is on the dry, through the tag, much like described in this article:


      Check that out.

      Properly executed, the dry does the job of leading the nymph down one current seam. It feel the weight of the nymph and is in contact, with no lag on the strike.



      • Dom…..thank you for the reply….concept now understood!!! Keep up the great work!!

  8. A good rig, thanks for sharing. I have fished some with a static dry fly tied to the tag of a blood knot left long when i wanted to have the dry fly hook totally exposed (no tippet off the bend), but still have a nymph down, to good effect. It works, to be sure, although you do lose a bit of sensitivity strike-detection-wise. I remember seeing a video of Mikey Weir way back in which he touted a hopper he tied mono loops onto the front and back of to make it possible to slide the tippet through/change depth of the dropper. I’m sure one “imperfection” of that system was pigtailing from the dry sliding during a fight, as well. Super Hopper Dropper? Yep, still avail:


    • Thanks, Michael. I also saw and tried that many years back. I found it to be very cumbersome, not very adjustable, and requiring of a special fly. Did not like. But it’s an interesting concept.



  9. Dom, I met you recently at the Lebanon IN Show. Good presentation and good to talk with you !

    I just want to put in type what I mentioned briefly: I’ve been using the small perfection loop, tied with a small crochet needle to get a really small loop, to loop the dropper on to the standing leader. I also found that a hard fluoro main leader pig-tailed less than nylon or some of the softer fluorocarbon … down to 6X. I like the Seaguar.

    Also, I like the way the dropper spins around the standing leader when I do an oval-type cast, and so wraps less that if tied off a tippet ring, or a surgeon’s knot, and held in place, so to speak.

    Thanks again for your good work!

  10. Hello Domenick,

    The dry dropper is mounted on say 2 feet of 3x tippet. Now let’s say you add 2 feet of 4x or 5x tippet below that going to your nymph. If you have the dry dropper slid up close to the top of the 2 foot 3x section due to water conditions, you now have let’s say 1.5 feet of 3x and 2 feet of 4x/5x under the water. What is your perspective on how these two different tippet diameter sizes affect the drift of the nymph. My understanding is that it is best to have just one diameter of tippet under the water due to how the current affects the tippet size. And with the faster current near the surface, it may push that 3x section along faster than the 4x/5x section below it which is probably in slower current.

    Your thoughts…thank you!

    • Hi JC,

      That’s an excellent point, and I completely agree. Certainly, multiple diameters under the water do have an affect. However, the extra inches of 3X, in this example, are a small concession to have the convenience of a sliding dry. It’s a slight compromise with the principle of one diameter under the water. Of course everything matters, and even a few inches has an effect. But in my experience, the cost is negligible.

      Check out this article for more thoughts on that same idea. I think this will help:


      Make sense?



      • Dom,

        Thank you for the reply. I checked out the “two diameter solution” article you linked to. Yes, it makes complete sense. Perhaps using 4x to the nymph will be a compromise to mitigate the effects of the two diameters since it is one diameter less than the 3x.

        Your website is a fantastic source of information and if I may say, very aesthetically pleasing.

        Keep up the good work!

        • Hi JC,

          You are right. Using 4X is a compromise. I do that often enough. But the reason I recommend 3X in this case is because it’s stronger. Basically, it handles the wear of sliding better. Try both and you’ll see what I mean.


  11. After trying numerous variations of tag tying always just go back to 2 or 3 nymphs tied consecutively with 95% of fish being on bottom fly. Do you feel the tag systems are that more productive than simple stacking,is it worth the effort? Thanks again

  12. Thanks so much for this. The fish here are just starting to “look up”, and I’ve been looking for a more versatile dry dropper rig…..you always seem to have the solution I’m looking for.

    • Right on. It’s something to try. If you don’t mind a little adjustment and your knot tying is clean and efficient, it’s something you could fall in love with.


  13. Good one, it’s very simple. I’ll remember that next time I tie on a dry with a dropper.

  14. I’ve started playing around using this idea but instead of the barrel knot, using the New Zealand wool indicator setup and I thought I would share. This setup involves using a tiny piece of a rubber hose and a bite/loop of the leader going through the hose and capturing any amount of wool, when the leader is pulled tight the loop and wool are then pulled through the rubber hose and the indicator is trimmed to preference:
    Now with the slidable dry, the tag is tied to the loop before you pull it back through. The wool can be completely trimmed off or left as a small indo. You still need the wool as it provides the resistance for the system to slide up and down the line. If you leave the wool too large, the dry fly will likely foul on the wool. If you don’t use a large enough bite of wool then the dropper system will slide too easily up and down the leader.
    Using this system seems to work on tippet size down to 5x and if you are familiar with the NZ wool it extremely fast to setup. I tie the tag on the leader first and then slide the little piece of rubber tube down the tag, thus not even requiring the NZ wool tool. As with any dry on a tag, certain dries spin when in flight and can cause some serious line twists and tangles on the dropper, so I have found to keep the dropper as short as possible (1-2″). The other beauty, is if the fish aren’t looking up you can always trim the tagged dry and immediately be fishing a nymph under a stealthy indo.
    Tight Lines!


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