** UPDATE ** In the Winter 2021 edition of TROUT magazine from Trout Unlimited, Jon Christensen wrote a piece about a slidable dry dropper system that he’s been testing. Christensen also mentions the method featured in this Troutbitten article as an option. (Thanks, Jon.) The troubles Jon encountered with this system are common. And both of his issues are addressed here, in the original article. So check out Jon’s method, using rubber bands, and then try the one below, which uses a Backing Barrel. Hopefully one of them works for you. Better yet, maybe you’ll come up with your own idea for the elusive, slidable dry dropper.
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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?
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.
The Slidable Dry Dropper Rig
Two key elements make up the system: a Backing Barrel and a tag dropper loop or a Uni-Knot.
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. And if you’ve never fished your dry-dropper rig with the fly on a tag, you’re missing out. (Read my article, Three Styles of Dry Dropper — Tight Line Dry Dropper, for more on why I prefer the tag.)
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 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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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?
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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